Running vs. Barefoot Running

Running vs. Barefoot Running

30th August 2019 Feet, Ankles, and Footwear 0

Are you running differently to your ancestors? Chances are, yes, you are. Modern running vs. barefoot running has developed quite the difference over the last half-century. For as long as bipedal (two-legged) beings have evolved, there has only been one form of running that they have been built to perform. The human foot with 33 joints is designed to be a powerful shock absorber and accelerator. It’s made to use the plantar fascia, calf muscles, and achilles tendon to decelerate your body and store tensile force to then act as a spring and propel you efficiently, while minimising the impact to your ankle, knee, and hip.

For most of the 20th century running shoes were designed for athletes with performance only in mind, and they functioned quite well for allowing the foot to operate as naturally intended. When the “running boom” came about in the 70s, suddenly thousands of people who only routinely wore dress shoes and never regularly ran, were wanting to take up running as a form of fitness.

This led to a lot of cases of feet and ankles, deconditioned through years of underuse and dysfunctional footwear, developing issues like plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinopathy, ankle sprains, calf strains, and heel bruising.


The response by the footwear industry was to consult doctors at the time for solutions, and thus started the movement towards creating large arch supports, rigid ankle support, and thick soles with raised heels to land on. Tapered, compressive toe boxes quickly became a selling point for fashion appeal as well.

Image result for supportive running shoes

After years of adjusting to thick, positively heeled shoes, the conventional modern running style is now defined by heel striking – landing each step far in front of your hip with your heel first. Suddenly, all the ability for the foot and calf to act as a shock absorber and spring was completely subverted.


Barefoot style running involves landing on the ball of your foot rather than your heel, and will feel very different to first try if you’re not used to it. Adopting this style can take some time and build up to condition your body to the change in load – e.g. running slower or shorter distances, on softer surfaces, transitioning your shoes from conventional to barefoot-style slowly. But longterm, it will increase your foot and ankle strength, balance, and reduces wear and tear further up your body.

For a rich 8 minute summary on the modern shift in footwear, how, and why it happened, checkout “Shoespiracy” by Vivobarefoot below.

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