‘Barefoot Running’ – Silly Craze or the Future of Running?

Barefoot man in front of the sea

If you’re part of the running community then there’s a good chance you’ve come across the term ‘barefoot running.’  You might have seen it online. Moreover in a forum, or maybe a member of your local running club mentioned it. Truth be told, though, the concept has proved pretty polarising in the world of running, the people that are for it are definitely very much FOR it, and yet those that are against the idea are very much AGAINST the idea. With so much bias on both sides it can be hard to know where to stand, and so this article will be looking in detail at the pros, cons and reality of barefoot running.

First things first, what do we mean when we say barefoot running?

Barefoot run

Barefoot, or natural, running is exactly what its name suggests, running in bare feet without the aid of shoes for support. The practice obviously has strong historical roots (we all must have run barefoot before shoes were invented), but up until recently there have been very few places that actively practice barefoot running. Today, however, there is a growing trend in barefoot running. Largely due to the widespread popularity of Christopher McDougall’s book ‘Born to Run,’ which promoted the idea.

Won’t it hurt your feet?

Barefoot running in urban environments is definitely not advised. The widespread use of plastics, metals and other man-made objects makes the risk of cuts and bruises too high.

However, some companies such as vivobarefoot and vibrams have developed minimalist running shoes that protect the foot from outside objects without providing any support that would interfere with the barefoot running style. Prices tend to range from £70-150, much like traditional running shoes.

How do the shoes work?

They use a lightweight yet strong material to prevent punctures and protect the feet. They are also usually made from a non-marking rubber compound. That means that they can be worn on a variety of surfaces and provide good amounts of grip.

Barefoot shoes

Some examples of successful barefoot runners

Bruce Tulloh, a British runner, competed in various races barefoot during the 1960’s, including the 1962 European Games 5000m.

There’s also Shivnath Singh, an Indian runner known during the 1970’s for running barefoot except for tape on his feet.

In the 1980’s South Africa’s Zola Budd won the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Furthermore, he has competed in the Los Angeles Olympic Games, both of which she did barefoot.

However, it’s also important to remember that there are plenty of world class runners that use traditional running shoes. Meaning that it’s the person rather than the shoe that makes an elite level athlete.

A great example of this is Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila, who won the 1960 Olympic Marathon barefoot,  followed by the 1964 Olympic Marathon in traditional running shoes.

Man Running Barefoot

Are there any LIKELY advantages?

Although there might be quite a few claims about the advantages of barefoot running many of these are purely theoretical and have yet to be proven in any scientific study or test. Here’s some of the actual research so far

Most research has suggested that the main difference between barefoot running and running in traditional shoes is that the barefoot running technique allows for a better absorption of shock from landing due to an altered foot strike. To be specific, barefoot runners tend to use the middle and balls of their feet to contact whereas shoe runners tend towards striking with their heels. Linked to this, barefoot runners also have shorter but more frequent strides. This can help to reduce the issues associated with repetitive shock absorptions.

Barefoot running may also be more efficient, with some studies showing that barefoot running uses around 4% less energy. This may be explained by the increased usage of muscle elasticity and the stretch shortening cycle.

There have also been some studies suggesting that the longitudinal arch of the foot adapts to barefoot running (by shortening) allowing the foot to essentially ‘dampen’ some impact and reduce stress on the plantar fascia.

Man runs with shoes

Are there any LIKELY disadvantages?


Some of the main issues associated with barefoot running areachilles tendinitis, pulled calf muscles and metatarsal stress fractures. Most of these injuries have been shown to occur due to improper (i.e. too fast) transition from shoe based to barefoot running.

It is also worth noting that the American Diabetes Association recommends against barefoot running for diabetics and others with a reduced sensation in their feet. This recommendation seems to come from concerns over increased risk of injury. However, it’s hard to say what research they drew upon to make this conclusion.

Another recent study also interestingly found that heavier runners, especially those considered as overweight, were at an increased risk of injury from minimalist shoes when compared to more traditional running footwear.

So what does this all mean?

Well, to be honest, it means that the jury is very much still out on the topic of Barefoot running. In theory, there are a few potential benefits, yet at the same time, there are also a few potential drawbacks.

Woman runs in shoes

The main thing you need to take away from this is that you shouldn’t listen to any outlandish claims. Either for and against barefoot or minimalist running.

Should I run with traditional shoes or go barefoot/minimalist?

This honestly comes down to personal preference. If you’ve always run in traditional running shoes pain-free then I recommend continuing to do so. However, if you’ve had any persistent issues or niggles  (especially in your knees) then you might want to experiment with barefoot running.

Remember, though, transitioning to the barefoot running style takes time; your foot and calf muscles need to adapt. Most sources suggest allowing at least three months, and ideally closer to six months, to slowly adapt to the new style with very gradual increases in distance and frequency.

I hope this has answered some of your questions with regards to barefoot running. Like most things in life its not a simple story of good or evil, it comes down to your own personal experience and judgement.

Considering barefoot running? Let me know in the comments!

47 comments

  1. I love this article. I used to run 5 miles on the beach barefoot early in the morning when the sand was packed. I loved the feel of freedom it allowed me to get my feet we and not have the weight and confinement of a shoe. It really gave me my best runs… HOWEVER…. after getting a foot full of terrible blisters from the friction and not being able to walk for days, I stopped that. The blisters did not appear immediately, but towards the end of the run. They were totally all over the bottom of my feet, so there was no relief from pain until they healed. I was really sad to give up my barefoot running, but I was never going to relive that blister experience. I am interested in trying the barefoot runners shoes. I am not sure if I would use them when I am running on the streets, but I might would like them on the beach.

    1. It great you experience barefoot running, Katie! Sorry to hear about the blisters, though…

  2. Barefoot walking might be for me, running…nay…it hurts

    1. I don’t doubt that many people would agree with you, Angie!

  3. Great post. I once saw a runner complete a parkrun barefoot and I thought he was mad! After some research and sampling some Vibram Five Fingers, it wasn’t as uncomfortable as I thought it would be. Give me a pair of trainers any day tough, haha!

    1. It’s great you had an opportunity to see someone running barefoot, Sarah! 🙂

  4. Nice post! I am the complete opposite of a barefoot runner; I like my shoes as supportive as possible 🙂 It’s how I run best and I feel like it minimizes my risk of injury. But I totally understand that some people feel better barefoot!

    1. Thanks, Chrissy! It is all about how a person feels more comfortable! 🙂

  5. My friend has those shoes! He wears them a lot (even when we go hiking) so he must like them. I’m more of a walker than a runner and while I love walking barefoot on the beach, if I was on concrete or the bush I’d want supportive and protective shoes.

    1. There are many people who share their positive opinion about these shoes, just like your friend, Chelsey!

  6. my dad has those minimalist shoes and swears by them! i’m not quite as game. i was struggling to crawl/climb over some rocks barefoot yesterday at the beach, much less trying to run barefoot!

    1. Thanks for sharing your opinion, Heather! 🙂

  7. I think I’ll stick to shoes, I don’t trust whats out there on the roads and sidewalks 🙂 .

    1. Hey, Stacey. Barefoot running in urban environments is definitely not advised. But I definitely see what you mean! 🙂

  8. This is a wonderful post, Agnes. I cannot see myself running barefoot, just don’t feel comfortable. But I am happy that people like barefoot running.

  9. Yeahhhhhh I’m not sure about running! I love walking barefoot – there’s something so liberating and sensual about it… but running – I can only imagine a world of pain!

    Those “barefoot shoes” are interesting though! I had never seen them before…

    1. I am on the same page as you for barefoot walking, Tim! 🙂

  10. Thanks for this post! I kind of want to try it now to see how it feels.

    – Greta
    http://www.mintyfrosting.com

    1. Hey, Greta! Let us know if you like it. 🙂

  11. I got nothing against running barefoot. I know folks who do it that way.
    I personally did not enjoy wearing five finger shoes, they felt funny.
    My philosophy is when it comes to running shoes. Find a pair that suit your need and goals. A few weeks prior to running a marathon, I go to this sports store that I trust in Loma Linda, CA area because the owners are also marathoners, so sometimes I’d need a new pair, and even if they’ve known me, they’d still have me do some stuff with various options of shoes so they could see which ones would do right with my pace and what I was pursuing.
    Comfort and durability are definitely factors that matter, especially in long distance.

    1. I am of the same mind on comfort and durability, Rama! I like your practice of going to the trusted sports store 😉

  12. Agness, there was an Olympic runner in the 80s, Zola Budd of South Africa, who ran barefoot. I couldn’t run 10 meters without shoes!

    1. I didn’t know this info, thanks for enlightening me, Jean! 😉

  13. I love barefoot walking/running on a beach! A girlfriend of mine LOVES those barefoot shoes so I tried them on at the store once and they felt sooo weird. I can see how they def take time getting used to 😉 Thanks for all the great info 🙂

    1. You’re welcome, Karrie! So great you shared your experience with us. 😉

  14. Hi Agness, I’ve never heard of this! I’m not really sure what I think either – I have quite sensitive feet where I’ll walk to the shops and get blisters sometimes, I’m not really sure I’d be cut out for it, haha. My Wife could get away with it though, she walks around barefoot all day so she has a sole of hard skin on the bottom of her feet! Interesting post, I enjoyed reading this.

    1. So, you should buy a pair for your wife, Paul! 🙂

      1. Yes! I agree Agness, hahaha! 😉

  15. I’ve tried some minimalist shoes — and I like them — but they didn’t really make a whole lot of difference to my IT band. I find I do best with a mix in my rotation.

    1. It is indeed individually. Thanks for sharing your opinion, Judy! 🙂

  16. I don’t think I could do it because my feet are supersensitive. I can barely cope with walking on sand-it’s too much for my feet! Interesting post though, my husband has told me about the vibrams.

    1. The idea is quite interesting indeed, Lorraine! 🙂

  17. I wouldn’t suggest barefoot running where I live in Texas. Between fire ants and teasels – owwww! I wear very light Nikes for walking with a soft ankle and that seems a good compromise. When recovering from an Achilles Tendon repair, the physiotherapist told me that the best exercise was walking barefoot on the sand – not easy but it fully manipulated the foot.

    1. Light trainers are a good option, indeed Kerry! 🙂

  18. This is a great post! I will stick to my shoes, however. I leave barefoot running to the beach only.

    1. Thanks, Patrick. Running barefoot on the beach is awesome! 🙂

  19. I love barefoot running on the beach, but since I live in a city it’s definitely not an option anywhere near me. This is such an interesting post though–I never knew about the advantages and disadvantages!

    1. I’m glad you liked the post, Kelsie! 😉

  20. I am into brisk walking these days, but I love doing it barefoot! It feels different, in fact, I love walking barefoot if I’m sure that nothing sharp can find its way to my feet.

    1. Brisk walking seems like a great idea, Muna! 🙂

  21. Different strokes for different folks… I had “barefoot” shoes for a bit, but found the footing awkward and was tripping over myself all the time.

    1. I couldn’t agree more with you, Hannah! 🙂

  22. Hi Agness, I am definitely a shoe person but I can see the benefits of going barefoot. Interesting post for sure.

  23. As much as I love barefoot shoes, I’ve found that running with them only really works for me when I’m trail running. People always point out that humans ran barefoot for thousands of years without shoes, but fail to realize that they didn’t run on pavement. MUCH harder than dirt.

    1. I agree with you, Kate! There is a huge difference between the past and now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *