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Natural running shoes – the rules – right tool for the right job

Danger shod running shoe

When rehabilitating yourself from shod-running back to your natural running style, bare foot running is an essential part of your training (as this, of course, was the human body’s default running condition). However, years of atrophy and feet encapsulated in narrow and cushy running shoes means that you will perceive it as quite extreme to be barefoot on many terrains – especially rocky and grainy surfaces.

Do not compromise with minimalist running shoes

Therefore, we have put together a simple guide to the features you need to look for to have a “proper tool for the job”. Any compromise on these requirements will seriously inhibit your learning process and sabotage your rehabilitation into a natural running style. Let me repeat the words of our technical director Tony Riddle: “There is no middle-ground, there is no transition.”

A word of warning – it’s not about the running shoe

Achieving a natural running gait is not about the shoe – it’s about skill. Without coaching on the correct skill – which means the right posture, rhythm and relaxation – as well as other less important elements, you will fail regardless of footwear. So once you’re prepared to train skill first, proceed and select a shoe that will help you to your goals.

Features of a natural running shoe

  • VERY wide toe-box:Toe box must be wide enough that your big toe can extend fully outwards to the side following the line of
    Flat soled barefoot running shoe

    Good flat anatomically shaped sole

    the inside of your foot. ALSO, the shoe should not narrow around the mid-section.

  • Flat sole: This means – no height differential between heel and toe, no weird shapes or curvatures of the sole and no cushioning – just completely flat. Any thicker than 3mm and your running gait will suffer.
  • Larger shoe-size than cushioned running shoes: To quote Mark Cucuzzella – “you do not have a shoe size, you have a foot size”. To allow unrestricted movement of your foot you’ll find you need 1-2 sizes up (and this may increase as your foot will grow doing natural running). Watch also for tight lacing - there should be no noticeable pressure on the foot anywhere

Features to avoid at all costs:

  • Cushioning
  • Motion control
  • Stabilisers
  • Arch support
  • Any scientific word you have to look up in a dictionary

Currently there are only a few shoes in the market that will meet all criteria (such as the VivoBarefoot Aqua Lite, Breezy Lite and Evo III models. The VivoBarefoot Breatho and Neo Trail and the Inov-8 Bare-X 180 and the Merrell Trail-Glove come very close). We expect the market will soon serve a wide range of fully suitable options as shoe manufacturers are beginning to service the growing need for shoes that allow for natural running.

More information on barefoot/natural running shoes

  • A great page with more information on this topic is available at the minimalist running store “Two Rivers Treads“.
  • For more information on how to run natural – join our “Run injury free” workshops with renowned expert Tony Riddle. Without education, the shoes are worthless
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