Bare Foot Running versus Traditional Running

Barefoot Running or “natural running” is increasing in popularity due to claims it decreases injury risk and increases speed. It was championed in Chris McDougalls bestselling book “born to run”.   Barefoot running removed the cushioning so that you run barefoot or in shoes which mimic this.

In his book Chris charts his time spent in Northern Mexico with a tribe who run daily long distances , injury free with only the use of tyre rubber sandals.  Chris argues that modern shoes are over cushioned which encourage bad technique and injury.

So what are the arguments for barefoot running


Effects of Bare Foot Running on Ankles

Running Shoes:  With cushioned shoes your feet get less feedback from the ground you are running on that they would barefoot.  This means that if your foot is in a poor position you are less likely to be aware of it thereby putting more strain on your ankle.  The lack of perception will lead to you ankle compensating for poor stability increasing the chance of injury

Bare Foot:  In bare feet runners are more likely to adapt to the terrain they are running on.  This is done by changing the stiffness of the lower leg.  The ankle actually gets stronger as it now becomes the site of greatest impact absorption. Ultimately the outcome will be less sprained ankles.


Effects of Bare Foot Running on the Foot: 

Running Shoes: The heel is often a well cushioned area of a shoe.  This leads to an increased foot to ground contact time as the heel effectively acts as a brake. The extra contact time means increased shock force through you lower limbs.  The cushioned heal also produces the tendency to over stride meaning that you foot lands in front of your centre of gravity.

Bare Foot: If you run on the spot without your shoes it is next to impossible to not to land on you fore foot. Those who are sceptical of cushioning point out running shoes are designed to ensure we land on our heel which can be painful and is unnatural. This argument is backed up by the science which points out the force of landing on your heel is twice that of landing on your feet.  Switching to barefoot running may take a little time to adapt however.


Effects of Bare Foot Running on Knees:

Running Shoes:  If you have experience of wearing high heels you will know all about wearing cushioned soles.  Why ?.. because they have a similar effect.  Your ankle can become disrupted the effects of which leads to compensation movements in your knees.  Since most of us  have one slightly longer leg this additional stress is increased.  “Runners Knee” is often the upshot

Bare Foot:  The pedal motion which is created by the change of gait in barefoot running is key.  Rather than the foot being the driver from landing this now comes from the knees.  Ultimately this leads to a more efficient stride which is shorter and lighter. Since a high proportion of knee injuries are related to pain in the anterior knee (behind the knee cap) this more efficient action can reduce this risk.


If you do suffer from pain from running it may be worth trying barefoot style. As the choice to run bare footed increases in popularity there are an increasing number manufacturers producing shoes to mimic bare foot running. This means you can try it running down the street without fear of cuts and scrapes.