Barefoot Running: Should You (and Your Kids) Take Off the Shoes?

Get-Fit Guy explains why barefoot running might be better than wearing shoes, when you should actually wear shoes, and whether kids should wear minimalist shoes or do barefoot running.

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read
Episode #193

In my last episode, which you can listen to by searching Get-Fit Guy episode #192 at QuickAndDirtyTips.com, you learned about the latest research on barefoot running, whether the Vibram Five Fingers lawsuit was a good thing, and got good resources for barefoot running.

In this episode, you’re going to learn why barefoot running might be better than wearing shoes, when you should actually wear shoes, and whether kids should wear minimalist shoes or do barefoot running.;

Is Barefoot Running Better Than Wearing Shoes?

So is barefoot running any better than running in shoes?

There are definitely 3 advantages to switching to minimalist footwear or barefoot running. This is because when you switch to minimalist approach you:

  1. take shorter strides. Running with shorter strides and higher frequency naturally reduces the impact forces on your foot – which you tend to not worry about quite so much when you’re wearing shoes. Fortunately, shorter strides also mean less impact higher up in your ankles, knees, and hips! Likely due to these shorter strides, barefoot running has also been shown to lower heart rate and the rate of perceived exertion while increasing running efficiency.

  2. land with a slightly flatter foot. When you’re running barefoot, your toes are not quite as “pointed towards the sky” and you don’t strike with your heel as much. This means that your heels and ankles undergo far less pressure and impact.

  3. sense the ground beneath you better. The skin on the bottom of your foot (specifically the nerves called “proprioceptors”) can actually do a better job sensing the surface when you run barefoot. This can cause the tiny muscles in your foot to do a better job naturally absorbing shock and lowering impact.

On the other hand, shoes can protect you from sharp objects, extremely cold or hot ground conditions, and any bacteria and germs on the ground (my wife got hookworm once while running barefoot on a monkey-poo covered beach in Thailand). Not to mention the fact that shoes can look far more fashionable with a color-coordinated running outfit!

Furthermore, if you are overweight, have poor running form, have a weak core or hips, or have spent your entire life wearing shoes for most activities, then shoes provide your feet with extra “muscle” and cushion to support the impact from landing. They also keep the foot from excessive movement or arch collapse when you’re running.

If you fall into these categories, then barefoot running may be very difficult to transition to, and could actually increase your risk for injury. In other words, I don’t think overweight, unfit people should choose barefoot running as their running mode of choice.


About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.