Study: Barefoot shoes transition – results from switching to minimalist footwear on 65 people

James

This self-reported online survey gathered data from 65 people who transitioned to being barefoot or using minimalist footwear. Participants ranged from elite athletes to recreational health enthusiasts.

The study was operated on an honesty basis and participants who demonstrated clear bias or inconsistent information were removed from the dataset. Information from other studies are integrated into this article.

The purpose? To find out how people really feel about their transition to barefoot/minimalist footwear.

Study-on-barefoot-shoes-transition-1

Did transitioning to barefoot shoes improve performance?

A long-debated topic in both the scientific and anecdotal world – can barefoot improve sport performance?

If you ask those who made the transition to zero-drop shoes the answer is a resounding yes.

The reason for this seems logical – improved development of various muscle groups in the lower leg and supposedly improved technique/posture.

Now, that’s not to say running unshod will have one running faster than with shoes on – it’s simply suggesting that improved biodynamic development has performance-improving traits.

On a scale of 1-10, participants were asked how significant their improvement to performance was after transitioning to barefoot. As strong majority (69%) noted large improvements, though this is evidently subject to user bias.

Analysis of performance benefit related to barefoot shoes transition infograhpic

This is an extraordinarily hard topic to scientifically measure because human performance is subject to infinite variables. As a transition to barefoot movement takes months-years to complete, each factor such as sleep, diet, training regimen, injuries, hormone cycles, etc make scientific process near impossible.

Therefor it’s best to approach the conclusion with intuition and on a case-by-case basis. In the case of the polled users, almost all noticed a significant improvement.

Did your barefoot shoes transition help with injuries?

Another long-debated topic in medicine and anecdote – does barefoot assist with prevention of injuries?

For participants who have been physically active for more than 3 years, we asked how many recurring/chronic injuries (sprains, tears, hip, knee, back, etc) they experienced before and after making the shift to barefoot movement and footwear.

investigating chronic injuries from running and sport barefoot transition study

While many studies insist that yes, the barefoot transition does help, there is of course controversy. Again, it’s nearly impossible the replicate conditions in a lab setting.

Commonly, many who are on the fence wonder will barefoot running help knee pain?

The renowned Harvard study on running strike forces indicated an average 10% reduction in impact forces and smoother impact transient to newly-transitioned barefoot runners who adjusted their running technique.

harvard-study-foot-impact-forces-barefoot-unshod

Another study by the University of Liverpool found that Minimal shoes improve stability and mobility in persons with a history of falls. This is particularly useful when considering that people who are early on in their fitness journey are more susceptible to injury.

The majority of reported improvements were to the following ailments:

  • Knee injuries
  • Shin splints
  • Bunions
  • Gait
  • Back pain
  • Posture issues
Healed injuries from barefoot transition study infographic

That’s not to say that switching will relieve risk of injures – many users experience new pains and acute problems when transitioning. Particularly due to lack of a gradual transition program and oversight from a second party.

Overall, between cited studies and our surveys data, we can conclude that there was a significant improvement in chronic injuries, though caution needs to be taken during the early transition phase.

Were you transitioning to barefoot shoes too early?

A common point of hesitation is that people are unsure if their timing to transition to barefoot shoes is correct. Analysing the data provided us with very clear information: Transition sooner rather than later.

The most poignant point of information was that of all polled people, 0 reported any regret about the transition.

starting barefoot training transition study infographic

Many were particularly worried about social implications of wearing different/no footwear. Others were unsure if their base of physical health was good enough to transition to barefoot.

In a study by Utrecht University regarding motivation, injuries, and running – many people are hesitant to run due to fear of injury.

A significant amount of participants added comments that changing their footwear allowed them to begin their fitness journey in the first place as their fear of injury and competency shifted.

When do people start training barefoot study infographic

Most people began their transition in the latter half of their fitness lives, and only very few began their journey barefoot. This is likely due to social norms and the popularity of barefoot training increasing.

As the survey showed, an overwhelming majority of people answered “Absolutely yes” when asked if they wished they started their barefoot shoes transition sooner. The rest answered that their transition timing was fine.

Did you follow a barefoot running transition plan?

While the internet is full of free information and data, we were very curious to know if people followed any courses, books, guides, videos online, or had a trainer assist them with their transition.

This is particularly informative as the biomechanics implication is rather intense and can lead to struggles and injuries.

Most subjects followed information and advice found on the internet, though very few followed a detailed course or has assistance from a trainer on their barefoot transition.

As a result, people often experienced aches and pains during the acclimatisation period which could be mitigated by following a barefoot transition plan or oversight from a trainer.

How about the negatives of your barefoot transition?

The following remarks were made about the downsides of the transition to barefoot/minimalist footwear and any struggles people encountered, as well as tips they would like to share.

The most common answer was regarding uncertainty – many did not know how much to train, the quality of their progress, and any adjustments they should make along the way. Here is a list of some comments participants made about their barefoot transition.

  • “Take your time to adjust to avoid injuries”
  • “Don’t transition with minimalist shoes. Go purely barefoot early on and you’ll save yourself some injury and you’ll be training your feet in the most efficient way.”
  • “Minimalist shoes have helped me a lot, but they aren’t a magic bullet”
  • “I occasionally sacrifice a toenail to the trail. Doesn’t stop me from running though and is inevitable with the amount of mountain running I do.”
  • “It’s been longer and more of a struggle than I expected!”
  • “Some blisters in the spring after wearing minimalist shoes during the winter.”
  • “Stretching is a big deal during the transition phase. If you have a gait/posture that is accommodating of non-minimalist footwear…you get a lot of pain early on particularly in the calves and ankles.”
  • “I went from shod to completely unshod in one big step, it hurt for a few months in different areas but I adapted pretty well.”
  • “The transition to barefoot training had more difficult social challenges rather than physical challenges; i.e. social perceptions seeing training/running/walking barefoot in public.”
  • “Hope everyone could try it, the issue is it takes a while to get used to and get desired performance out of barefoot running.”
Negatives from barefoot transition study infographic

As mentioned in the above section, many experienced physical pains and mild to moderate injuries as they didn’t have a trainer or training routine to refer to to assist with their progress and correct any malpractices.

Any advice to those transitioning to zero drop running shoes?

The best advice comes from those who’ve already walked the path. In this case we wanted to know peoples retrospective opinion and how they would’ve approached their transition differently.

  • “Transition slowly, concentrate more on form and strength than quantity.”
  • “Take your time, listen to your body, take the time to heal”
  • “Stop caring about other people’s opinion about it”
  • “Sacrificing health for fashion isn’t worth it.”
  • “Do not go so fast in the beginning!!!”
  • “Train more slowly, to progress faster… there is no rush! Take more weeks, no problem! It’s the long run we’re after! (Also, to read gait analysis books/physical therapy related content)”

Overall it seems that most people who made their barefoot transition had very little regrets, though would adjust how they would’ve approached the transition differently – either by starting earlier or following a gentle and slow routine or guide.

Foresight on barefoot transition study infographic

Conclusion

By the data from the survey and supported studies, it seems as though transitioning to barefoot and minimalist footwear has had an overwhelmingly net-positive impact on peoples view on their training performance, injuries, and overall health.

As many people spend the majority of their lives in conventional footwear, the transition to minimalist or unshod can be intense and many experienced difficulties during this readjustment.

To facilitate a smooth transition, check out the series on How To Start Barefoot Running for practical advice an a barefoot running transition plan. Check out the Vivobarefoot shoes guide to help find the right shoes for your barefoot transition!

Do you have a story about your barefoot transition? Leave it in the comments for others to see!

How did we gather this data?

This was a self-reported survey conducted online where 65 individuals reported their physical health metrics on a subjective basis.

Spam, unqualified, and clearly biased or incorrect data was removed from the dataset.

Participants were gathered from barefoot-centric forums and groups on Facebook and Reddit social media platforms. Participants are subject to bias though were encouraged to be truthful and transparent.

The link to the raw of the Google form and assessment can be found here: https://forms.gle/LzMyitZTysRTrVESA

Cited sources:

Lieberman, D., Venkadesan, M., Werbel, W. et al. Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature 463, 531–535 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature08723Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runner

de Jonge, Jan et al. “Mental Recovery and Running-Related Injuries in Recreational Runners: The Moderating Role of Passion for Running.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 17,3 1044. 6 Feb. 2020, doi:10.3390/ijerph17031044 – Mental Recovery and Running-Related Injuries in Recreational Runners: The Moderating Role of Passion for Running

O’Leary K, Vorpahl KA, Heiderscheit B. Effect of cushioned insoles on impact forces during running. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc. 2008 Jan-Feb;98(1):36-41. doi: 10.7547/0980036. PMID: 18202332. Effect of cushioned insoles on impact forces during running – PubMed (nih.gov)

Cudejko T, Gardiner J, Akpan A, D’Août K. Minimal shoes improve stability and mobility in persons with a history of falls. Sci Rep. 2020 Dec 10;10(1):21755. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-78862-6. PMID: 33303964; PMCID: PMC7730448. Minimal shoes improve stability and mobility in persons with a history of falls – PMC (nih.gov)

https://www.vivobarefoot.com/media/wysiwyg/pdf/Vivo2022_Report_161122_final.pdf

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