How To Run Barefoot On A Treadmill

35970938_640Less than twenty years ago, barefoot running was thought of as something partaken in by a cult-like community of hippies and overzealous yoga enthusiasts. But by the end of the ‘90’s, things began taking off. Many of its advocates formed online communities, spread their message, and began developing some of the very first lines of minimalist footwear. Soon, barefoot running quickly edged its way into the mainstream. Today, most everyone serious about running has an opinion on it. A simple google search for “barefoot running” can unearth a litany of how-to articles, pro-barefoot manifestos, and stern proclamations of the imminent injury facing those who engage in it.

What’s interesting about these articles is that they seem only to focus on the effects of running outdoors. Most writing done on the subject completely ignores the fact that a significant percentage of runners exercise on treadmills, often exclusively. Could barefoot running on a treadmill be a viable option? Are there any inherent risks? Most of the debate so far has managed to effectively skirt these concerns.

Advocates of barefoot running note that it’s natural, and it’s how ancient humans ran. Opponents offer up that the terrain on which we run has long since changed from those ancient times. They point out that modern runner faces running on surfaces that are unnaturally unforgiving, and often littered with dangerously sharp debris.

Since treadmills offer significantly more cushion than concrete or gravel, and are almost never littered with shattered glass (hopefully), it seems that there’s reason to believe you can safely run barefoot on one.

As it turns out, it’s actually very possible to safely take barefoot running to the air-conditioned cool of the nearest treadmill. There’s just a small amount of practical advice you should heed beforehand.

Choose incline over speed:

The motion most central to what makes barefoot running supposedly so healthful is a forward-springing motion from the toes and ball of the foot. However, if the treadmill is running too fast, this is made difficult to accomplish. After you strike the treadmill, your foot may have travelled several feet backward by the time you’re ready to spring forward from it. What results is a gait comprised of far too much “strike” and far too little “spring” which can be harmful to your joints and tendons in the long term.

Pick a speed significantly slower than you would if running with shoes on. Then, hike up the incline dramatically. This’ll ensure that your foot strikes higher up and doesn’t slide back too quickly. If done correctly, it will give the feeling of running up a moderate hill. You body should be at a slight forward lean, and the back half of your feet never even making contact with the treadmill.

Beat the heat:

Treadmills have a tendency to get incredibly hot from both friction and the heat of the motor. If you’ve always worn shoes on the treadmill, you many have never noticed this. Running barefoot oftentimes does a lot more than merely make you take notice of the heat; It can be quite painful, and in some cases lead to the formation of actual burns on the soles.

Start by running slightly closer to one corner of the treadmill. When things get hot underfoot, simply shift your stride to another zone of the belt. Repeat as necessary. By the time you’re forced back into your original corner, it should have cool significantly.

Beware of sharp objects:

While a treadmill’s debris-free terrain is one of their most enticing features, there’s still a small possibility of cutting or otherwise tearing up the soles of the feet. The edge of your treadmill’s band can, in rare cases, leave deep papercut-like wounds in your feet if your foot lands half-off the moving band.

Simply be mindful of the treadmill’s edges when you run to avoid this.

Go slow:

You’re simply not going to be able to run as fast barefoot as you can in shoes. Attempting to can lead to quickly overexerting yourself.