Is Barefoot Running Faster?

Doing speed-work or sprint sessions barefoot was found to make you mechanically better to the extent where your running form becomes more economical vs speed work in thick cushioned running shoes.  More specifically, the body typically employs a forefoot strike when running barefoot, especially at faster speeds, which is the same foot strike pattern of all sprinters, short distance runners and most of the TOP marathoners use a forefoot strike over a heel strike.

Is Barefoot Running Faster?
So much of the benefits of barefoot running comes from its ability to automatically bring together energy-saving mechanical outputs that actually makes you run safer and more economical when you race in shoes. This is why barefoot running should of big interest to add to your training because aside from improving your running form, going barefoot is the only way to get your feet not just physically stronger, but functionally stronger, too.

Most evidence to date has found barefoot running to be the leader in helping improve or advance your mechanics in critical ways that thick cushioned running shoes could never do. This is because the heightened ground-feel stimulating the bare foot improves the spinal cords natural ability to coordinate groups of reflexes that improves the quality of your mechanics, while helping prevent impact from rising to pain-and injury-inducing levels.

Case in point, a profound study in the Undergraduate Research Journal at University of New Hampshire investigated the influence of a 10-week barefoot training program on running economy, and found that:

  • Barefoot running improved running economy as less oxygen was used to fuel muscles.
  • Barefoot running led to better force distribution and better utilization of the arch of the foot and Achilles tendon.
  • Subjects had faster two-mile and three-mile run times after barefoot training and while running barefoot.
  • Barefoot running led to faster running times because foot and lower limb mechanics improved

The enormous value of barefoot running, especially doing sprints barefoot, derives from its higher-level neuromuscular improvements that makes your mechanics much better ordered by engaging a forefoot strike. The forefoot strike is a mechanical imperative because it’s tied to less all-around impact levels, while providing more overall footstep stability since the forefoot-strike is a wider contact area of the foot with the ground. This also allows the minor impact that is produced to distribute more evenly over the foot vs a heel strike landing,

Equally important,  the reduced over-stride angle has strong ties to keeping impact very low, while affording more efficient accelerations because when a shorter stride is engaged, the foot lands closer to the body thereby creating a more ‘compact stride’ where your entire mechanics remain within a safe range:

Is Barefoot Running Faster?
When you run barefoot, there’s less over-reach with the foot because the foot lands closer to the body, which eliminates the burst in high impact that otherwise occurs in an over-stride. This is because the forefoot strike is the default landing  style in barefoot runners, but also in most elite runners, too.

The hallmark of barefoot running is it helps you use your forefoot strike more efficiently because it improves the energy efficiency of the arch and the Achilles tendon (read more here on that). At the same time, barefoot running encourages sustained foot strength development, helping the feet to build more resilience against tough training. This is why a growing number of runners are incorporating barefoot running as part of their training since is proven to be the easiest way to upgrade your biomechanics. If you don’t want to go barefoot, the same advantage remains. to some degree, when you train in minimalist (barefoot-inspired) shoes. Read more on that here!

Lastly, the more you run barefoot, the better the outcome because you will build up more muscle memory to uphold safe and efficient forefoot running mechanics when you race in shoes! 


Baroody, N. (2013). The effect of a barefoot training program on running economy and performance. Undergraduate Research Journal. University of New Hampshire.

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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!