Barefoot Running and Minimalist Shoes: Is It Right for Everyone?

Toe glove shoes look funky. But in some running circles, they are the latest, greatest thing. If you’re a runner, chances are you’ve come across people who either run barefoot or in minimalist shoes. Or you’ve read articles about how people in other countries who do this are amazing runners and that running shoes actually don’t do anything.

Certainly, there are some arguments for it. After all, humans have run many miles before running shoes (or any shoes) were invented. Why not return to a more natural state?

In a study from Harvard, researchers found that yes, people can run barefoot without injury. Researchers said,  “… most experienced, habitually barefoot runners tend to avoid landing on the heel and instead land with a forefoot or midfoot strike … We show that most forefoot and some midfoot strikes (shod or barefoot) do not generate the sudden, large impact transients that occur when you heel strike (shod or barefoot). Consequently, runners who forefoot or midfoot strike do not need shoes with elevated cushioned heels to cope with these sudden, high transient forces that occur when you land on the ground. Therefore, barefoot and minimally shod people can run easily on the hardest surfaces in the world without discomfort from landing.”

Ready to toss your sneakers? Here are some things to consider before you hit the pavement:

  • People with severe pronation or supination should avoid running barefoot. Pronation is the way the foot rolls inward when you walk and run. Supination is the opposite, referring to the outward roll of the foot. Speak to a doctor or running store employee to find out if your pronation or supination is extreme. If so, running shoes will help you avoid injury.
  • Running barefoot or in minimalist shoes requires a change in mechanics. As noted in the Harvard study, a person’s foot hits the ground differently when barefoot. It also tends to create a shorter stride. These changes mean more reliance on the calf muscles and Achilles tendons for shock absorption and propulsion, and you need to change your strength training regimen in order to strengthen those areas. Runner’s World has a few tips on checking and strengthening areas of your feet and legs before trying minimalist shoes.
  • Injuries are still possible. As with any exercise, running can lead to injury. People who run barefoot may be trading one set of potential injuries for another. Barefoot running cases more stress on the midfoot and arch, which may lead to stress fractures or plantar fasciitis, for example. If you run in a city, there’s always the risk of broken glass (or something gross) on the sidewalk.
  • No single running style is perfect for everyone. If you’re eager to try a new style, go for it. But consider first trying minimalist shoes instead of directly going barefoot. It will help you ease into it. The Harvard study also has useful information about preparing to run barefoot.
  • Finally, check with a professional. Whether you’ve been running for 10 years or 10 days, be sure to speak to your doctor or physical therapist about barefoot or minimalist shoe running.


What questions do you have about barefoot running or running with minimalist shoes?

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