Is Barefoot Running Good or Bad?

One of the biggest known challenges in running is avoiding injury, but unfortunately, all along, runners have been asking the wrong question about injury prevention: how much underfoot cushioning does it take to reduce injury? The answer is none because less protection is actually more protection which is why barefoot runners run safer than runners in cushioned shoes.

What goes unrealized is that safe running starts with proper running form and the best way to develop the proper running form is by engaging the nervous system which can only be done by running barefoot! This is because the spinal cord and brain does a better job at coordinating safer mechanical outputs when sensory and tactile information are received from the bare foot, not when you run in cushioned running shoes. This is why barefoot runners are on record for running more safe than shod (shoe) runners.

  • Barefoot runners produce significantly less overall damaging forms of impacts because the spinal cord’s impact-moderating reflexes as well as pressure and pain-sensitive sensory processing in the feet are most optimized, but are severely impaired in thickly cushioned running shoes.
Is Barefoot Running Good or Bad?
Barefoot runners are the most capable of running the safest because proprioception (i.e body-sense awareness) is optimized as compared with running in cushioned shoes.

Ground-feel is also referred to as proprioception, which is the sensory feedback loop in the nervous system thats responsible for limb and joint position sense, and its proven to be most optimized when you run barefoot.

  • Barefoot runners achieve the best proprioceptive sense because the underfoot proprioceptive nerves are most activated to levels that immediately activate our nervous system’s built-in reflexive defence mechanisms. This in turn engages lighter, softer, more controlled footfalls in the form of a forefoot strike, not a heel strike

Barefoot Running Trains Your Brain to Run Your Best!

In looking more closely at how heightened proprioception when running barefoot optimizes running form, the nerve cells in the bare foot become better at conveying pressure and tactile information to areas of the nervous system that have intimate connections with the most primitive parts of the brain: the cerebellum and brain stem. Therefore, constant protection from high impacts when running can only come through activating these brain areas, which can only be done by running barefoot

What is Proprioception and How it Can Make You Run Better
When you run barefoot, the nerves in the feet are at their best in communicating to the brain to produce maximum monitoring of foot posture, foot strike intensity as well as ankle, knee and hip mechanics, even upper body posture as compared with cushioned running shoes.


Conversely,  running in thick cushioned running shoes causes proprioceptive interference, therefore the sensory feedback isn’t there to engage the brain and reflexes for safe, functional mechanics. In this condition, running safely becomes self-defeating because your  initial reaction isn’t to land lighter, but to land harder with greater downward force because the foot is trying to ram through all the compressible materials to reach a more stable, natural surface.

Why Cushioned Running Shoes Are Bad?
When you run barefoot, the ground-feel triggers reflexive mechanical responses that train your brain to keep your mechanics in a safe, low impact range. The opposite occurs in thick cushioned running shoes because the proprioceptive feedback loop is blocked at the feet. In this way, the neuromuscular and reflexive systems are prevented from keeping your natural stride, and is why mechanical impairments easily arise, but are quickly corrected as soon as you run barefoot.

The Take Home Message

The evidence is abundantly clear that ground-feel is everything when it comes to running because its directly responsible for shaping how you run!

What you wear on your feet has the strongest influence on your entire running form whereby the thicker the underfoot cushioning, the less you can feel the ground, the more mechanical displacements will occur, the more impact you will produce,  and therefore, the more injuries you’ll be vulnerable to.

Humans were born to run, but not with thick cushioned clunkers on our feet. Luckily, thanks to our evolutionary lineage as barefoot endurance runners, barefoot running will always be there to help us reverse the damaging effects of modern running shoes. 


Nurse MA and Nigg BM. Quantifying a relationship between tactile and vibration sensitivity of the human foot with plantar pressure distributions during gait. Clin Biomech, 1999; 14(9):667-672.

If you’d like, you can support Run Forefoot and help keep it going by making a donation in any amount of your choosing:

Or, you can support Run Forefoot by shopping at the BEST Barefoot Shoe Brands, and be sure to bookmark these links 🙂



Vibram FiveFingers:


Be Lenka:

Xero Shoes:


Soft Star Shoes:

Wilding Shoes:

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!