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A Physiotherapist’s Perspective on Barefoot Running

posted by Karen
A Physiotherapist’s Perspective on Barefoot Running

Crazy runners or cutting edge scientists? As a physiotherapist I am very skeptical about new trends in the world of running. So when I started hearing about a whole new breed of runner trotting along on the soles of their feet, naturally I raised an eyebrow or two. I mean what the heck is with these people? Barefoot? Shoes with toes? Really? Over my running career I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on good quality footwear, and orthotics assuming these were helping to reduce impact and my risk of injury, so when I learned what research was saying about the impact of my footwear choices I was more than a little shocked! So here is what the research, not just that crazy barefoot guy, is saying about barefoot and minimalist running!

Research says Running Barefoot has been shown to:

  • Decrease the total energy demand per step and improve efficiency of running gait, allowing you to run faster with less effort.
  • Improve performance by increasing a runners stride frequency closer to the optimal rate of 180 steps per minute.
  • Decrease the amount of ground reaction force on the body.
  • Increase stability at landing by changing the point of landing from heel strike to mid or forefoot, which decreases pronation and supination of the foot.
  • Decrease contact time with the ground, decreasing the opportunity for stress on the body.

Proceed with Caution

As a well-read and practiced physiotherapist, am I really telling you to throw caution and footwear to the wind? The final decision is of course up to you but please remember the following:

  • 80 % of all injuries are caused by doing too much too soon
  • Shoes were created to protect the foot from sharp objects, snow, and burning hot concrete. The modern runners foot and body has gradually adapted to the use of shoes, especially those with large bulky heels and any sudden change in footwear, cadence, or running style increases your risk of injury.
  • Any change must be gradual to wreak the benefits of minimalist or barefoot running without increasing your risk of injury!

New Balance claims their lightweight trainer "Minimus" is "Radically Simple. Simply Radical"


If you are tempted to experiment with barefoot running I suggest trialing a very lightweight racing flat with very little heel before minimalist shoes or barefoot running.

Let us know about your trials with minimalist/barefoot running on our facebook page.



Karen Gilbert is a physiotherapist at CBI Health Group in London, Ontario and a competitive distance runner.  Karen enjoys bringing together her love of running with her love of treating patients.

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