What is Barefoot Running?

Barefoot Running is not about running barefoot, and it’s also not about running in barefoot shoes.

In fact it’s not about what’s on your feet at all.  It’s all about ‘how’ you run.

Barefoot Running

Section content:

What is Barefoot Running?


What we consider normal running today, is actually far from it. Our feet were not designed to land on their heels; this is only possible with cushioned running shoes.

It may be considered a fad now but barefoot running, with minimal or no shoes at all, is the way humans have always run. We lost our way when technology made it possible to create a shoe that allowed us to take a longer stride landing on our heels. This has developed into a multi-billion dollar business, that uses pseudo-science to sell us shoes that are of no benefit and may actually cause injuries they claim to protect against. There’s even a whole wealth of medical professionals backing up the myth that you need special shoes to run.

What’s it all about?

A normal runner today will run in conventional running shoes that are heavily cushioned – especially at the heel which will be elevated to allow even more cushioning. This artificial springiness encourages the runner to land on their heels running with longer strides.

This ‘heel-striking’ is what the barefoot runner doesn’t do. A barefoot runner takes shorter, faster strides and lands with an almost flat foot, the heel touching down milliseconds after the ball of the foot.  By doing this, they take advantage of the natural spring in the foot’s arch and the natural damping mechanism of the achilles tendon and calf muscles.  This ensures the barefoot runner’s weight is evenly spread throughout the whole foot with each step.

Humans have always run this way, from the African savannahs through to Roger Bannister’s 4 minute mile.

But in the 1970s, it all changed. Modern materials allowed us to create cushioned running shoes and with it running appeared to change forever. We thought the longer stride created by these shoes would allow us to go faster.

Forty years later and we’re only just starting to understand what is wrong with this type of stride. But now, this type of stride had become the ‘normal’ way to run. For those of us under fifty, we’ve never known anything different. Barefoot running?! It must be a fad, it’s not ‘normal’. Well, yes I’d agree, barefoot running is not considered ‘normal’ – not these days.

Running Shoe evolution

From running spikes with no heels to modern trainers with nothing but heels, this is how running shoe ‘technology’ has shaped what we believe to be normal.

Adi Dassler – Adidas (1938)
worn by Jesse Owens
at the Berlin Olympics

Racing Flats (1954)
worn by Roger Bannister for
the first 4 minute mile

New Balance Trackster (1961)
considered to be the first
modern running shoe

Nike Cortez (1972)
notice that blue stripe in the heel;
this is the first elevated heel in a sports shoe

Nike Waffle Racer (1973)
Bill Bowerman famously destroyed his wife’s waffle iron prototyping this sole

Nike Air Max (1987)
the heel and sole are now completely out of proportion, adding over an inch of padding

Magic Running Shoes

Despite this quantum leap in running shoe ‘technology’, injury rates in runners have not gone down.  Not one study has demonstrated any improvement in injury rates; in fact the opposite is true.  Runners found they actually got less injuries in older running shoes.  Shoes that had seen better days and were failing to control the motion of the runners foot – the very thing they were designed to do.

The word was out, conventional running wasn’t the way we evolved to run; and maybe it wasn’t an improvement.  Certainly not in terms of injury numbers.

It was looking like all the magic technology built in modern running shoes wasn’t actually doing anything for us.

Back to Basics

The barefoot revolution is therefore, nothing new. It’s not a fad. If anything conventional running is the fad – a fad that’s lasted forty years.

Barefoot running is more akin to rediscovering our natural form of locomotion and realising that it’s easier, more enjoyable, more efficient, and if done correctly, less injury prone.

Anyone can learn barefoot running. It doesn’t need to cost you anything, there’s nothing to buy.

Built to Run

Big butts, loose shoulders and other running adaptations have made us the ultimate running machines.