Back to Blog
What to consider, when choosing Running Shoes or Barefoot

Running Shoes or Barefoot: What should You choose?

feet healthy runner training smarts Jan 29, 2024

If there is one thing I’ve learned from posting about running on social media over the years, it’s that runners LOVE to talk about their shoes (gear in general, but shoes in particular). When it comes to shoes, it feels like runners have become a house divided.

“Born to Run” inspired this new wave of barefoot/ minimalist runners, who believe we need just to let the foot do it’s thing with running and supportive shoes are the cause of running injuries.

On the other end of the spectrum, we still have the die-hard, “where supportive shoes all the time” runners that believe the right shoe is going to fix all their running issues.

I tend to fall more in the middle. For me, it’s more about understanding the benefits of each and applying it to what YOUR body needs.

Running Shoes or Barefoot: Data, not dogma: 

Let’s look at some criterion that makes a good shoe and then answer some of the questions I typically get about shoes in general.

1-The shoe should be immediately comfortable and not feel like you need to "break them in.

2-  The shoe should be wide enough for your foot and toes to spread (an important part of true pronation).

One way to check on this is to take the insert out of your shoe and stand on it. If your foot spills over the edge of the sole insert the foot likely doesn’t not have the room to spread that it needs

3 - The shoe should be just "enough" to protect/support the foot and not so much that the foot can't do its job. You should be able to sense your whole foot as you walk - heel, arch, forefoot, and big toe - on both feet.

Things that might also be important based on your feet and needs for support:

4 - The shoe should bend easily at the toe box, not just in the middle of the shoe. This helps create stability at the toe off where you want big toe extension with the foot acting as a rigid lever to push off of using the windlass mechanism.

5 - The shoe should have a solid heel counter. This helps the heel rock forward into pronation. How do you know you have a good heel counter? When you push down on the back of the shoe you don't want it to cave in easily.

You might be wondering, “what about heel drop?”

There’s no one size fits all answer for that. For some people, a higher heel drop may be called for (some with Achilles tendon issues, for example). In other cases, for other people, a lower drop might help to run with a more natural stride.

If you are wanting to transition to a smaller heel drop, make small incremental changes. Start with half the distance of your current shoe drop at most and continue to acclimate from there. Do not make huge sweeping changes to your shoes especially if you are in the middle of a high-volume training cycle.

It's also perfectly acceptable and often recommended to have different shoes with different levels of cushion and support for different types of workout days (strength, short/easy, track, tempo, long, trail, etc.).

These are my most common questions regarding shoes:

Q. Should I be doing my strength workout barefoot or with shoes?

It depends. I like to have you do at least some of the strength work without shoes in the Women’s Running Academy because some of the exercises are specifically designed to get your feet sensing the ground and moving with the rest of the body. However, some people may need more support. Especially when doing the more dynamic plyos or higher volume work. 

Q. Should I be wearing my Brooks Ghost with more support or do you like the Altra’s with the wide toe box? (sub any shoe comparison here)

It depends. It’s not about the shoe as much as it is how your feet move in the shoe and how your body moves over the foot. For everyone this is different.

Ultimately, we want a shoe that offers a balance of support where needed without interfering with the foot's ability to move through pronation and supination (remember this is a big part of that rotation piece we are always talking about).

I think the Ghost (and any other more supportive shoe you can think) of have their merits especially when it comes to having a solid heel counter which may be needed for a lot of people to help support the movement of the foot into true pronation. 

Check out the picture under the heel counter (criterion 5 above). See how the Ghost, on the left, stays rigid when I push on the back? The Altra Rivera, in the middle, gave in all the way. The Altra Paradigm, on the right, gives quite a bit more than the Ghost but does have a little bit more rigidity to it. This may or may not be important for your foot and overall movement. It depends.

All that being said, I really do love Altras for their wide, foot-shaped toe box. The Paradigm is my go-to for a short easy run. While the heel counter isn’t the best, they have a little extra support for sensory awareness in the arch at the front of the heel which also helps the foot move into true pronation from the other side.

We can go back and forth like this between any two shoes really. There are so many different trade-offs. It really does depend.

Q. What shoes are best for someone with over-pronated, “flat feet?” Or what shoes are best for someone with more supinated feet and high arches?

It depends (yes again). Not about how feet look, but how feet move. A foot that appears to be very flat might still move well into pronation and supination. A foot that has high arches might still move well into pronation and supination. Pronation and supination are action words and helping those actions to happen efficiently as we move is about a lot more than your shoes.


Did you find it annoying that I just kept saying “It depends?”

Here’s the thing, running shoes are a very personal decision. Part of that is what YOU are comfortable in (the most important part), part is how your foot moves in the shoe and the last part is how your body moves over the foot in the shoe. 

Foot pain, plantar fasciitis included, stems from deficits in strength and mobility in the feet, ankles, and likely hips (ahem, you know that rotation thing I’m always talking about?), all of which ties back to your posture (or that stack I’m always talking about).

Supportive footwear can help you feel better in the moment and help prevent additional stress on the system, but I don’t believe we should stop there. What could you gain if we looked at our feet and their connection to the whole body instead of just always putting them in shoes and telling them to STFU?

Click here to see how the whole body relates to foot and ankle health.


The full-body connection means I need to see you move to help you answer any of the questions above with more than “it depends!”

That’s why in the Women’s Running Academy we take the time to get to know your body, head to toe, first. The assessments we do in the first 6 weeks of the Women’s Running Academy Mentorship help me to help you answer these questions. In Week 6 we spend the whole time getting to know your feet specifically.

I love getting new running shoes as much as the next runner (especially if they come in fun colors) but to me, it’s more about understanding what the foot (and the rest of the body are doing) first. Then yes, a shoe can help offer the support you need.

Understanding the needs of your unique body in the context of the demands of running is pretty much the whole point of the Women’s Running Academy Mentorship. By the end, we won’t be saying it depends, we’ll have a clear plan of action to support YOUR body as best as possible.

Click here to get on the waitlist for Round 6 of the Women’s Running Academy now.


The waitlist closes Friday, February 2nd.

Don't miss a thing!

Join the community, be the first to know about what's coming up, and get even more great content!

Sign Up For My Email List