Is It Really About Barefoot vs Shoes When It Comes To Running?

According to Christopher McDougall, when it comes to running injury free, it really isn’t about barefoot vs shoes; it’s about forefoot strike vs heel strike.

Why It’s Not About Barefoot vs Shoes

In 2004, Daniel Lieberman at Harvard University published Endurance Running and the Evolution of Homo.  Shortly after, Christopher McDougall published the best-seller, Born To Run, both revealed that humans ran barefoot for millions of years and did so injury free.

Barefoot vs Shoes
Figure 1. (Left), results from the ‘barefoot’ Harvard study. (Right), Christopher MchDougall’s best-selling book, Born to Run, which influenced the barefoot running movement.

The above publications ignited the barefoot running movement.  Many heel strike runners ditched their shoes and ran the roads barefoot.  Then along came the injuries which is why many believe barefoot running is now ‘dead’.

Unfortunately, the concept of barefoot running over-shadowed the core meaning of what Dr. Lieberman and McDougall were expressing which was: our ancestors ran barefoot, but they did not run on their heels, they ran on their forefoot, silly!

Running Barefoot Means Forefoot Running

The rationale of Dr. Lieberman’s paper and McDougall’s Born to Run was that  modern running shoes influences an unnatural, forceful foot strike pattern, a heel strike, which is a deviation from the safer foot strike pattern, a forefoot strike, adopted by our ancestors.

I don’t think barefoot running is dead, but I do believe the concept of barefoot running has been exhausted due to the spike in injury rates in recent years. True, humans were born to run, and ran barefoot, just not on their heels.

Society tells us to wear shoes all the time, but as a consequence, our lower legs, especially our feet, are weak. However, this does not disable us from learning to run properly, in a way the human form may have been designed to run, with a forefoot strike.

Learners need to acquire lots of patience when transitioning from heel strike to forefoot strike running with major emphasis on strengthening exercises, and before you know it, you will be running forefoot unchallenged and injury free.

More From Run Forefoot:

Don’t Heel Strike! – Research shows that heel striking is a major pitfall for runners.

Barefoot Running – It’s not a fade. It’s actually one of the best ways to improve the sensory networks in your feet and joints.

Shoe Reviews – A forefoot runner’s guide to minimalist shoes.

When Your Knees are Out of Whack – Learn how to avoid runners knee.

Shop Minimalist Shoes for Forefoot Running:

Men’s Vivobarefoot Trail Freak

Men’s Vivobarefoot Evo Pure

Men’s Vibram Spyridon MR

Men’s Vibram KSO EVO


Bretta Riches

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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