Barefoot Terminology 101

by Summer on June 10, 2010

New to barefoot running? Checking out the articles on our site? Chances are you’re seeing some terms used over and over and you are wondering what they mean. Understanding the language of running – especially barefoot running – is important. Knowing how to correctly apply the technique is essential for you to make a successful transition to going shoeless! So, here are some of the key terms you’ll see used on this site, some which we borrowed from the running barefoot book, and what they mean.

Barefoot running:  Let’s start with the obvious! Actually, ‘barefoot running’ is also often used to describe running with minimalist shoes. Don’t worry, we’ll define that later too. You’ll also see barefoot running shortened to BFR.

Cadence: This describes the number of strides, or steps, you make in a given time period, usually a minute. Most runners have a cadence in shoes of around 70 strides per minute, and barefoot of around 80 strides per minute.

Stride length: Stride length is different from cadence in that it is the actual distance you cover with each running step. In barefoot running – compared to running with shoes – you will find that with correct technique your stride length will shorten. Combining that with a faster cadence means you don’t lose any speed; in fact, you may find you run faster despite the shorter stride. Running speed is a combination of stride length and cadence.

Over-striding: Developing correct technique for running barefoot involves making some changes to your stride. When running barefoot, you don’t want your leading leg to land too far out in front of you; this is called ‘over striding’. Over striding occurs whenever your leading foot hits the ground ahead of your center of gravity. The consequence is heel-striking, and the braking action of this movement will slow you down, is inefficient, and can lead to injuries.

Heel-strike: This occurs when your foot, during your running stride, makes contact with the ground with the heel first. It is to be avoided in barefoot running, where the foot should land on the balls of the feet first, or even the toes. Heel-strike running can slow you down, and increases the impact your lower leg needs to absorb, which can lead to injuries.

Pronation: A common biomechanical fault in many runners. Pronation is the rolling of the foot to either side of the axis with the ankle as you take your stride. Over-pronaters roll to the inside (and often have flat feet or low arches); under-pronaters roll to the outside, and often have high arches.

Minimalist running or Minimalist shoes:  Not all barefoot running is done totally barefoot. There are several models of shoes that are designed to give you most, or even all, of the benefits of running barefoot, but still give your feet some protection from weather or hazards. The main distinction is that these ‘shoes’ don’t raise the level of the heel. The barefoot running book has a review of all the brands currently on the market, the most popular being Vibram FiveFingers and Feelmax, although ‘aqua socks’ are also making a comeback.

Reduced Shoes: These shoes often appear to give the same benefits of barefoot running but don’t – and they shouldn’t be confused with minimalist shoes. These shoes have less support or cushion than a normal running shoe, but they still restrict the free movement of the structure of the foot. Track shoes and Nike Frees fall into the category of ‘reduced’ shoes.

Fartlek: A type of training session. It’s a Swedish term, and it means a training session of mixed, irregular activities, often done randomly. For example, a fartlek session might have some sprints, some hills, or some longer sets all mixed up.

These are the main terms you’ll see used throughout our site, and now you know what they all mean and how to use them. If you come across any terms you don’t recognize or don’t understand, then please let us know, and we’ll keep updating our vocabulary lists!

Photo Credit: chrisdlugosz on Flickr

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