Not everyone thinks barefoot running's a good idea. (Example: Podiatrists and shoe store owners who stand to lose a chunk of business if this "fad" takes off.) And I'm certainly not qualified to say that it's for everyone. But despite the deeply sore calves I've gotten from running in my Vibram FiveFinger KSOs, I feel like a lightbulb has been turned on. I've finally stumbled upon a way to run without injuring myself.
There's a great summary of the benefits of barefoot running on the Made to Run blog, which concludes with a statement that perfectly matches my recent experiences:
From my own experience with barefoot running, I can speak to the benefits of it. For almost 2 years, I’ve had a chronic hip injury related to tight hip muscles and a tight IT Band. Despite nonstop stretching and strengthening routines given to me by sports medicine professionals, the issue has persisted. When running barefoot, however, it disappears. No pain. No discomfort. I also feel much lighter and more efficient when I run barefoot. At the end of a run, I feel little to no fatigue in my quadriceps and my hamstrings. It seems as if I require less use of them when running barefoot.
It’s not an entirely one-sided story though. I have noticed that my feet and calves get incredibly sore. After my first 4-mile run barefoot, my calves felt like they typically do after a 20-mile run in shoes. I also occasionally felt a burning sensation in the arch of my right foot. Usually it would go away after the first 2 miles, but it was concerning nonetheless.
Despite the unique soreness in my feet and calves, I viewed it as a positive experience. My feet and calves didn’t hurt because they were injured. It felt as if I was waking them up. The soreness told me that I was making them stronger and building them back to a natural state of incredible strength and dexterity. The sensations I had while running barefoot spoke to me and told me that we were made to run.It's not just about running, by the way. I've been doing P90X and Insanity workouts in my bare feet for the past week or so, and while I have to be more careful not to drop a dumbbell on my feet, I feel great. I had some initial concerns about performing some of the crazy-intense plyometric jumps in Insanity without the cushioning provided by my cross-trainers, but I found that going barefoot naturally forces me to land just the way Tony Horton and Shaun T tell us to: softly, like a cat. My feet also feel much more stable and strong.
Now if I could only get my calves to stop aching...