Why Run on a Treadmill Barefoot

To be honest, I’m not a fan of the treadmill. I always run outside. But many runners can handle the treadmill just fine. Plus, treadmills are handy during the winter. But, did you know that runners run safer on a treadmill barefoot than in cushioned running shoes?

Treadmill Barefoot

Why Run on a Treadmill Barefoot

Many runners enjoy running on a treadmill, but are treadmills safe compared to running overground? Experts firmly believe that treadmills are harmless and barely disrupt biomechanics.

As it turns out, new research implies that it’s not what you run on, it’s what you wear on your feet that matters. Thus, an injury incurred during treadmill running probably reflects the footwear, not so much the treadmill.

Treadmill running when barefoot safer than shod
Running on a treadmill in thick, cushioned running shoes complicates foot/ground interaction compared with running barefoot or in zero drop running shoes.

According to a recent study by Chambon et al., runners run better on a treadmill while barefoot or in zero drop running shoes than in the standard running shoe with a 8mm heel-toe differential.

The researchers examined the effects of different shoe drop levels (0mm, 4mm and 8mm) and running barefoot on lower extremity kinematics during treadmill and overground running.

Not only did the runners run better on the treadmill compared to overground, the researchers found that runners who ran barefoot or in zero drop running shoes had safer joint kinematics compared to runners in the standard running shoe.

  • Further investigation revealed that during treadmill running, runners who ran barefoot or in zero drop running shoes had less loading, less transient peaks, less ankle dorsiflexion at touchdown, and greater knee flexion compared to the standard shod runners.
  • Barefoot running on a treadmill had the greatest effects on ground contact time whereby the barefoot runners had less stance phase duration compared to the standard shod runners.

These findings suggest that compared to barefoot or pure minimalist running, compressible materials, particularly under the heel, of the standard running shoe makes foot/ground interactions complicated, variable and difficult to control during treadmill running.

Why Wearing Less Is Safer

Sqaudrone and Galozzi believes that running barefoot or in zero drop running shoes often results in spontaneous changes in kinematics driven by heightened sensory feedback and proprioceptive features which in turn coordinate actions that reduce impact. Hence why early humans who ran barefoot faced evolutionary pressure to develop a safer landing strategy (i.e. forefoot strike, not a heel strike).

On the other hand, the standard running shoe hijacks your running biomechanics by causing uncontrolled changes, such as ankle dorsiflexion at touchdown — an action which facilitates heel strike, and therefore increases peak transients and loading.

If you are a treadmill lover, but has encountered injuries here and there, run in footwear without both under heel cushioning and compressible materials, that is, wear zero drop running shoes. Or, run barefoot because most evidence to date does not support the standard running shoe being useful for impact reduction or injury prevention during treadmill or overground running.
More Interesting Reads:

Best Shoes that Mimic Being Barefoot

Unlimited Benefits of Forefoot Running

Unlimited Benefits of Barefoot Running

Defining Proprioception and Why It’s Vital to Running

Best Energy Gels for Runners

Say Bye-Bye to Hip Pain When Running


Chambon et al. Shoe drop has opposite influence on running pattern when running overground or on a treadmill. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2014; DOI 10.1007/s00421-014-3072-x

Squadrone R, Galozzi C (2011) Effect of a five-toed minimal protection shoe on static and dynamic ankle position sense. J Sports Med Phys Fit 51(3):401–408.

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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