Is Running Barefoot on a Treadmill Safe? Yes, With Some Precautions
Did you know that 15% of Americans participate in some form of running or jogging as their exercise? Running is an excellent workout, which needs little to no equipment, making it a popular form of exercise for those just starting out on their fitness journey to those more advanced. And although most runners nowadays prefer wearing running shoes, there's a growing movement of people who believe running barefoot is better for your feet, legs, and overall health.
While running barefoot outside does offer some benefits (when done correctly and incorporated in a comprehensive fitness regimen), running barefoot on a treadmill poses some unique risks and challenges to be aware of.
Treadmill belts can be slippery, causing you to lose your balance or increase the risk of trips and falls, the belt’s constant motion can cause blisters and burns to bare feet, and treadmills lack the uneven terrain that naturally challenges your feet and ankles like running outdoors does.
In this article, you’ll learn the challenges of running barefoot on a treadmill, how to safely run barefoot on a treadmill, and how to prevent treadmill injuries.
Is It Safe to Run Barefoot on a Treadmill?
Barefoot running on a treadmill is considered safe, provided you do it properly.
Barefoot treadmill running is an excellent way to reap the benefits of running without the impact of the outdoor elements. Additionally, you can use it as a training aid to help you develop your form and technique. When done correctly, running barefoot on a treadmill can improve your running abilities in general, like better running efficiency, better balance, and stronger muscle tissue.
You might wonder, however, if running barefoot on a treadmill is actually considered safe. The fact is, there are both benefits and risks of running barefoot on a treadmill. Here are a few tips you may want to consider before you take up this minimalist running approach on the treadmill.
Potential Benefits of Treadmill Barefoot Running
Although research is still ongoing regarding the benefits of barefoot running, here’s what we do know about the potential benefits of a barefoot run:
Improved running efficiency: When you run barefoot, you learn to land on your midsole and soft balls of your feet, rather than the heel. This leads to a more natural stride and better running efficiency.
Improved balance: Without the padding of running shoes, you’ll learn to properly land on your feet using the tiny muscles in your feet, calves, and ankles, and hips, responsible for helping you balance.
Improved gait and mechanics: Running without wearing shoes is the most natural form of running there is. Your stride length will naturally shorten and align more with your body’s center of gravity.
Burns more calories: Because running barefoot is more challenging than running with shoes on, you’ll burn more calories if you run the same distance barefoot as with running shoes.
Challenges of Barefoot Running on a Treadmill
Here are the challenges you should prepare for if you plan on running barefoot on the treadmill:
The treadmill deck is always moving: This might be obvious, but the treadmill belt’s constant movement toward you makes it difficult to run barefoot. Instead of the feet seeking the surface and propelling you forwards, a treadmill exerts force towards the toes, creating more stress on the forefoot.
The Running Surface Can Feel Restricted: There’s nothing worse than hitting the front of the tread with your barefoot while running. It’s like stubbing your toe, but worse—and if you’re running at a high speed, is a recipe for you to fly off the treadmill and hurt yourself. You'll need to remain cautious of where the treadmill belt ends and position yourself accordingly to avoid hitting it. This can feel restricting and uncomfortable, especially if your hands can’t easily access the controls and you’re used to running close to the front of the belt.
Hygiene Issues: This applies mainly if you're using a shared treadmill at the gym. You may want to reserve barefoot running on your treadmill at home and wear shoes when using a treadmill at the gym to avoid fungus and other germs that can be spread by bare feet.
Foot Injuries: Running barefoot means your feet are not protected from the direct impact of the treadmill surface. This can lead to bruises, blisters, cuts, and pain. Because the foot strike adjusts from a rearfoot strike to forefoot strike, the sole and balls of the week receive the most impact and workout, while the heels are largely neglected. This can cause strain in the calf muscles, and injuries like Achilles tendonitis.
How to run barefoot on a treadmill safely
If you’re new to the concept, you may not want to start barefoot running directly on treadmills.
First, start your barefoot running journey by wearing minimalist shoes, which mimic the feel of being barefoot. These minimal shoes have little to no difference in height from the heel to the toe, so there’s less support than regular running shoes.
Once your feet and legs have gotten used to running with minimal support, remove the shoes and start barefoot running outside. Allow your feet time to get used to high impact without shoes by running without shoes outdoors or walking barefoot in nature.
Finally, graduate to the treadmill. Because treadmills are flat with no terrain variables for your feet to adjust to, you may find that you feel stress on your feet more quickly than when you run outside. This is normal. Start off with a slow speed and less mileage per week, gradually increasing each week as you get used to the feel and impact of barefoot treadmill running.
Adjust the Treadmill Appropriately
When you run outdoors, your feet are constantly making small adjustments to keep up with changing terrain. A slight incline, uneven pavement, or even a patch of grass all contribute to these adaptations. Running barefoot on a treadmill doesn’t account for these terrain changes, which means you’ll constantly use the same part of your feet to strike, leading to stress quickly. You’ll have to create these variables yourself with treadmill workouts with combinations of speed and inclines to reduce any chance of overuse injury.
Adjust Your Motion and Form
If you’ve started running barefoot on a treadmill, you’ll probably notice the difference in how your foot lands and springs off when you run. Without shoes, you’ll tend to land on the midsole and balls of the feet rather than the heel. Because the balls of the feet act as a natural shock absorber, learn to adjust your running style to take shorter strides with a soft landing. You should also practice running further back on the treadmill belt from where you usually run on to prevent stubbed toes.
Is It Good to Run Barefoot on a Treadmill?
Running barefoot on a treadmill has many benefits if done appropriately. You can benefit from increased leg strength and less fatigue when running for long hours.
Can You Run On A Treadmill With Socks?
You can run on a treadmill with only socks on, but there’ll be a greater risk of slips and falls. If you choose to run on a treadmill with only socks, make sure the moving treadmill belt has enough abrasion and friction so you don’t slip, or wear non-slip socks. You may also find that if your treadmill does have a very abrasive surface, your socks will wear through quickly.
Choose the Right Treadmill for Barefoot Running
Running barefoot on a treadmill can be beneficial, but comes with some risks you need to be aware of before deciding to try it. If you decide to give barefoot running a go, Ascend’s foldable treadmills are built to withstand intense training, and fit right into your home. The X1 Foldable Treadmill is the perfect beginners or distance runner’s treadmill to help you gain the benefits of barefoot running.
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