To bare or not to bare

Posted in Dishing the Dirt by Matt Ward on Wed 03 Feb '10


That seems to be the question right now, as mainstream media, big brands and the likes of inov-8 battle it out over the question of barefoot / minimalist running, with inov-8 stating, “Slowly there is a weight of impartial scientific evidence emerging…

…that clearly demonstrates that traditional running shoes actually increase the risk of injury.”


Full inov-8 press release:


The running world has been awash with debate about barefoot running recently and suddenly the debate has gone mainstream. Nature, one of the World’s leading scientific journals, has published an important new study: ‘Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners’. This study states:

“The average runner strikes the ground 600 times per kilometre, making runners prone to repetitive stress injuries. The incidence of such injuries has remained considerable for 30 years despite technological advancements that provide more cushioning and motion control in shoes designed for heel–toe running. Although cushioned, high-heeled running shoes are comfortable, they limit proprioception and make it easier for runners to land on their heels. Furthermore, many running shoes have arch supports and stiffened soles that may lead to weaker foot muscles, reducing arch strength. This weakness contributes to excessive pronation and places greater demands on the plantar fascia, which may cause plantar fasciitis”. (Lieberman et al 2010)

The response to this independent, peer-reviewed research from one major running shoe brand was “…supportive, cushioned footwear is not only beneficial, it also plays an essential role in delivering a comfortable, injury-free running experience”.

The debate that is now raging seems to focus on whether runners should or shouldn’t run barefoot. inov-8 thinks that this misses the point entirely and questions why so many shod runners are getting injured each year. “65 percent of runners are injured in an average year, one running injury occurs for about every 100 hours of running, and runners miss about 5-10 per cent of their workouts due to injury” (Byrnes et al .)

With a market worth over £12 billion a year globally, you’d be correct to be cynical about the mainstream running brands’ opinions about the benefits of using their products. While some brands simply deny the validity of the research, other brands are jumping on the barefoot bandwagon with a flurry of press releases claiming to offer minimalist running shoes.

In contrast, inov-8 has been producing World Championship winning minimalist off-road running shoes that offer a natural running experience since 2003.

Slowly there is a weight of impartial scientific evidence emerging that clearly demonstrates that traditional running shoes actually increase the risk of injury.

In a recent study , D Casey Kerrigan et al. have tried to determine the effect of modern-day running shoes on lower extremity torques during running. A group of runners ran on a treadmill in both stability controlling running shoes and barefoot, as 3D motion data capture analysed their running. The results showed a disproportionate increase in hip internal rotation torque (54%), knee flexion torque (36%) and knee varus torque (38%) when wearing the running shoes compared to running barefoot.


Barefoot and minimalist running certainly isn’t for everyone and inov-8 believes that there is a middle ground. As a specialist off road running brand, inov-8 recognises that runners need some protection from the terrain underfoot and offers a range of shoes with different levels of under foot protection (Shoc-Zone™ 1 to 4 Arrow), varying differential (0-9mm – the difference in height between the heel and forefoot) and different outsoles to cope with different terrains. As you reduce the level of cushioning and differential, the foot gets ever closer to its optimum natural running position.

Uniquely inov-8’s range of neutral shoes provides the runner with the opportunity to make a gradual transition from overly cushioned and supportive running shoes to an increasingly natural position, which is low to the ground, without a raised heel.

Remember that the majority of running shoes do not flex sufficiently (laterally) because of the support, posting, cushioning, plates and other such technologies that are squeezed into the midsole. All those air, gel and control zones change how your foot ‘feels’ the ground and how forces are directed upwards.

Whether you are an elite athlete or a recreational user, the inov-8 footwear range allows your foot the freedom to move and function as nature intended, without interference from the structure of the shoe.

inov-8 shoes protect the foot from the harsh external environment experienced by the off-road runner but maintain the feeling and function of barefoot running.

We would all like to have a perfect, efficient, running style.

Take one step closer today.


Reactions so far
  1. Paul Bateson Feb 4, 04:10 AM

    In general humans now live and work on flat, hard surfaces, feet over time have adapted to this. The majority of humans no longer live in wild, rocky, mountain, desert or jungle. Shoes (inc running shoes) have been developed to provide protection from external damage since we generally don’t have tough feet anymore. The issues regarding whether shoes correct pronation, etc are something completely different. Personally I feel that if you pronate, for instance, then that is your natural way of running/walking and maybe the injuries, which seem more prevelant in road runners are down to the actions of running shoes which, (try) to correct a natural gait.

  2. Moire O'Sullivan Feb 4, 08:33 PM

    Hey Matt, how’s tricks?

    Just got myself a pair of Vibram Fivefinger Spints in Singapore and absolutely love them (! I’m quickly trying to get my calves and achilles used to them so that I can ditch my normal running shoes. Not sure if the sprints would be great for trails (can feel stones through the soles) but as for running on roads, they are perfect.

    Anyhow, here’s what I thought of my virgin barefoot Vibram run:

  3. Matt - MST Feb 5, 08:11 AM

    Hey Moire! Great to hear from you…

    Send me a mail when you get 5 minutes…

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