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How Barefoot Running Shoes Work


Types of Barefoot Running Shoes
The eye-catching Vibram FiveFingers brand has transcended its running roots to become a fashion shoe as well.
The eye-catching Vibram FiveFingers brand has transcended its running roots to become a fashion shoe as well.
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Between going truly barefoot and wearing traditional running shoes, you'll find innumerable nuances of coverage and functionality. What passes for barefoot running shoes runs quite a gamut, so let's examine the primary types of minimalist shoes intended to be worn by runners. Later on in the article we'll talk more about different brands and the features to watch for when you go to buy this type of footwear.

  • Trail running shoes: Rugged trail running can be hard on the feet, so this type of shoe is the least barefoot-like of all. They have thicker soles for extra grip and abrasion protection and fairly complete coverage of the upper foot. Some brands will leave you wondering where the barefoot part comes in, though the structure of even these hardy shoes is relatively thin.
  • Road running shoes: You really start to see the crowd stretch out when you look at minimalist shoes designed for road running. Most have thin, flat soles on shoes so flexible you can roll them into an "O" shape. Some shoes in this category offer increased top-foot coverage and look very much like regular running shoes until closer inspection.
  • Foot thongs: Quite possibly the most interesting barefoot running "shoe" out there is the foot thong. I'm not talking about a woman's sultry podiatric accessory, but rather a small strap-on foot pad that protects only the ball of the foot, and nothing else.

You might have noticed by now that one thing all these types have in common is the lack of physical support for the foot, which is the whole idea. So is all that talk over the years about getting the right running shoe to support your foot a bunch of hooey? Can barefoot running shoes really do anything to prevent injury, or is it just a crazy fad that's going to send runners to the doctor's office?


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