5 Secrets of Barefoot Running

Running Barefoot by karmadude, on Flickr

Running Barefoot by karmadude, on Flickr

Let’s face it, talking about barefoot running is still great hype. After all, you’re here reading my article.

Barefoot running has gotten huge over the last few years. Tens of thousands of people claim that since it’s the most natural way to run, it’s the best. So, you know it must be true.

But does it hold up to all the scrutiny?


After all, not everyone has picked up barefoot running yet. In fact, the vast majority of people are still wearing traditional running shoes. What is wrong with them?

Well from both personal experience, and that of friends, I want to share a few things you might find are already part of the discussion, but should be reviewed anyway.

Barefoot Running Reduces Injuries

Most people who run in traditional running shoes are taught to lead with the heel. In other words, they land very heavily on their heels while they run. Hence why most running shoes focus cushioning on the heel of the shoe.

The thing is- it doesn’t make sense for our bodies to run like that. That’s why so many distance runners experience shin splints and foot pain. Even if you are wearing running shoes, hitting heel-first is unnatural and your body isn’t meant to take that kind of force.

If you run barefoot, it feels extremely uncomfortable to hit with your heel first. Not only do you feel the shock of force going up your leg, but you also hit the ground much harder.

Meanwhile, landing on the ball of your foot allows you to land softer. This prevents injuries such as shin splints, and your feet will thank you as well.

That said- you still have to watch where you’re going. Running barefoot or in minimalist shoes means that you can step off an unexpected curb, or into a pothole and not get hurt.

Improved Stability

Engineering is Elementary: Designing Knee Braces by kjarrett, on Flickr

Engineering is Elementary: Designing Knee Braces by kjarrett, on Flickr

In addition to the large muscles in your legs, you have many smaller muscles called stabilizers. Strong stabilizer muscles are what allow gymnasts to flip all over the place and land on a mat without turning an ankle. It’s also what allows runners to log thousands of miles without turning an ankle or hurting their knees.

The thing is- running shoes don’t help you strengthen those stabilizers. Since the shoe typically comes up your ankle, it helps provide the support that your stabilizers normally provide. This causes these muscles to go unused, which eventually weakens them.

Meanwhile, minimalist running shoes have no support for the ankle. This helps you improve stability muscles.

Besides- if you ever go trail running in minimalist shoes, you’ll quickly see how much more easily you feel like you can maneuver around trees, rocks, roots, etc.

Improve Propulsion

Have you ever watched sprinters at a track race?

They don’t strike with their heel first. In fact, they hardly let their heels touch the ground at all. They’ve been trained to run on the balls of their feet because that’s what gives them the most propulsion and speed.

Running barefoot gives the same benefit. Nobody propels themselves forward with their heel, right? It’s always with the ball of the foot.

So by landing on the ball of the foot, you’re already prepared to push yourself off again quickly. In other words, you’re improving both your propulsion and your efficiency by landing on the front of your foot.

Want Strong Legs and Feet?

How much of a workout do your feet get when you run in traditional shoes?

Not much of one, I can tell you that.

Your foot muscles are doing work, but not very much. At least, not when you compare it to the amount of strength needed for barefoot running.

The first time that people try running barefoot or in minimalist shoes, they’re usually surprised at how their feet and lower legs feel afterwards. Their feet may feel sore, and their calves are usually on fire. That’s because this method of running uses a lot more muscles, including those that are ignored by traditional running forms.

So what do you think is better- running with a crutch (aka regular running shoe) that doesn’t strengthen your feet and legs? Or running in a way that builds stronger muscles?

Like Money?

Let’s face it- these days, most of us will have arthritis when we get older. It could be because of the food we eat, or toxins in the air, or whatever you want to blame it on.

The thing is- do you want to accelerate that process?

Minimalist running helps protect your joints and cartilage because you lessen the impact when you land. Over years, even decades of running- this adds up to a LOT less force going up your legs.

Less force most likely means less arthritis, fewer doctor visits and lower doses of medication, if any.

Sounds like a win-win for me.


Admittedly- barefoot and minimalist running may not be quite as amazing as some people (including myself in this article) have claimed. As a matter of fact, it’s not amazing at all considering that is how we have run for 99.9% of human existence.

My job here is done. Discuss.

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