Jan 29, 2015
Barefoot Running: What’s the Big Deal?

By Vern Gambetta

No doubt on certain topics I am a bit of a cynic and a confirmed curmudgeon–this holds true for barefoot running. Barefoot running has been in my toolbox since I was athlete. I did not know about forefoot, rear foot, varus or valgus back in the day but I figured out quickly that if an athlete ran barefoot they ran quietly and quiet running was more efficient.

One of the first books I ever read on track & field in my junior year in high school was Championship Track And Field – By 12 Great Coaches. It was written and edited by Tom Ecker in 1961. The chapter on the sprints was by Oliver Jackson the coach at Abilene Christian and the coach of Bobby Morrow 1956 Olympic 100 and 200 meter champion.

This is what coach Jackson said about the use of barefoot running and his rationale for using it: “Anytime the temperature is 70 degrees or above, they are required to do all of their jogging barefoot. This is done for two reasons. First, running barefoot on the grass toughens their feet. And second, it tends to massage the sciatic nerve in the arch of the foot. Then sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body, running up the back of the leg into the small of the back, and connecting there with nerves that run out through the arms. The massaging of the sciatic nerve relaxes the entire body.” (Page 16) You can question the science of this but not the application.

So I ask again what is the big deal? Smart coaches used barefoot running 60 years ago. If you have the proper conditions and the athletes can tolerate it then run barefoot. Coaches that I hold in highest regard like Gary Winckler and Jim Radcliffe use barefoot running and they have been using it for years, there is no magic just good coaching.


Ed Note: To read a recent article from T&C about barefoot training (not just running), check out “Baring Their Soles,” by Art Horne, MEd, ATC, CSCS, is Strength & Conditioning Coach and Coordinator of Care for men’s basketball at Northeastern University.


Abebe Bikila won the 1960 Olympic marathon running barefoot, but he did not start running barefoot when he was an adult. It was something he did growing up because he did not have shoes. It was not uncommon in California in the late fifties and early sixties to see high school cross country runners running barefoot, there just were not adequate shoes at the time. So I ask again what is the big deal?

Nike told a story that was fictitious to sell their free shoes, which by the way are not free. Sixty plus years later and three or four generations of athletes have spent the majority of their time running in shoes that have become like pillows on their feet. This is the antithesis of barefoot running, so to make an abrupt change is to invite disaster. Use good common sense, find a minimalist shoe if you must, run barefoot if you can, but build into it gradually.

Vern Gambetta, MA, is President of Gambetta Sports Training Systems in Sarasota, Fla. The former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox, he has also worked extensively with basketball, soccer, and track and field athletes. He is a frequent contributor to Training & Conditioning. Vern also maintains his own blog.

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