How Barefoot Running Shoes Work

Should you be using barefoot running shoes?

Not everyone agrees that you should ditch your arch supports and thick soles. There's a real risk of plantar fasciitis (and other injuries) from the greater stress you're placing on your foot while running in minimalist shoes. Podiatrists also note that not all feet are created equal; runners with medical issues such as numb spots, flat-footedness, high arches, or other problems should not even try running in barefoot shoes [source: Ignelzi].

The newest studies show that barefoot shoes may not offer many benefits in terms of form. Instead of naturally helping you find your "true" form, they may simply shift stressors to other parts of your body, resulting in injuries [source: Reynolds]. In short, you may find what many (former) barefoot runners already have -- minimalist shoes can be a hazard instead of a help.

In additional to declining minimalist shoe sales, companies have suffered other difficulties. Vibram, which helped popularize minimalist shoes, settled a class-action lawsuit by paying nearly $4 million in early 2014. As part of the settlement, the company is required to stop touting health or strength benefits of its barefoot shoes until it can produce scientific proof. To date, it hasn't.

Yet in spite of that PR setback, there's no doubt that plenty of runners have found success and comfort in barefoot running. If you want to try barefoot running, consider talking to a podiatrist to see if there are any issues with your feet that would cause an increased risk for injury with minimalist shoes. If you get the go-ahead, transition slowly using barefoot running shoes to avoid doing nasty things to your feet. Start with shoes that have limited arch support and padding, and maybe go with a smaller drop in the sole. There's no set time schedule for this transition. Listen to your body.

Author's Note

Big, soft-soled shoes may rob you of proper form; barefoot shoes may not provide enough protection from shock. How are you supposed to know what kind of shoes to wear when you run? Personal experience is your best guide. The best and most experienced runners learn to listen to their bodies. As they change mileage and intensity, they notice how their bodies respond. The same goes for choosing running shoes. Pay close attention to the story your body has to tell you – you'll start to understand why certain twinges and aches develop. That way, if a certain type of shoe is to blame, you can adjust according and stave off real health problems. - NC

Related Articles


  • Bernstein, Lenny. “People Who Bought these Vibram FiveFingers Shoes May be Entitled to a Refund.” Washington Post. May 8, 2014. (May 19, 2014)
  • Douglas, Scott. “Sales of Minimalist Shoes Plummet.” Runners World. May 13, 2013. (May 19, 2014)
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  • Ignelzi, R.J. "No Socks, No Shoes, No Problem?" San Diego Tribune. May 11, 2010. (May 19, 2014)
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