Barefoot running has been a hot topic in the world of modern running since Chris McDougall’s book Born to Run became a best-seller. McDougall wrote about Harvard University research that found running barefoot to naturally reduce impact damage by forcing you to land on your midfoot or forefoot rather than heel. The study even blamed cushioned running shoes – the type most of us have been running in for the past 30 years – for most running-related injuries.
While outrage in the running shoe industry might have been expected, ultimately its response was reasonable. Shoe manufacturers realised most people didn’t want to actually run barefoot. So they created running shoes that allow your foot to land on the ground in the same motion as though you were running barefoot, while still providing some protection from glass and other nasty things you wouldn't want to step in.
There are a few different types on the market and buying your first pair can be confusing, Here, we give an overview of four of the best-selling shoes on the market to help you decide the best for you and your level of barefoot running experience. Before you buy, it’s also important to ensure you don’t just leap straight in to barefoot running and that you adjust your training properly.
VIVOBAREFOOT The One
The One has been designed over three years with human biomechanics and proprioception in mind, taking into account the advice and research of Professor Daniel Lieberman of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University (the department responsible for the study mentioned above). This limited edition version has an ultra-thin high abrasion rubber sole, patented puncture-resistant layer and low weight (230g) and is great for experienced barefoot runners. However, the lack of any cushioning at all means The One is not recommended if taking your first steps in the world of barefoot running.
Merrell Road Glove 2
This stylish shoe is designed to offer a more comfortable and natural feel for runners. Along with feeling and looking the part, the Road Glove 2 also smells good thanks to special odour-eliminating fabric. Some mild cushioning makes it suitable for beginner or intermediate barefoot runners, along with its protective toecap for preventing painful stubbed toes. Aside from the fairly high price this is a great entry-level minimal running shoe.
Vibram FiveFingers Sprint
The Sprint is the minimal running shoe’s answer to the 4x4 vehicle, so if you're looking to run off-road this is the one for you. It’s designed to embrace any sort of terrain, using your foot’s natural shape for grip and balance. The individual toe pockets help strengthen the muscles in your feet and lower legs, which improves agility, balance and range of motion. There’s almost no cushioning though, so if you're planning to run on harder surfaces such as Tarmac then make sure you have some barefoot experience to prevent injury.
Brooks Pure Cadence 2
If you suffer from frequent ankle injuries, twists and strains, the Pure Cadence 2 could be for you. Part of Brooks’s Pure Project range, this road-running shoe is aimed specifically at the over-pronator. The Pure Cadence 2 features a reinforced heel counter and an internal progressive diagonal roll-bar, which subtly guides your foot to prevent inward rolling. Despite the emphasis on stability, it only weighs 263g and sits somewhere between a normal and minimal running shoe – perfect if you want to dabble without fully taking the plunge just yet.
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