Is Barefoot Running Healthier?

By Xah Lee. Date:

Am surprised to learn that when you run barefoot, your forefoot is the point that contact the ground first, not your heel. (“forefoot” is the front part of your foot.)

In recent years there's reports that running shoes are not healthy, while barefoot is better, because with running shoes and its heavy padding and flat bottom, you always land on the heel first, which supposedly put burden on your knee to absorb the impact.

When running barefoot, your forefeet touchs the ground first, and almost simultaneous with heel. The arc in your feet act as the natural shock absorber. So, good for your health.

At first i find it hard to believe that the forefoot touches the ground first when you run barefoot. Today i actually tried it, and it is true.

This is slightly not intuitive, because one'd think that running shoes with all the thick tech padding that are designed to absorb shock. Though, the problem is that when the padding is thick, inevitably you have to land on heel first, thus it neutralize the natural shock absorber that's the arc in your feet.

Wikipedia on Barefoot Running says:

The human mechanics of running are changed quite significantly when shoes are used -- with natural, shoeless human running, the lateral edge of the forefoot is the part which strikes the ground with the most force. Running in padded shoes typically alters this as more emphasis is placed on the heel and the area towards the back of the foot.

Though, there's no conclusive evidence that running barefoot is healthier practice than with running shoes.

I first noticed this controversy when i saw a ad for a funky natural shoe.

vibram fivefingers shoe 1
Vibram Fivefingers KSO. Buy at amazon

Advantage of Going Barefoot

Asides from the issue of running… if you go barefoot everyday, your feet will develop quite some flexibility and mobility. Ι recall, in 2005 or so, there's a guy talking about his book on this on the radio NPR.

With shoes, your feet is like in jail, all your life. You can hardly even wiggle your toes. Without shoes, your feet become much more flexible and dexterous, like your hand. (just imagine some tree monkey's feet).

For modern people, if you take off your shoes, you will probably not be able to walk in a unpaved road for few minutes. It's gonna be like, ouch, ouch! Every tiny rock is pain.

Barefoot is great especially in natural environment where the ground is not paved concrete. But in modern society, it is close to impossible to find a walking ground that's not paved. So, i think in some sense, the advantage of feet's ability to grasp the ground, is not applicable if you live in developed country.

Walking and running barefoot in warm asphalt feels great. I think am going to do 10 minutes barefoot walking/running everyday now. For the joy, and also for picking up what my feet is naturally capable of.

Though, there's the esthetic issue. I'm sure going barefoot will make your feet more tough in appearance, and probably thicker skin in some parts. But does this means your feet will be more ugly? For guys, this doesn't matter much. For ladies, can you go barefeet for years and have beautiful feet?

Alterative to Barefoot

One disadvantage of barefoot is that without shoes your feet is subject to all the abrasion with the ground, in particular on concrete asphalt. That's very harsh on your feet's skin, and un-natural (because the paved road is man-made). In natural environment, the groud would be soil, dirt, grass, sand, occasionally stone.

A alternative is to wear shoes without heavy padding. I've been wearing one made by Nike since early 2000s, and it's my favorite shoe.

nike acg neoprene sandals 3
Nike ACG Tekapo Slide
Nike Zvezdochka shoe qd5yq
Men's Nike Zvezdochka shoe

Mine's design looks similar to the above. (i can't find the exact name or picture.)

High-heels for Health!

On the other hand: Scientists Say High-Heels Good for Your Health