7 Barefoot Running Myths

Zola Budd

Barefoot runners know what works for them, but the shod community has a lot of common running misconceptions they throw out as truths or "what-ifs". This list is an attempt to dispel those myths, or at least bring reasonable doubt into their statements.

I always encourage people to be pragmatic above all else and to question their beliefs, whatever they may be. Only through introspection and questioning can we be sure we are on path we wish to be running down.

My hope is that this list will help those who are on the fence regarding running shodless and give clarity to those who already do, but are stuck for specific answers for friends, family, and internet trollers.

1. Barefoot running is going against decades of research, studies and common sense. Those decades of research are actually more like decades of market research. There are no studies which show that running in shoes reduces the risk of injury despite specific inquiries for them.

As for common sense ruling out running barefoot -- is your common sense run by corporate marketing? If you stop and think about what truly makes "sense", placing your feet in padded boxes is at least debatable.

2. You're going to step on glass and rocks. Using your eyes while running is important. What your eyes see, your feet don't step on. It's the same principle that keeps you from hitting pedestrians while driving your car. Simple observation will lead you around most obstacles.

Small rocks and bits of garbage on the sidewalk or trails quickly become non-issues. It takes a few months to adjust to the new sensations and once that is completed the pebbles aren't even in your mind. It is true, while barefoot running, you may step on a rock! I can't dispel that myth, but I can say, it's not going to kill you.

Running on gravel is no different than running on pavement other than it takes a lot more practice to get comfortable with.

There are risks associated with running barefoot though. Running with shoes provides obvious protection to externally acting forces, whatever those may be. For this reason many people are more comfortable in minimalist shoes. This provides the layer of physical, and sometimes mental protection they require from the environment.

3. You should listen to your podiatrist. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, but they are definitely listening to the barefoot sentiment.

Traditionally trained US podiatrists are not experienced with barefoot as a lifestyle. The US population is simply shod 99% of the time so how could they have many day-to-day experiences with shodless folk?

Never trust those whose livelihood depends on your purchasing products and services (orthotics) from them. This isn't to say that all podiatrists are one solution fits all idiots, but that you shouldn't blindly follow the instructions of someone who may have a vested interested in taking you down a specific path.

There are exception to this rule, as any rule, but should you listen to your podiatrist, or listen to your body? There have been many testimonials by people who have gone against their podiatrists wishes, attempted to run/walk barefoot and reaped tremendous benefits. They have also opened their podiatrist's mind to the possibilities that barefoot strengthening can provide for their clients.

4. Pronation is unnatural. This is simply wrong. Pronation is the natural, inward roll of the foot. Some pronation is a good thing since it absorbs some of the impact when you run.

5. No Elite runners run barefoot. Running can be lucrative to a select set of elites. Once you drop off the very top tier, getting money to train becomes more difficult. Running companies sponsor a tremendous amount of athletes in the US, including collegiate sports teams. When companies sponsor the athletes, don't you imagine they have a clause in the contract requiring them to wear that companies brand? Why else would they sponsor them?

The athletes need money, the shoe companies need their products tied to elites so that normal runners will be convinced of their effectiveness. The formula works.

Despite this there are many well known barefoot "elites", here area a few.

Bruce Tulloh, Zola Budd, Neville Scott, Abebe Bikila, Herb Elliott, Doris Brown

Herb ElliotBruce TullohAbebe Bikila

6. You can't run barefoot in the snow. You can run barefoot in the snow, it just takes time and effort to evolve your skills. With that said, just because you consider yourself a barefoot runner doesn't mean you have to be barefoot all of the time, even in the snow.

michael_sadler_barefoot_winter

If your feet are too sensitive to be out running through the snow, it's logical to put some coverings on them. Whether those are running shoes, minimalist shoes,  sandals, water shoes, garbage bags -- whatever works for you.

Going out for a barefoot run in the snow after running in shoes your entire life might be a ludicrous endeavor. Winter may not be the best time to start running barefoot outside.

Many people have access to the treadmill though, which can be the perfect winter place to begin your shodless experiences in a controlled environment.

What better time to experiment with being barefoot than in the offseason?

7. After 20, 30, 40+ years of being shod, my feet need shoes. It's becoming obvious to even those who disapprove of full time barefooting that training in barefoot strengthens feet.

Shoes support your feet. The more shoe, the more support.

Simply because your feet have always been in shoes is no reason to keep the status quo. Different people will have different levels that they can tolerate initially. Then, through iterative progress, strength and endurance can be built up. Treat being barefoot like you would any training regimen -- start out slow, listen to your body and build.

What have I missed? What would you like to hear more about?


A great 8,9, and 10 from Barefoot Josh, thanks Josh!

8. Modern surfaces are much harder than the soft earth our ancestors ran on, therefore we need cushioning.

Our ancestors ran on many surfaces, some of them with all the hardness of concrete with none of the smoothness. In fact, to a barefoot runner, a hard surface means predictability and are easy to run on. As a barefoot runner, I’m probably biased. My observations don’t disprove the claim. However, there is no evidence for the claim, either. It’s speculation made by people who never run barefoot.

9. You have to be tough.

Toughness is a liability for those wishing to learn to run barefoot. Wimps learn faster, with fewer risks of injuries. Pain is not something you run through without shoes. Pain, to the barefoot runner, means bad, inefficient form.

10. It’s dirty.

OK, that’s not a myth. But the implication, that a shoe is more sanitary than the street, is.