What Happened to Barefoot Running?
Posted: Sep 09, 2020
Barefoot running was a big fad about 10 years ago that lasted a few years and attracted a lot of interest, especially in social media. In late 2008 to early 2009 there were increasing claims that running shoes were actually bad for the runners and was responsible for a lot of the injuries that runners were getting. This was despite the extraordinary amount of research and technology that went into developing running shoes to prevent those injuries. This led to a trend for runners to experiment with running not using running shoes and going barefoot or using what become known as minimalist running shoes. These types of running shoes had minimal technology or features in them and were simply just a protective covering of the foot.
The barefoot running fad was driven by a huge presence in social media. There were plenty of websites, books, courses, magazines and forums devoted to and driving barefoot running. Lots of extraordinary claims were made for barefoot running in what it would do for the runners. It was alleged that up to a quarter of runners may have experimented in some way with barefoot running. However, by late 2013 and early 2014 interest in barefoot running had dwindled away and runners were no longer interested in it. This was despite all of the extraordinary claims that got made about the benefits of it and the claims from some that it was going to put the running shoe companies out of business. That never happened.
The fad declined because the alleged benefits never accrued for the vast majority of runners that tried it. There were lots of claims made that the research supported barefoot running, when in reality there was no research that showed that it was better and subsequent research has shown that the injury rate in barefoot or minimalist running is not lower than those who run in the cushioned running shoes. There was plenty of research done on barefoot and minimalist running, but that research did not show that it was any better, it just showed that it was different. The fact that there was so much research that was misinterpreted by those who promoted barefoot running as showing it was better, when that is not what it showed.
Towards the end of the barefoot fad, the Hoka One One running shoe company released some maximally padded running shoes which were ridiculed and hated by those advocating barefoot running. Despite that, runners liked these shoes and the Hoka’s are now a dominant player in the running shoe market and since 2014 the trend has been towards the more maximally padded running shoes from all the running shoe companies.
There is still a small group of hardcore barefoot runners that was always there. Currently the minimalist running shoes have made up around 0.3-0.5% of the running shoe market for the last few years. The maximalist running shoes continue to dominate the market for the last 6-7 years and there is no hint of any decline in their market share or a return of an interest in barefoot or minimalist running shoes.
Craig Payne is a University lecturer, runner, cynic, researcher, skeptic, forum admin, woo basher, clinician, rabble-rouser, blogger and a dad.