Should Kids Run Barefoot ?

The question should kids run barefoot is a softball question because most of us should know by now, how bad running shoes are for our foot health and running form.

Should Kids Run Barefoot

I am envious of East African runners because most grow up running barefoot and because of this, they tend to have better biomechanics than most shod runners. Sadly, children in developed countries are forced to wear the wrong type of running shoe –running shoes with too much cushioning, making them more likely to become heel strike runners and get injured and a study by Hollander et al. 2013 proved just that.

Should Kids Run Barefoot

The study compared the effects of different footwear conditions (cushioned running shoes, minimalist running shoes and barefoot running) on lower leg mechanics during treadmill running in children ages 6-9 years old.

The researchers found that children who ran barefoot developed safer lower leg mechanics and stride mechanics by the means of landing with a less dorsiflexed ankle –i.e. more plantarflexion— (helps avoid a hard heel strike landing), having a shorter stride (less over-striding), a higher cadence; whereas kids who ran in cushioned running shoes had a longer stride and a lower cadence (step rate frequency) which may project more impact on the body.

The greatest problem with the cushioned running shoes is that it caused kids to land with a more prominent heel strike as compared with kids who ran barefoot and in minimalist running shoes where the smallest heel strike landing occurred during barefoot running which helps eliminate the impact transient force, suggesting that kids are more likely to develop a safer footfall pattern while running barefoot vs running in cushioned running shoes.

Perhaps more important, the researchers found that running barefoot resulted in a smaller maximum and impact ground reaction force as compared with running in cushioned running shoes, suggesting that cushioned running shoes fails to cut down impact.

Should Kids Run Barefoot
The line graph highlighted on the left, shows a little peak on the curve and this peak is called an ‘impact transient’ which is indicative of braking and a high collision force as compared with the middle line graph, which represents the kids running barefoot, and shows no peak, indicating a smoother interaction of the foot with the ground.

Based on their data, the researches concluded that footwear has a tremendous impact on how children strike the ground with their feet during running. The report says cushioned running shoes prompt a higher heel strike angle, resulting in greater impact generated between the foot and the ground. Their work agrees with other reports showing that barefoot running is the most effective way to minimize impact on the body by enforcing a non-heel strike, or a forefoot strike landing.

Overall, you dont want your kids, or yourself, running with a heel strike because it is known to cause more injuries than running with a forefoot strike.

In my opinion, it’s best to get your kids to do more barefoot running if you want them to become successful at athletics….it worked for Tirunesh Dibaba and Haile Gebrselassie.

More on why going barefoot when running is better than wearing shoes:

Allows you to be more deliberate on safer footfalls,

Brings better overall biomechanics.

It prevents a narrower foot.

Interested in going barefoot yourself? Here are some tips on getting started:

Best websites for barefoot running beginners.

Easy guide to running barefoot on pavement.

Easy barefoot running training plan.


Hollander et al. Effects of footwear on treadmill running biomechanics in preadolescence children. Gait & Posture, 2014;

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!