Are Huarache Good for Running?

Huarache (pronounced wah-rah-chey) are a style of primitive leather sandals originating in Mexico. In recent years, huarache-style running shoes have gained popularity among minimalist and barefoot runners looking for thin, lightweight footwear that allows for a more natural gait.

But are these thin sandal-style running shoes actually good for running on modern surfaces? Do they provide enough protection and support? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at huarache for running and try to answer the question – are huarache good for running shoes?

A Brief History of Huarache

Huaraches have been worn by indigenous peoples in Mexico and Central America since pre-Columbian times. The word huarache comes from the Purépecha language word “kwarachi”, meaning sandal.

Traditional huarache sandals consisted of handwoven leather straps with a rubber sole made from recycled tires. The leather straps held the sandal to the foot while still allowing air to circulate. This simple but functional design provided protection in hot climates while allowing freedom of movement.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the humble huarache began to gain popularity outside of Mexico thanks to the minimalist running movement. Brands like Luna Sandals and Xero Shoes adapted the huarache design into modern running shoes made from materials like rubber and lightweight fabrics.

Characteristics of Huarache Running Shoes

Modern huarache running shoes retain some key features of traditional huarache:

• Minimalistic, barely-there design
• Very lightweight and flexible
• Thin sole with no support or cushioning
• Foot-shaped toe box allows toes to spread naturally
• Secure fit using adjustable lace, strap, or cord system

This pared-down design is intended to more closely mimic the experience of running barefoot while still providing some degree of protection from rocks and debris.

The thin soles are close enough to the ground that runners can still take advantage of barefoot running’s purported benefits, like activating smaller stabilizing muscles in the feet and lower legs.

The Pros: Why Some Runners Love Huarache

Huarache offer several potential perks for runners:

Improved proprioception and balance. By removing restrictive cushioning and padding, huarache enhance sensory feedback from the feet, which may improve balance and agility.

Lightweight and comfortable. Weighing only a few ounces, huarache feel barely there on the foot, reducing fatigue over long distances. Their adjustability and open-air design keeps the foot cool as well.

Allows natural foot motion. No arch support and a wide toe box let the feet move and flex as nature intended, with ample room to spread out, promoting foot strength and flexibility.

Low-impact and gentle on joints. With very little cushioning between foot and ground, huarache may encourage better running form with less hard heel-striking, reducing impact up the leg.

Inexpensive and minimalist. Traditionally made from very basic materials like leather and rubber, most huarache are relatively affordable. Their simplicity also appeals to minimalists.

The Cons: Potential Drawbacks of Huarache for Runners

However, some downsides exist when using huarache for running shoes:

Lack of protection and support. With thin, minimally-cushioned soles and no structured upper, huarache provide very little protection from impact or stability for the foot.

Risk of injury on hard surfaces. While running barefoot on natural surfaces has some benefits, modern running surfaces like asphalt and concrete are unforgivingly hard on unprotected feet.

Stones and debris can be painful. Small rocks, acorns, sticks and other natural trail debris will be felt through thin huarache soles and can jab into bare skin.

Wet conditions diminish grip. Huarache are not waterproof, and leather and rubber soles get slippery when wet, increasing chances of sliding during inclement weather.

Takes time to transition. Strengthening feet and adapting form to huarache takes patience, as too much too soon can easily lead to painful overuse injuries.

Are Huarache Good for Running?

So are huarache actually good running shoes? They may be…with some big caveats.

If you’re already used to barefoot shoes, don’t heel strike when you run, have good lower body strength and mobility, and mainly run on groomed surfaces like tracks and smooth trails, huarache could be a great minimalist running option.

They are definitely not suitable for someone who has always run in cushioned trainers and is looking to immediately transition to minimalist footwear on hard paved roads. Gradual adaptation is key for avoiding injury.

Ask yourself the following questions when considering huarache for running:

• Do I run with a forefoot or midfoot strike? Heel striking in huarache will likely be painful and risky.

• Am I prepared to slowly build up mileage in these over months of conditioning? Most running injuries happen due to rushing the adaptation process.

• Where will I be primarily running in huarache? Smooth dirt trails or artificial turf is ideal; asphalt and concrete will be unforgiving and could cause harm over time.

If you run intelligently in huarache, they can be a fantastic minimalist shoe for short to mid-distance running on softer surfaces. But take care to gradually acclimate based on your current conditioning to avoid harming your feet due to overuse.

Tips for Safe Running in Huarache Shoes

Want to test out huarache for running? Here are some top tips:

  1. Ease into it gradually. Start by walking in huarache frequently as your body adapts before attempting to run in them.
  2. Limit mileage when beginning and build slowly over several months to avoid overstress injuries.
  3. Focus on a forefoot or midfoot running form instead of heel-striking. Lack of padding at the rear means you must land with a flatter initial foot strike.
  4. If running somewhere with lots of debris, consider wearing Injinji toe socks for protection underneath the huarache.
  5. Pay attention to any unusual pains as warning signs to build mileage slower – pain means injury could be imminent if you don’t pull back.
  6. Stick to running on dirt trails or tracks rather than roads when breaking in your feet to huarache to lower impact.

Common Questions About Using Huarache for Running

Still have some questions about using minimalist huarache as running shoes? Here are answers to some frequently asked queries:

Are they OK for running on pavement?

While seasoned barefoot runners may be able to run huarache on concrete just fine, it’s best to avoid hard pavement when just transitioning into the shoes. Stick to softer routes first before progressing to rougher ones as your feet strengthen.

Can I run long distances in huarache?

With time and prudent training, it is certainly possible to run half marathons or full marathons in huarache once the skin and muscles have adapted. But don’t try long distances too soon out of the gate. Be patient and work up to it over months.

Are they cold in winter for running outside?

Huarache’s ventilated design does make them prone to feeling cold when used in colder seasons. Consider wearing warmer socks and look for huarache styles that have a closed upper made from neoprene or similar insulating fabrics rather than open-air straps. Minimal trail running versions may be less suited for winter runs.

What is the proper way to lace huaraches?

Most huaraches will come with recommendations on how to securely lace them. In general, the most important thing is ensuring the back strap cups the heel while side straps or cords keep the shoe firmly in place laterally. Too loose and huarache risk slipping; too tight cuts off circulation and should be avoided as well.

Can I lift weights or do HIIT workouts in huarache shoes?

Due to the total lack of cushioning and mediolateral support, most exercise science professionals recommend against using huarache (or any minimalist shoe) for intense weightlifting, HIIT classes, lateral agility drills or similar high-impact, multi-directional movements. Stick with conventional training footwear for the gym and save huaraches primarily for straightforward running.

So are huarache good for running?

With reasonable expectations and proper training adaptation, they can certainly be a healthy, low-impact shoe option over time. Just be sure to carefully ease into using them, choose softer running routes, and listen to your body along the way. Happy running!

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