Barefoot Activity Outdoors, Not Indoors, More Effective for Improving Foot Strength

Scientists know that barefoot activity is one, if not the best way to improve dynamic foot strength, especially arch function.

What is more is that Robbins and Gouw found that barefoot activity outdoors was more effective at inducing raising of the longitudinal arch of the foot.

  • The reason for this is that barefoot activity outdoors exposes the feet to irregular, rigid surfaces that enhance plantar tactile sensibility far better than most indoor surfaces which are usually soft and complaint.
Barefoot activity outdoors better than indoors
Firm, rigid, irregular surfaces increase local differences in plantar tactile sensations which in turn accelerates foot strength.

Barefoot Activity Outdoors, Not Indoors, More Effective for Improving Foot Strength

The increased local differences in plantar tactile sensations caused barefoot activity outdoors on uneven surfaces is like injecting steroids into the feet.

Barefoot Activity Best Way to Strengthen the Feet

  • Heightened plantar tactile sensations dramatically increases muscle tone in the foot. This is how the foot ‘self-strengthens’.

Comfy surfaces does not allow the foot to do this because sensory feedback is poorly augmented on cushioned, softer surfaces. In contrast, other research has confirmed that surface irregularities resulted in reduced vertical impact when barefoot.

Of course, in the beginning, outdoor barefoot activity accompanies slight plantar discomfort, but this is part of the natural process of adaptation and is temporary. Plantar comfort will improve with more exposure to outdoor, uneven surfaces. However, usually, movement of the foot across surface irregularities was found to not increase discomfort.

The Take Home Message

As expected, pro-shod researchers and the average recreational runner will no doubt hotly debate whether going barefoot is worth the ‘risk’. But the risk of what?

Aside from running barefoot, the effectiveness of walking barefoot outdoors is unprecedented, and the science is there to prove that, whereas cushioned running shoes leads to nothing but complex problems with foot health, allowing ailment of the feet to worsen.

More From Run Forefoot:


Robbins Se and Gouw GJ. Athletic footwear: unsafe due to perceptual illusions. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1991; 23(2):217-224.

Robbins SE., Gouw GJ and Hanna AM. Running-related injury prevention through innate impact-moderating behaviour. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1989; 21:130-39.

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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