Barefoot Running on the Snow – 5 Tips to Help You Make the Transition

posted in: Cardio Training, Uncategorized, Videos | 21

We finally had our first significant snowfall today. I think we got just over 12 inches (approx 30cm). My wife came home from work a little early and we took our dog, Ronin, to Clough State Park for some gallivanting. Realizing I had a compadre who could hold the camera, I thought it would be a great opportunity for my first barefoot run in the snow. That, and since I’ve never done this before, I thought it would be a good idea if someone else was there… er, in case, you know, I slipped and died or something.

Here is a video account of the run. You can decide if I’m crazy, stupid, or daring…

Barefoot Running in the Snow

So, I ran 1 mile barefoot, twice as far as I had expected to make it. Quite honestly, I figured that the cold would be too much for me and that I would wimp out. But I set my mind on completing the task no matter what, and after a half mile I felt like I could go much longer. I was dressed plenty warm and my body temperature stayed warm throughout the short run. Actually, the longer I had been running, the warmer my feet got.

I think 1 mile was a good starting point for me personally. Having the endurance to run several miles is great, but it’s safer to progress as gradually as possible whenever changing one of the variables.

I don’t recommend that anyone just jump right into barefoot running, and especially not going barefoot in the snow. It’s a skill that must be developed incrementally. I’ve spent the entire year going barefoot and my intuition assured me that I was ready for something of this nature. If you’d like some more information about going barefoot, feel free to read my Definitive Guide to Going Barefoot.

On the other hand, if you HAVE been running barefoot already. If your feet and body are conditioned for shodless running, and you think that you’re ready for a barefoot run in the snow, here are some tips that may help.

5 Tips to Help You Make the Most of a Barefoot Run in the Snow

1) Get warm BEFORE your feet hit the snow – do a very thorough warmup before you even take your shoes off. You can even do this indoors. RMAX Powered Running is a great resource for runners that are looking for running-specific drills for warmups and cooldowns. I recommend performing the exercises before you even go outside to get your body temperature up. Even if you walk or jog in the snow for a few minutes with footwear on just to get your body temp up – that’s ok. It’s better to be extra prepared.

And it should go without saying, dress appropriately. Err on the side of staying too warm.

2) Keep moving – stay bouncy and ensure that you are pumping plenty of blood down into your feet while you are running. If you’re using optimal running technique, you should be fine. A forefoot strike (aka midfoot or ball-of-foot strike) is best for running technique, and it’s of paramount importance when running in the snow since it keeps blood moving through your feet. Essentially, your body should be heating up your blood enough so that it stays warm as it travels down and back up your legs.

3) Build up speed gradually – Your first barefoot run in the snow isn’t a time for heroics or setting personal bests for speed, time or distance. Try to think of it as a completely new skill that has the potential of being mastered quickly (if you’ve already mastered running, that is). Just because it seems easy, doesn’t mean you should push yourself too hard.

Your first run should be an easy run. When you finish, just cool down, go home, see how you feel over the next 48 hours and reevaluate your potential for progression during your next run.

4) Commit to at least 5 minutes of running, even if the cold termites start a full-out assault – OK, so you’ve geared up for your first barefoot run in the snow. You’re dressed, hydrated, all warmed up, and just took your shoes and socks off. You are ready to slay monsters and crush weakness! You step outside and as soon as your feet hit the white, the countless nerve endings in your feet send a swift, direct message to your brain. The message is…

NO FREAKING WAY!

Seriously, don’t set yourself up for failure. You have to commit beforehand to see your first run through. No doubt, it will be cold. You may have never felt that cold of a sensation on your skin in your life – not to mention on the bottom of your feet. You have to trust yourself, trust the precautions you’re taking, and be extra diligent with your warmups. Adopt the mindset of assured success. Take your first step knowing that you will make it to the end.

5) Don’t run alone – this should be common sense. No, you might not be able to convince your running buddy to go barefoot, but I’m sure you can get them to come along for a good run. Your first barefoot run shouldn’t be deep on a woodland trail under moonlight. Be smart, ‘nuf said.

Related Posts:

How to Run Better for the Perfect Run: 5 Things That I Do Differently Now That I Know Better

John races his dog Ronin in a barefoot sprint contest (video)

Barefoot hike up New Englands tallest peak, Mt. Washington – John’s Climbing Trip Report

Watch the Barefoot Sensei in Action

My Definitive Guide to Going Barefoot

To your health and success,

CST, CST-KS, NSCA-CPT
Fitness Professional

P.S. I recommend RMAX Powered Running for running-specific warmup and cooldown drills:

21 Responses

  1. Great information, thanks for sharing. Tell your wife she did a good job with the camera, too :) I have to say I’m surprised it was so easy for you. I guess once the blood gets flowing. I’ll have to give it a try sometime, though not sure when I’ll be in the snow next. Gotta try 40’s first on dry land I think.

    • Hi Clynton,

      Thanks for your comment. The hardest part was deciding to do it. If you can get past that part, the rest is easy. Just one foot in front of the other.

      • Alan Champion

        Hi John,

        I tried the running in snow here in the UK and was a great experience!
        Will you be doing any running in the snow at all or on ice maybe?

        Cheers

        Al

        • Hi Alan,

          I’ve been doing a little bit of running lately, both on snow and ice. We have had some bitter cold temperatures around zero Fahrenheit for the past couple weeks, and I haven’t been out running much – mostly hiking.

  2. Hi John

    My friendly 2 cents below ;-).

    First off it is good that you explore your own limits/possibilities and share your experience with people which may inspire them to do the same :).

    However the title of the post and video is misleading. Let me explain this.
    You are not running “in” the snow, you are running “on” it, on a fine layer of snow, which is very different. The difference is in fact HUGE!

    Were you to actually run in the snow, means your feet would land deep enough in it, in at least 2 inches of snow or more, the experience and the outcome would be very different. I can see such a deeper layer of snow on the side of the road on which you drive in the beginning of the video. Going running there in the woods, now that would be “running IN the snow”.

    What would happen very quickly is that your feet would go numb, which is something that must be avoided absolutely for a prolonged duration, as it means the stop of blood traffic in your toes and feet, which can damage them badly.
    So the good thing is that you are going INCREMENTALLY. Everyone should. Cold can damage your feet. I run on ice or in the snow, but I am very careful of not having my feet going numb too much or too long or getting frostbites. And it takes experience to be able to do that. It can be real quick to lose sensitivity and think that you’re fine, when…you’re not at all.

    So no surprise that your feet don’t feel too cold in the end! That is for 3 reasons:

    _you are running in a thin layer of snow, so only the sole of your feet are in touch with it. This sole is thick enough and not much irrigated by blood. You will feel the cold, but not actually suffer much of it (there’s a difference).

    _you are running a very short distance (1 mile is a very short distance).
    It is not a long distance enough or a duration long enough for you to actually start undergoing the cold more deeply.

    _you are running with a natural, leaning forward, ball-heel-ball barefoot running form, which allow your feet to stay much less time on support (in touch with the ground) so that your feet spend much more time in the air than in touch with the snowy cold ground.

    There a multiple aspects that must be taken into account to condition feet to be able to run “on” or “in” (the toughest in fact) the snow or on ice.
    But the most important I believe is that one must become able to…..stand the cold for prolonged duration and not only a for a brief, physically active (medium to high intensity) duration.

    If you go barefoot on the snow (as opposed to “in” the snow) it is to toughen up your feet right?
    Then, why not toughening up the rest of your body, and take off most clothes, beanie and gloves? For instance your fingers deserve as much as your feet to toughen up to the cold.
    I recommend toughening up the WHOLE body, not only the feet.
    Secondly I recommend walking outdoors in the cold with minimal shoes and no socks, to build resistance to the cold.
    It is 2 degrees here in Boulder and I walk outside on ice and snow in FEELMAX slippers (without socks) which sole is finer than FiveFingers, for the reason mentioned above: conditioning to cold.

    Last, diet is a crucial aspect of that physiological conditioning, I recommend a diet higher in fat, YES, higher in FAT, I am talking about high quality saturated fat, both of animal and vegetal origin.
    (dig in Weston Price work for instance).
    A junk food diet or even a “healthy” low fat diet would make it very though for the body to withstand with the cold without shoes or clothes.

    I hope this helps buddy ;-).

    • Erwan,

      Your advice is most welcome here! Thank you for the thoughtful and detailed response. You’re right, I am running on the snow, not in it. It was actually still snowing while I was running, which is why I reflexively titled it Running in the Snow, but I’ve changed the titles to reflect that.

      It can be real quick to lose sensitivity and think that you’re fine, when…you’re not at all.

      This is exactly why I thought running ON a thin layer of snow for a short distance would be a good first step for me. I have a history of pushing through the pain through to my own destruction. I spent almost 3 years in physical therapy because I pushed myself too hard, too soon, and I’ve since learned from that mistake. The more incremental any new movement skill can be, the better (and safer).

      In this case, I was adapting to:

      1) cold temperature that I’ve never experienced barefoot
      2) wet and slippery surface to run on

      Thanks again for your comment, Erwan. I will keep it in mind as I progress.

      To my readers, this is EXACTLY why having a coach is of paramount importance. They can greatly shorten the learning curve of new skills and point out things that you wouldn’t notice yourself. Another thing that coaches excel at is taking their trainee’s to their limit without going too far. Had Erwan been with me on my run, I’m sure I would have challenged myself much more because of his experience with this skill. He would have taken me right to my limit, and no further. This is exactly how he coached our group at his MovNat training seminar:
      http://physicalliving.com/review-of-erwan-le-corres-movnat-course-in-summersville-wv/

      Even the pro’s need good coaching, and I encourage everyone to seek out qualified, talented coaching.

      • PS – Most people are shocked to hear how much fat I actually consume… the comments are usually.

        You’re cooking that in coconut oil…
        You eat WHOLE eggs – and not egg whites!
        I just thought you were supposed to throw bacon fat away.

  3. John – could you tell me the essential concepts of the pose method of running? thank you!!

    • Priyam, You can learn more at POSETECH.com, and there are already some decent resources available for learning the basic components. The best thing is to seek out a qualified instructor and learn in-person.

      I’m not POSE certified, but my understanding of POSE as it was taught to me is…

      1) Lean forward, allowing gravity to slightly pull you forward/down
      2) Tall spine – crown to coccyx alignment
      3) As you fall forward, “catch yourself” with one leg that is placed slightly in front of you, but mostly underneath your structure (not reaching far with your gait, short steps).
      4) land mid-foot (ball-of-foot), absorb bodyweight with ankle flexion until heel contacts ground, and then drive flat foot into ball-of-foot. The ground contact order is ball-heel-ball – and it is very fast movement.
      5) after ball-heel-ball contact, quickly snap the downed leg upwards using knee flexion until you form the shape of a “4” with your legs (one planted, one bent).

      I may do a post in the future with a video or pictures to make this explanation a little more clear, but those are the basics. The idea is to let gravity do as much work as possible, and minimize ground contact time.

      Best,

      John

  4. That’s very helpful, John. I’ll also check out the Pose site. BTW: I luv your blog & vids!! Great stuff, Bro!

  5. John,

    Nice article! I had worn Vibrams in years’ past when runing in snow. this is the first year I decided to find my own personal limits. So far, so good. I think your advice is pretty good… nice work!

    -Jason

    • Thanks Jason!

    • Thanks for the post John! I wanna try this sometime. Of course, I’m going to start off maybe with something a little more warmer… lol
      Also do you recommend using Vibrams like Jason Robillard was referring to? I ran into the Vibram site today. I really really want some, but not sure. What are your thoughts?
      P.S. This is my first post. I just recently ran into your site and I really appreciate your posts! Keep up the good work!

      • Hi Michael,

        Yes, I own and use a pair of Vibram KSO’s. Although I have not tried them out in the snow. Their traction is excellent on dry surfaces, but may not do well on wet or slippery ground. I think they are ideal for spring/fall training when going barefoot isn’t plausible.

  6. John,

    You must be psychic. I was just thinking of trying snow running in my Vibram Five Fingers for the first time. I went in trail shoes on Sunday and had a blast, but my knee bothered me the day after. I bought a new pair of KSO’s (black this time, for, uh, “dress up”)and wore them from the store to the car in the cold (but not snow then) and drove in them (which was a nice feeling actually, but strange to feel the pedals. I know that the cold can be felt through the tops of the VFF’s. But I still want to try conditioning myself. I get hot in clothes,hat, and gloves while running in the cold, but I am afraid for the feet, especially if I am “IN” the snow as Erwin points out and get them submerged and cold and wet. I may do a little experiment today for a couple of minutes. If these don’t work, I’m thinking maybe something like a moccasin that comes up the leg a bit like a boot. We’re getting another 3 or 4 inches today. A mixture of lighter, fluffier snow on top of the wetter stuff we got over the weekend.

    Thanks for the info.

    TrailGrrl

  7. Sorry for the extra post but I thought of something else. I had a friend who noticed one of his students didn’t wear socks in the winter with big clonker shoes, so he asked him about it. They guy swore that his circulation was better and his feet warmer without socks. So my friend actually tried it himself as an experiment for a while. He did think it seemed to be warmer, but then again you are not getting your whole foot and she submerged in snow. So he actually might still be doing it for all I know. Has anyone else noticed this at all?

    TrailGrrl

    • Hi TrailGrrl,

      Definitely give it a try today, and work up to longer distances gradually. I recommend warming up extra long before stepping out the door, too. I have noticed that my feet are warmer when barefoot, than with socks on – and I’m not sure exactly why.

  8. […] Guide for Going Barefoot. Furthermore, thousands have been inspired by my barefoot sprinting and barefoot running in the snow videos. Crowds have oo’ed and ah’ed at the Barefoot Sensei Mick Dodge and other […]

  9. I wish I had read this yesterday. Today I tried to make me first barefoot run on snow but I didn’t succeed – covered only 400 meters.. I just couldn’t cope with that cold. If only I could new I have to stay out despite everything.. OK, I’ll stay out at least 5 mins next time!

  10. Genesis Williams

    I’ve been running barefoot for 2 years but haven’t run in the snow- should I be concerned about the chemicles in the salt?

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