Barefoot running for kids is growing in popularity. We caught up with barefoot running expert and founder of Natural Running Canada, Jeff Stapleton, to find out what is involved and why he believes it is beneficial to teach barefoot running techniques from a young age.
Barefoot Running for Kids
As an Exercise Physiologist and nationally certified coach (Canada) , I have worked with kids of all ages (1 through 19) and abilities (inactive, physically and mentally challenged and elite) over many decades.
One thing I have found in common – none of them have been encouraged to go BAREFOOT nor assessed for body symmetry and balance.
My work with kids through my company – Team Over The Top – has been focused on changing that…!!
The ultimate goal is to get ALL children moving safely, efficiently and quietly no matter what the level of activity.
I do this by improving their running technique via my Squat-Scoot method of barefoot running.
What Does the Process Involve?
Whether I am working with youngsters one-on-one or within a group, I follow virtually the same protocol. This involves assessing:
- Natural running technique
- Ability to balance on one leg with eyes opened and then closed, followed by running on the spot with eyes closed for 1 minute
- Body symmetry
- Ability to brace against gravity
How Is This Put into Practice?
It is one thing to do all of the above assessments. It is quite another to interpret the results and integrate positive change where necessary.
What I find with virtually ALL youngsters is they learn and adapt quickly no matter what the circumstances IF they are guided properly!
With this in mind, please note the following techniques that I use to incorporate barefoot running for kids and the benefits thereof:
1) Bracing Against Gravity
Taking the children from lumbering, noisy, ground-pounders to tight, light, forward-moving machines by teaching them how to brace versus gravity.
2) Balance and Stability
Teaching them how to strengthen their weaker side to improve balance and stability – thus reducing the rotational forces and decreasing the risk of injury.
3) Overcoming Asymmetry
Showing them how to unlock the side of the body that shows up with that leg shorter than the other (thus, asymmetrical). It is impossible to move safely against gravity when asymmetrical.
4) Core Activation
Teaching them basic core-activation drills to improve the ability to move quietly against gravity.
I teach the kids how to contract their core muscles (from mid-chest to mid-thighs) by doing a series of specific activation drills.
Related: Top Tips on Barefoot Running
What Are the Benefits?
Now to the crux of the article…benefits of running barefoot for kids! Please note that once I get the youngsters barefoot, they show the following improvements:
- Energy levels increase
- Attention span improves
- Ability to move quickly, quietly and around objects improves
- Balance with eyes open, closed, on unstable objects (like the Bosu Ball) and when changing directions quickly improves
- Pain in the joints lowers to no pain when running
- An increase in the ability to move more economically
- Ability to run longer with less fatigue (and, thus, less risk of avoidable injury) increases
As you can see from the photos and video clips of my young charges, they land more on the mid-foot and literally spring forward off Mother Earth (or any man-made surface, for that matter).
They maintain almost perfect balance due to both vestibular and proprioceptive awareness, thus avoiding potentially dangerous ground impact.
Finally, they move with confidence and purpose – there is NO fear!
Are there any negatives to barefoot running for kids? None that I am aware of. The positives listed above are only a small sampling of WHY our youngsters SHOULD be barefoot for the majority of each day.
If you do NOT have your youngsters going barefoot already, it is not too late to save them from the ravages of the ‘coffin’ (shoe mass marketing) world. Ironically, I love the Nike shoe company line…JUST DO IT!!!
– Coach Jeff
About Jeff Stapleton
Jeff Stapleton is a barefoot running expert who has 10 years personal experience running barefoot and in minimalist footwear.
Jeff has extensive experience in coaching and has a special interest in injury prevention. He uses his Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology and 35+ years experience competing in elite-level athletics and teaching sports specific conditioning, to help his clients achieve their goals.
During his 30 year coaching career he has successfully coached many of his clients to qualify for high profile events such as the Boston Marathon. He has also coached numerous elite level sports teams and individuals.
Jeff is the founder ofwho specialize in forming proper run technique, strengthening running-specific muscles, increasing speed and distance, and safely incorporating the transition to a more efficient, barefoot running style. Jeff develops programmes for multiple age groups and has trained children as young as age 5 in his popular Youth Training Programme, which covers how to move safely and efficiently barefoot.
To find out more about Jeff Stapleton, visit Natural Running Canada