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What are Barefoot Running Shoes?

barefoot running shoes

Barefoot running shoes sound like an oxymoron, but as barefoot running has become increasingly popular over the last few years so barefoot or minimalist shoes have taken off. So what are they, how do they help, and which ones are right for you?

If you’ve heard a bit about barefoot running and want to try it out then you’ll need to get your hands on some minimalist shoes. Genuine barefoot running might seem like the ideal in your head, but your feet aren’t used to being in such close contact with the ground and it can be dangerous and painful.

Couple that with the amount of potential hazards on running routes which could injure your feet and you start to see why some form of protection is necessary. Luckily, you can still experience all the benefits of barefoot running in minimalist shoes whilst also making sure your feet are adequately protected.

What are they?

Minimalist or barefoot shoes are a very different thing to traditional running shoes, but a lot of them employ the same level of technology to ensure that your feet land on the ground in the same way they would if you were sans footwear. Some are very simple and offer your feet as much freedom as possible whilst others are designed to help ease the transition from traditional running to barefoot running.

Different styles:

Barefoot running shoes:

These are the ones which look a bit like gloves for your feet and should fit snugly around your toes. They’re designed to offer the most authentic barefoot running experience. Primarily they are characterised by a “zero drop” from the heel to toe, whereas normal running shoes have around a 10-12mm drop from heel to toe.

They have very thin soles designed only to protect the feet from hazards on the running surface and often have no cushion in the heel pad (some offer a little more cushioning but not much).

These types of shoes tend to suit people with high-arches who are naturally suited to coping with less support.

Minimalist running shoes:

Minimalist shoes tend to look a lot more like normal running shoes and are great for transitioning from normal running to barefoot running. They’re very light weight, with little to no arch and a minimal heel height of 4-8mm. Like traditional shoes, the toes are generally left room to splay enhancing grip and balance.

Some runners like to use these every time they go barefoot running; others like to move on to the more basic shoe once they’ve eased into barefoot running.

A few tips to remember:

  • It might not be worth spending a lot of money on barefoot shoes – in some instances a basic pair of plimsolls will suffice.
  • Don’t run barefoot all the time.
  • When starting out do shorter and slower runs than usual.
  • Listen to your body as you run, it should naturally pick up a better technique during barefoot.
  • Try to avoid landing on your heels.

James Walker

Service Development Director & Senior Physiotherapist

James is the Service Development Director and a Senior Physiotherapist at the White House Clinic. He qualified from Sheffield Hallam University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Physiotherapy in 2009.

James Walker

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