Barefoot Running is Bad For You!

Is barefoot running good or bad for you? 

Despite the growing popularity of barefoot running, many people still believe the myth that barefoot running is bad for you. 

People who THINK barefoot running is bad for you will bring up certain assertions we will address below. 

If someone tries to convince you that barefoot running is bad for you, here’s how you can fight back against the common misconceptions! 

How We Got to This Point

Over the years, the debate on whether barefoot shoes were bad for you has become more heated. It started when Chris McDoguall’s book, Born to Run, became popular In 2009…

There was no big argument when Olympians Zola Budd ran barefoot In the 5,000m, or when Abebe Bikila won the marathon without shoes, or when Ron Hill competed in the Mexico City Olympics in “the lightest shoes I could find.”

But once “regular folk” started kicking off their kicks, it’s become a rhetorical battlefield out there — the converts touting the great benefits of barefoot running, and the critics assuring everyone that taking off your running shoes is akin to playing Russian Roulette.

Then a Harvard study came out, showing that when you run barefoot, you adjust your stride to put less stress on your body. But, right on the heels of it (pun intended), came editorials about how running barefoot is the worst thing you could do… though, most of those editorials came from people who own or work for shoe companies or shoe sellers.

Yesterday, someone forwarded me an email saying “Well, I’ve seen people who tried running barefoot and they got injured! I’ve seen people during marathons, sitting on the side of the road in their barefoot shoes, crying in pain!”

(Of course, right after, I got an email from a Xero Shoes huaraches running sandal owner, raving about how old running injuries they used to have are gone now that they’re out of shoes, but let’s ignore that for a moment.)

Mark Plaatjes, world champion marathon runner, physical therapist, and co-owner of the Boulder Running Company, has said that he doesn’t think most people have the correct body type for running barefoot.

Road Runner Sports sent out an email saying, “Well, if you run barefoot, you could step on something and really screw yourself up!” (that’s not the actual quote, which I’m too lazy to look up, but the gist of what they warned).

The Vancouver Sun published an article, like dozens of others like it, claiming that running barefoot was dangerous, and the proof was the opinion of some doctors.

What amazes me about this back and forth nonsense is how enraged the anti-barefoot gang is getting, and how they’ve thrown out not only their logic and critical thinking skills, but how they’ve ignored what every well-known barefoot running coach has advised.

So let’s address some of the issues of barefoot running, as quickly as possible (which isn’t hard, since the arguments are simple).

Why People Think Barefoot Running is Bad

If you memorize these answers (or print out this article and have a copy in your back pocket), you can save yourself the frustration and/or humiliation of arguing with some Know-It-All who tries to convince you that running barefoot is bad.

Assertion 1: Barefoot running will give you plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, ingrown hair, or male-pattern baldness (or any other injury).

Response: Runners in SHOES get the same injuries! Those problems, when they occur, are not from “barefoot running”, they’re from OVERUSE or, more commonly, bad running form. 

If someone you knew went to the gym for the first time, and did the workout that Arnold Schwarzenegger used in his Mr. Olympia days, they’d end up with all manner of injuries, soreness and overall inability-to-move-for-days-ness. 

But nobody would scream from the rooftops, “Weight lifting is bad for you!” 

They would say to that individual, “Dude, you did too much too soon. Scale WAY back and build up to that slowly.” 

Clearly, the cure for overuse is UNDERuse. Do less. Build up slowly. Use some of the cues in these articles.

The only problem is that the only way to know how much you can really handle is by doing too much… until you’ve done that enough and gotten the hint.

Assertion 2: Some people aren’t built to go barefoot.

Response: Not only is there no evidence for this, but what the barefoot running coaches all say is that by running barefoot you develop the skills, strength, and form that allow you to run barefoot.

Now, there’s not any hard science behind that argument, YET(some researchers are working on it)

But, which makes more sense: That someone is physically unable to run barefoot or in minimalist running shoes (the way humans have run for hundreds of thousands of years), but is absolutely fine in shoes… or that, due to lack of use, they may need to build up the strength before they can run barefoot. 

Besides, the only reason they would be okay in shoes and not barefoot, is because they’ve transferred the stress that the muscles and tendons and ligaments would have to deal with if they were barefooted (and get stronger by doing so) into the bones and joints.Again, the message is, Go slowly! (seeing a pattern here?)

Assertion 3: You could step on something or, worse, IN something!

Response: Yeah, so?  But: 

  1. How bad would it REALLY be?; 
  2. How often is this REALLY a problem, or are you just imagining it happening without knowing the actual numbers?; 
  3. Are these injuries worse than the various problems people have in shoes?; 
  4. If you do step in poo… which is easier to hose off: your feet or a waffle-soled shoe? 

This argument cracks me up since I offer a solution on this website — get some barefoot running shoes or sandals and you’ll add a HUGE (but thin) layer of protection that still gives you a barefoot feel. 

I have to back up to the “stepping in poo” idea, because I just got a call from someone who said they were worried that’s what they would do if they were walking around barefoot. 

”When’s the last time you stepped in poo?” I asked. 

“About 20 years ago,” the poo-fearer answered. 

”Then what makes you think you’ll suddenly start doing it now?” I asked. 

“Ohh…,” said the former poo-fearer.

Assertion 4: Doctors say they’re seeing more patients with injuries who are running barefoot.


  1. Doctors said the same thing 45 years ago when running shoes became popular. 
  2. Doctors are not seeing the people who are not having problems running barefoot… because those people don’t go to doctors. In other words, if you don’t know the total number of people who are running barefoot, seeing an uptick in patients is a meaningless statistic. 
  3. I’ve never met a doctor who asked their injured patient, “So, are you running barefoot or in something like a barefoot shoe?” (hint, most people who say they’re running barefoot have never put their bare skin on the ground, or worn something as minimalist as Xero Shoes.). 
  4. I’ve never met a doctor who has said to their patient, “Let’s take a look at some slow-motion video of you running and see if the real problem is your form, and not your footwear or lack thereof.”
  5. The injury rate for people wearing “normal” shoes is estimated at 50 to 80% per year. So the real question is this: are barefoot runners getting injured at a higher or lower rate?

What cracks me up about the anti-barefoot gang is the simple denial of the numbers.

That is, there are millions of people taking off their shoes without a problem. You don’t end up with a movement like the barefoot running movement without a high percentage of happy converts. This alone should, but doesn’t, temper their argument on why they think barefoot running is bad for you.

And, again, the answer couldn’t be simpler: Oh, if you’re going to try barefoot running, you may need to go WAY slower than you thought. You’ll have to learn to listen to your body in a way you haven’t before, and you’ll need time to build up strength to let you handle the same distances you may now be running. You may also want to get something to give your sole a bit of protection. 

So, Barefoot Shoes Aren’t Bad for You?!

Here are a few key differences between conventional running shoes and barefoot shoes.

  • No heel lift (zero-drop)
  • A wider, foot-shaped toe box to let your toes spread
  • No unnecessary cushioning
  • An extremely flexible sole that gives you protection but is thin enough to let the nerves in your feet safely FEEL the ground and be more connected to the earth, rather than walk on it.

Discover what you’ve been missing – natural comfort, performance and health. Feel the fun and benefits barefoot inspired shoes and live life feet first

The content of this post does not constitute and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have about your health or a medical condition.