Treadmill Barefoot Vs Shoes: Which One is More Effective?

Some gyms don't allow people to run on the treadmill without shoes, so you have never tried it. But now that you have bought a new treadmill and there are no rules, I suppose you are battling to choose between running on the treadmill barefoot vs shoes.

The perpetual debate of whether one should run barefoot on the treadmill or with shoes keeps hitting new strides. The reason is that recent research from both sides keeps propagating and inventing better ways of running.

But you probably don't have time to glance through mountains of research to decide how to run on your treadmill. So if you are looking for a quick answer, read on to understand the potential benefits or harm of running barefoot on your treadmill at home.

What are the Benefits of Treadmill Barefoot Running?

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There are many reasons why you should run barefoot on your treadmill. Many people are beginning to realize why this natural running form is better than wearing shoes.

1. Strong Leg Muscles

Shoes offer your feet more support than walking barefoot. Without shoes, your legs and feet work extra to compensate, resulting in strong calves, muscles, ankles, and feet.

Over time, you will gain more coordination and balance by running barefoot because you are more concentrated on your footing. In addition, there are no shoes to rely on.

Strong calves and muscles are incentives to hit the treadmill barefoot.

2. Efficient Running

Since the discovery of shoes, many people assume that running with them is the best form of running. It's true because they provide comfort and safety.

However, as athletes are looking for more efficient ways to run, barefoot running is emerging as the more viable option. For efficient running, a smooth stride determines the outcome.

One is more likely to land on the forefoot or midfoot than on their heels when wearing shoes. Therefore, the chances of having a smoother stride are higher.

Here is why;

The heel strike form of running directly results from shoe padding, which can alter how people run, affecting their natural stride. As a result, every stride generates unnecessary braking, albeit small when you land on your heel.

To become an efficient runner, it's important to land on your midfoot as this keeps your strides fluid and smooth. The fore-foot landing is also efficient as it makes your arches the foot's natural shock absorber.

Running without shoes eliminates the heel lift, and this can strengthen and stretch your calf muscles and Achilles tendon. As a result, you may steer clear of popular injuries like Achilles tendinitis or calf strains.

Shorter strides also lead to an efficient running style. For example, when running barefoot, you tend to have shorter strides than when running with shoes.

3. Improved Coordination and Balance

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Shoes prevent your feet from having direct contact with the ground, which is shoes' intended purpose. But without direct contact, there's no feedback to help the brain understand the ground so that it can adjust the body positioning.

Running barefoot reduces injury risks and enables you to adopt a natural running stride with fewer impacts on your joints.

4. Improved Memory

Can running barefoot improve memory?

According to a publication in 2016, there's up to a 16% increase in working memory when runners run barefoot. However, the study also shows no significant increase in working memory when a person is running with shoes.

The argument here is that a person pays more attention to his surroundings when running barefoot than when running with shoes. It's this awareness that leads to increased memory function.

Additionally, when running barefoot, brain activity is high on the part of the brain associated with learning and memory. Therefore, it's encouraged to run barefoot if you want to boost your cognitive and memory functions.

5. Running Economy

All pro athletes understand why the running Economy is important because it determines the use of oxygen while on the road. Running Economy covers more of physiology and biomechanics than energy and stamina levels.

While this may sound technical, running Economy is what determines how you perform on the trail. The better you can manage your running Economy, the longer you can run.

A 2013 practical study of runners shows that running barefoot makes runners use less oxygen when on the treadmill compared to runners with shoes at matching speeds. However, the study also points out that running barefoot enables runners to convert their metabolic energy into mechanical energy, which results in a higher running economy.

6. Reduced Contact Time

Contact time is when it takes your foot to stay on the ground before you lift them for another stride. The shorter the contact time, the faster you move and vice versa.

When running competitively, you want to have reduced contact time as possible as this will improve your performance and speed.

How does running with shoes affect contact time?

In a 2014 publication, there was a study to compare the contact time between athletes running with shoes and those barefoot. The researchers evaluated the different stride patterns of the runners and concluded that running barefoot resulted in faster strides.

The reason was that they had lower contact time than the runners with shoes on. 

Why Should I Wear Shoes When Treadmill Running?

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Now that you know the benefits of running barefoot on your treadmill, it's time to understand why shoes are important for running. Barefoot running can stir a shock to your legs, and that's why there's an adaptation phase before making this drastic change.

These are the potential risks you can encounter


Wearing shoes for outdoor running reduces the dangers of getting abrasions and cuts from hostile terrain. But running on the treadmill has no such risks, yet some people will insist that you wear shoes.


The concern is that the treadmill belt can get hot after running on it for a long time, and you might risk burning your feet.

But the ever-increasing body of evidence inclines toward running shoes causing more harm than running barefoot. This is because shoes change how a person runs, making the foot grow weak and susceptible to sports-related injuries.

Another sports medical journal study compares the injury risks of runners with shoes and those running barefoot. The results show that running barefoot may lead to calf and plantar surface injuries.

But running with shoes on may lead to knee and hip injuries. So what the study reveals is that no matter the option you choose, you still risk getting an injury through running but in different parts of the body.

Muscle Strain

Barefoot running can cause stress on your sole muscles because the heels aren't getting worked. If the stress continues, the tendons and muscles become overworked and stiff.

Also, when you don't wear shoes, you don't support your heels when running, which can lead to heel discomfort and pain. When running barefoot on a treadmill, it's important to care for your feet and take regular breaks whenever you feel like they are straining.

Alternatives to Barefoot Running

Going Minimal

In recent years, stakeholders have been trying to find a bridge between running barefoot and shoes. The idea is to create a minimalist shoe that protects your feet yet still makes you run as if you are barefoot.

Minimalist shoes are different from traditional shoes because they take the shape of your foot and have no heels. Because they are low and have thin cushioning, this prompts the stride to increase while keeping your feet sensitive to the trail.

Today, you can find minimalist shoes from various manufacturers for different sports, including cross-training, running, yoga, CrossFit, and weightlifting. In addition, these shoes come in various shapes and sizes for both men and women.

If you opt for minimalist shoes, choose the one that fits you right and comfortably adapts to your foot shape. Consider all arch height and other foot characteristics that might impede your running.


You will always find experts that find treadmill barefoot running beneficial. The arguments are that shoes weaken calf and foot muscles by inhibiting ligaments, high arches, and tendons from performing effectively.

The belief is that shoes have supportive inserts, cushioning, and orthotics that mess with your foot biomechanics, increasing the chances of the knee, leg, and foot injuries.

But pro shoe enthusiasts argue that shoes can correct foot biomechanical complications, thereby preventing injuries. Moreover, they insist that if running barefoot was a solution to people experiencing various foot pains, podiatrists would never recommend orthotics.

There's no simple solution to addressing foot pains; until we know more, it's still a challenge to know whether it's best to run on the treadmill barefoot vs shoes.


1. Is it better to run with shoes or barefoot on a treadmill?

There are plenty of benefits of walking barefoot on a treadmill. However, if you are new to it, take it slow to give your body time to adapt.

2. Is it OK to go barefoot on a treadmill?

Yes. Depending on where you are working out. Some gyms don't allow members to run barefoot on the treadmills, while others consent to it.

3. What type of shoes to wear on the treadmill?

Always wear comfortable shoes to prevent the risk of aggravating already existing or incurring new injuries.

4. Is it OK to exercise without shoes?

It depends on the kind of exercise you are undertaking. It's dangerous to walk around the gym without shoes.

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