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Are Minimal Barefoot Running Shoes Bad For You?

Updated on January 12, 2012

Pros and Cons

Yes.........................and no.

It all depends. Let me tell you my story.

I've been running regularly since boot camp. In that time I've tried all kinds of shoes and workout styles. I've learned what my body likes and what it doesn't. For instance, long distance endurance workouts that last two or three hours for most of the week doesn't work for me. I seem to get sick and suffer from upper respiratory infections when I'm on this regimen. Conversely, my body seems to thrive on short sprint interval training and in fact my endurance levels for 5 and 10K distances greatly increased after a couple of months of running tabatas and then ending the week with one long run.

And in all those years of running I would suffer through the pain of sore hips and knees. I tried various styles of running shoe. I even went to a specialty running shoe store that advertised they would special fit my feet after studying my run gait on a treadmill. After spending about $180 for the shoes and special fit, I hit the road with my new weapons.

Not bad! I thought to myself. The days after my long runs were not nearly as painfull. My soreness and pain did not seem so unbearable and I believe it was due in part to the shoes and were custom fit for my feet and run style.

Fast forward to 2010. I continued to run with pain but I continued running with the same type of shoe for about 8 years (not the exact shoes. I would buy a new set every year.) I ran into a friend I hadn't seen in a while. We hung out and decided to go for a run together. The next morning he arrived wearing a funny pair of running shoes that had a pocket for each toe. Weird. I asked him about the shoes and he told me he'd been running with these for about 4 months.

They were called Vibram Five Fingers and he absolutely loved them. His knee pain disappeared after a month and he enjoyed running more now than ever.

I was impressed but skeptical. I still ran with pain but I could tolerate it.....for now. He went on to suggest looking into these style of "barefoot" shoe so I did.

I went to the store that sold these 5 finger shoes and slipped them on my feet. Ugh, no. I couldn't get over the feeling of each individual toe having neoprene material sandwiched in between them.

But I still wanted to get out on the road with these minimalist style of shoe.

I continued to look around the internet for alternatives to the 5 fingers. On You Tube I watched a video on the New Balance Minimus running shoe. I was intrigued. I looked like a normal running shoe, it didn't look all funky hippy weird like the 5 fingers but it had all the other features. Low heel drop, minimal cushion plus an open toe box that allowed the toes to splay our when running. Perfect! The store had them in stock too so I went ahead and picked up a pair.

While doing my research on minimalist running shoes, many of the authors on the blogs suggested to ease into these shoes. Do NOT start out running the same mileage as before. Alternate between your new minimalist shoes and your old pair. So that's what I did.

After only a few weeks I started to experience a condition known as plantar fasciitis. The pain in the arch of my left foot started to hurt only when I ran in the minimal shoes. I had followed all of the advice to what was I doing wrong I thought to myself.

Well as it turns out my arch pain did go away eventually. And yes, it was due largely to the new running shoes. The other culprit was the fact that I only ran on concrete surfaces and I thought I could continue to do so when I wore my new minimal shoes. Wrong!

When starting out with these types of shoes it's very important to do so slowly and on the days when your running with them, start out on a soft surface at first. For me, it was the local running track. It had a rubberized surface that was perfect for my feet. And hips. And knees.

Once my feet became used to the added stress and after I learned to land on my mid-foot instead of my heel, running in these shoes became enjoyable.

Now, I love to run in them. the pain in my hips and knees is way down due in part to the fact that running in these shoes forces you to not land on your heel. The knees and hips no longer absorb most of the impact, the muscles do.

WARNING. Don't do what I did. Start slowly. Ease into these shoes. Practice landing on your forefoot instead of your heel. And start on a soft surface. Not the road or sidewalk.

Can barefoot style shoes ruin your feet? Yes. Will they? It's really up to you.

If you start slowly and ease into the shoe. Alternate between your old shoes and these new ones that would help to mitigate any problems you may have.

Oh, by the way. If you start to experience any kind of pain like I did, don't keep running in the new shoe. Go back to your old ones and go see a doctor.

These types of minimal running shoe are not for everyone. If you have an existing foot, hip, knee or back problem, these shoes may make them worse! Consult your doctor before you consider purchasing these types of shoes.



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    • Apryl Schwarz profile image

      Apryl Schwarz 5 years ago from Nebraska

      Great hub! I think that way too many people jump into a minimalist shoe because they look so different and it gives them something to talk/brag about. It's so important to do research and be smart about it. It's not just getting new shoes, it's completely changing your running style! Voted up!

    • John J Gulley profile image
      Author

      John J Gulley 5 years ago from Wisconsin

      Thanks for the compliment. I try to write the way I would like to read. A compelling headline that grabs my attention is something I like.

    • Fatcattango profile image

      Fatcattango 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Interesting hub. Do you run trails in your new shoes?

    • John J Gulley profile image
      Author

      John J Gulley 5 years ago from Wisconsin

      Both. But with the cold weather we have up here right now, I just like to get my run in quick and get back inside to warm back up. Thanks for the comment!

    • Chris Kross profile image

      Chris Kross 5 years ago from Dallas, TX

      You've done a nice, original and informative Hub here. Voting up, and following you now.

    • jonnyedz profile image

      jonnyedz 5 years ago from Harrisburg, PA

      I too started out to fast in a pair of Brooks Pure Flows which are considered a more cushioned minimalist running shoe. I am suffering now from plantar fasciitis and I am unable to run, more or less run. I think it is important to strengthen the feet too as well, before trying minimalist running shoes. There are some great stregthening techniques and test to see if your feet are ready for these types of shoe, in the April 2012 issue of Running Times.

    • carozy profile image

      carozy 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Great article. I also like minimal running shoes.

    • profile image

      Richard 4 years ago

      I started running in VFF Bikilas -haven't run for years before. Have done about 200miles so far and no problems to report. Going out for a 20 mile run tomorrow...

    • khmohsin profile image

      khmohsin 4 years ago from London,UK

      John J Gulley,

      I like these shoes before but as you describe that these shoes are not fit for every one. So I will discuss with my physician about it.

      Thanks for sharing this great idea. I liked and shared with friends too

    • Jem Jones profile image

      Julianna Jones 4 years ago from Everson,WA

      I really appreciated this article I studied kinesiology and was a sprint coach i have a lot of friends who ask for advice on what shoes to wear when they run and a lot of them ask about the vibram five fingers, i highly recommend them to experienced runners especially sprinters in their off season endurance training since it is a great way to keep your muscles trained for midfoot striking, but as you said they are not for newbies a great shoe for someone looking for a flexible running shoe is one in the nike free collection they have various types and heel thicknesses for your own personal foot shape and surface preference. Fantastic article, check out the barefoot professor on youtube for more nifty information on barefoot running.

    • BeyondGS profile image

      BeyondGS 4 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks for the hub! Ive always been curious about those kinds of shoes but you're right its different for each person. I have a foot/toe pain while running so the right shoe is important for me. Great article ill keep it in mind!

    • profile image

      Bbbrdms 4 years ago

      Kind of new to running. (. 2 years). And I am 55yrs ols. Had knee pain with running..which it got worse over time. Went to Doc got injections. ( gel). So trying to run/ walk again. I went an got New Balance minimalist, ran yesterday and knees feel pretty good. I just don't know HOW to run in them. Any suggestions...I just want to do this properly. Thank you for your great article!!!!

    • John J Gulley profile image
      Author

      John J Gulley 4 years ago from Wisconsin

      Thanks for the comments. After purchasing my New Balance Minimus shoes, I decided I needed to do a little research before I took to the road. I looked on You Tube and did a search for barefoot running. Lots of good video on just how to run like this and one thing kept repeating over and over and it was this. DO NOT let your heal strike the deck first when you run barefoot or when using minimal running shoes. That technique works only when your running in those big old soft cushioned shoes. A mid-foot or ball of the foot strike should be the goal in terms of your running gait. Concentrate on that and you should be good.

    • RunTrainingPlan profile image

      Chris Miller 4 years ago from Raleigh, North Carolina

      Great article and sound advice. Voting you up.

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