Barefoot running can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome where they believed that going barefoot would lead to a longer life.
So what are the benefits of running barefoot or with minimalist shoes rather than running with maximalist running shoes? Why give up the $200 Adidas Boosts just to run in Vibrams? Barefoot runners argue that there are many reasons why switching is worth it.
1. Stability, strength & agility
Modern running has extremely little movement variation. The pace, terrain, and insides of running shoes are all heavily supportive, restrictive and with little difference. There is little variety in each stride.
This lack of variance and reliance on support is not optimal, it reduces our fine motor control of the smaller muscles in the foot and legs. Just like if we were wearing a cast on our arm.
We use these smaller muscle groups to keep us stable and limit excessive movement at the end ranges of motion, especially during high load tasks like running.
So, when those small muscles are not active, they react slower and we are less able to react to the surface we are moving on. They also lose the ability to reduce excess stress from the bigger muscle groups which now have to do both the moving and the stabilising.
Running barefoot or in barefoot shoes builds these muscle groups, causing your muscles and joints to become more stable, it forces them to be stronger with better endurance over a greater range of motion.
2. Fewer injuries
The majority of all foot conditions treated by podiatrists and other medical specialists are caused or exacerbated by modern shoes, including bunions, hammertoes, corns, calluses, ingrown toenails, blisters, athlete's foot, toenail fungus, plantar fasciitis.
When muscles in our bodies are repeatedly used in the same way, with little variation, it will eventually lead to overuse injuries in some areas and degradation of underused muscles elsewhere, which is what we are increasingly seeing with modern runners.
Running barefoot or with minimalist shoes can reduce this load on your body, by forcing better movement patterns and use of the smaller muscles in your feet to provide you stable footing.
3. More efficient running technique
Running barefoot or with barefoot shoes encourages better running technique. Barefoot runners take shorter steps and land more softly. Barefoot running also encourages a mid/fore-strike landing which is less harmful to the ankle joints than heel striking, which most modern shoes encourage us to do.
You improve your speed by training more, and efficient technique helps you run faster with less muscular tiredness and fewer or no injuries. As a result, you may train for longer extended periods and thus become quicker.
3. Having fun running
Perhaps the biggest benefit of barefoot running is running with no support and feeling strong and free. Being better connected to the environment and our own body allows us to comprehend ourselves more completely. Barefoot running is an adventure, a journey of rediscovery. Bare feet on the earth!
Barefoot shoes are not for everyone and it will be necessary to transition to wearing them slowly. Just like any new activity you want to do, start slow until your body adjusts and then gradually increase the intensity over time.
4. The bottom line
In conclusion, barefoot running or with minimal shoes is beneficial to your health and can reduce injuries. Barefoot running is a potentially fun and life changing way to move, but it's no magical solution to your problems. Just give it a go and decide for yourself.