How Barefoot Running Works

Barefoot Running Shoes

Most barefoot running shoes are little more than socks with some protective layering on the bottom.
Most barefoot running shoes are little more than socks with some protective layering on the bottom.

In spite of the purported benefits of barefoot running, physical therapists and doctors of sports medicine are reporting a sharp rise in injuries related to barefoot running. Physical therapist Darwin Fogt and sports doctor Lewis Maharan report that plantar fasciitis, a painful heel condition affecting about 15 percent of average runners, accounts for up to 90 percent of injuries among runners who have switched to barefoot running [source: Fitzgerald]. These doctors also caution that biomechanically disadvantaged runners, such as those who supinate or overpronoate, have no business ditching their shoes.

Champions of barefoot running, however, believe that most barefoot running injuries stem from making the switch to barefoot running too quickly. In fact, they suggest that your first barefoot running workout should be no more strenuous than walking around your house without shoes [source: Morris]. Aspiring barefoot runners should gradually acclimate to outdoor conditions. First, walk slowly for just a few minutes a day on grass, dirt or another soft surface. Gradually, over many weeks, work up to running a couple of miles barefoot on a soft surface.

Minimal running shoes such as the Vibram Fivefingers offer obvious protection from certain common barefoot running injuries, including:

  • puncture wounds and lacerations
  • thermal injury
  • blistering
  • bruising
  • abrasions

However, the very protection they offer may also give a runner a false sense of security. Striking the ground with too much force is a suspected cause of many running injuries. Traditional, cushioned running shoes change your gait to offset some of these forces. Minimal shoes don't offer the same protections; when this type of shoe, it's important to be extra cautious about doing too much too fast.

Whether it's a fad or a wave of the future, the barefoot running movement seems to have sparked a sea change in thought about running and running shoes. In 2005, when Nike discovered that a popular track coach they sponsored had his team running barefoot drills, they developed the minimalist Nike Free. Differences between barefoot and shod running gaits are currently the subject of intense research. Researchers hope the conclusions they reach will benefit all runners and lead to better running techniques and better running shoes -- or lack thereof.

Find related articles and more great links in the next section.

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • Burfoot, Amby. "Barefoot Running: 2 Sides of a Very Hot Topic." Runner's World. February 2010. (Aug. 14, 2010),7124,s6-238-267--13401-0,00.html
  • Chin, Ingfei. "Born to Run." Discovery Magazine. May 28, 2010. (Aug. 14, 2010)
  • Cortese, Amy. "Wiggling Their Toes at the Shoe Giants." New York Times. Sept. 30, 2009. (Aug. 14, 2010)
  • Fitzgerald, Matt. "Barefoot Running Injury Epidemic." May 27, 2010. (Aug. 14, 2010)
  • Lieberman, Venkadesen, Werbel and others. "Foot Strike Patterns and Collision Forces in Habitually Barefoot Runners." Nature. Jan. 28, 2010. (Aug. 14, 2010)
  • McDougall, Christopher. "Born to Run." Alfred A. Knopf. 2009. (Aug. 14, 2010)
  • McDougall, Christopher. "The Barefoot Running Debate." 2010. (Aug. 14, 2010)
  • Morris, Rick. "Getting Started with Barefoot Running - the Bare Basics." 2010. (Aug. 14, 2010)
  • Reynolds, Gretchen. "Phs. Ed: Is Running Barefoot Better for You?" New York Times. Oct. 21, 2009. (Aug. 14, 2010)
  • Richads, Magin, Callister. "Is your prescription of distance running shoes evidence-based?" British Journal of Sports Medicine. March 26, 2008. (Aug. 14, 2010)