Barefoot Running or Minimalist Running?

by Regi_B

Barefoot running and minimalist running are similar, but not the same.

Running is changing, and I am glad about that! Today, you regularly see people "trying" minimalist shoes like those toe shoes known to runners as Vibram FiveFingers. Many who are getting into these shoes are calling their new modified running style "barefoot running". Is this a misnomer? Let us discuss.

What Is Barefoot Running?

When I describe the type of running I do, I make pains not to call it "barefoot running". To me, barefoot means just that -- running in your bare feet. There are plenty of runners out there doing just that -- running long -- very long -- distances with absolutely no shoes at all. These folks are the true barefoot runners!

Still, the movement of people buying less shoe and equating it to no shoe by calling their running "barefoot" persists. Part of the reason for the persistence rests at the feet of the people selling shoes to the running community. We will talk more about that later.

What Is Minimalist Running?

That which many people are calling barefoot running is actually "minimalist running". The idea is to run in shoes designed to give the runner a minimum of protection. This is where I fall -- amongst the minimalist runners. I wear shoes with just enough rubber on the soles to maintain traction, and no real padding to speak of, and it totally works for me.

I now regularly run six miles -- when three miles used to seem like a lot to me when I ran on "regular" running shoes.

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How Do You Do It?

Minimalist running or barefoot running, you have to learn a new kind of running stride. (It is actually as old as our ancient ancestors, but new to modern folks.) You have to learn to run with feet striking in line with your upper body, and mid-foot first. For decades, heel-strike running in padded shoes was the thing. No more!

Now, we strike with the ball of our foot and bring the remainder of the sole to the ground milliseconds later. As a result, I personally experience far less pain from running, no shin splints, and I have never turned an ankle in minimalist shoes. You can bet people who run barefoot rarely turn their ankles, too!

Similar to my experience, many minimalist and barefoot runners also report less stress on their bodies due to running.

Why the Confusion Between Barefoot and Minimalist Running?

Much like how copy machines have been called "Xerox" machines for a long time no matter the brand, minimalist running is being called barefoot running by many. Perhaps, it just simplifies things, or perhaps, it is indicative of where runners are trying to go with their running. I personally want to be a barefoot runner -- at least, part-time. I do feel it will take time to get there. (Some experts advocate starting barefoot to get the stride right, and then moving to a minimalist shoe. This tac seemed too risky to me.)

Shoe companies are adding to the murkiness, too. Obviously, they cannot sell shoes if runners go barefoot, so some high-end athletic shoe companies are involved in this market sector and using "barefoot" in their product names. I am thinking specifically of VivoBarefoot running shoes, and Merrell's Barefoot Glove line.

If You Are New to This...

I think starting with minimalist shoes worked well for me, and I endorse starting there and moving toward running barefoot. For now, I call myself a minimalist runner. One day, I hope to be a barefoot runner.

Updated: 02/01/2012, Regi_B
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Regi_B on 02/01/2012

Hi Dominic! Thank you for the comment!

The potential to cut one's feet is certainly one reason I went with minimalist, rather than barefoot.

Either way -- minimalist or barefoot -- we always have to watch our step when we run, don't we! :-D

Dominic on 02/01/2012

I tried barefoot running at first. It's way different from wearing traditional running shoes. It's new and I really love it. The only draw back is that it is very prone to injuries. However, I also wear barefoot running shoes such as Vibram Five FIngers. Not only it mimics the feeling of barefoot running, but it also provides extra protection.

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