Barefoot running, also called "natural running", is the act of running
without footwear. With the advent of modern footwear, running barefoot
has become less common in most parts of the world but is still
practiced in parts of Africa and Latin America. In some Western
countries, barefoot running has grown in popularity due to perceived
Scientific research into the practice of running barefoot has not
reached a clear consensus regarding its risks or its benefits. While
footwear might provide protection from cuts, bruises, impact and
weather, proponents of barefoot running argue that it reduces the risk
of chronic injuries (notably repetitive stress injuries) caused by
heel striking in padded running shoes.
The barefoot movement has prompted some manufacturers to introduce
thin-soled and flexible shoes such as traditional moccasins and
huaraches for minimalist running.
2 Health and medical implications
3 Minimal footwear
4 See also
6 Further reading
7 External links
Throughout most of human history, running was performed while barefoot
or in thin-soled shoes such as moccasins. This practice continues
Kenya and among the
Tarahumara people of northern Mexico.
Historians believe that the runners of
Ancient Greece ran barefoot.
According to legend, Pheidippides, the first marathoner, ran from
Sparta in less than 36 hours. After the Battle of
Marathon, it is said he ran straight from the battlefield to
inform the Athenians of the Greek victory over Persia.
Children running barefoot; the animation is from the year 1893.
Abebe Bikila of
Ethiopia won the Olympic marathon in Rome
barefoot after discovering that Adidas, the Olympic shoe supplier, had
run out of shoes in his size. He was in pain because he had received
shoes that were too small, so he decided to simply run barefoot;
Bikila had trained running barefoot prior to the Olympics. He would
go on to defend his Olympic title four years later in Tokyo while
wearing shoes and setting a new world record.
Bruce Tulloh competed in many races during the 1960s
while barefoot, and won the gold medal in the 1962 European Games
5,000 metre race.
In the 1970s, Shivnath Singh, one of India's greatest long distance
runners, was known for always running barefoot with only tape on his
During the 1980s, a South African runner, Zola Budd, became known for
her barefoot running style as well as training and racing barefoot.
She won the 1985 and
1986 IAAF World Cross Country Championships and
competed in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Kenyan runner
Tegla Loroupe began running barefoot 10 km (6.2 mi) to and
from school every day at the age of seven. She performed well in
contests at school, and in 1988, won a prestigious cross country
barefoot race. She went on to compete, both barefoot and shod, in
several international competitions, marathons, and half-marathons. She
Goodwill Games over 10,000 metres, barefoot, and was the first
African woman to win the
New York City
New York City
Marathon in 1994, winning again
A barefoot man in robes running while holding a stick (1878)
In the early 21st century, barefoot running has gained a small yet
significant following on the fringe of the larger running community.
Organizers of the 2010
New York City
New York City
Marathon saw an increase in the
number of barefoot runners participating in the event. The
practice saw a surge in popularity after the 2009 publication of
Christopher McDougall's book, Born to Run, promoting the
practice. In the United States, the
Barefoot Runners Society
was founded in November 2009 as a national club for unshod runners. By
November 2010, the organization claimed 1,345 members, nearly double
the 680 members it had when it was founded.
One barefoot runner, Rick Roeber, has been running barefoot since
2003, and has run more than 50 marathons, 2 ultra-marathons of 40
miles, and over 17,000 miles (27,000 km) all barefoot. Other
prominent barefoot runners include Ken Bob Saxton, known as the
"godfather of barefoot running", and Todd Byers, a barefoot marathon
Seattle who has run over 100 marathons barefoot. On 8
December 2006, Nico Surings of Antwerp, Belgium, became the fastest
person to run 100 meters (330 feet) on ice while barefoot, completing
the task in 17.35 seconds. And on 12 December 2010, the Barefoot
India Foundation (BRIF) organised a 21 km (13 mi)
barefoot half-marathon at
Kharghar near the Indian city of Mumbai. The
run had 306 participants.
On 1 April 2012, runner Rae Heim embarked on a 3,000-plus mile
barefoot run from Boston, Massachusetts, finishing on November 14 in
Manhattan Beach, California. She raised money for a
Tennessee-based organization, Soles4Souls, who delivered one pair of
shoes to needy children for each dollar raised by Heim. And on 23
June 2012, Robert Knowles, of Brisbane, Australia, set two Guinness
World Records for both the Fastest 100 km
Barefoot and the
Longest Distance Run
Barefoot in 24 Hours, as part of the Sri Chinmoy
Sydney 24 Hour Race. He logged 166.444 km (103.424 mi), or
416 laps on the Blacktown International Sportspark track,
barefoot. On August 13, 2017, barefoot runner Teage O'Connor broke
100 km record as part of a fundraiser for the environmental education
center he operates, Crow's Path. He ran 100 km barefoot on UVM's track
in 7 hours 13 minutes and 25 seconds. In December 2017, O'Connor
ran 100 miles in 14 hours 22 minutes. 
Health and medical implications
Since the latter half of the 20th century, there has been scientific
and medical interest in the benefits and harm involved in barefoot
running. The 1970s, in particular, saw a resurgent interest in jogging
in western countries and modern running shoes were developed and
Example foot pressure
Since then, running shoes have been blamed for the increased incidence
of running injuries and this has prompted some runners to go
barefoot. However, the
American Podiatric Medical Association has
stated that there is not enough evidence to support such claims and
has urged would-be barefoot runners to consult a podiatrist before
doing so. The
American Diabetes Association
American Diabetes Association has urged diabetics
and other people with reduced sensation in their feet not to run
barefoot, citing an increased likelihood of foot injury. One study
showed a link to early bone damage in new barefoot runners.
A barefoot runner on asphalt
The structure of the human foot and lower leg is very efficient at
absorbing the shock of landing and turning the energy of the fall into
forward motion, through the springing action of the foot's natural
arch. Scientists studying runners' foot motions have observed striking
differences between habitually shod runners and barefoot runners. The
foot of habitually shod runners typically lands with an initial heel
strike, while the foot of a barefoot runner lands with a more springy
step on the middle, or on the ball of the foot. In addition, the
strike is shorter in duration and the step rate is higher. When
looking at the muscle activity (electromyography), studies have shown
a higher pre-activation of the plantar flexor muscles when running
barefoot. Indeed, since muscles' role is to prepare the locomotor
system for the contact with the ground, muscle activity before the
strike depends on the expected impact. Forefoot strike, shorter step
duration, higher rate and higher muscle pre-activation are techniques
to reduce stress of repetitive high shocks. This avoids a very
painful and heavy impact, equivalent to two to three times the body
weight. "People who don't wear shoes when they run have an
astonishingly different strike", said Daniel E. Lieberman, professor
of human evolutionary biology at
Harvard University and co-author of a
paper appearing in the journal Nature. "By landing on the middle or
front of the foot, barefoot runners have almost no impact collision,
much less than most shod runners generate when they heel-strike."
However, when comparing different populations of habitually barefoot
runners, not all of them favor the forefoot strike. A 2012 study by
Hatala et al. focusing on 38 runners of the Daasanach tribe in Kenya
found that a majority of runners favored a heel strike instead of a
forefoot strike. Presently, Hatala and Lieberman are comparing
their data, but Lieberman did note that his study, which focused on
the Kalenjin people, also found some barefoot runners favoring a heel
strike as well. He also said that the
Daasanach people were primarily,
"tall, lanky goat-herders who don't run nearly as much as the
Kalenjin, who own many of the world's distance running records."
The longitudinal (medial) arch of the foot also may undergo
physiological changes upon habitually training barefoot. The
longitudinal arch has been observed to decrease in length by an
average of 4.7 mm, suggesting activation of foot musculature when
barefoot that is usually inactive when shod. These muscles allow the
foot to dampen impact and may remove stress from the plantar
fascia. In addition to muscle changes, barefoot running also
reduces energy use – oxygen consumption was found to be
approximately 4% higher in shod versus barefoot runners. Better
running economy observed when running barefoot compared to running
with shoes can be explained by a better use of the muscle elasticity.
In fact, reduction of contact time and higher pre-stretch level can
enhance the stretch shortening cycle behavior of the plantar flexor
muscles and thus possibly allow a better storage and restitution of
elastic energy compared to shod running.
Running in shoes also appears to increase the risk of ankle sprains,
plantar fasciitis, as well as other chronic injuries of the lower
limb. However, running shoes also provide several advantages,
including protection of the runner from puncture wounds, bruising,
thermal injuries from extreme weather conditions, and overuse
injuries. Transitioning to a barefoot running style also takes
time to develop, due to the use of different muscles involved. Doctors
United States have reported an increase in such injuries as
pulled calf muscles, Achilles tendinitis, and metatarsal stress
fractures, which they attribute to barefoot runners attempting to
transition too fast.
The running shoe itself has also been examined as a possible cause of
many injuries associated with shod running. One 1991 study found that
wearers of expensive running shoes that are promoted as having special
features, such as added cushioning or pronation correction, were
injured significantly more frequently than runners wearing inexpensive
shoes. It has also been found that running in conventional running
shoes increases stress on the knee joints up to 38%, although it is
still unclear if this leads to a higher rate of heel injuries or
not. One study suggests that there is no evidence that
cushioning or pronation control in shoes reduces injury rates or
reduces performance. It was also found that the belief that one's
shoes have increased cushioning had no effect on increasing or
decreasing ground reaction forces during walking. Modern running
shoes can also increase joint torque at the hip, knee, and ankle, and
the authors of the study even suggest that running in high heels might
be better than modern running shoes. Improperly fitting shoes may
also result in injuries such as a subungual hematoma – a collection
of blood underneath the toenail. This may also be known as "runner's
toe" or "tennis toe". However, a recent randomized controlled
trial (RCT) suggested that heavier runners might be at an increased
risk for injury in minimalist shoes (designed to mimic barefoot
running) as compared to conventional footwear.
The alternative to going barefoot is to wear thin shoes with minimal
padding. This is what runners wore for thousands of years before the
1980s when the modern running shoe was invented.
A pair of
Xero Shoes Huaraches, laced up on grass
Shoes, such as moccasins or thin sandals, permit a similar gait as
barefoot, but protect the feet from cuts, abrasion and soft sticky
Tarahumara wear thin-soled sandals known as huaraches.
These sandals have a single long lace with a thin sole made from
either recycled tires, commercially available replacement outsole
rubber, or leather. The practice of wearing light or no shoes while
running may be termed "minimalist running".
A pair of Jerusalem Cruisers, a minimalist running sandal made by
Plimsolls were worn by children in the
United Kingdom for physical
education classes as well as by soldiers for PT. Inexpensive "dime
store" plimsolls have very thin footbeds (3mm elastomer/rubber
outsole, 1mm card, 2mm eva foam) and no heel lift or stiffening.
Some modern shoe manufacturers have recently designed footwear to
mimic the barefoot running experience, maintaining optimum flexibility
and natural walking while also providing some degree of protection.
The purpose of these "minimalist shoes" is to allow one's feet and
legs to feel more subtly the ground, allowing more accurate
adjustments in running style.
Most minimalist running shoes are based within a scale from 1–10,
where 1 is barefoot and 10 is a typical athletic shoe sole. The Vibram
FiveFingers has separate slots for each toe and no cushioning.
Traditional racing flats are fairly minimal; offering good ground feel
and control. Conversely, the
Nike Free line of footwear, designed as a
5, features a segmented sole which provides greater flexibility while
still having an amount of cushioning,
Saucony introduced the
Kinvara line of shoes which feature a dropped sole, which halves the
thickness of the sole and removes much of the heel cushioning, to
encourage more of a midfoot strike for the foot. Though not
the only company to produce socks incorporating
Kevlar in the yarn,
Barefoot Company's Protection Socks are marketed for
barefoot use. Following the trend, by 2011, minimalist running
shoes have been made available by most of the major shoe
Vibram FiveFingers shoes
United States Army has banned the use of toe shoes for image
reasons. However, many other barefoot-inspired shoes that do not
feature individual toes can still be used in its place. The United
States Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and
United States Coast Guard,
however, have approved minimalist shoes, including toe shoes, to be
used during physical training.
Sales of minimalist running shoes have grown into a $1.7 billion
industry. Sales of minimalist running shoes grew from $450,000 in 2006
to $59 million in 2012, and grew 303% from November 2010 through
November 2012, compared to a 19% increase in the overall sales of
running shoes during the same time period. In the summer of
2012, both Vibram and
Adidas were sued in the
United States regarding
allegations of deceptive claims of increased training efficiency, foot
strength, and decreased risk of injury resulting from use of their
minimalist running shoes.[needs update] These lawsuits follow
on the heels of recent settlements by
Reebok with the
Federal Trade Commission
Federal Trade Commission over claims that their barefoot shoes
strengthen the body in ways no shoes ever had before.
Comparative foot morphology
Locomotor effects of shoes
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Biomechanics of Foot Strikes & Applications to Running
in Minimal Footwear
Are we born to run?, a video presentation by Christopher McDougall.
Impact characteristics in shod an