Barefoot Treadmill Running Benefits

Whether you’re running on a treadmill or outdoors, what you wear on your feet has a large effect on running form, but this is especially true for treadmill running because the moving belt may make runners feel a tad off balance. This is why wearing barefoot-like shoes, or even better, running barefoot on the treadmill is very essential because it was found to make you the most stable and safe as compared with conventional running shoes.

BarefoTreadmill Running Benefits

A 2014 study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology discovered that runners ran better on a treadmill when barefoot or in zero drop running shoes than in standard running shoes with a 8mm heel-toe differential.

  • The researchers examined the effects of running shoes with different heel-to-toe differentials that ranged from 0mm, 4mm and 8mm and running barefoot on lower extremity kinematics during treadmill and overground running.

The researchers found that the runners ran better overall on the treadmill than overground, but the runners who ran barefoot or in zero-drop running shoes had the most safe, most stable joint kinematics than the runners in standard running shoes.

  • Runners who ran barefoot or in zero-drop running shoes on the treadmill had less loading, less transient peaks (i.e. less burst in high impact), less ankle dorsiflexion (i.e. less heel strike potential) and greater knee flexion at touchdown, all of which are well-known impact-protective mechanics, as compared to the standard shod runners.

Likewise, the study also showed that barefoot running on the treadmill had the greatest effects on reducing ground contact time:

  • The barefoot runners had less stance phase duration compared to the standard shod runners. This means that running barefoot on a treadmill resulted in a contact of the foot with the moving belt that was so brief that certain impact forces weren’t produced at all and the impacts that were produced occurred in significantly lower amounts as compared with the standard running shod group.

The problem with prolonged ground contact time in running is trouble tends to begin when the foot spends too much time on the ground as additional stressors, such as foot-overpronation (i.e. unwanted, straining side-to-side motions of the heel) start to appear. This is usually the case with cushioned running shoes because the lack of ground-feel slows the withdrawal retraction reflex in the leg, causing the foot to linger longer on the ground as compared with barefoot running, which is associated with the greatest increases in activation of these impact-protective reflexes.

Barefoot Treadmill Running Benefits
The enhanced tactile stimulation on the underfoot when running barefoot results in faster reaction times of the leg’s withdrawal retraction reflex. This means the body becomes better at taking smaller, quicker, lighter steps when barefoot which is why impact occurred at the lowest, safest intensities when the runners ran barefoot vs in cushioned shoes.

The benefits of barefoot running coincides with recent findings showing that running barefoot or in zero-drop running shoes creates the most enabling environment for our impact protective mechanics to function optimally, regardless of running surface.

The sensory dimensions when running barefoot are most directly responsible for activating regions of the brain that control foot strike and leg swing mechanics, making these areas better at engaging a low-impact forefoot strike, and these regions  becomes progressively larger with more barefoot running experience.  


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.

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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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