Nike Free and Barefoot Running

I have recently been reading up on the idea of barefoot running. It seems as if lately it has become more of a conversation topic in the running world. The idea of barefoot running takes us back hundreds of years to when our ancestors ran without any type of shoe on their feet. As we evolved, many still ran with minimal support on their feet and often only wore sandals or moccasins. The modern running shoe wasn’t even invented until 1970! Today we only know thick soled shoes that offer a great amount of support. We are told that these shoes will keep us injury free, but is that really true? Studies have shown that barefoot running actually decreases injuries as it takes us back to the way we were born to run.

If you watch a young child run you will notice that they run on the balls of their feet. This is actually the way we are supposed to run. We start out as children running correctly and then our feet are shoved into “proper” running shoes and we lose that technique. After years of only wearing thick cushioned shoes, we begin to strike our heels as we run. Heel striking, which can occur around 1,000 times per mile, sends a shock of force from our heel, up our leg and into our backs. Barefoot runners point their toes as they land and spring off the balls of their feet instead, avoiding the constant heel collision. Using this technique will also help keep you moving forward into your strides versus slowing you down every time your heel strikes the ground.

I have been desperately needing new running shoes, but have been trying to hold off until I read more about barefoot running to decide if I wanted to go that route or not. After trying on a couple different pairs I finally decided to buy the Nike Free 5.0 running shoe. My decision came down to the Nike Free and the Vibrams. I wasn’t ready to give up all of my support in a shoe so I went with the Nike Free. The Vibram Five Fingers are a really cool shoe though and I definitely would like to get a pair to try running. However, when it comes to spending 80-100 dollars on a pair of shoes, I wanted the best bang for my buck. I knew I would get more immediate use out of the 5.0s as there is less of a learning curve. Nike Frees offer the barefoot-like experience while also giving you extra traction and just enough support to aid stability while running.

The shoe itself is a completely flexible and lightweight shoe that allows your foot to move in its natural way without restriction. This will cause your gait to change as you run. Because of this it is extremely important to start slowly and work your way up into your mileage. It is recommended to go out for no more than one mile at first and gradually build from there. The reasoning for this is you will be using different muscles in your feet and legs that you are not used to using. It will take some time to build and strengthen these new muscles, so starting slowly is greatly advised. I have had my Frees for a week now and am only running 1.5 miles at a time. So far I really like the shoe and can definitely tell a difference in my stride as I run. The first time I ran in them, the balls of my feet were a little sore and I only ran for one mile. I am going to try to increase by ½ mile every week, but I will let my body tell me if that is too much.

Barefoot running isn’t for everyone, but if you are a distance runner, consider this not-so-new technique the next time you go to lace up.

7 thoughts on “Nike Free and Barefoot Running

  1. good post. very informative and really well-written. i’ve been barefoot running since march of this year, and it’s taken some time to get used to — but i love it.

    i do disagree, however, about the nike frees being barefoot running (or even similar to barefoot running). i’ll preface by admitting i’ve never done more than try on a pair. but the heel cushioning is much thicker than the cushioning in the front of the shoe. that means you have to stretch and “over-straighten” your foot at the ankle in order to strike first with your fore/mid-foot. that extra bit of cushioning makes true barefoot running form impossible. it may very well be closer than “regular” running shoes, but i can’t imagine that it’s much closer.

    also, i wonder about the toe-box in the frees — whether or not it’s big enough to allow the toes to splay as your foot “feels” its way into each step. those two things — running without a raised heel and with the ability to splay toes — seem to be the very core of barefoot running.

    i hope i’m not coming across as rude; just came across your blog while searching for some barefoot advice, and thought i’d throw in my two cents…

    • Thanks for the comment. I do agree with you that the Nike Frees do not give the full effect of barefoot running, but it is closer than regular running shoes. I can tell a difference when I run in them versus running in my shoes that I normally wear. As far as the toe-box, you are right. The Nike Frees don’t allow for the toes to splay as they normally would if you were barefoot running.

      I appreciate the comment. I didn’t think I was ready to go completely barefoot, or wear the Vibrams (however I am still really wanting a pair) and go right into the barefoot running. However I could see that if I were going to retrain myself to run properly, then I should go all in with the proper barefoot running shoe. I was still wanting a little more on the bottom of my feet due to running in the city where it’s more likely I will step on glass or something. I guess I was a little worried about how much protection the Vibrams offered. Do you wear any shoe or are you completely barefoot when you run?

  2. well, i live in rural tanzania, and the terrain i run on varies from day to day. when i go up the small mountains here in town, it’s on razor-sharp rocks. all but one road in town is dirt, but some have jagged rock in them, others pebbles, and some are really comfortable (but hard) sand. i say all of that to explain why i’m going about this barefoot thing incorrectly…

    i run most days with water shoes on — or aqua socks, whatever you call those things. and when i get to stretches without sharp rocks, i take them off and carry them while i run.

    from what i read, serious barefooters say that’s a bad way to get the benefits of barefoot running, because you never really force yourself into a full barefoot form (which involves softening your landings a lot). but i (like you, it seems) just don’t think it’s practical for me to do otherwise.

    so i tried (after running 3 or 4 days completely barefoot) some racing flats i had, thinking that would be close to barefoot form — they were really different. the toebox felt tiny and even the 1/2 inch sole at the heel made my toes have to over-reach a lot. i wore sandals for a while, and they were okay, but i thought i might could do better. i thought about cheap socks, and just replacing them often — decided against. so i had someone ship me a couple of different pairs of water shoes. the ones that have worked the best so far are made by cudas, and are called flatwaters. they have a big toebox (are made kind of like keen shoes) and not too much padding on the bottom. i’ve probably run 100 miles in the pair i’m using now, and they’ve not started coming apart yet. and they cost me about $20 retail price.

    i’d like to try the vibram 5s, but i’m not willing to drop that much cash without being able to try them on — and (once again) i live in tanzania. when i go home to visit in august 2011, i’ll probably pick up a pair. sometime in the next few weeks i intend to try and make some huarache sandals to try and run in. i’ll find the link i saved on my computer somewhere, and send it to you when i do…

    i’ve given you a super long answer, and i’m no expert by any means. but i hope it helps. have you always been a runner?


      have you read the book, ‘born to run?’ it’s a pretty good read and presents a lot of information about barefoot running. it also supports the premise that human beings are built to run distance — to the point that we can run most animals to death. it’s written by focusing on a group of indians living in the mountains of mexico, and even covers some diet and nutrition information. i feel like you’d enjoy it; maybe give it a try.

      • Thanks so much for all the information. The barefoot running thing is new to me so I appreciate any tips and suggestions. I never thought about trying water shoes, but I could see how those would work well. I looked into the link for the huaraches you sent and they look really cool and super easy to make. My only worry is that the cord would rub on your foot, but maybe not with the right material.

        As far as the book, Born to Run, I have not actually read it yet, but have it on my list of must reads. Right now I am reading a book called Chi Running, which is really interesting. I have heard so much about the Born to Run book, however, and definitely am interested in reading it for myself to learn a little more about barefoot running. I have ran off and on throughout my life, but I have just gotten into races within the past three years. I am all for using the proper technique in any sport to avoid injury so if barefoot running really is the way to go then I am interested in learning as much as I can. I have dealt with a few minor injuries and shin splints in the past so I know how much it can set you back in your running or training. Thanks again for all the info! Good luck to you!

  3. I’m not a distance runner, but I do make a good 4-mile trek with the dog about 5x per week and have felt a change in nearly every sector of my fitness-related comfort since using the Vibrams. My chosen workout regimen is Olympic lifting/Crossfit and the Vibram shoes have been amazing, even with the high-impact sectors of Crossfit. Your blog popped up as a “possibly related” post after I blogged about a 12-hour day on my feet in NYC with the Vibrams – the day went extremely well. I have, however, been looking for a shoe that was close to the foot-feel of Vibrams but that would eliminate the funny looks and questions on those days when I just don’t have time to deal with them. I’ll try the Nike Free.

    Chris McDougall, the author of Born To Run, is doing a “barefoot not required” run in NYC on August 11. Should be pretty cool.

    • Awesome, thanks for the link! Also, yeah the Nike Frees definitely won’t get you the looks and questions like the Vibrams do, but so far I like mine. Since you are used to running in the Vibrams, I would try to go with the Nike Free 3.0, which is their lowest level of support shoe.

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