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Why Barefoot Shoes Are Better? Benefits of Barefoot Shoes

Last Updated on January 20, 2024

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Having worn and tested barefoot shoes for almost a decade now, I can confidently say they have greatly improved my life and the lives of my close ones.

As someone who struggled with foot pain for years from wearing traditional shoes, making the switch to barefoot shoes was life-changing. I no longer have achy feet at the end of the day, my posture has improved, and I just feel better overall.

In this article, we’ll dive into the science and benefits behind barefoot shoes to help you understand why they truly are better for your health and well-being. I’ll also address some of the potential risks and help you determine if barefoot shoes are right for you.

So, What Are Barefoot Shoes?

Barefoot shoes, also known as minimalist shoes, are footwear designed to mimic the experience of being barefoot as closely as possible.

Unlike conventional shoes, barefoot shoes have little to no cushioning, heel lift, or arch support.

Barefoot Shoes Features

Instead, barefoot shoes have a wide and spacious toe box to allow your toes to spread out naturally. They are lightweight, flexible, and have thin soles that allow you to feel the ground beneath your feet. The soles are also flat from heel to toe, known as a zero-drop sole, to encourage a natural gait.

FeaturesBarefoot ShoesTraditional Shoes
Toe BoxWide and SpaciousNarrow
Sole TypeZero-DropElevated Heel
Check out our full guide on barefoot vs traditional shoes

Here are the key features you should be eyeing:

  1. Wide Toe Box: Picture this—a spacious living room, but for your toes. The wide toe box gives your toes the freedom to spread out naturally. Imagine your toes doing a happy dance—yeah, it’s like that. 📌 Visual: Think of a fan spreading out, that’s how your toes should be. Traditional shoes squish your toes together; we don’t want that!
  2. Zero-Drop Sole: In layman’s terms, your heel and the ball of your foot are at the same height. No more walking like you’re in invisible high heels, folks! 📌 Visual: Imagine a flat plane from heel to toe. That’s the zero-drop life.
  3. Minimal Cushioning: These shoes won’t feel like walking on a cloud, and that’s a good thing! Minimal cushioning lets you feel the ground, enhancing your body’s natural biomechanics. 📌 Visual: A thin layer of cushion that lets you feel the ground without worrying about stepping on something sharp.
  4. Flexible Material: Imagine a yoga instructor, but for your feet. The material bends, twists, and flexes with your every move. 📌 Visual: Picture a rubber band—stretchy but resilient. That’s what we’re aiming for.
  5. Lightweight: Wearing barefoot shoes is like having feathers on your feet. You’ll hardly notice them! 📌 Visual: Think of holding a feather and a rock in each hand. Barefoot shoes are the feather—light, easy, and natural.

By embracing these features, you’re not just wearing a pair of shoes; you’re adopting a lifestyle that’s as close to natural as it gets. So next time you’re shoe shopping, you know what boxes to tick!

📸 Visual Summary: Imagine a shoe that checks all these boxes—wide toe box, zero-drop, minimal cushioning, flexibility, and lightweight. That’s the barefoot shoe in all its glory!

So there you have it—the DNA of a barefoot shoe. When you slip into a pair, you’re stepping into a world designed around the natural shape and function of your feet. 🦶🌱

Is There Any Science Behind Barefoot Shoes?

Yes, there is growing research showing the benefits of barefoot shoes and their ability to promote foot strength, gait efficiency, and overall well-being.

Here’s an overview of some of the science:

  • Increased foot muscle activation: Wearing shoes with arch support and cushioning can weaken muscles in the feet over time. Barefoot shoes require your feet to do more work, increasing muscle activation. This helps reduce injury risk and rehabilitate atrophied muscles.
  • Improved proprioception: Going barefoot enhances the connection between your feet and brain, helping improve balance and agility. Barefoot shoes mimic this by allowing you to better feel the ground.
  • Reduced impact: Landing on the front pad of your foot rather than the heel utilizes your feet’s natural shock absorption. Barefoot shoes encourage this forefoot strike.
  • Spacious toe box: Research shows constricting toes together can cause musculoskeletal issues. Barefoot shoes allow your toes to rest in proper alignment.
  • Neutral foot positioning: The zero-drop sole of barefoot shoes promotes a neutral foot positioning for improved posture and alignment throughout the body.

Here is the scientific literature:

  1. Increased foot muscle activationDaily activity in minimal footwear increases foot strength.
  2. Improved proprioceptionThe Effects of an 8-Week Barefoot Training Program and The Risks and Benefits of Running Barefoot or in Minimalist Shoes.
  3. Reduced impactInfluence of running shoes on muscle activity.
  4. Spacious toe boxThe effect of shoe toe box shape and volume on forefoot interdigital and plantar pressures in healthy females.
  5. Neutral foot positioningModifications in lower leg muscle activation when walking barefoot or in minimalist shoes across different age-groups.

Additional points:

  1. Improved stability and mobilityMinimal shoes improve stability and mobility in persons with a history of falls.
  2. Running efficiencyEffect of Minimalist Footwear on Running Efficiency.
  3. Consensus definition and rating scale for minimalist shoesA consensus definition and rating scale for minimalist shoes.
  4. Long-term effects of barefoot vs. shod running on local dynamic running stabilityTransitioning to Minimal Footwear: a Systematic Review of Methods and Future Clinical Recommendations.

Now that we’ve looked at the science behind why barefoot shoes help your feet function better, let’s dive into all the reasons they are better for your overall health.

Benefits of Barefoot Shoes?

Barefoot shoes provide a long list of benefits ranging from reduced pain to improved circulation. Here are some of the top reasons barefoot shoes are better for your health:

1. Helps You Move Without Pain

This is one of the biggest reasons people make the switch to barefoot shoes. The ample toe room and flexible sole help relieve pain and pressure caused by constrictive shoes.

Years of wearing traditional shoes left me with achy, tired feet at the end of each day. After switching to barefoot shoes, the foot pain disappeared. Being able to move pain-free is life changing.

Moving without pain after changing to barefoot shoes

2. Reduces Ankle and Knee Injury

Ankle pain due to traditional shoes

Research shows that elevated heels and excessive cushioning in shoes can actually increase ankle instability and your risk of rolling an ankle.

Barefoot shoes help return natural foot positioning, engaging muscles to improve stability and proprioception. This helps reduce injury risk for runners and athletes.

According to one study, transitioning to minimalist footwear also reduces load on the knees, potentially lowering risk of knee pain and overuse injuries.

3. Relieves Back Pain

Having tightness or misalignment anywhere in the kinetic chain can contribute to back pain. Conventional shoes promote poor foot mechanics that translate up the skeletal system.

Back Pain caused by conventional shoes

By allowing your feet to function more naturally, barefoot shoes help foster proper alignment and posture. This takes pressure off the back for reduced pain.

4. Strengthens Muscles in Your Feet

Wearing shoes with arch support and cushioning leads to weaker foot and leg muscles over time.

Barefoot shoes require your intrinsic foot muscles to do more work as you walk and balance. This natural exercise leads to stronger feet that support your frame.

5. Encourages a More Natural Way of Walking

Traditional shoes with elevated heels and rigid soles change the natural form of human walking.

Barefoot shoes promote a low-impact forefoot strike that utilizes your foot’s natural shock absorption. This helps train better walking mechanics over time.

6. Improves the Connection Between Feet and Brain

Having a mind-body connection is critical for balance, proprioception, and coordination.

Barefoot shoes enhance this neural feedback loop by allowing you to better feel the ground. This activates the intrinsic muscles and nerve endings in your feet for better body awareness.

7. Strengthens Foot Arches

Footwear with arch support can cause the muscles that support the arch to weaken from underuse.

Wearing barefoot shoes helps exercise these muscles as your feet adapt to bearing weight without artificial arch support. This leads to stronger arches over time.

8. Builds Toe Strength

Conventional shoes box the toes in, restricting their natural range of motion. This leads to weak, unstable toes over time.

Barefoot shoes allow the toes to spread out and engage as you walk and balance. Your toes will grow stronger, improving grip strength and stability.

9. Prevents Foot Deformities

Research shows that constrictive footwear alters the natural shape and splay of the toes over time. This can lead to deformities like hammertoes and bunions.

Barefoot shoes provide ample room for toes to rest in proper alignment to prevent these deformities. Strong toe muscles also help maintain structural integrity.

10. They Are Lighter to Wear

While not a direct health benefit, barefoot shoes being featherlight is a nice bonus. Their minimalist design makes them more comfortable to wear for long periods and easier to pack on trips.

Potential Risks of Transitioning to Barefoot Shoes

While the benefits are clear, transitioning to barefoot shoes too fast does come with some potential risks:

  • Plantar fasciitis: Strengthening dormant foot muscles too quickly can provoke this heel pain. Transition gradually and check out our article on this topic.
  • Achilles tendonitis: Adapting to minimalist shoes puts more strain on the Achilles. Build up slowly to allow it to adjust.
  • Stress fractures: Bones in the feet adapt to increased workload over time. Ramp up barefoot shoe wear gradually to avoid overuse.
  • Cuts: Thin soles provide less protection. Watch your step in barefoot shoes during the transition.

The key is slowly acclimating your feet to barefoot shoes. I recommend starting by wearing them at home for short periods, then gradually increasing wear time. Only wear them for longer periods once your feet have adjusted to their new workload.

It can take time for feet conditioned by years in traditional shoes to strengthen and rebuild their natural mechanics. Patience is essential.

Who Should Wear Barefoot Shoes?

While barefoot shoes can benefit many people, they may not be suitable for everyone. Here are some factors to help determine if barefoot shoes are right for you:

CriteriaGood CandidatesExercise Caution
Foot, Ankle, or Back Pain
Flexible Feet
Current Foot Injuries
High Arches/Rigid Feet

Good Candidates For Barefoot Shoes:

  • Those looking to alleviate foot, ankle, or back pain
  • Runners seeking to improve form and reduce injury
  • People with flexible feet and no deformities
  • Anyone wanting to rehabilitate their feet after injury
  • Those interested in re-training how they walk and stand
  • People who crave natural, minimalist footwear

May Need More Caution With Barefoot Shoes:

  • Those with very high arches or rigid feet
  • Anyone with current foot injuries or deformities
  • People with balance or coordination issues
  • Individuals with neuropathy or diabetes
  • Those with gait abnormalities or who overpronate
  • Anyone with extremely weak foot muscles

Talk to your podiatrist or physical therapist if you are uncertain about trying barefoot shoes. They can assess your individual situation and clearance for use.

Are Barefoot Shoes Right For You?

I hope after reading this article you have a better understanding of what barefoot shoes are, their many benefits, and whether they could improve your comfort and wellbeing too.

As someone who has experienced the benefits firsthand with my family, I highly recommend giving barefoot shoes a try if you have foot pain or simply crave a more natural way of moving.

Just remember to transition gradually, build foot and lower leg strength over time, and consult a specialist if you have any concerns. You can also refer to our beginner’s guide to barefoot shoes for additional help. With patience and consistency, you may be amazed at how much better your body feels when given the chance to function as intended. I certainly was!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Barefoot Shoes

How long does it take for your feet to adjust to barefoot?

Ah, the adjustment period, the first chapter in your barefoot journey. Generally, it takes about 2-4 weeks to really get comfy in your new shoes, in some rare cases it might be. But remember, everyone’s different. Start slow, maybe just walk barefoot at home at first. Gradually build up to longer periods of barefoot walking and running. Listen to your body and your feet will thank you!

What do podiatrists say about zero-drop shoes?

A: Podiatrists have a love-hate relationship with zero-drop shoes. Some absolutely rave about the benefits for your entire body, especially for achieving better balance and posture. Others caution that you should transition carefully, especially if you’ve been wearing supportive shoes with elevated heels all your life. Moral of the story? Consult your own healthcare professional for personalized advice.

Should you wear barefoot shoes every day?

A: You could, and your whole body might feel better and more aligned for it! Barefoot shoes are designed for everyday wear. Whether you’re running errands or going for a run, these shoes adapt to various activities. However, if you’re new to this, maybe don’t jump into wearing them 24/7. Your feet need time to adapt to wearing minimalist footwear.

Are zero-drop shoes hard on your knees?

A: Contrary to what you might think, zero-drop shoes can actually be easier on your knees. They encourage a more natural alignment, which can distribute weight and pressure more evenly. This means less stress on your knees, as well as your lower back. But again, everyone’s different, so take it slow and see how your body responds.

How does going barefoot change your feet?

A: It’s like a foot-renaissance! Going barefoot or wearing barefoot shoes can strengthen the muscles in your feet, improve your balance, and enhance the biomechanical movement of your entire body. You’ll notice your toes splay into a more solid and natural position. Over time, you might find that issues like collapsed arches or even some types of foot pain can improve.

What are the health benefits of wearing barefoot shoes?

A: Buckle up for this one. Barefoot shoes provide various health benefits like improved balance, better posture, and relief from lower back pain. They’re good for your feet and even better for your entire body. Plus, they allow your feet to move freely, creating a more natural gait.

Can I really run in these shoes?

A: Absolutely, you can run like the wind! But keep in mind, barefoot running is a different beast compared to running in traditional shoes. Start slow, focus on your form, and let your body adapt. Trust me, your feet and posture will thank you.

How do barefoot shoes compare to traditional running shoes?

A: Imagine going from a stuffy room into fresh air. Traditional running shoes often force your feet into unnatural positions, which can throw off your balance and even cause pain in your feet. On the flip side, barefoot shoes are naturally designed to align with your foot’s shape, offering a wide toe box and zero-drop platform.

What should I consider when choosing barefoot shoes?

A: Look for a pair of barefoot shoes with a wide toe box, zero-drop sole, and minimal cushioning. Also, consider the activity you’ll be doing. There are many barefoot shoe options, from running models to everyday wear, so find shoes that fit your lifestyle.

Can I go completely barefoot at home?

A: Totally, go wild! Being completely barefoot at home lets you tap into all the benefits of barefoot living, like better communication with your brain and a natural foot posture. Be barefoot as much as possible but when you venture outside, a protective layer like barefoot shoes or minimalist sandals is a good idea.

Phew! I hope this FAQ section clears up any questions you might have about jumping into the world of barefoot shoes. From why you should wear them to how to choose the perfect pair, we’ve got you covered. So go ahead, liberate those toes! 🦶🌱

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