Regaining our natural connection to the earth
Believe it or not, but our feet don’t need as much cushioning and support as you’d think. Over thousands of years, our feet evolved to be connected to the ground, to feel the earth beneath our soles. Modern footwear has severed this connection and brought with it a host of issues – altering foot shape, increasing the need for orthotics and support, and increasing discomfort.
However, barefoot shoes provide the perfect halfway house – shoes with thin soles and plenty of space that keep your feet protected while allowing you to feel the ground underneath.
We believe that children should start their barefoot journey as early as possible to make the most of the advantages barefoot shoes provide, but transitioning to barefoot at any stage will benefit your child’s foot health moving forward.
We've explained what we think is great about barefoot shoes, but there are loads of studies out explaining the benefits, too! We've listed a variety of sources for you to watch, listen to, and read at the end of the page.
What can barefoot shoes help with?
Increased strength, balance and stability
Conventional shoes have something called a heel-to-toe drop, where the heel is raised. Even in trainers, this is often the case! In particular, a raised heel shortens your calf muscles, reduces your range of motion, and can be painful for your lower body.
Barefoot shoes instead have what we call a ‘zero drop’, where the sole is completely flat the entire length of the shoe. This is our foot’s natural state, and when you wear barefoot shoes, you’ll be using muscles that you wouldn’t in more conventional shoes. Studies have shown that wearing barefoot shoes for just six months can increase foot strength by up to 60% while improving natural balance and stability so you stand upright in a more healthy posture.
Ever worn a pair of shoes that force your toes into shapes they really don’t like? That’s pretty common in conventional shoes – if your feet hurt, it’s usually the shoes that are the problem!
Barefoot shoes instead can reduce pain by giving your feet plenty of room. All barefoot shoes feature what we call a wide ‘toe box’ – the area where your toes usually sit in the shoe. By allowing your feet to spread naturally, you’ll improve your posture and alignment, meaning less pain and discomfort.
Improves sensory input
Did you know that the place in the brain that registers sensory input from the feet is the same size as the one that receives input from your hands? By wearing conventional footwear, you can be starving your brain of this connection!
Barefoot or minimalist shoes give your brain far more sensory input from your feet, which helps improve movement and reduce pain. Paediatricians recommend that children should be barefoot as possible to improve their sensory input and strengthen feet and ankles.
The science behind barefoot
In recent years, there has been plenty of attention on barefoot shoes, and hundreds of studies have been undertaken, understanding the benefits of barefoot shoes for running, walking, climbing and more! While most of these studies have been based on adults, there have been some great studies conducted on children.
We’ve highlighted some of the most important and interesting studies for both children and adults below. For a quick overview, have a look at some of the videos, or if you’d like to take a more in-depth look, we’ve listed some great podcasts and vital studies for you to explore.
Things to listen to
Science of Ultra: Barefoot Running with Daniel Lieberman, PhD – https://open.spotify.com/episode/5g9E21HLVkwUCemcpGYAqb?si=a6sAfTiSSMKRpBU4ycCBBg
The Barefoot Movement Podcast – https://open.spotify.com/show/7kLiOkasNorHmmaqclmKsz?si=5b4edfd7b1ca4c49
Squat University: Why your shoes suck –https://open.spotify.com/episode/6XDTzA3n9BSuGkmG3WyK54?si=ac04e29f41fc45f3
Things to read
Running shoes may cause injuries, but is going barefoot the fix? – https://theconversation.com/running-shoes-may-cause-injuries-but-is-going-barefoot-the-fix-135264
The Risks and Benefits of Running Barefoot or in Minimalist Shoes – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4212355/
Barefoot running: an evaluation of current hypothesis, future research and clinical applications – https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/48/5/349
Children’s Footwear: Launching Site for Adult Foot Ills –
Hazard of deceptive advertising of athletic footwear –
Daily activity in minimal footwear increases foot strength –https://doi.org/10.1080/19424280.2019.1606299
Minimal footwear improves stability and physical function in middle-aged and older people compared to conventional shoes – https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2019.11.005
The Urban Runner with an Evolutionary Legacy – https://peterfrancis.blog/2019/07/18/the-urban-runner-with-an-evolutionary-legacy/
Smart Women, Stupid Shoes, and Cynical Employers – https://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=law_pubs
New Survey Reveals Majority of Americans Suffer from Foot Pain – https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-survey-reveals-majority-of-americans-suffer-from-foot-pain-259775741.html
Conclusions drawn from a comparative study of the feet of barefooted and shoe-wearing peoples – http://nohatka.cz/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/hoffman-1905-barefoot.pdf
Walking in Minimalist Shoes Is Effective for Strengthening Foot Muscles – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/30113521/
Ticking Time Bomb: Children’s shoes cause health problems later in life for adults – https://philmaffetone.com/kids-shoes/
Foot Strike Patterns Differ Between Children and Adolescents Growing up Barefoot vs. Shod – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29145687
Foot strength and stiffness are related to footwear use in a comparison of minimally- vs. conventionally-shod populations – https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-21916-7
How going Barefoot affects your Brain – https://www.correcttoes.com/foot-help/how-going-barefoot-affects-your-brain/
Motor Skills of Children and Adolescents Are Influenced by Growing up Barefoot or Shod – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5996942/
Barefoot is better for kids‚ new study shows – https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/lifestyle/health-and-sex/2018-10-26-barefoot-is-better-for-kids-new-study-shows/
Children with no shoes on 'do better in classroom', major study finds – https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/schools-encouraged-to-adopt-no-shoes-policy-to-improve-pupils-learning-and-behaviour-a7044576.html
Studies show kids who grow up barefoot have better motor skills – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5010736/
Effects of footwear on treadmill running biomechanics in preadolescent children – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24890307
Being barefoot. Prevalence at home, in school and during sport: a cross-sectional survey of 714 New Zealand secondary school boys – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30034544
The influence of footwear on the prevalence of flat foot. A survey of 2300 children – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1624509
Athletic footwear: unsafe due to perceptual illusions – https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5689/dc03522ff19dabad98209e74b17ee9d8939c.pdf
Hazard of deceptive advertising of athletic footwear – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1332563/
The plantar sole is a 'dynamometric map' for human balance control – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9831459
A comparative biomechanical analysis of habitually unshod and shod runners based on a foot morphological difference –https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25964998
The effects of habitual footwear use: foot shape and function in native barefoot walkers – https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19424280903386411
Is your prescription of distance running shoes evidence-based? – https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/43/3/159.short
The effect of three different levels of footwear stability on pain outcomes in women runners: a randomised control trial – https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/45/9/715.short
Effects of a foot strengthening program on foot muscle morphology and running mechanics: A proof-of-concept, single-blind randomized controlled trial – https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ptsp.2020.01.007
Efficacy of a progressive resistance exercise program to increase toe flexor strength in older people – https://www.clinbiomech.com/article/S0268-0033(16)30155-3/fulltext
Influence of Maximal Running Shoes on Biomechanics Before and After a 5K Run – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5992812/pdf/10.1177_2325967118775720.pdf
Increased vertical impact forces and altered running mechanics with softer midsole shoes – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4405580/pdf/pone.0125196.pdf
Reduction in Plantar Heel Pain and a Return to Sport After a Barefoot Running Intervention in a Female Triathlete With Plantar Fasciitis – https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijatt/22/5/article-p26.xml
The Truth About Arch Support - A Meta Analysis of 150 Studies – https://runrepeat.com/arch-support-study