Barefoot running has seen a surge in interest and popularity in recent years, whether runners are actually barefoot, or are wearing minimalist shoes that mimic the barefoot experience, offering little protection from hard and rough surfaces.
As many running shoes have become more complicated, padded, and modified, runners are often looking to dial it back and return to a style of running that better replicates how human feet evolved for running.
But are barefoot running shoes really better? It turns out the answer is complicated.
No Clear Winner on Injury Reduction
While many barefoot and minimalist shoe running proponents look to a Harvard study (published in a science journal in 2004) for evidence that barefoot runners experience fewer injuries, the study they cite actually says nothing of the sort. Rather, the study demonstrated that barefoot runners did not experience any more injuries than shod runners.
When it comes to reducing foot and leg injuries, no studies have actually shown that one or the other is better. In fact, there are so many factors involved that it would be extremely difficult to determine a causative relationship.
Foot Strike More Important Factor Than Shoes
One of those factors, and perhaps the most important one, is foot strike.
If you’re a runner, you probably know the difference between forefoot and heel striking. If not, it’s pretty self explanatory: your strike depends on what part of your foot hits the ground first with each stride.