Are Nike Free Runs Good for Forefoot Running?

For the new forefoot runners, its important to feel the ground with your feet to keep your biomechanics regulated. This includes running barefoot or running in super-thin, barefoot-mimicking footwear. The Nike Free Runs are marketed as a ‘barefoot running shoe’, but the amount of cushioning in Free Runs, makes them far from feeling barefoot. But because the Nike Free Runs are heavily marketed as a barefoot running shoe, I get many questions asking are Nike Free Runs good for forefoot running?

New research suggests the Nike Free’s, particularly, the Nike 3 Run Free (shown below) could be damaging by facilitating wonky foot movements during running.

Nike 3.0 Run Do a Poor Job At Mimicking Barefoot Running

When I think of a barefoot running shoe, the Vibram Fivefingers (shown below) are one of the shoes that come to mind because the lack of support stimulates noticeable growth in foot muscles and arch strength. This is what all shoes should do for our feet, but unfortunately, the standard shoes on the market do not.

Barefoot Shoes Best for Forefoot Running

Barefoot Shoes Best for Forefoot Running

Are Nike Free Runs Good for Forefoot Running?

If the Nike Free 3.0’s are a tried and true barefoot running shoe, barefoot running conditions should be reproduced and allow for a forefoot strike landing. Unfortunately, that’s not what a recent study by Hein and Grau found.

The researchers compared the kinematics of barefoot runners with runners in the Nike Free 3.0. Note: the barefoot runners in the study were shod-heel strikers and had no experience with barefoot running. They learned barefoot running independently without ‘proper’ instruction.

  • the study revealed the Nike Free 3.0 runners had greater rearfoot inversion at touchdown and during stance
  • these runners also had a more dorsiflexed ankle upon heel strike compared to the barefoot runners, who by the way, maintained heel strike

Since the barefoot runners maintained a heel strike gait, the finding reaffirms that barefoot running does not always result in a change in foot strike from a heel strike to a forefoot strike.

However, habitual barefoot runners who forefoot strike, land with less dorsiflexion which was observed in the barefoot runners of the study, but not in the Nike Free 3.0 runners.

The Take Home Message

The Nike Free 3.0s altered rearfoot kinematics compared to the barefoot runners and the researchers suggested that to closely approximate barefoot running conditions, Nike should focus on a rounded heel shape design (like a human heel), without heel flare and a reduction in midsole height.

To date, footwear companies have yet to find a reliable way to figure out if a shoe is actually capable of approximating the feel of running barefoot.

Bottom line, the benefits of barefoot running seem obvious. There is nothing between you and the ground thereby leading to greater precision and eliminating fluctuations in foot strike.

More From Run Forefoot:

My reviews and recommendations on forefoot running shoes

Pronated feet causes during running

Guide for choosing trail running shoes for forefoot running

Pulled hammy when forefoot running

Cause of ITBS in runners


Hein, T. and Grau, T. (2014). Can Minimal Running Shoes Imitate Barefoot Heel-Toe Running Patterns? A Comparison of Lower Leg Kinematics.

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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