This was the question facing me as I was researching and being inspired by the barefoot running movement: Do I need to lose weight before I try barefoot running? Or can I start now, while I am still overweight?
The answer seemed obvious at first: “No! It would not be safe to run barefoot with all that extra weight! Too much pressure and stress on the feet! You’ll injure yourself for sure! Lose weight first! Wear supportive shoes and start a walking program first.”
But after some thought and consideration I decided that not only could I try barefoot running while still overweight, perhaps I even should try it. After all, muscles are remarkable in their ability to grow and develop based on the demands placed on them. Bodybuilders develop to lift very heavy weights. Barefoot running develops stronger feet and — if anything — people who carry extra pounds need stronger feet, not weaker ones, which is what they will get if they let supportive shoes do the work instead of their feet.
Also, if one of the concerns for an overweight runner is the stress on the knee and hip joints, then running barefoot may even be preferable because, when properly learned and executed, the barefoot running form reduces that kind of stress on the joints.
After taking into account my current level of fitness, my general state of health as determined by a doctor, and my experience with running in the past, I started barefoot running weighing 245 pounds. It took me over four months of consistent regular practice to get to the point where I have now run a 5K barefoot, and most recently run 4.2 miles participating in the 1st Annual NYC Barefoot Run. I have written in detail about the issues and challenges that have confronted me as a plus-sized barefoot runner on my blog “Barefoot Fresca”
How did I do it? I followed the guidelines and instructions for all barefoot runners outlined by knowledgeable people such as: Jason Robillard in his book, The Barefoot Running Book, Michael Sandler in his book Barefoot Running, and lots of information on Barefoot Ken Bob’s site. I have also been encouraged and inspired by other barefoot bloggers who I have met through joining the barefoot running blogosphere.
I modified all guidelines to fit my circumstances. I proceeded even more cautiously and gradually and listened to my body twice as well as advised. If the recommendation was to run ½ a mile at first, then I ran only a ¼. If the recommendation was to do something for 2 weeks before proceeding to the next step, then I did it for 4 weeks.
I think the key for me has been to accept that this is not going to happen overnight. If it is a gradual process for any barefoot runner, then all the more will it be so for an overweight runner. It was essential for me not to be in a hurry to have any running milestones or accomplishments.
The enjoyment of running barefoot is part of my strategy to develop a more active life that will produce a healthier weight for me in the long run. In fact, now that my mileage has increased, I have even begun to shed a few pounds.