Is Barefoot Running For Everyone?

One of the hot topics with runners, podiatrists, and sports physical therapists now is the trend of barefoot running. With more shoemakers jumping on the minimalist bandwagon after seeing the success of others, the question that needs to be posed is whether or not barefoot running is appropriate for everyone?

Here’s my take on the topic:

1)    Research does show that barefoot running has benefits- Increased forefoot vs. rearfoot striking can decrease the likelihood of stress injuries to the lower extremity by decreasing impact. Increased forefoot striking and decreased foot external support from shoes, encourages the supporting muscles of the foot to get stronger.

2)    But make sure the shoe fits- The problem I have with the statement that barefoot running is better and we should all move that direction by its proponents, is that every foot is not the same. Saying one type of shoe or footwear is the “best” is discounting the individuality that we all have. Some people are overpronators, some are neutral, and some are underpronators. The importance is selecting the proper type of footwear for the proper type of foot.

3)    Maybe the focus should be on technique- If forefoot striking is better and encourages proper muscle recruitment to improve shock absorption and decrease impact, perhaps that should be the focus when educating and training runners. Perhaps the “special” shoes simply help runners with their motor learning and facilitate this process. In fact, it would be interesting to see if it is possible to rearfoot strike in these minimalist shoes and to see what happens if someone does.

The important thing to remember with adopting any new technique or equipment  into your current training program is to give yourself a chance to accommodate to it. So go ahead and give some of the shoes a try if you want. But consider decreasing your frequency or intensity of training if you do. Because if you don’t, you may need another type of “special” shoe that won’t be so much fun to wear.

What do you think?  Please feel free to comment or leave your personal experience below.

– Jacon Chun, MPT, SCS, ATC, CSCS