The Downsides Of Barefoot Running: Stress Fractures, Mean Looks And More

vibrams barefoot running shoes
Whether you love or hate the way these ultra-popular barefoot-style running shoes look, they’re a sign of the times–and for some, a status symbol of sorts, signifying their desire to live a more natural lifestyle. But when people become too focused on the fad–and not enough on the technique or potential for injury–they can get hurt in a hurry. Is it bad for you? No. But while barefoot and minimalist running is great for some people, it comes with more than a few caveats.

Declared the “most popular footwear trend of 2011,” runners in barefoot and minimalist shoes (defined by those with next to no support or incline) have begun cropping up on trails, in gyms and just about everywhere else. Many were encouraged by Born to Run, a wildly popular 2010 book about–you guessed it–barefoot running, while others have jumped on because they wanted to know what the hype was about.

Long-time runner Ryan Holiday, a strategist for the likes of Tim Ferriss and Robert Greene and director of marketing at American Apparel, has eschewed the barefoot running trend, despite the fact that he’s passionate about evolutionary fitness, for exactly that reason: the hype. For Holiday, running naturally makes sense, but for many, it seems more about a statement than a style of running.

I understand it. I understand the science. The worst pair of running shoes I ever had was the Nike Shox, because it’s about the least natural thing you can imagine. But I think to go the other direction is more about status or attention, and not about what’s best for the foot or best for running.

The Shox that Holiday mentions were part of a long line of ultra-cushioned kicks that were super-popular in previous decades, and that trained a lot of people to run heels-first. But those unnatural shoes have slowly been disregarded as unnecessary–and potentially problematic. Holiday, who sticks to a paleo diet and attends evolutionary health and fitness conferences, says he tries to be as close to what’s natural as is possible (i.e. by not wearing giant, shock-absorbing shoes), but says he also understands that we’re not exactly in the cavemen era anymore:

I live in New Orleans and in Los Angeles and you see people not only running in Vibrams, but without shoes at all. And it makes me wonder–what is natural about running on this grass, or even on concrete, that’s full of trash and glass? Being natural is important. But we also live in 2012.

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    • seewead

      Monkey feet! (they look stupid) Status symbol associated with living a more natural lifestyle. What does wearing monkey feet have to do with that? Nothing? Does it guarantee you donate to worthy causes, recycle, bike to work, compost, harvest rainwater? doubt it. Just a fad that will pass (hopefully)

      Did you know that people in the 60s wore minimalist shoes? They are called Birkenstocks. And we ran in “Tiger” shoes (Asics) with little drop- or started in Nike Crotz (with little to no drop) So yeah…nothing new here.

      • Briana Rognlin

        nooo! now you’re going to make birkenstock feel like they have to make a running shoe, too!

    • seewead

      Nike Cortez- MISTAKE!

    • Jessica

      I love my Vibrams! For me and the people I know that where them it isn’t about status at all. Running is so much easier for me in these shoes. If anything I feel a little weird when people look at my feet funny. It’s all about the running experience. And personally, if you scale into them, I think Vibrams make it better.

    • Kj

      I love my Vibrams!

      I bought them because I like to do Martial Arts style exercises which are best when barefoot, and my gym wouldn’t let me be barefoot. I love wearing them and running in them.

      They do attract a lot of attention, but that’s definitely not why I bought them. And to the people that say they look like “stupid monkey feet,” well, I didn’t buy them for the way they look.

    • Charles

      I really hate the look of the barefoot shoes – I know they might be comfortable, but they just look so awful. And seeing the individual toes move just makes me dislike them more.
      Must…get image…out of my head….

    • Rain rain

      Vibrams or the new Nikes that people are getting killed over? Hmmm. …..
      Vibrams of course! I don’t own a pair but I’ve heard they are comfy. Who cares what they look like!!!!!!!!!!!

    • iron-butterfly

      Sure didn’t see anyone with five-fingered shoes on today in the Olympic trials marathon in Houston!!! That’s a fact!