Barefoot running

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Against allopathy
Alternative medicine
Clinically unproven

Barefoot running is running, minus shoes or socks. Barefoot running is the way humans evolved to run (though some subsequently worked to never have to do that again). Barefoot running is purported to improve your gait by providing your feet with immediate feedback (i.e. "that really hurts, better not do that again"). Proponents argue that while running barefoot increases the risk of cuts and bruising, it reduces the risk of common injuries such as stress fractures caused by excessive heel striking, which is allowed only by the cushioning in modern shoes. Studies show that running in shoes increases the risk of acute ankle injuries and chronic lower leg injuries,[1] increases stress on knee joints,[2] and increases joint torque in the hip, knee, and ankle.[3] Barefoot running should be slowly transitioned into; rushing into barefoot running without prior experience can increase risk of injury.

Minimalist shoes, also known as barefoot shoes, deliberately lack some or all modern aspects of shoes (cushioning, rigid sole, raised heel, curled toe-box, etc.). These are purported to mimic the barefoot sensation but still provide protection.

Actual benefits[edit]

Advocates claim that running shoes put the foot in an unnatural position when striking the ground, and further that with correct form, the chance of injury is lower and certain muscles are strengthened. Running barefoot supposedly teaches correct form through tactile sensation or even pain — if it hurts, you are doing something wrong.[4] Hence, barefoot running alone does not help if the form does not improve.

Much of the recent interest also appears to have been sparked by the introduction by shoe company Vibram of a new shoe, "Fivefingers," that claims to mimic barefoot walking.[5] Since barefoot proponents' claims about injury-free running stems from the runner correcting their form via the tactile sensation of barefoot running, Vibram's claim makes little sense. There has even been a study where a group of runners were given Vibram FiveFingers and gained stress fractures afterwards.[6] This is reportedly a common injury among those who switch from regular to minimalist shoes. Unsurprisingly, Vibram has since had to settle on a class action lawsuit that attacks marketing claims about how its footwear is safer than regular shoes.[7] As with any market niche, other shoe manufacturers have entered the market, such as the Nike Free.

Barefoot enthusiasts actually advise against simply switching from regular running shoes to barefoot shoes. Instead, they recommend starting out literally barefoot and only switching to minimalist shoes once you gained enough experience doing that and have good form.[8] The explanation is that using even minimalist shoes dampens feedback needed for a person to feel what is wrong with their form and thus correct it. Other claimed benefits include greater sensation of terrain and environment, which is why this idea can appeal to people like hippies.

Barefoot proponents often talk about how modern shoes are unhealthy and actually cause foot problems.[9]


There is currently not too much of a scientific consensus on barefoot running and research into the pros and cons of it is still sketchy. There are risks and benefits associated with both. The ambiguity hasn't stopped proponents from making excessive health claims for it and turning it into a recent fitness fad.

The American Podiatric Medical Association notes the ambiguous scientific consensus and recommends that runners consult a podiatrist before taking up barefoot running.[10]

The journal Nature states: "Kinematic and kinetic analyses show that even on hard surfaces, barefoot runners who fore-foot strike generate smaller collision forces than shod rear-foot strikers."[11] The difference between the two thus seems to be dependent on running gait.

Historically, humans ran on hard, rocky, or dry deserts, frozen ground, and similar hard terrain, barefoot or with early shoes. It does not follow that doing so is inherently better than wearing modern footwear (as humans also didn't have regular handwashing or brushing and flossing habits), absent evidence of systematic differences in gait and evidence that those differences have a meaningful impact on injury and comfort. Modern humans run a lot less than their ancestors, and some claimed improvements could really be down to practice at running rather than any special technique. After all, any physical activity becomes more comfortable and easier with practice.

A study in 2013 found that unshod populations run with heelfoot strike at lower speeds. [12]

Born to Run[edit]

Another source of interest is the publication of the book "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall in which he examines the Mexican Tarahumara Indians who run long distances barefoot. The author, who is a runner himself, overcame his injuries by modelling his running after that of the Tarahumara. McDougall makes numerous claims, including the one that modern runner shoes are actually detrimental to a runner's foot health.

Alternate "benefits"[edit]

Joseph Mercola also claims it is beneficial because it provides electrical grounding,[13] but this claim isn't exactly grounded in science.[14]

A lot of the arguments for barefoot running are of the Appeal to nature or Appeal to tradition type. Being shoeless/naked is "natural" and/or "what we did for millions of years", before humans were corrupted by technology, and/or the Big Shoe Corporations. This, like virtually all other appeals to some sort of paleolithic golden age, can be countered very simply by pointing to evolution; if shoes are bad for you, the shod people would've been outcompetedWikipedia by the shoelessWikipedia

Fun fact: walking barefoot on dirty floors can cause plantar warts (a type of virus).[15]

Barefoot runners[edit]

Barefoot running is a common practice in many parts of the world; for instance, Tarahumara people of Mexico are famous for running hundreds of miles across the Mexican desert.[16]

There have been the occasional athletes who run barefoot. South African distance runner Zola Budd won barefoot,[17] and the 1960 men's Olympic marathon in Rome was won by Ethiopian Abebe Bikila who lacked shoes (mainly because he didn't like how the free ones Adidas gave him felt).[18] Today, however, elite athletes are paid shitloads of money to wear custom made shoes from sporting goods companies, so this will probably never happen again. However, many long distance races like marathons and half-marathons will still feature a number of barefoot runners, or runners who finished the race barefoot.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  2. WebMd
  4. Barefoot marathon runner and author's FAQ on the topic
  5. "Foot Mechanics & Barefoot Shoe Health FAQ." Vibram FiveFingers.
  6. Link to study
  7. A site dedicated to those who can be reimbursed for their FiveFingers, gives details about the case
  8. A barefoot-proponent and author's article about this
  9. A physical therapist claims he fixed flat feet by exercises.
  10. "Barefoot Running." Position Statements. American Podiatric Medical Association. 2009 November 9.
  11. Nature on barefoot running
  15. [ Dirty floors and bare feet don’t mix: Walking barefoot on dirty bathroom or locker room floors can lead to plantar warts (August 29, 2023) Order of Saint Francis HealthCare.
  16. Christopher McDougall. "What Ruins Running." Boston Globe. 2009 April 19.
  17. Karina Turok and Margie Orford. Life and Soul: Portraits of Women Who Move South Africa. Double Story. 2006.
  18. Cliff Redding. "In Africa, Sports Is the Thing." The Crisis, page 62. July 1998.