Why Barefoot Running is Better on the Feet

There’s strong evidence supporting that the safest foot strike on the foot is a forefoot strike, not a heel strike.  But, to better your chances of avoiding foot injury, especially major foot injuries, like a stress fracture, is to run forefooted in barefoot running shoes, not thick cushioned running shoes.

It turns out, there’s major differences in underfoot pressure distribution and intensity between runners who run barefoot or in barefoot running shoes vs runners in thickly cushioned running shoes.

Are Cushioned Running Shoes Bad for You?
Runners in thick cushioned running shoes were found to land with greater downward and push force which led to excessively high impact pressure on the foot, thereby increasing the risk for foot injury as compared with running barefoot or in barefoot running shoes.

As we so well know, injury prevention efforts in running mainly target factors such as reducing impact by adding more layers of cushioning under the foot. But what’s so scientifically interesting is many studies (references listed at the end of the article) found the same basic conclusions:

  • reduced ground-feel increases damaging peak underfoot pressure, especially on the mid-foot.
  • the softer and thicker the underfoot cushioning, the greater the peak underfoot pressures at the touchdown and stance phases of running,  putting even more stress on the foot.

It gets worse. Thickly cushioned running shoes were found to completely mask the feel of high impacts, leaving runners incapable of feeling any abnormal rise in underfoot pressure and impact stress.

Evidence of this came from the pioneering work by Dr. Steven Robins, MD, who found that:

In simple terms, when your feet are unable to feel the ground when running, the foot pounds into the ground harder and pushes off the ground harder.

What is more, thick underfoot cushioning counters the body’s natural impact-avoidance behavioral reflex which is fully activated when barefoot, and is activated to a lesser degree in barefoot running shoes. In fact, a 1996 study in the journal Clinical Biomechanics discovered that running over harder underfoot surfaces with minimal underfoot protection resulted in stark reductions in peak underfoot pressure on account of the runners reflexively adjusted their landing intensity to land lighter!

Less protection means less impact! When you run barefoot or in barefoot running shoes, especially on harder surfaces, your initial reaction is to not only avoid landing heel-first, but to reflexively land with your foot closer to your center of mass (upper body). You also land with better forefoot strike precision, while naturally develop a faster withdrawal of the foot off the ground. The net effect of all this is a lighter, softer, more responsive landing strategy that reduces the braking force and you also land with less downward and push force, thereby giving you real protections against dangerous rises in underfoot pressure.

Bottom line, ground-feedback takes the leading role in helping you reign in your worst mechanical impulses, like heel-pounding (heel striking), but why does increased ground-feel make the body so effective in protecting itself from injurious impacts when barefoot or in barefoot running shoes?

Its ALL About Proprioception!

When you can feel the ground more fully with your feet, you have better proprioception, and therefore, improved mechanical stability, at every level.

  • Proprioception is defined as the constant feedback loop within your nervous system that informs your brain about what position you are in and what forces are acting upon your body at any given point in time.


The body’s proprioceptive system also plays an important role in maintaining the body’s natural mechanical defenses against high impacts, which is proven to be optimized barefoot.

How exactly do our feet importantly contribute to proprioception?

Barefoot Running Prevents Injury

The underfoot is densely populated with groups of nerves that belong to the proprioceptive system. When you’re barefoot, there’s a richer range of sensory information converging through the bottom foot that is sent more quickly to the central nervous system as compared with conventional running shoes. From here, more nerves throughout the entire body are switched on more fully which directly activates a range of muscle and reflexive responses that are key organizers of optimal movement patterns, including impact-avoidance behaviour. This is the reason you don’t generate high impacts on the foot as well as on the entire body when you run barefoot, regardless of surface hardness, and is undoubtedly, the best way to get your biomechanics to work most optimally.

Most consequential, when proprioception is blocked at the feet with thick shoe cushioning, the proprioceptive feedback loop is impeded which causes unbalanced footfalls that are more force-intensive on the body. This is why cushioned running shoes are a continuing mechanical interference, and all injuries stem from this.

Are Cushioned Running Shoes Bad for You?
Instead of adding protection, thickly cushioned running shoes do nothing to protect you from running injury. If cushioned running shoes can’t reduce all the impact, how can they prevent all injuries?

Obviously, many variables cause running injuries, and thick cushioned running shoes are certainly one of them because they’re on record for directly causing injury by misaligning mechanical outputs due to impairing proprioception.

This is why you can do better with your injury prevention efforts by integrating barefoot running in your regiment as barefoot running is most effective to tap into the proprioceptive power that’ll assist you in developing a landing strategy that’s so brief that certain impact variables are not fully produced on the foot and leg.

To help you get off to a good start on barefoot running, here’s an easy barefoot running training guide that’s sensibly incremental so you don’t overdo it!


Chen et al. Influence of sensory input on plantar pressure distribution. Clin Biomech, 1995; 10(5):271-74.

Hennig EM., Valiant GA and Liu Q. Biomechanical variables and perception of cushioning for running in various types of footwear. J Appl Biomech, 1996; 12(2):143-150.

Pell RFt, Khanuja HS, Cooley GR. Leg pain in the running athlete. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2004;12:396-404.

Robbins et al.  Sensory attenuation induced by modern athletic footwear. J of Test and Reg,  July 1988.

Sharma J, Golby J, Greeves J, Spears IR. Biomechanical and lifestyle risk factors for medial tibia stress syndrome in army recruits: a prospective study. Gait Posture. 2011;33:361-365.

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If you’ve enjoyed by blog’s content about barefoot running, you’ll LOVE my content over at my YouTube channel, here, where I discuss at great lengths the health and performance benefits of barefoot running as well as forefoot running vs heel strike running.

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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!