If you’re wanting the best footwear for you, you’ll want to know the negatives as well as the positives. You’re probably wondering are these flexible shoes comfortable shoes? Are they versatile shoes, in that they can be used for walking as well as running?
One thing is that this is an evolving area with designs improving all the time.
Barefoot running shoes, also known as minimalist shoes, have gained popularity in recent years. But, what are the pros and cons of these…
Pros and cons of barefoot shoes
|Improved balance and stability
|Risk of abrasions and blisters
|Strengthening of foot muscles
|Tougher transition period
|Better running form
|Limited protection from the elements
|Improved sensory feedback
|Not suitable for all foot types
|Freedom of movement
|Kinder to knee and hip joints
So what are some best-rated designs as well as some for the budget-conscious? We might start with “What are barefoot running shoes?”…
Barefoot running shoes explained
Barefoot runners are shoes that bend and flex, have a uniform height, a wide toe, and a minimal thickness so that, when they are on, they feel like they are a part of your anatomy.
They are those with a minimal layer between the soles of the feet and the outside. They are not entirely shoeless shoes.
This is the accepted international definition…
Footwear providing minimal interference with the natural movement of the foot due to its high flexibility, low heel to toe drop, weight and stack height, and the absence of motion control and stability devices.International panel of experts definition in “A consensus definition and rating scale for minimalist shoes”, J Foot Ankle Res.
How do barefoot shoes differ from traditional running shoes?
The simple answer is that barefoot runners have less padding, and are more flexible than regular running shoes. They differ from the standard runners, which are cushioned shoes, designed with gel layers and thick soles.
How do barefoot running shoes work?
Barefoot running shoes allow the same mechanism of running as that of doing it barefoot. The predominant strike is forefoot as is found with barefoot running. This compares to the rearfoot strike produced with the padded modern running shoes, as explained by Biomechanist, Irene Davis, of Harvard Medical School (PubMed).
The difference to standard shoes is best understood by watching this video:
Modern running shoes have become increasingly cushioned and supportive, and have changed the way we run. In particular, they have altered our footstrike pattern from a predominantly forefoot strike (FFS) landing to a predominantly rearfoot strike (RFS) landing.Davis et al, 2017, Journal of Sport and Health Science
Let’s look now at the barefoot shoes advantages and disadvantages…
Barefoot shoes pros
How is running barefoot or in minimalist running shoes better than running in trainers? What are the advantages? You ‘feel’ the ground underneath your feet when running barefoot or in minimalist running shoes.
Improved balance and stability
Barefoot shoes are designed to provide a more natural feel, which can help improve your balance and stability while running.
Strengthening of foot muscles
Since your feet are not cushioned, your muscles have to work harder, which can result in stronger foot muscles over time.
Better running form
Barefoot shoes encourage a forefoot or midfoot strike, which can help reduce the impact on your joints and improve your running form.
Kinder on knee and hip joints
Barefoot running shoes are said to mimic our natural running form. You’ll naturally land or strike the ground with a slightly flatter foot when running barefoot. According to experts, this natural stride means less stress and injury to knee and hip joints.
Improved sensory feedback
Without the cushioning of traditional running shoes, you’ll be able to feel the ground beneath your feet, providing better sensory feedback.
As in the case of running and walking barefoot, nerves in the soles of our feet send messages back to our brains about space and touch to help us understand how our feet interact with the ground beneath us and coordinate our posture and movements.
Freedom of movement
You have this freedom of movement. Barefoot shoes provide a mind-body connection related to our proprioceptive sense.
What is proprioceptive sense?
Christopher M. Norris PhD, in Managing Sports Injuries (4th Ed), explains:
Proprioception is the awareness of the body in space. It is the use of joint position sense and joint motion sense to respond to stresses placed upon the body by alteration of posture and movement.
When running in conventional shoes, the lack of this awareness known as proprioception means a greater risk of injury. Physiotherapist and exercise scientist, Michael Warburton explained in Sportscience 5(3) how running in regular shoes increases the risk of ankle sprains and increased twisting torque on the ankle during a stumble when you have less of this awareness of foot position.
barefoot shoes cons
It’s important to note that barefoot running shoes are not for everyone. Here are the barefoot shoes negatives…
Increased risk of injury
Barefoot shoes provide less cushioning and support, which can increase the risk of soreness, blisters, and abrasions, especially if you’re not used to wearing them for long durations.
Having less foot protection can cause problems. When starting—less padding for soft feet can mean the skin on your feet suffers pressure and, if you overdo it, you may end up with blisters or abrasions. To avoid this, it’s best to transition to this style of running, as I explain elsewhere.
Tougher transition period
If you’re used to traditional running shoes, the transition to barefoot shoes can be tough on your feet and legs and may take some time to adjust.
I have a related article with what you need to know about transitioning to barefoot shoes…
Limited protection from the elements
Since barefoot shoes are designed to be minimal, they don’t provide much protection from the elements, such as rocks or sharp objects on the ground.
Personal safety. As Michael Warburton says, footwear “…play an important protective role on some courses, in extreme weather conditions, and with certain pathologies of the lower limb.” If there’s a calculated risk of something falling on your foot or protruding through your shoe, it’s best to wear suitable protective gear.
Also, you don’t want to run over spiky rocky country in shoes without much sole support and it might be best to avoid wet and slippery areas when barefoot running unless you have the proper shoe for it.
Not suitable for all foot types
Everyone has different shaped feet and a question that arises is whether these shoes with less support are good for flat feet.
I can’t tell you personally because I don’t have flat feet. But according to the team from Xero, a well-known manufacturer, the answer is YES to ‘Are barefoot running shoes good for flat feet?’ — Flat feet are no obstacle!
Barefoot shoes may not be suitable for individuals with certain foot conditions, such as plantar fasciitis.
Are these natural running shoes for everyone?
These natural types of running footwear are marketed for everyone. James Speck of Fix Flat Feet explains reasons for everyone to switch to minimalist running shoes.
People claim their foot strength improves, giving them relief from shin splints and other foot pains, after switching to minimal shoes.
Today’s best barefoot running shoes
The new minimalist design in running shoes mimics the barefoot running principles suited to the human foot. These shoes are mostly flat (zero heel to toe) but flexible with some built-in protection for your feet.
Most well-known footwear brands market barefoot shoes or some sort of minimal footwear for running.
The following are examples of women’s and men’s that are highly rated (Amazon affiliate links)…
Xero Womens Cross Trainer
Wide toe boxes for a natural fit
Rubber sole and mesh top
5000 MILE WARRANTY
What to look for:
- They are lightweight
- Have a spacious toe box
- Zero drop sole, which means a low-to-the-ground heel that allows for good posture, balance, and agility suited to all types of activity
- They come with a 5,000-mile or better sole warranty
Barefoot shoe brands in Australia
Barefoot trainers and runners available in Australia include brands of Tesla, Vibram, SAGUARO, Cook Nik and more.
Available in multiple colour options, in men’s and women’s styles, you can check them out at Amazon.com.au – see details (affiliate link)
Cheap barefoot runners
For when your budget is tight (Amazon affiliate links)…
What’s to love? The price! There’s the zero-drop feature.
The downside of cheaper options…these are not especially the most lightweight shoes when compared to others in the higher price range. Also, some of them are not suited to getting wet as they do not drain well.
On getting your favourite running shoe
We all have different shapes and sizes of feet, and when we find a shoe that suits us perfectly, we often love it to death.
The barefoot minimalist type can have all the features you might want in a running shoe…
…along with the added physical benefits.