Are Nike Frees Barefoot Shoes?

Consistent with the research, functional improvements in your running form depends on the amount of sensory input (ground-feel) acting on your underfoot. This is because our feet are densely populated with their own sensors and controllers which help coordinate basic, functional movements.

Is Barefoot Running Good for You?
Sensory strength shapes running form whereby the more sensory input at your feet, the better you are at moving away from heel strike running and adopting the forefoot running technique, and it’s been clear that barefoot running or running in barefoot-like shoes are the best producers of form-correcting sensory input.

Most relevant, barefoot running and running in minimalist running shoes, which are functional footwear designed to mimic being barefoot, are consistently justified in a number of pioneering studies for improving running form and foot strength in more ways that the conventional running shoe could never do.

The Nike Free is marketed as a barefoot shoe but this is a misclassification since the Free is not zero-drop because more padding is under the heel than the toe-box. Whats worse, the Free contains some arch support, while the sole is just as thickly cushioned and rigid as the conventional running shoe. This means the Free does not provide the immediate ground-feedback needed to get your forefoot running mechanics in proper order.

Are Nike Frees Barefoot Shoes?
Barefoot running or running in barefoot-like shoes must be practised in order to help you succeed in correcting mechanical problems in a way that maintains. These running conditions will make you better at avoiding a heel strike (the prime culprit for injury), while inscribing deeply in your muscle memory a more effective forefoot strike. However, the Free, which is Nikes ‘barefoot shoe’, is not a mirror image of barefoot running as compared with minimalist shoes, like the Vibram Five Fingers, that actually feel as if you are barefoot.
Unlike the Nike Free, the reason Vibram is a fan-favourite in the minimalist community is because these shoes feel closest to being barefoot, thereby making you more prone to mechanical corrections that are more clinically relevant. At the same time, Vibram shoes provide an unrestricted fit which allows the foot to work independently, making your feet stronger than ever. This is why you have much to gain in shoes that feel most barefoot.

The latest research has shown theres nothing about the over-hyped Nike Free that is barefoot-like. This is because for one, the Nike Frees thick and rigid cushioning was found to push the foot into extreme positions which would increase the amount of rotational stress and torsion on the leg. For another, the padded, raised heel was found to make it easier to heel strike than to forefoot strike. It’s for these reasons that the Free is not a quick fix for improving motor performance like barefoot running and real minimalist shoes are.

For instance, a study by Hein and Grau compared the kinematics of barefoot runners with runners in the Nike Free 3.0.

the barefoot runners in the study were shod-heel strikers with 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 and had a more dorsiflexed ankle upon heel strike compared to the barefoot runners. This means the Nike Free runners landed with a more force- intensive heel strike and more pronation, which a lot of injuries stem from vs forefoot running.

These findings are consistent with other evidence showing that thicker cushioned shoes, like the Nike Free, produces an assortment of mechanics involved in injury. These mechanics include abnormal foot motions (hyper-pronation) and a more pronounced heel strike landing, which taken together, strains more muscles in the leg.

The Take Home Message

The reason you’re not making enough progress with the Nike Free is because foot mechanics in running is strongly influenced by footwear and ground-feedback is a prerequisite for successful mechanical corrections.

To make the most out of improving your running form, running barefoot or in actual barefoot-like shoes are always better because you elicit the strongest corrective responses, resulting in far less impact.

Need more convincing? Here are more specifics showing that barefoot running is the most effective therapy to enrich your biomechanics while making your feet stronger than ever!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, you’ll LOVE my YouTube channel, here, where I show why forefoot running is safer and more economical than heel strike running.

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:


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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