Are minimalist footwear just like barefoot?

Blog entry posted by Barefoot Ken Bob, Jan 19, 2015.

From Ken Bob's mailbox:

"I bought the Vibram Five-Fingers running shoes and was wondering if they cause injuries like running shoes or if it is just like barefoot? -Matthew"


This is an old question, but it still comes up frequently, and does reflect an issue that can lead to dangerous situations...

Any kind of shoe deceives us by making bad running technique more comfortable so that instead of changing our running technique so that it is more safe, gentle, and efficient, we might run in a way that could cause ourselves injury in the long term.

Bottom line is, if we need to wear footwear to make our running technique comfortable on normal terrain, or tolerable on rough terrain, then our running technique is putting excess stress and strain on our feet and those stresses and strains transmit up and throughout the rest of our body. And, other than possibly causing injury, those stresses and strains also represent wasted energy, energy that is breaking our body, rather than moving us forward.

Blocking those important messages from our bare soles by wearing footwear, doesn't remove the stresses. It simply blocks the message, and even encourages us to put MORE (not less) stress on our feet and body. There is a reason our soles are very sensitive, and that reason is not some cruel trick of nature. Blocking that sensitivity is, however, a very cruel way to trick ourselves!

Without the benefit of those warning messages from our bare soles (pain), those stresses and strains are likely to manifest as injuries in other parts of our body ... most typically in the knees, hips, and back with traditional running shoes, and strained calves, and stress fractures in our feet, with minimalist footwear. Essentially, protecting our bare soles from feeling the ground allows us to run harder than our feet and body can withstand, rather than encouraging us to run with more gentle technique. And without those messages, it's nearly impossible to even know when we are running with injurious technique (until those injuries begin to manifest in time).

There are no guarantees that we'll never be injured, with or without footwear. However, I wouldn't trust anyone who promises (or implies) that we'll "never get injured" if we buy their product.
For more articles by Ken Bob about "Barefoot Shoes"

For more guidance to gentle, efficient, and "safer" technique;
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Barefoot Ken Bob

About the Author

Webmaster and founder of the Original Running Barefoot website (1997-present) -, President Los Angeles Chapter of The Barefoot Runners Society (2010-present), Co-author; Barefoot Running Step by Step (2011), Barefoot Running Guru (1997-present), completed more than 400 races barefoot (as of 2012), including 79 marathons (26.2 miles each), and one ultra-marathon (50 kilometers+)