Barefoot running and use of minimalist shoes have become increasingly popular over the past decade. This is for a variety of reasons but the main reason is to increase the sufficiency and lessen the damage that running can cause on the body. From an anatomical standpoint, when a person runs with shoes, the initial reflex is usually to have the heel strike in front of the rest of the body and to follow through to the toe. This really makes no sense because it is making running very inefficient, heel striking is a motion that would aid in stopping running, not pushing someone more forward. For this reason, running in shoes that have two or three inches of support is extremely detrimental to the joints compared to minimalist shoes or no shoes at all because of the backward angle you are producing and the weakening of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Running barefoot changes ones’ reflexes and adapts the gait pattern to run on the soles of the feet, which ends up aligning the foot much closer with the center of gravity. Another helpful piece of it is that without shoes, one is able to sense pain and the change in environment quickly. Again, helping to adapt gait patterns to make running less painful and more efficient. The physiological benefits may include strengthening of the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which would allow you to develop even a more natural gait pattern, increase your balance, and increase your coordination. Some risks that may occur could be result of running on uneven, hard surfaces that could be painful to touch. Another risk would be that without proper training and learning how to properly run barefoot, an individual may end up injuring themselves by lessening their support too quickly without giving the muscles time to grow stronger.
There can also be psychological benefits to running. In a very recent study studying how barefoot running may affect memory, the main findings supported that participants performed better on a working memory test when running barefoot, compared to shoes. The interesting part of this is, this was only the case when the participants had to step on targets while running. These results went on to suggest that working memory is higher during barefoot running because additional attention is needed when running barefoot in order to avoid dangers, such as stepping on objects that could potentially injure the foot (Alloway, Alloway, Magyari, Floyd, 2016). This is another awesome benefit because you are not only working the body physically but you are also working your mind and training it to also be stronger.
Alloway, R. G., Alloway, T. P., Magyari, P. M., & Floyd, S. (2016). An exploratory study investigating the effects of barefoot running on working memory. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 122(2), 432-443.