Barefoot running?

The increased popularity of running has lead to an increase in running shoe technology but also an increase in running injuries. Are the two linked? Is Barefoot running the answer?

The notion that wearing shoes contributes to lack of proprioception, injury and deformity comes from the observation that certain tribes like the Masai in Africa or the Tarahumara in Mexico walk or run with simple sandals through rough terrains for miles and never seem to get injured. While westerners wearing designer shoes are thought to inhibit the natural function of the feet, loosing their walking and running power and accumulating injuries.

There is not enough research and evidence to scientifically prove than Barefoot running is better than shod running. The following advice is purely theoretical.




Promotes Fore Foot Strike (FFS), landing on the forefoot instead of the heel which decreases the force going through the body. It enables a softer landing, reducing impact-forces.

Strengthens the intrinsic muscles (muscles supporting) of the foot.

Increases proprioception (brain-muscle connection).


Need gradual supervised gait retraining.

Harder surfaces like pavement create higher impact-load and will affect the lower leg more in barefoot running, increasing the risk of impact-associated injuries like plantar fasciitis.




‘Natural’ state of being for Westerners. We got used to wearing shoes as early as 1 month old.

Well-chosen trainers can correct gait imbalances and give the feet and ankles appropriate support.

Cushioning lessen the impact from hard surfaces.


Promotes Rear Foot Strike (RFS) / heel strike which increases impact-forces, even with cushioned heel trainers. This can lead to repetitive strain injuries like plantar fasciitis.

Reduces proprioception by weakening intrinsic muscles of the foot.

Increases the risk of foot deformity if the shoe is constrictive instead of supportive.


Whatever the style you choose, make it safe and enjoyable!


Buy your trainers in a specialist shop, like Up and Running, that can assess your gait and recommend the right trainers.

Ideally, get running lessons.

Follow a start up program.

If you have any foot pathology, see a qualified podiatrist before you start running regularly to avoid injuries.



Before you give up your trainers for fingered shoes, note that a runner who has barefoot run all his life, starting young, gave his body time to adapt to the style. The build up was gradual and safe. Gait retraining is thought to be more efficient than the right cushioning or orthoses in reducing impact in the lower leg but takes time and expert supervision.

FFS biomechanics are very different from RFS and doesn’t suit every body.

Transition must be gradual and supervised to avoid injuries.

If Barefoot running takes your fancy, I would strongly recommend a visit to an experienced podiatrist first, then find an experienced trainer and avoid hard surfaces like pavements.


For more information:  Excellent workshops to teach you how to shod run well.   Excellent history and tips on Barefoot running.