Whether you’re a novice runner or elite marathoner, choosing the right pair of shoes is important to keep you training optimally and help you reach your fitness goals. Barefoot running has risen in popularity in recent years and more and more people are seeking its benefits. Learn more about the latest in shoe technology to make sure your next pair of running shoes will be the perfect fit.
Sizing up the competition
The biggest difference between barefoot running shoes versus traditional running shoes is the shift away from a built-up heel. According to Danny Abshire, triathlete and renowned running coach, running with a heel-strike running form or gait is not natural. Our brain thinks it’s safe to land on those soft heels; however, a heel-striking gait makes the foot and ankle more vulnerable to rotational forces and injury. When looking for an ideal pair of barefoot running shoes, they must be lightweight and allow your feet to mimic the flexibility and motion of barefoot running to transfer downward energy into forward propulsion.
Barefoot Running Performance
Training with barefoot running shoes can make a significant impact in your sports performance. It allows you to use less energy and muscle power to run faster and with less risk of injury. Barefoot running shoes enhances your ability to land on your midfoot/forefoot, allowing your foot to flex, engage the arch, lock the ankle, and then use your flexed knee to spring you forward. Check out the videos below to view the impact barefoot running shoes can have on your performance and health.
Running Recommendations and Tips
When running with a natural midfoot stride, your body senses the ground the instant it touches down and puts you in the most efficient and effective position for the terrain you’re on. The barefoot running shoe you choose should allow for that feedback to happen.
Tip #1: Land gently– Get comfortable running with barefoot running shoes by practicing running barefoot on a hard, smooth surface free of debris. Sensory feedback will tell you instantly if you are landing too hard.
Tip #2: Avoid over-striding– If your foot lands too far in front of your knee and hips, this can add stress to the calf muscles, Achilles tendon, and arch of the foot.
Tip #3: Avoid heel-striking– Practice landing on the forefoot by walking backwards with a slight forward lean and gradually speed up making sure there are no obstacles behind you. You can also walk or run uphill which makes landing on the heel practically impossible.
Nike Free V3
The Nike shoe company has developed a barefoot running shoe designed to closely mimic the barefoot experience. This latest version, Nike “Free 3.0”, weighs 7.2 ounces (men’s size 10) and has deep cuts in the outsole that aims to give your feet with enhanced flexibility and stability. Although the Nike “Free 3.0” running shoe has supreme flexibility, it has a built-up heel in its design and has received average reviews overall from its consumers.
The Newton shoe company has its own take on the barefoot running shoe. The “MV2” racing flat, is the lightest and most efficient barefoot running shoe in their line of trainers. The “MV2” has a level to the ground profile weighing in at 5.8 ounces (men’s size 9), and a unique biomechanical sensor plate designed in the midsole, giving the foot a quicker ground feedback sensation, allowing for a fast-paced cadence.
The Vibram Five Fingers shoe company designed a barefoot running shoe in a class all in its own. The “Bikila” is their first model specifically designed to promote a more natural and more efficient midfoot / forefoot strike. The “Bikila” running shoe has a 4mm thick anatomical pod outsole design that offers plenty of underfoot protection and provides important ground feedback for an efficient forefoot-strike running form. The “Bikila” weighs in at 6.0 ounces (men’s 10.5) and when sized properly, it should fit like a glove.
In my own personal experience, it was a smooth transition switching from traditional running shoes to barefoot runners. I spent a few days each week running barefoot at the beach to condition myself to land naturally on the midfoot area of my foot and to avoid over-striding. It is important to run barefoot in small doses to help improve your body mechanics and teach yourself to land lightly at your midfoot / forefoot even while wearing shoes. It can strengthen the muscles in your feet and ankles so you’re not relying on the lower and upper leg muscles to do too much work when your feet touch the ground. According to Mark Cucuzzella M.D., competitive masters marathoner and professor at the University of West Virginia, the key to running injury free is to focus on your form first, building stronger more stable muscles and getting shoes that work with you.
- “Natural Running: the simple path to stronger, healthier running”; Danny Abshire; 2010
- “Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running”; Danny Dreyer; 2009
- Nike: Store: Barefoot Running Shoes
- Newton: Store: Lightweight Trainers
- Vibram FiveFingers: Bikila