Barefoot Running is Better for Joints Than Running in Shoes

October 6, 2011 at 2:00 am 7 comments

By Chad Upton | Editor

Some people think these shoes look weird:

But, they just look like feet. So, maybe it’s our shoe stressed feet that look weird. If you look at your toes, they’re not spread out like your fingers. Most people’s toes are squished together in the shape of a shoe, even when they’re not in shoes.

That’s weird.

I never really thought about it much, until I saw a pair of these shoes. They’re called “Five Fingers” and they’re made by a company called Vibram. They’re a bit pricey, so you may also want to look at Fila’s similar and slightly cheaper version called “Skele-toes.” This style of footwear are to shoes what winter gloves are to mittens.

These shoes and the growing category of “minimalist running shoes” are a hot trend in running circles right now. There are many reasons why, but the ten most convincing reasons are on the floor in front of you.

We’ve been cramming our feet into unnatural shoes since childhood, but what would our feet look like if we had never worn shoes? Probably something like this:

These feet actually look weird too; we’re used to seeing feet that are shaped like shoes.

The difference is glaring. Look at the straight black line in the first photo, it stretches from the big toe, across the ball of the foot to the heel. You can’t draw a straight line on the second photo that aligns these three important parts of your feet.

Cramping your foot’s style is not cool because that can lead to cramps and strains and lots of heel pains. If you’ve ever had foot pain or discomfort, you may think your shoes don’t have enough cushioning or that your arches have too much or too little support. While there are exceptions, these problems are generally myths perpetuated by the shoe industry that simply wants you to buy new shoes often.

Many of the best runners in the world, who consistently win marathons, run without any shoes at all. Do they have bad feet? No, they have really strong feet. They also have better knees and hips than runners who use thick padded running shoes. One medical study compared running in shoes to barefoot and fount that barefoot running demonstrated 38% lower knee torque and 54% less internal hip rotation torque. This means that running barefoot provides a much more natural motion for your joints. This notion is pretty surprising the first time you hear it, but there are a mountain of medical studies to support it.

Should you throw away your super spongy running shoes and go barefoot tomorrow? Probably not. Just like running in shoes, you need some education to do it the best way possible. Check your area for a local running club where you can learn, or look for some online videos on the subject. I’ve also got some great sources listed below which would make a good starting point.

Also, running on soft shoes might not be a good idea but research shows that running on soft surfaces is better than hard surfaces. Even though grass and dirt may have rocks and pits, these actually work to strengthen your ankles over time. That said, you may also want to consider the type of floors you have at home — you may even want to get something like soft rubber floors.

PS – Neil posted a funny story at about my first outdoor run earlier this year.

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Sources: PM&RShoe Myths,,,

Entry filed under: Despite Popular Belief, Health and Beauty. Tags: , , , , .

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jen  |  October 6, 2011 at 8:37 am

    My feet look more like the first picture (with the exception of the pinky toes), and my feet are considered extremely wide. Thanks for showing me that it’s not I was born with freakish feet, it’s that I’ve taken better care of them by wearing shoes that accommodate my toes. Well, mostly, as it’s really hard to find shoes that fit my feet.

    I have wanted a pair of Vibram Five Fingers shoes for years.

  • 2. littlereadhead  |  October 6, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    My feet naturally grow like the 2nd picture. Boo for bunions!

  • 3. A Super Duper Buzz Kill « The Aniweda Dream  |  October 7, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    […] Barefoot Running is Better for Joints Than Running in Shoes ( […]

  • 4. Neil  |  October 10, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    The guy who wrote “Born to Run” also has a TED talk worth watching:

  • 5. Shannon  |  October 11, 2011 at 8:41 am
    “If one is not experiencing any injuries, it is probably best to not change what you’re doing.”

    This article suggests that it’s better to keep doing what you’re used to if you don’t have any injuries/problems running with regular sneakers.

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  • 7. Behind the Minimalist Running Movement « Atrilife  |  October 12, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    […] Barefoot Running is Better for Joints Than Running in Shoes ( […]


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