Barefoot Running Shoes – What Are They and What Running Advantages Do I Gain?

Barefoot Running ShoesOur bodies are naturally designed for running, as throughout much of history it was an essential skill for survival. Shoes weren’t always around and they were usually non-essential. In the absence of shoes the human body works with the terrain to protect itself, its joints, its skin and to produce the fastest speeds possible. Many people today still find shoes unnecessary for everyday activities, including running. Some of the top award-winning runners in the world win competitions barefoot, and have often gone shoeless all their lives. However, our society makes it impossible to go safely without shoes one hundred percent of the time. Barefoot shoes make it possible to simulate the action of running barefoot while also protecting the sensitive sole of the foot from hazards such as broken glass and nails.

Many popular star athletes attribute their slight edge of success to shoes provided by big name sportswear companies, but their claims don’t come to much when an unshod Kenyan “gives them a run for their money” and takes the award out from under their feet.

Are Barefoot Running Shoes Dangerous?

Contrary to popular belief running barefoot, when done correctly, is neither dangerous nor painful. In a Harvard study that compared shoeless runners with shod runners, it was discovered that those wearing shoes actually made contact with the ground almost four times harder than the barefoot runners, and exhibited less graceful and less springy steps. Considering that many running injuries result from the force of impact with the ground and the negative effects on the joints, these are astounding results.

Running barefoot causes the foot to strike the ground in a different way than running shod. If you try taking off your shoes and running, you’ll see immediately why this is. The impact on the heel is far too painful to run this way for long. If you stick with running barefoot your body will be forced to change its gait. The body protects itself by using a forefoot or midfoot strike, which lessens the impact on the foot and on the body overall. It creates a more graceful and springy stride. This can reduce stress injuries and fractures, reduce plantar fasciitis and ease runner’s knee, as well as strengthen the foot and calf muscles.

Barefoot running is healthy for many reasons. It naturally strengthens muscles in the feet, specifically in the arch. A healthy arch is less likely to collapse and mitigates pronation. Going barefoot also means there is less weight at the end of the foot, and in studies that compared it with shod running, it used five percent less energy, which makes for longer endurance and the slight edge of speed that just might mean the difference between first and second place.

What Are Barefoot Running Shoes Advantages?

Barefoot Running Shoes pronationBarefoot running shoes simulate actually going barefoot by allowing the feet to move in natural ways, not forcing them to conform to a firm, contoured sole. Experienced barefoot runners have tough calluses on the soles of their feet which protect them from debris, but it’s unlikely most Westerners would have developed this natural protection. For those in a society that demands going shod, shoes that simulate going barefoot support the instinctive movement of the body without seeking to control it, while also protecting the soles of the feet from dangerous debris such as glass.

There is a lot of talk in the shoe industry these days about good “arch support.” Using a shoe that has firm structure and arch support for running is not ideal, though. While it will protect your foot from hazards on the ground, it will also prevent the natural inclination of your arch to flatten over time. This will prevent the ligaments and muscles in your foot from developing and functioning for optimum strength and health. Barefoot shoes are flexible with no arch support, allowing your foot to move naturally.

Your feet contain many nerve endings, and proper circulation throughout your feet is essential for keeping a healthy blood flow and revitalizing your tissues. Barefoot shoes allow optimum circulation. They also improve posture, as your body is not forced to make sense of and compensate for the constant, uneven contours of the lower half of a shoe. Walking barefoot over a variety of terrains ensures that your feet don’t become “conditioned” to one type of ground. This improves balance.

Running in Barefoot shoes will take some getting used to, especially if you are accustomed to running with conventional running shoes. As your feet and body adjust to a forefoot (or midfoot) strike, your feet may feel tired and sore. This is natural. In time your feet and calves will strengthen and your speed can improve.

Running barefoot is the healthiest option for your body but it’s not practical or possible in modern society, especially for those living in cities. Even those living on farmland run the risk of stepping on nails or scraps of plastic. For these reasons, Barefoot running shoes offer the best of both worlds.

One thought on “Barefoot Running Shoes – What Are They and What Running Advantages Do I Gain?

  1. David Sneen

    Ken, As a reluctantly retired (knees) former barefoot runner, I love the innovation. Fascinating article. Great arguments. I just ran barefoot because the grass felt good!

    Reply

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