Running form changes substantially when comparing barefoot shoes to traditional running shoes. When human beings are running without shoes (or in a good pair of minimalist shoes) the lateral edge of the forefoot is generally the area of the foot that hits the ground with the most force. The old-style runner with it’s offset and padding forces the person wearing the shoe to strike the ground with the heel first and places a lot of pressure towards the back of the foot.
Your feet have evolved over thousands of years to adapt to running and hunting prey in an outdoor environment. As such, they have the ability to create a strong layer of skin along the sole that reduces foot injuries yet still allows for the person to feel the ground and terrain they are running on. The foot is extraordinary in its ability to wrap around objects in the environment to send data to the brain about what kind of speed and movement its available in the current area.
In addition to the above benefits, barefoot runners are actually carrying less weight by avoid heavy shoes that drag the feet in unnatural directions. Having excess weight distributed across the foot either in the heel, toe or one side of the foot causes a runners stride to be slightly off kilter leading to long term formation of unoptimized running ability. The side effects may sometimes not be major, but are limiting nonetheless.
As a barefoot runner takes a stride, he or she lands toward the middle of the foot which removes a lot of the overall impact from stepping either way. The lack of impact reduces negative impact the spine, the knees and other parts of the body that need to absorb the exaggerated “thump” that conventional running shoes cause. Minimalist running shoes are designed to be the “best of both worlds” by helping us to still achieve in the more extreme outdoor pursuits such as trail running or hiking yet still letting us feel the freedom one gets from running in the African savannah.
We actually land with two to three times the pressure of our natural bodyweight when running with typical running shoes as opposed to half of that pressure with minimalist shoes. This is because the receptors in the foot are able to translate signals to the brain that tell us about the environment we’re in (as previously mentioned). Additionally when we land on the heel the shock is sent up our leg into the knees and hips which eventually result in long term damage – most of us know someone with a hip or knee replacement. Barefoot running on the other hand spreads the impact shock naturally across the entire foot which minimizes pressure on any one body part.
Overall minimalist running has some smart science behind it that help to demonstrate why our feet are built the way the are and why barefoot or minimalist running shoes are able to help us take advantage of our natural evolution. If you’re aiming to alleviate pain or even reverse some of the negative side effects of conventional shoes that fashion has set as the standard, now is the time to start thinking about getting back to your roots and freeing your feet.