Unpopular Opinion: Normal Running Shoes And Barefoot Running Shoes Can Live In Harmony

The war between the conventional church and the minimalist church doesn’t have to be so divisive.

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The running world is a generally tight-knit and supportive community, where, in the end, everyone is just running because they love it and want to become better versions of themself. 

However, runners are a passionate bunch, and when it comes to contentding opinions, there’s nothing more soul-sucking than listening to a running mate go off on why their opinion is the right one.

Over the past decade, one of the more divisive trends to have emerged in the running world has been barefoot and minimalist running shoes. More and more runners are shedding their conventional running shoes in favor of hitting the pavement barefoot. 

Unpopular Opinion: Normal Running Shoes And Barefoot Running Shoes Can Live In Harmony 1

This shift, spurred on by certain research findings and the equally as divisive book ‘Born to Run,’ suggests that trading in your conventional running shoes can improve athletic performance and overall running experience.

When it comes to barefoot running, there really isn’t a spectrum. You’re either in the barefoot church or you stay as far away from it as possible; there is no in-between.

The real question is, why are there only two schools of thought on this subject? Why do you either have to shun barefoot running or never touch a pair of conventional running shoes again?

Is it possible for barefoot and conventional shoes to coexist?

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What’s The Deal With Barefoot Running?

At the heart of this controversy lies the question of whether eschewing traditional running shoes in favor of running barefoot or in minimalist footwear offers tangible benefits or exposes runners to unnecessary risks.

Proponents of barefoot running argue that modern running shoes, with their ample cushioning and supportive features, weaken the small muscles in the feet and interfere with the foot’s natural biomechanics. 

They argue that runners may inadvertently inhibit the natural movement and function of tendons, ligaments, and arches in the foot by wearing conventional shoes, potentially leading to poor foot movement patterns and increased susceptibility to foot, leg, and knee injuries

Barefoot running may enhance running efficiency and reduce the risk of impact-related injuries by encouraging runners to land on the mid-sole or forefoot rather than the heel. 

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Additionally, barefoot believers argue that minimalist running fosters greater balance and proprioception by engaging those smaller muscles in the feet, ankles, and legs, thereby enhancing overall stability and coordination.

The absence of shoes allows runners to develop a heightened connection to the ground, facilitating a more sensory-rich running experience.

However, the allure of barefoot running is tempered by a series of potential drawbacks and considerations that runners must take into account. 

Among these is the issue of foot protection, as running barefoot leaves the feet vulnerable to injuries such as cuts, abrasions, and puncture wounds from road debris

Opponents of minimalist running assert that well-designed running shoes can be crucial in correcting biomechanical issues and reducing the risk of injury

They argue that advancements in shoe technology have allowed for the development of footwear that provides appropriate support and cushioning, thereby minimizing the impact of running on the body. 

The lack of cushioning and support when barefoot running may exacerbate issues such as plantar pain and Achilles tendinitis, particularly for runners with preexisting foot conditions. 

Moreover, anti-barefoot runners point out that if the solution to foot pain were as simple as running barefoot, podiatrists would be more inclined to recommend it as a universal remedy. 

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Can You Get The Best Of Both Worlds?

Unpopular opinion: Conventional running shoes and barefoot running shoes can live in harmony.

Hear me out.

Alternating between barefoot and conventional shoes is a viable approach that many runners could adopt to reap the benefits of both styles of footwear. This strategy would allow runners to enjoy the advantages of each type of shoe while minimizing the potential drawbacks.

Alternating between minimalist and conventional shoes could offer runners several benefits:

  1. Variation in Training: Incorporating both barefoot and conventional shoes into your training plan provides variety and could help prevent overuse injuries. Switching between the two allows for different levels of cushioning, support, and proprioceptive feedback, which can enhance overall foot strength and running performance.
  2. Adaptation to Different Terrain: Barefoot running stimulates the muscles and sensory receptors in the feet, promoting better adaptation to uneven terrain and improving balance and stability. Conventional shoes, on the other hand, provide protection and support on hard or rough surfaces. Alternating between the two can help you adapt more effectively to different running environments.
  3. Injury Prevention and Recovery: Alternating between barefoot and conventional shoes can help prevent specific injuries associated with each type of footwear. For example, running barefoot can strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the feet and lower legs, reducing the risk of certain overuse injuries. Conversely, wearing conventional shoes with cushioning and support can help protect against impact-related injuries on hard surfaces.
  4. Improved Performance: Switching between barefoot and conventional shoes can improve running efficiency and technique. Barefoot running encourages a more natural and efficient running gait, while conventional shoes offer stability and energy return, particularly during longer runs or races.
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Transitioning between barefoot and conventional shoes should be gradual to allow your feet and muscles to adapt to the changes in footwear

Start by incorporating short barefoot runs or walks on soft surfaces, gradually increasing the duration and intensity over time. Make sure you listen to your body and pay attention to any signs of discomfort or overuse, adjusting your training accordingly.

The war between the conventional church and the minimalist church doesn’t have to be so divisive. By embracing concepts from each philosophy, you can maximize the benefits each brings, while limiting the potential drawbacks.

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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