Barefoot Running 101

wellness mama barefoot running Barefoot Running 101

Note from Katie: Please welcome Lauren Jones for this great post about barefoot running. It is something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while, and she is more qualified than I am to write it. She and her husband host a race series called the Naked Foot 5K. Personally, I’m a huge fan of barefoot or minimilast shoes and I wear them all the time (they are a great conversation starter!) Enter Lauren…

What is barefoot running all about anyways?
Pretty much everyone these days has seen those strange Vibram “toe shoes” or heard something about this barefoot running thing.

Whether you’ve read the book “Born to Run” and barefoot/minimalist running has piqued your interest, or you just think it is a completely wacky trend, there is a lot of debate about the benefits and validity of the movement.

First of all, a little about myself.  I am the proud mother of a 1 year old boy, Wyatt.

I love running, trail running, mountain biking, snowboarding, rock climbing, camping…….pretty much anything that is active and can be done outdoors.

I have a degree in exercise science and have been working in the health and fitness industry for over 10 years, and my husband Scott (who is an exercise physiologist) and I put on a national race series called the Naked Foot 5K.

And yes, the race is what it sounds like- a barefoot optional 5K.

So knowing this, I guess I am a little biased when it comes to the barefoot running movement.

However, I’d love to share some facts, knowledge, and my philosophy about barefoot and minimalist running with you before you form a strong opinion about it one way or the other.

Barefoot Running… Why?

First of all, we consider ourselves “barefoot moderates”. We like to run barefoot but use it as more of a tool to help us refine our running form, strengthen our feet and as a part of our larger training regime. I’d say we do less that 3 miles barefoot a week.

As a trail runner, I strongly believe there is a time and place for a good pair of shoes too (although there are some amazing ultra runners out there like Jason Robillard that do trail ultras barefoot).

That is why I was so happy when the shoe companies started making “minimalist” footwear. Basically shoes with a little less padding specifically around the heel area.

You see, the theory is that traditional footwear, with their humongous padded heals promotes running with the heel striking first then the rest of the foot. Studies have found that runners that “heel strike” have far more impact on the joints than runners that land on the forefoot (ball of the foot) first.

Pretty much every footwear company out there these days is making a minimalist shoe model, and they’d be dumb not to. A survey in 2010 found that minimalist footwear would make up 1/3 of the multi-billion dollar athletic shoe industry by mid 2011. This has already happened and then some.

Should You Run Barefoot?

So here is our input on the whole thing: Learn to run better first. If you don’t want to run barefoot then learn to run “like you are barefoot”.

If you heel strike you may benefit from taking off your shoes, finding a nice soft grassy field and just practicing landing mid-foot. Make sure your heel still hits the ground, just not before the ball of your foot does (many people make this mistake, never let their heels touch, get really sore calves, possibly Achilles issues and swear off barefoot/minimalist running for life).

Another thing to focus on is increasing your turnover. Meaning to take smaller steps and get those little legs moving faster. Don’t extend your legs way out in front of you, keep those feet below you and you will never heel strike and will lessen the impact to your joints significantly.

Go and try out a pair of minimalist shoes. Don’t wear them all the time at first, you need to make sure your body gets used to having less padding. You need time for your feet to get stronger, your bone density to increase, your joints and ligaments to adapt.

Most people just don’t do this whole barefoot running thing right. It can really benefit your running, walking, and really over all health (less joint pain!) if you take your time and listen to your body. I think that this “trend” is here to stay and that it will really change the way people think about running, training and the footwear industry for the better.

Last thing:  Sign up for a barefoot friendly 5k!  The Naked Foot 5K benefits the charity Soles4Souls– we encourage people to bring shoes to donate and then running the race barefoot is optional.

We have partnered with Kids Running America and want to stop childhood obesity! Thus, our 5K is FREE to kids under 12 and we also have a shorter free kids 1k.

We organize “Learn to Run” clinics and training sessions leading up to each race to teach you to run with better form whether barefoot, minimalist or traditionally shod.

Our events also include a “Bare ‘Life” expo with games, fitness demos (like yoga, crossfit, etc) and organic food and product samples.

barefoot race running Barefoot Running 101

So, we hope to see you out there and if not get out and run and HAVE FUN! That’s what barefoot running is really all about.

Ever run barefoot? Want to start? Share below!

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Reader Comments

  1. Lauren Faxel says

    Any thoughts on barefoot-ing while pregnant?  I used to be a barefoot-er (pre-pregnancy) and somewhere along the line switched back to wearing gymshoes.  I’m about 34 weeks now and am noticing my feet growing (swelling?) and feeling weaker.  I know the shoes aren’t helping strengthen my feet at all, but I’m not sure that now is the right time to switch back to barefoot.  Should I wait until after the baby arrives to start walking barefoot (vibrams or huaraches) again? 

    • Trace says

      Hi Lauren, 
      I ran barefoot up until a couple weeks of giving birth!  It felt great but I had been doing it for awhile.  I agree with Katie, maybe do some barefoot walking but wait to transition into it until after your little one comes.  Good luck!

  2. Jenna says

    I just replaced my barefoot’s with some Asics due to knee pain. If you are mainly doing paved paths or you have joint damage I think you should consider something with more cushion. The concept of barefooting is great but our ancestors were running on pavement.

    • says

      This is true, and I’ve also found that you can run on pavement with barefoot shoes, but your strike becomes very important. I used to heel strike and when I switched to barefoot, I had to re-train myself, since this was really hard on the joints. A mid-foot strike allows a gentler landing and lessens the joint impact.

    • Trace says

      True, we didn’t have concrete when people were running without shoes way back when.  I think the key is use barefoot running as a complement to your training.  Also make sure to really ease into minimalist shoes slowly- don’t add more than a mile a week.  Your body has to get used to it!

  3. Ellen says

    I have to use a heel lift because one of my legs is 1/4 to 1/2 inch shorter than the other leg.  Are there any options for someone in my position?

    • says

      I’m not sure, hopefully they will chime in and answer. I do know that some people see improvement in leg conditions from switching, and I don’t know if there are inserts for them or not…

    • Korrin says

      I have a difference of about .5 cm (1/4 in). I opted for no heel lift — ever. I wear shoes as little as possible, and I run barefoot. I started going barefoot at least 80% of the time 3.5 years ago.
      I now have an arch, my ankles haven’t rolled/sprained, and the effects of my ‘more adorable’ leg haven’t really been showing up.

      Orthotics and the slight heel lift only ever aggravated everything…

      My best recommendation is to just try walking barefoot for a while each day, and then try jogging a little, then running. If you’re really noticing the ‘cute leg’ causing problems, get some minimalistic shoes and make an insert for your one heel out of something like wetsuit material stacked until it’s about high enough. I found that my feet were able to compensate for the length difference since I’m not on my heels much…

  4. Bengoa says

    Does anyone have recommendations for good kids’ minimalist shoes (specifically, for toddlers….the merrell and vibrams don’t run in the size I’m looking for).

    • says

      Depending on what size your kids are: Robeez are good for babies up until about 18 months as they are a completely flat sole. They are a little pricier, but Soft Star also makes some great minimalist shoes for kids.

  5. says

    I always find running in barefoot running shoes way better than running in with your bare feet as barefoot shoes provides extra “protection” from getting your feet injured. In the same way with traditional running shoes, but it’s just that barefoot shoes are much lighter and easier to run.

    Favorite resources:
    Born to Run by Christopher Mcdougall and

    • CR says

      The problem with that extra protection is that it allows you to go to far and to fast to soon. This usually results in injury.  If you run completely bare, your tender feet will be the limiting factor at first, which forces you to slow down.   Plus running complete bare is cooler.

  6. Jesse says

    Great post Wellness Mama and Lauren Jones,

    I love that you are getting this information out there. I try to encourage people to get beyond just running barefoot and think in terms of living barefoot. The more we lose the shoes and allow our bodies to experience the world around us, the more our body’s will thank us with healthy pain-free movement. I look forward to more great posts.

  7. Kate M. says

    After reading this article, I decided it was time to give running altogether another shot. I’m really tall with joint problems, and have been asthmatics my whole life, so running was just TORTURE. Just got back from my first go (around a quarter mile… Gotta start somewhere!) and I must say it was already so much more enjoyable. I felt my muscles working, my hips didn’t go swinging all over the place, because I had a strict form to keep in mind, and I was taking shorter strides. I’ll keep taking it slow, but I think I’m a convert!

  8. Francesca Carr says

    All your comments are so helpful to me! I had my daughter through IVF and could only run for 3 months into treatment until I couldn’t do it anymore, so I didn’t run for 3 years, I miss running and when I went last week my joints hurt and it put me off, now reading all this great advice I will go running in the park near to my house barefoot and see how I feel, I have been walking round the house and garden a lot more barefoot and I love it! Thanks for giving me the confidence to go for it! The dog mess worries me though but what’s the worse that can happen! Thank you Katie you are an inspiration to me! X

  9. Muneeza says

    I have been suffering from plantar fasciitis from last 6 years affecting both feels causing bad feet pains and right knee pain from chondromalacia patella from the last 8 months ,soon after I delivered my third child. I am 38 years old now.
    Can you please advice me about the foot wear and exercises that can heal them and help me lose weight as well.

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