Run in Shoes that Mimic Running Barefoot

Running barefoot improves our natural impact-moderating behavior which in turn reduces impact and loading. This is why if you opt out of barefoot running, at least run in barefoot-simulated footwear because doing so will provide similar cues to the feet that helps you retain proper impact-moderating behavior, steering you away from high impact landings.

Run in Shoes that Feel Barefoot

Run in Shoes that Mimic Running Barefoot

Likewise, results confirmed that cushioned running shoes are impractical for injury prevention because they reduce impact-moderating behavior and therefore increase impact production during running.

This is the central dogma of running: a hard plantar surface equals the safest running condition whereby cushioned running shoes may offer immediate relief during running, these shoes impair biomechanics and landing behavior, leading to repetitive stress injury.

Pure minimalist shoes with hard midsoles are shoes that mimic running barefoot without the unwanted side effects of impaired biomechanics and impact-moderating behavior caused by standard running shoes.

Feet Evolved for Harder Surfaces

From an evolutionary standpoint, the plantar proprioceptors were hardwired to respond exclusively to hard surfaces during running. How come? Solely because humans ran barefoot for millions of years.

  • Studies over the past few decades have confirmed that impact production is negatively related to midsole hardness meaning the harder the midsole, the less impact produced during running. This means that it is best to run in shoes that mimic running barefoot because when we run barefoot, the ground feels hard on our feet, as compared with running in soft, cushioned shoes, and through running without shoes is how we learn to adopt our own impact reducing mechanisms –the same mechanisms that our ancestor used.

Although hominids weren’t running barefoot on pavement, they ran on dirt, rock and rough terrain which weren’t the softest of surfaces either! This is why cushioned running shoes have implications beyond injury; they also cause proprioceptive disorder which is the main cause of falls in elderly individuals.

The modifications in impact-moderating behavior when running in hard minimalist shoes is similar to that of running barefoot: sensory attenuation is diminished, followed by shock-moderating behavior which minimizes unpleasant plantar sensations during running.

The Take Home Message

The farther you deviate away from the barefoot condition, that is, by increasing layers of protection under your feet, will result in sensory deprivation of the plantar surface.

Remember, the primary reasons we have proprioceptors in the bottoms of our feet is to help us evaluate our interactions with the ground when we run, barefoot of course. Suppressing this proprioception with softer shoes backfires and diminishes all the shock-moderating behavior available to you.

More From Run Forefoot:


Robbins SE and Gouw GJ. Athletic footwear and chronic overloading: a brief review. Sports Med, 1990; 9(2):76-85.

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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