Benefits (and Issues) of Barefoot Running

barefoot runningThere has been a recent trend toward ditching ‘normal’ running shoes and wearing those strange-looking slippers that look like gloves for your feet.

You’ve probably seen people running in them, or even just wearing them around the town or in the house. These are ‘barefoot’ shoes, and work to simulate being shoeless without actually having to touch the ground with your bare feet. 

Benefits of Being Barefoot

As species, we’ve only started to wear modern shoes in the last couple of centuries. These shoes have thick soles and are made with a form factor in mind. This form is generally to push the toes together into a point and stands for both men and women, although women typically get more extreme versions with the popularity of high heel and stiletto shoes.

Some experts claim that these modern shoes are to blame for many problems that modern adults have, including back pain, bunions, and osteoporosis. The main reason for this is that the thick soles that modern shoes have don’t allow the foot to move in its full motion, and stops the expected feedback from the ground to the feet. 

If you’ve ever had a foot massage (what woman hasn’t?), you’ll know that feet are highly sensitive, and have many nerves and joints that are used to provide feedback to the brain on the ground that you’re standing on. When you put a shoe on, you’re essentially making your feet blind to their surroundings.  

Making Your Feet Stronger

Most athletic and working shoes have either a heel or a cushioned sole to reduce the impact on the feet and for comfort. Adding cushioned padding to running shoes started in the 70s, but recent research suggests that it causes more harm than good. The popular book Born to Run reported this on tribes that ran great distances with thin sandals or just barefoot with no negative impact.

This correlated with studies that found that the running cadence of shoe wearers and barefoot runners was different, and that the actual foot shape for shoe wearers had changed from a wider foot to a narrow point encouraged by the modern shoe. 

Potential Dangers

There are some issues if you’re thinking about going barefoot running, though.

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The first is that the surfaces that most people run on aren’t the same as for the tribes studied. Our cities are covered in tarmac and other hard surfaces, which may lead to impact injuries if you start running on them having never run barefoot before. Wearing shoes all our lives makes the muscles and tendons in our feet atrophy, meaning we don’t have the strength needed to start barefoot running straight away. 

This lack of support in the arches of the feet brought on by years of not using the muscles in the feet is what some people believe is the leading cause of foot, knee, and other issues in later life. If you want to strengthen your feet, then start slow the same way you would at the gym.

Shoe Alternative

A shoe alternative can also be used to help mitigate the issues with barefoot running and can be found at most shoe distributors like They have little to no sole, but provide some protection from the floor. With these, you can start walking, and then eventually run without worrying about small bits of glass or stone getting in your feet.  

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Ava Moore
BA, MA Psychology (and Conflict Resolution), University of Cambridge (2007). With a decade of trial and error in psychology and 33 years of navigating my own complex (that's one word for it!) relationships with family, friends, co-workers and men, I hope I have some useful knowledge and skills to share with my readers about making sense of relationships and trying to become a better person every day.

I'm the Chief Editor here at Independent Femme and would love to hear from you.

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