How Barefoot Style Running Shoes Prevent Injuries

Barefoot style running shoes prevent injury only with concurrent gait retraining, meaning that you need to avoid heel strike, and learn how to forefoot strike.

How Barefoot Style Running Shoes Prevent Injuries

How Barefoot Style Running Shoes Prevent Injuries

In the standard running shoe, most runners lose their sense of proprioception, both plantar and lower extremity joint proprioception, causing them to adopt a forceful foot strike, a heel strike.

Deficiencies in proprioception also result in poor reflexive withdrawal of the leg during running, which accompanies long ground contact time and more force production.

In contrast, barefoot runners are plantar-perception machines, having landing strategies that keep them less injured than the average jogger.

Unfortunately, much of the positive influences of barefoot running goes unnoticed because it falls under the radar of ‘dangerous’. Although research demonstrated that most of us subconsciously land better during barefoot running, barefoot running has, in a sense, been snubbed by the running community. Because of ‘sanitary’ reasons, barefoot running was devalued by most joggers. Fortunately, minimalism has been more influential on the running community.

Why Less is LOTS MORE

Barefoot Running ShoeEven though barefoot minimalist shoes do not deliver the same amount of sensory traffic as barefoot running, runners can still monitor their foot strike better compared to the standard running shoe. Likewise, the fundamental purpose of minimalism is to get runners running naturally, more barefoot-like, without having to run barefoot.

Keep in mind that a barefoot running shoe is useless if you heel strike during running. Humans have a sophisticated reflexive system to run injury-free without shoes or in thin minimalist running shoes, but this only works with a  forefoot strike.

A study by Rixe et al. (2012) found that a barefoot running shoe reduces running injuries only with concurrent gait retraining. From outcome-based research, the researchers concluded that barefoot footwear plus gait retraining is the most effective way a runner can fine-tune their mechanics, putting them on a clear path to running injury-free.

Other work has found that barefoot shoes affected heel striking in the absence of gait retraining, but lower leg joint kinematics reflected that of heel strike running, thus the benefits of running in barefoot shoes were marginal. It is when barefoot shoes and gait retraining are paired that the outcomes are more desirable.

The Take Home Message

Before going minimal, runners need to learn the proper forefoot running technique and understand why it’s better for them than heel strike running. Minimalist running shoes still undercuts proprioception, but provides enough sensory feedback to enable some types of somatosensory navigation –and that this ability is improved only with gait retraining.

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P.S. Don’t forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page. It’s the perfect place to ask questions on how to run forefoot, barefoot, or in minimalist shoes. I’ll be thrilled to answer them for ya!


Rixe et al. The barefoot debate: can minimalist shoes reduce running-related injuries? Cur Sports Med Reports, 2012; 11(3):160.

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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