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4 Tips for Barefoot Running on a Treadmill

Posted by on Feb 5, 2011 | 5 Comments

It’s winter.  You’ve been reading about barefoot running.  You want to try it, but… well… its winter.  You have a treadmill sitting in the basement, why not give it a try?

As much as I despise dreadmills, they can be a viable substitute for outdoor running.  Here are five tips that will get you up and running.  Literally.

1. Learn pawback. Normally on solid, you want your foot to move vertically up and down, like in the poorly-drawn picture below:

Proper foot movement on solid ground

On a treadmill, the moving belt presents a problem.  If you use the same foot movement, a shearing force will be created at the point of contact between your foot and the belt.  The result: friction.  This is the cause of nearly all treadmill-induced blisters.

Shearing force created

To prevent this shearing force, begin moving your foot backward immediately before your foot touches the deck.  This is known as pawback.  The idea is to match the speed of the belt so there is no friction at the moment of impact.

Good pawback motion

The trick to mastering pawback is learning to keep the point of impact under your center of gravity.  This requires a slightly different form that doesn’t really generalize to runing on solid ground.  Because of this, I do not recommend people routinely switch between treadmill and solid ground running.

2. Account for the heat. Most treadmills generate significant heat.  The friction of your body weight on the belt traveling over the deck causes friction which causes heat.  Some treadmills are better than others.  If your treadmill turns into a griddle after a half mile, the effect can be minimized by moving.  I prefer the following pattern:

Follow the numbers

This will allow the deck to cool in each spot,which slows the heating.  To aid this process, I sometimes place a box fan on one side of the treadmill to oincrease airflow.

3. Stay away from the edges. This one is self-explanatory, but I’ll add the video for the Hell of it:

4. Know your limits. As is the case with anything you do barefoot, know your limits.  Keep your pace and distance within your capabilities, especially if you are a novice.  Learning to run barefoot on treadmills is a skill like any other.  Start slow, recognize your limits, then advance from that point.  Use your body as a guide.

These four tips should help you run barefoot on a treadmill.  My best advice, however… get outside as soon as you can!

Want to discuss this in more detail? Check out this topic in the BRU forum:


Extra: Special thanks to those that posted a review for my book on Amazon.  If you have read the second edition, I’d appreciate a review.  The review page can be found here.

Also, I am receiving some questions about the second edition on Kindle.  It is available, but Amazon won’t link it to the printed second edition.  The Kindle version can be found here: Click me!

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  2. Pete Kemme
    February 5, 2011

    I could’ve used this post a few hours earlier. I have been doing my home workouts all barefoot lately and tonight I tested out a mountain climb on the treadmill barefoot. I didn’t really run, but the 80 lbs I carried caused quite a bit of friction on my feet. I suppose your help is better late than never 🙂

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    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Marko Roblek and Marko Roblek, Jason Robillard. Jason Robillard said: RT @barefootjason 4 Tips for Barefoot Running on a Treadmill […]

  4. Patti
    February 5, 2011

    What were those people THINKING? Maybe they weren’t!! Just received my Merrell Pace Gloves. I have a pair of VFF’s but ended up with an unbelievable blister on one foot between toes. I am a Michigander as well and run barefoot on my treadmill, which isn’t too bad once I figured out how to move around the belt to keep the heat at a mimimum. I really appreciate your website as well as the blogs (Shel Bell and the new one on your family adventure.) I found the website searching out remedies for plantar fasciitis, which started with a new pair of running shoes (the normal kind). I am 51 and have been running for over 25 years without ever experiencing PF. Have tried about everything but continue to fight it since early October. I continue to be optimstic and am determined. Thank you for your passion about bf running and running in general.

  5. Janice Nicholls
    February 5, 2011

    Hi Jason…Thanks for the tips. I’ve been trying to run once each week on the treadmill to retain some toughness on the bottom of my feet. The friction is a challenge. I will try your suggestions!

    Based on your review I went and orderd the Merrell barefoot shoe to use in the winter. Love my Evo Barefoots, but tread does not work in some snowy and slushy conditions.

    If you get a chance, check out my blog at I posted some questions last week and you probably have answers!