Are Barefoot Shoes Good for You? The 12 Biggest Benefits of Barefoot Running Shoes
Are the benefits of wearing barefoot running shoes really worth the hype?
We’ve covered our list of the best barefoot running shoes before, but you might not be ready to go shopping just yet.
Maybe you’re not quite sold on why barefoot shoes have become so popular in the first place.
If that’s the case, we got you covered.
12 Benefits of Wearing Barefoot Running Shoes
Running barefoot is completely natural, so it probably shouldn’t cause any real problems.
Aside from getting used to the feel and avoiding hard surfaces (like concrete), running or jogging sans shoes shouldn’t be a cause for any real concern.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth it to ditch your favorite shoes the next time you hit the trail or track.
Before you make the switch to barefoot running shoes, let’s look at the potential benefits you’ll enjoy after this transition.
1. Burn More Calories
When you first slip on a super-cushioned running shoe, the extra padding probably feels great. We get it: These shoes are designed to be bouncy, squishy, and comfortable!
However, they fall short when it's time to hit the pavement. With your first stride, you'll notice that the shoes do most of the work for you. The cushion propels you forward, almost forcing you to move.
If your only goal is to make it from Point A to Point B, then this might be fine.
But if you approach running as a workout, you'll need to put in a little more physical effort to tackle the calories you want to burn.
This is why barefoot shoes are important.
When you wear them, you'll notice there's not any automatic spring in your step. Rather, you'll have to put in the energy to move your body forward.
With each step, you'll need to exert more energy than you would with a standard running shoe. From the first time your foot strikes the ground to the last toe-off, you're the one bringing the power.
From there, it's simple exercise science: the more effort you exert, the more calories you'll burn!
2. Prevent and Relieve Foot Pain
When you're properly outfitted in the right gear, running should be a comfortable, enjoyable sport.
Unfortunately, it would only take one of the many common running injuries to sidetrack your progress.
If you've noticed muscle pain while running, your fascia might be to blame. These are the densely packed collagen fibers that surround every organ, bone, blood vessel, and muscle in your body.
Fascia holds these parts in place and allows them to move gently and easily. When it gets inflamed, it can become tight, restricting your movement and sending painful shockwaves throughout your body.
There are several issues that could cause this inflammation, but did you know that it often occurs as a result of wearing the wrong running shoes?
When your feet are forced into an unnatural position that changes your normal gait, it leaves them unsupported in critical areas. This puts extra strain on your fascia with every step.
Whether you have high arches or you're flat-footed, you need shoes that conform to your foot shape.
And this is what barefoot running shoes do. One of their biggest benefits is that they fit perfectly every time while still offering all of the support you need (which might be far less than you were led to believe).
3. Ground Yourself and Connect to Nature
Think about how amazing it feels to walk barefoot outside, with the ground right beneath your feet. It's liberating, exhilarating, and makes you feel extra close to nature.
A barefoot running shoe has a super-thin sole, allowing you to replicate the feeling of walking barefoot (hence, the name!). When you wear them, you'll feel grounded and connected to your surroundings but with just a little extra support and protection.
Even the most comfortable running shoes can't quite offer the same type of experience. These put too much material between the soles of your feet and the ground, diminishing or even deleting that human-nature connection we all crave.
When you make the switch to lightweight, flexible barefoot shoes, you'll reclaim that contact. Walking, jogging, or running in these shoes is a simple exercise that benefits both your physical and mental health.
Not only do they make running or walking easier and more immersive, but they can also improve your general mood and overall lifestyle.
You'll find that the simple act of feeling the ground when you walk can conjure up feelings of peace, joy, and contentment. It can also help you relax more easily, so you aren't tied to the stressors of everyday life. When you wear these shoes on a regular basis, it becomes easier to focus on the present moment and negative thoughts tend to drift away.
4. Improve Your Posture
Do you suffer from back pain, like one in four adults in the U.S.?
Often, that extra strain links back to bad posture.
If you're someone who has to sit at a computer all day, you most likely feel this kind of tension when you get up and even at other points throughout the week.
What if we told you that you can improve your posture just by switching your footwear?
Lightweight, zero-drop running shoes can do the trick. These flexible shoes have a wide toe box and no heel-to-toe drop (hence the “zero drop”), which naturally and gently shifts your body into the correct posture.
Conventional running shoes tend to slope from the heel to the toe.
But this isn't a natural position, and your body will have a hard time staying in proper alignment when you wear them. While a raised heel might look comfy and well-cushioned, it literally shortens your calf muscles and restricts your range of motion.
Even if you wear them for a short period of time, you'll notice soreness when you finally slip them off.
With a barefoot shoe, this slope doesn't exist. They improve your posture, optimize your balance, and reduce strain on your lower body.
Your feet and legs will thank you, and you may even notice improvements in your knees, hips, and back. If you suffer from back pain or find it difficult to maintain proper posture, consider switching to barefoot running shoes to relieve this strain.
5. Strengthen Your Feet and Legs
When your feet and legs are stronger, you can run longer distances without feeling fatigued. Yet, you don't have to turn every day into leg day at the gym to see the results you want.
When you wear barefoot shoes, your lower body will work a little harder on the track or pavement, but that means building muscle with every stride.
While you might think it's best to invest in footwear that cradles your feet in extreme cushioning, again, the reality is that your lower body doesn't require as much support as you might think.
In fact, that extra plushness is often a bad thing and can make it harder to reach your goals. Relying on these shoes can weaken the tissues and bones in your feet and legs, even if you commit to a vigorous running schedule.
While it might take a little while to build that strength back up, it's possible to get there with barefoot shoes. In time, you can improve your health, strengthen your body, and optimize your well-being as you age. And all these benefits can be yours simply by switching to different footwear.
6. Give Your Toes More Wiggle Room
No one likes wearing shoes that uncomfortably pinch their toes. You should never have to sacrifice comfort for style.
Unfortunately, so many of us squeeze our feet into shoes that are too tight, too narrow, or just wrongly sized for us. This does your whole body a disservice and can put you in a ton of pain.
The nerves, muscles, ligaments, and bones in your feet need plenty of room to move.
Thankfully, barefoot shoes will never squish those important parts. They allow plenty of space for your toes to wiggle, thrive, and stay in great shape.
This is because these shoes have a wide, spacious toe box. They're meant to replicate the shape of your natural foot, but they're more than just comfortable.
When you walk or run in barefoot shoes, you'll discover that your feet don't feel restricted or compressed anymore. This means far less pain at the end of the day!
7. Restore Your Natural Gait
Have you ever stopped to think about what your feet look like when you run?
If you've been wearing conventional running shoes until now, you might not even know the answer to this question.
Those shoes restrict your range of motion, forcing you to move a certain way, whether your body was meant to go that way or not. Their soles are thick, tight, and stiff and don't allow enough room for your feet to move freely.
With barefoot shoes, you're free to bend, twist, and move your whole body while you stand, walk, or run. This helps you get back to your natural running gait and cadence, without any types of barriers in place.
When you embrace this kind of natural movement, there's less strain and stress on your lower body. Zero-drop, light running shoes are the ideal way to reduce unnecessary impact and restore your quality of life.
8. Enjoy Less Weight on Your Feet
With some running shoes, it almost feels like you're carrying around a weight on your feet. You'll notice the impact as you walk or run, and you'll feel the painful effect long after you stop moving.
One of the top benefits of barefoot running shoes is that they're naturally lightweight and super-flexible.
In fact, you might completely forget that you're wearing them altogether! They won't weigh you down as you move, but they'll invigorate your feet and help make them stronger with every step.
Put simply, this makes your everyday life so much more comfortable. These shoes are not only easier to wear, but they're also a cinch to pack and travel exceptionally well.
You won't have to think twice about putting them on, and they feel amazing on your feet.
It will be hard to go back to regular footwear once you've felt the difference!
9. Reduce Chronic Pain
We've all had to deal with shoes that just don't feel good. Not only do they hurt our feet, but they leave our back aching and our legs throbbing.
You don't have to worry about that type of discomfort with barefoot, minimalist shoes.
As we’ve mentioned above, this footwear is anatomically shaped to fit your feet just right and accommodate your natural range of motion.
The thin, lightweight soles aren't just better-looking and easier to wear.
They're also better for your overall health.
When your feet are allowed to move freely, you'll enjoy freedom from pain in your feet, legs, and lower back.
On the other hand foot, when you're in the wrong shoes, your body will tell you. Learn to listen to those signs and give your feet what they really want! Barefoot shoes are a great, economical way to reduce chronic pain and enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle.
This is especially true if you're wearing them on a run.
Running is fantastic for your health, but it can be hard on your joints. The soles on barefoot shoes have less cushion, so you can easily achieve a comfortable midfoot or forefoot strike, landing on the balls of your feet rather than your heels or toes.
This reduces stress on your knees and hip joints. It also keeps you in a safer position while you run, lowering your risk of injury.
10. Optimize Sensory Input
Fitness is a sensory-rich experience.
As you move, your brain constantly receives inputs from the bundles of nerves in your feet.
With standard running shoes, those nerves can't function fully or correctly. This diminishes your workout experience and can leave you feeling fatigued and burnt out.
This is one of the reasons that pediatricians recommend that young children walk around barefoot as much as possible.
It's sensory play in its purest form!
This easy practice helps their brain development, strengthens their lower body, and improves their balance and posture.
Those benefits don't change as you get older, though.
Adults can also reap the rewards of wearing barefoot shoes.
The points on your feet connect to different points throughout your body, and tapping into that sensory experience can revitalize your body and help you feel your best.
It even gives your feet a little massage with every movement!
Your brain will stay aware of your nerve performance, nudging you to adjust your motions to keep your body aligned.
11. Improve Foot Flexibility
Do you love to explore and travel across all different types of terrain?
With barefoot shoes, you can do it all!
These shoes work great and feel amazing on any type of surface, from concrete and rock to water and soil. By investing in just one pair, you can probably save a lot more space in your closet!
Due to their form-fitting, grippy nature, these shoes even work well in rough or uneven areas. They offer unparalleled protection, comfort, and all-day breathability. Whether you're hitting the gym, running errands, or just relaxing at home, they're ideal for any situation.
As you learn to navigate in your shoes, your feet will become stronger and more stable. They'll also be more flexible and less prone to injury.
12. Take on a New Challenge
Finally, barefoot shoes are a great way to expand your closet and challenge yourself at the same time!
While a change of any kind can be a little intimidating, researchers explain that stepping outside of your comfort zone is great for you!
Even if you've never heard of minimalist footwear before, there's never been a better time to give barefoot shoes a try. Taking the initial leap may seem scary, but once you've put them on, you'll wonder where they've been your whole life.
Wearing barefoot shoes helps you look and feel your best. They're great for your feet but even better for your overall psyche and total physical health.
Choosing the Right Shoes Is Essential for Enjoying All of the Benefits of Barefoot Running
So, are barefoot running shoes worth it?
While they might take some getting used to – and a little time to make that adjustment – the benefits are too many and too great to ignore.
That being said, just like with traditional running shoes, barefoot alternatives aren’t all made the same. We’ve created two lists to help your search a little easier:
But even with those lists, take your time considering all of your options.
Switching right to zero-drop shoes might not be a good choice.
If you’re currently wearing shoes with a significant sole to them, that might make more sense as a long-term goal. In the meantime, you might want to transition slowly by opting for a pair of barefoot shoes with just a little more support in them.
Even after you’ve found the perfect pair, take it slow.
Instead of immediately going on your normal run with your new shoes, try walking around in them first. This will help break them in, of course, but also give your feet time to adjust without putting them through any demanding paces.
Taking this kind of slow-but-steady approach will ensure you’re able to enjoy the advantages of barefoot shoes without suffering any unnecessary issues in the process.
So, Are Barefoot Shoes Good for You?
With that last caveat aside, yes.
As long as you take your time with selecting the right pair – and take your time getting used to them – you’ll definitely enjoy all that barefoot running shoes have to offer.