Well Being

Gym Rant: If You’re Going To Run Barefoot…Actually, Please Just Don’t Run Barefoot

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barefoot running gym

Hey look, gross.

It's no secret that barefoot running is having a serious moment right now. Those Vibram five-toed boots have become nearly as ubiquitous as yoga pants, and every major shoe manufacturer has rolled out some barefoot (or at least minimalist) shoe. A lot of people also run fully barefooted–including one guy at my gym the other day. Which is where I draw the line.

Don't get me wrong: I love barefoot running. I tried it over the summer and like it a lot, and I've been running on this pair of Merrell barefoot-style shoes for nearly a year. I was actually thinking during my run over the weekend about how much my form has improved, when I heard a loud thumping coming from the row of treadmills behind me. And it wasn't until I finished up and went to refill my water bottle that I saw it was a rather large man, running without shoes on. Just completely barefooted. On a treadmill.

Which maybe isn't as big a deal as it seemed at the time–I guess most (all) of us are shod, so it shouldn't matter too much. But there was just something so deeply unsettling about his bare, hairy, feet on a piece of communally-used equipment that just gave me the willies. Probably because of the fact that gyms are breeding grounds for all kinds of bacteria and fungus. That's why I wear my little flippy-floppies in the shower.

But really. Running barefoot is kind of like boxing bare-knuckled on the heavy bag. There's going to be some transfer of skin cells (gross), which is actually probably kind of potentially unfortunate for the person doing it (hi, staph infection) and the next person to come use the equipment. Not to mention this guy was, it seemed, pretty new to it, because the loud sound he was making was definitely due to some sure-to-hurt heel-strike action.

Which means, unlike those who run ultras without any sole, this fella may experience a little rawness and, well, exposure to all kinds of germs that can come and go as they please. And possibly bodily fluids. And–let me reiterate–gross.

It's also pretty difficult to clean a treadmill's actual tread when you're done using it. Unlike the console and other areas of a machine, which you can spray down (carefully!) with disinfectant, the tread runs under the machine and back through, which makes it tough to really clean.

Am I overreacting? Maybe a little. But seriously, if you want to run barefoot, take it outside. For indoor use, consider a shoe. There are a billion varieties that can give you a similar effect to running truly barefoot–without the ick factor and fungal troubles that a fully bare foot comes with.

Image via Flickr user gordontarpley

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