When it comes to barefoot running there are usually three kind of people: Those who love it, those who hate it, and those who stare.

Regardless of where you stand, there’s no doubt that there’s something romantic about shedding your shoes and going back to the basics of barefoot.  Some people call it freeing, others say it will build muscles that were dormant in shoes, and one study even claims that running barefoot decreases your chance of injury by 4%.

Still, the scientific results are inconclusive and for every barefoot advocate there’s someone who swears by the protective soles underneath our feet.  In the end the science is all over the board, and some research has settled with claiming that running shoes neither help nor hurt performance. To balance out this article, note that barefoot running company, Vibram, was sued by the federal government for making false claims about how running barefoot lessens running injuries over running with regular running shoes. Extensive research has shown this is not the case and as such, Vibram lost their lawsuit and was forced to pay reparations to people injured wearing their shoes and to change their advertising.

However, a lot of people still love barefoot running shoes, so it comes down to a personal choice, despite what the research says.

Running barefoot certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you think it might be for you you should consider the potential pros and cons of running barefoot and then refer to both what your body tells you and a few tips for making the transition successfully.

Potential Benefits of Barefoot Running

  • Barefoot running strengthens muscles, tendons and ligaments that don’t ever get a workout when you’re wearing shoes.
  • Working these new, previously untended muscles in the feet, ankles and hips can improve your balance and proprioception.
  • When you lose your shoes you also lose the heel lift that goes along with them. This can reduce your chances of calf pulls and Achilles tendinitis because running barefoot helps stretch and lengthen the Achilles tendon and calf muscles.
  • People who run barefoot tend to develop a different, more natural gait.
  • Barefoot runners tend to have a fore-foot strike, which is more efficient and may make them less susceptible to impact injuries resulting from landing on the heel.
  • Running barefoot cultivates lighter strides as opposed to the heavy clodding that’s so common with shoes.
  • For many, running barefoot brings us back to our original, more fundamental selves. It’s freeing, natural feeling, and absolutely grounding.

Reasons to Keep Your Shoes On

  • Who knows what you might step on.  Whether you’re on the streets or in the grass on a track, there’s a risk that you might step on anything from glass to thorns or rocks.
  • Going without shoes can result in plantar pain that manifests itself in plantar fasciitis.  People who don’t take heed to a gradual transition are especially susceptible to these types of injuries.
  • The shock of running without a traditional heel lift can make people feel overworked, especially initially.  This sudden change can lead to injuries such as calf strains and Achilles tendinitis.
  • Diabetics who have lost sensation in their feet may not notice injury.

Tips for the Potential Transition

  • Running barefoot is more natural for people who have grown up barefoot. If you’ve been shod all of our life the transition to barefoot running should be gradual. Be patient.
  • The process of transitioning to barefoot running shouldn’t be about toughening your feet up through pain. In fact, it’s something that’s supposed to make you feel grounded and free. If you start to feel pain at any point of your barefoot training, put your shoes back on.
  • The best way to make the transition is to start walking barefoot. Then as you get used to it, run a little.  Some people suggest you start running as short as 100 foot bursts on grass before transitioning to short bursts on a harder surface.  Take it slowly and do what works for you.
  • Barefoot running is more than just losing your shoes.  It’s about being mindful to form. Think quiet, quick, and in balance.  Landing on your forefoot will shorten your stride, minimize the force of impact, and allow you to quicken your cadence naturally while maintaining good balance.  This is the ultimate goal of barefoot running.
  • Like anything else, build up your tolerance as you start to get used to barefoot running.  Then maintain it.

The Compromise

If you want to experience many of the pros of barefoot running without worrying about stepping on glass, there’s a growing market for shoes that bring us back to the fundamentals.  Look into the Nike Free, the Vibram Five Fingers, FeelMax, Vivo Barefoot, and a variety of other shoes that offer a lot of the benefits of barefoot running without some of the risks.

Be sure to check out our post on Barefoot Running.