The Embarassing State Of Barefoot/Minimal Running

By Barefoot Dawsy

I’ve been running barefoot now for four years, and blogging about it for two. I admit that I started out, alongside many others, after reading the now famous book ‘Born To Run’.

At that time, the barefoot running resurgence was just starting out, amid criticism of the large shoe companies. The majority of this criticism was centred on the question of whether or not they were misleading the public as to the safety that their shoes provided.

There was an interesting study that came out of Newcastle University[1], in Australia, which basically stated that despite a huge and time-consuming search, there was no evidence that the pronation and motion control features of modern running shoes had any benefit at all.

This questioning of a hitherto nearly universally accepted truth was one of the fundamental drivers for the barefoot/minimal revolution, which saw the exponential rise of the minimal shoe, and the unprecedented uptake of barefoot/minimal running.

Here was our chance. There was a vacuum of useful, relevant data and proper studies, which was damning in its absence. The shoe companies were lying to us, and we were all being played for fools.

I, like many others, embraced the new style of running, and waited impatiently for the inevitable mountain of studies and evidence demonstrating the superiority of barefoot running.

It never came.

In fact, just recently a new study did come out[2], and it was woefully reminiscent of the Newcastle study. This one, however, tells the story of a lack of evidence that barefoot running has any benefits at all. It points to the few studies that exist, most (all?) of which are poorly crafted, and even unscientific.

Barefoot had a chance to become something more than a fad, and become the next big thing in running. Instead, its legacy is more overpriced shoes with questionable usefulness in injury prevention.

So, what do we do now? We can’t sit back and hope that somebody, somewhere manages to get the funding together to put together a clever, well-crafted study. Or hope that someone publishes one that proves conclusively, one way or the other, which style is better. 

What we can do is to take responsibility for our own testing and assessment of whichever style of shoe, or lack thereof that, we choose. We need to stop looking to major corporations to hand us the magic pill that will stop us getting injured. We need to take the time to learn how our own bodies want to move, and what style of running feels right, whether shod or unshod.

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions in running. Each of us has slightly different styles, preferences, pain thresholds, etc, so it’s on us as individuals to intelligently weigh up the options and make the best choice for ourselves.

What brought you to try barefoot running? Have you got any views on how the scientific community or running shoe industry are handling things? Let us know in the comments!


[1] C E Richards, P J Magin and R Callister. 2008. Is your prescription of distance running shoes evidence-based?, Br J Sports Med 2009 43: 159-162 originally published online April 18, 2008 (doi:10.1136/bjsm.2008.046680)

[2] Hall JP, Barton C, Jones PR, Morrissey D., 2013. The biomechanical differences between barefoot and shod distance running: a systematic review and preliminary meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2013 Dec;43(12):1335-53. (doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0084-3)(Pubmed: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23996137)

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4 Responses to The Embarassing State Of Barefoot/Minimal Running

  1. 51feetunder says:

    nicely balanced article Dawsy, hope all is well on the odd side of the planet ;)

  2. jc5417 says:

    I can only speak for myself and my experience. I am not a runner or a professional athlete in any capacity. I used to hear about five fingers, minimalist shoes, etc and honestly thought it was a garbage fad. After all what pay upwards of $100 for shoes that have less material cost that $70 shoes? I mean hello, Nike?

    My running experience is almost nonexistent. I wrestled and played American Football in school. I ran like a football player, and only in short intervals. Never ran over 200 yards outside of a football game.

    I’m in the military and it wasn’t until I went on a temporary duty assignment 2 years ago that I even took a look at minimalist running. I was assigned a trainer to manage my physical training (PT) and this individual was highly skilled in dealing with people that had issues and challenges in running and physical training. As I have certain pain (groin, knee, shin) issues when running, he recommend that I purchase five fingers so that I could get the most out of the little running that I could do. He also recommend your blog a agreat reference for easing my way into minimalist running.

    I followed his advice and did exactly as he said. It took me almost 5 months of training in five fingers every other day to be able to run 1/4 mile without ever having to stop in pain. Fast forward 2 years later, I now run regularly in five fingers and Merril Trail Glove 2. My “flat feet” don’t bother me, I haven’t had shin splints in over a year and a half, And I no longer get knee pain. I still get groin pain (due to prostate issues) but I don’t start feeling the pain until after mile 6 or 7!

    I can’t speak for the science or the industry, I can speak for my experience. My legs are stronger, my feet are stronger. I run better and run regularly and am now training for my first marathon.

    I heard someone say “anything that I not used goes to ruin, metal rusts, wood rots, muscles become flaccid and fail”. Minimalist running and the shoes have helped me get stronger and put muscles to use that I’ve never used before. I am excited that you can now purchase minimalist shoes for $50.

    Sir, I hope that you continue to speak out and advocate barefoot and minimalist running. It’s definitely made a difference to me.

    • Wow! Thanks so much for the wonderful feedback, and congratulations on making such great progress. I couldn’t agree more that our bodies fall into the ‘use it or lose it’ category…it just makes sense, doesn’t it?

      I will keep advocating barefoot/minimalist running :) Thanks again!

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