Wanting to get the best running shoes for your joints? But not sure of what will give you the right support? Barefoot running shoes offer a natural forefront strike that is said to lessen stress on joints. Here we look at barefoot running shoes pros and cons.
A few years ago I was on a camping trip with my family and friends. We were sitting around the campfire cooking and talking. One of my friends said something along the lines of “I’m glad I took my shoes off. Don’t quote me as a tree hugger, but I love the relaxed feel!” This made me think about how much I enjoy walking around without shoes. I thought about how nice it feels to walk through green grassy areas during summer and how cool it is to go barefoot on the beach. But I prefer some protection when out running and barefoot runners offer that protection…
What are barefoot running shoes?
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 a traditional running shoe?
Simple answer is that barefoot runners have less padding, and are more flexible than the regular running shoes. They differ to the standard runners, which are cushioned shoes, designed with gel layers and thick soles.
In the case of barefoot running, 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.
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
Are these natural running shoes for everyone?
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 in regard to ‘are barefoot running shoes good for flat feet?’ — Flat feet are no obstacle!
These natural type 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.
Barefoot running shoes pros and cons
If you’re wanting the best barefoot running shoes for you, you’ll want to know this…the pros and cons of barefoot shoes. 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?
Benefits of barefoot shoes
Barefoot running shoes are said to mimic our natural running form. When running barefoot you’ll naturally land or strike the ground with a slightly flatter foot. According to experts, this natural stride means less stress and injury on knee and hip joints.
How is running barefoot or in minimalist running shoes better than running in trainers? You ‘feel’ the ground underneath your feet when running barefoot or in minimalist running shoes. You have this freedom of movement. This barefoot shoes provide a mind-body connection related with our proprioceptive sense.
What is proprioception
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 this 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.
Cons of barefoot running shoes
Having less foot protection can cause problems. When starting out—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.
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.
Personal safety. As Michael Warburtun 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 you’re foot or protruding through your shoe, it’s best to wear suitable protective gear.
Today’s best barefoot running shoes
The new minimalist design in running shoes mimic 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…
These are shaped for your toes. Choose between multiple colors. They have a rubber sole and breathable mesh upper.
This is the style many folk think of when they hear of shoes for minimalist movement or barefoots for running.
Vibram Fivefingers V-Run
available at Amazom
Vivobarefoot Primus Trail SG
The SG stands for soft ground, meaning they are designed for off-road trails. These weigh 14 ounces have a mesh upper that allows them to ‘breathe’.
They have a puncture resistant sole with a gripping lug design suited to manoeuvring wet muddy terrain.
The 3 mm performance insoles in the pair of shoes are removable (less weight) to increase connection with the ground beneath. Or, you can choose to leave the insoles in for extra warmth and comfort.
available at Amazon
What’s to love? If nature inspires you, you’ll appreciate that the manufacturer repurposes plastic (PET) “giving it a second life in our shoes and keeping it from entering landfill and our oceans”. What else? These are water resistant and drain easily to dry. They are also a wide fit for those with broad feet (like me). The best part is the traction they have in wet muddy conditions.
The downside… these are a little pricey and have a low volume in the toe box (though a wide toe box) that won’t suit some. The wide fit will also be a downside for some. Not as light as others on the market.
Xero Shoes Prio
The Prio’s name is taken from proprioception. The shoes weigh 6.4 ounces (women shoes) and 9.0 ounces (men shoes). They have wide toe boxes.
The have an optional 2mm insole for added protection. They feature thin flexible soles. The 5.5mm FeelTrue® rubber sole aids traction. They have a zero heel to toe drop.
Xero Shoes Women’s Prio Cross Training Shoe
available at Amazon
What’s to love? They are lightweight and have a spacious toe box. They come with a 5,000-mile sole warranty.
The downside…these run small in size and most need to look at a 1/2 size larger than normal shoe size for a good fit. The simple look of this shoe may not impress some.
Nike Free RN 2018
This is a flexible road running shoe designed for the neutral pronator. It has a heel to toe drop of 8 mm, with a heel height of 21 mm and a forefoot height of 13 mm.
What’s to love? The underfoot features a responsive foam core for those who’d rather more support. It is lightweight for a road running shoe, weighing 7 ounces (womens) and 8.4 ounces (mens).
Nike Women’s Free RN 2018 Running Shoe
available at Amazon
The downside…Outsoles are ethylene vinyl acetate and traction is not suited to wet surfaces. Stones getting stuck in the flex grooves can be an issue. Those with a broad foot may find it a little too narrow in fit.
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 color options, in men and women styles, you can check them out at Amazon.com.au – see details
Cheap barefoot runners
For when your budget is tight…
Whitin Minimalist Trail Runners
WHITIN Women’s Minimalist Barefoot Shoes
available at Amazon
What’s to love? The price! They are zero drop shoes. They are one of the best cheap barefoot running shoes going on the reviews given by wearers. Another one to look into if your budget is tight, it this cheap barefoot running shoe…the JOOMRA minimalist trail running shoe.
Joomra Women’s Minimalist Barefoot Shoes
available at Amazon
The downside…these are not especially lightweight shoes when compared to others in this range that are available. Also, they 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 health benefits.