Is Running Barefoot Actually Better For You?

It may be counterintuitive (and hard to digest for parents like myself who always have to tell our kids to wear shoes when playing outside) but going barefoot may actually be better for you.

Here's a New York Times article by Amy Cortese about the controversial movement of running barefoot (or barely barefoot anyhow, as these runners still wear thin rubber running shoes like the ones shown to the left):

Recent research suggests that for all their high-tech features, modern running shoes may not actually do much to improve a runner’s performance or prevent injuries. Some runners are convinced that they are better off with shoes that are little more than thin gloves for the feet — or with no shoes at all.

Plenty of medical experts disagree with this notion. The result has been a raging debate in running circles, pitting a quirky band of barefoot runners and researchers against the running-shoe and sports-medicine establishments.

Naturally, Nike and other large shoe manufacturers aren't amused:

The shoe industry giants defend their products, saying they help athletes perform better and protect feet from stress and strain — not to mention the modern world’s concrete and broken glass.

But for all the technological advances promoted by the industry — the roll bars, the computer chips and the memory foam — experts say the injury rate among runners is virtually unchanged since the 1970s, when the modern running shoe was introduced. Some ailments, like those involving the knee and Achilles’ tendon, have increased.

Link (Photo: Jodi Hilton for The New York Times)

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i grew up in a place where i used to go everywhere in sandals and play sports i.e. soccer barefoot. i had my share of incidents like stepping on a broken glass, it didnt hurt but the cut was deep enough i could see thick red blood (like jelly) coming out of my foot.. anyways, now i've started running and could not imagine how i would run barefoot as when you run, you cover a wide range of areas, there could have been broken glasses laying around on the streets, etc.. you'd never know.. and i enjoy having some sort of foam to absorb the shock on your feet when running.. so unless you're running on a specified running track like the ones in the olympics stadiums (although this doesn't mean that you wouldnt get injuries/into incidents), i would never run barefoot..
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I'm a firm believer in running barefoot.

I'm 6'2" 220lbs. I started training for a marathon last year and as I started doing longer (10+ mile) runs I was getting hurt repeatedly. I had many of the typical ailments: knee pain, shin splints, plantar fasciitis (pain in the tendon along the bottom of your foot). I got newer, more expensive running shoes, and wore various straps and supports to no avail. I kept getting hurt and would have to stop running for days or even weeks at a time. It was so frustrating because I knew I was capable of running these distances, but my feet and legs were getting too beat up.

I then heard about running barefoot and it all made sense to me. I tried it a few times and it felt great. I was able to mimic my natural barefoot stride while wearing shoes and continued training for my marathon. I didn't have time to get my body ready to run a barefoot marathon, but I did my shorter runs barefoot and my long runs wearing shoes.

I ran my first marathon two months ago, and I wouldn't have been able to do it if I wasn't training barefoot.

I'm now doing almost all of my running barefoot and hope to run a barefoot marathon next year. I've noticed that a run about one minute per mile faster barefoot than I do while wearing shoes. I've had none of the knee and foot injuries that I had while wearing shoes. I did get a few blisters at first, but my feet are getting calloused and my lower legs and feet are getting much stronger.

I suggest that anyone remotely interested in this reads Born to Run as the author explains this all so well.

I live in snowy Utah, so I'll probably get some Vibram Five Fingers for the winter.
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I can only speak for myself, but 2 years of barefoot running have gone much better than the running in shoes I did in the past. But I would never push running in feet on someone who prefers shoes.
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I believe as far as injuries go, if your a midfoot-forefoot runner, you probably have few injuries with running shoes. Running barefoot you tend to change how you run, which is a mid to forefoot style. This style lets your forefoot absorb most of the shock, whereas heel stikers fell the full force staight up their leg and back.
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I'm a hobby runner (running 10, 12 km at a time, hopefully I'll complete marathon next year). I used to have nasty pain in left knee and had to make a break from running. Changing running technique, shoes and so forth didn't help.

Eventually I came back to the idea of getting some 'barefoot' shoes. You do want some shoes for running barefoot - social reasons, so you don't get kicked out of a building, better hygiene, protection against broken glass etc. Even Masaai people make "shoes" from old tyres - thin and flexible, but sturdy enough to protect from cuts. I remembered Vivo Barefoot from an article, and decided to try them.

It took a couple of weeks to get used to them, but my knee pain gradually faded away. I can barely feel it now, and only at times. Running barefoot is good because it *teaches* you to run properly - or you'll feel pain. Developing proper muscles and humility helps too. I strike the ground much lighter now. Best thing is, however, these shoes are much more comfortable and I don't feel a strong urge to take them off after coming home !

Yes I know plural from anecdote is not proof, but the reasoning they use sounds convincing to me. Evolution is a slow thing and feet are really well suited for walking barefoot. Running in shoes is a bit like running with painkillers. Modern (not just western) habits are often wrong, you should be open-minded if you read Neatorama and seldom accept dogmas. Thinking outside the box is good. Did you know Romans used lead for pretty much everything, including wine spices ? How about radium chocolate ? Or potatoes - in medieval ages nobles never ate them, thought they make people stupid. Commoners did and were healthier. What about the idea that water spreads germs so you shouldn't bathe ?

Time and again our civilisation was wrong and overconfident about something.

For more information about going barefoot, wikipedia is a good start:
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