Running barefoot may reduce your risk of injury, some say. But jogging in freaky rubber socks like the Vibram FiveFingers? Those just boost the chances of strangers heckling you as you prance by.
Why not take a a few steps in Nike’s Free series? These are significantly cooler-looking sneakers that simulate barefoot conditions, which purportedly helps strengthen your feet, without putting your soles at the mercy of cut glass and other hazards.
Since the first model debuted in 2005, Nike has refined the Free design to great effect. For instance, the laces are positioned asymmetrically, which relieves pressure on the top of your foot, and the grooves in the sole are deeper and wider, which forces you to use your toes more. Nike+ has been incorporated into the Frees, meaning you can insert Nike’s iPod-compatible sensor into a special groove in the sole to track your progress, count calories and gauge your workout.
We tested the midrange Nike Free Run+. The company’s earlier models provide even less support (thus are even better at simulating barefoot experience), but unless you’re already an experienced barefoot runner, the Free Run+ is a good place to start.
Your own experience will probably vary, but our feet took to these shoes in only a matter of days. They’re incredibly lightweight and flexible, but provided more than enough cushion to keep our midfoot from getting sore. This example is entirely empirical, but it’s worth noting: We occasionally experience shin splints, but didn’t notice any pains during or after the half-dozen runs we logged in these shoes.
Perhaps wearing a “barefoot shoe” is, in and of itself, a constant reminder to reduce the heel-stomping. After all, you can’t slam your heel down hard without a big wedge of rubber under it, so shoes like the Nike Frees force you more onto your midfoot and toes. Whatever the case, it worked for us.