How many are doing ‘barefoot’ or ‘minimalism’ running?

I really don’t know and can find no data on the numbers.

Judging by what is online there is an extraordinary presence of ‘barefoot’ and ‘minimalism’ running; there are literally 100’s of blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, books, eBooks, YouTube Videos, courses etc promoting it and talking about it everywhere you go online. “Barefoot’ and ‘minimalism’ running have been widely promoted in a wide range of media over many years now. You certainly get the impression from this that so many are doing it and that minimalism running shoes are the only shoes that are being sold, but out in the real world where are they?

Anecdotaly, I have only ever seen ONE barefoot runner in the last few years while out on a run. I take part each year in the Run for the Kids, with 30 000 participants and while I obviously did not get to see them all, I do keep my eyes open. At that run I have never came across anyone running barefoot and only usually come across a couple of Vibrams and one year there was a Merell Glove! I assume that there were probably more, but in the sampling of runners I observed that was all I came across over several years. I also recently took part in the 3 race, Brooks Sunset Series. Due to the nature of the course I did get to see pretty much everyone. In the 3 three runs, I only came across one Vibram wearer, no barefoot and no other minimalist shoes. I even got lapped by the better runners; they all went past me heel striking!

I am the first to admit that anecdotes are not data, but there certainly seems to be a dissonance between what I see online and what I see out on the road! Is most of this not really happening and it is just as some have described as something happening virtually online. The social media presence appears to be out of proportion to what is happening in the real world.

If you look as the Google search treads for ‘barefoot running’, there certainly has been a huge delince in interest in it since a peak in mid-2010:
Its the same for ‘minimalism running’, which has dropped away to almost nothing after peaking in mid 2012.

Also the same with Vibram Five Fingers:

From this it certainly appears that interest in ‘barefoot’ and ‘minimalism’ running is declining from its peak.

What about market share for ‘minimalism’ footwear?
According to a statement in Wikipedia:

Sales of minimalist running shoes grew from $450,000 in 2006 to $59 million in 2012, and grew 303% from November 2010 through November 2012, compared to a 19% increase in the overall sales of running shoes during the same time period.

That 303% increase over two years to the end of 2012 was impressive, but its was still only a 10-12% share of the running shoe market and as the whole market grew by 19%, it was not really impacting on the sales of the more traditional motion controlling and cushioning running shoes that were predicted by some loons as going to be put out of business. If you take out the Nike Free, which most are not used for running from that 10-12%, the share of the running shoes market for minimalism running shoes is only around 4-6% and it has been steady at that for a while now and not growing, so its not taking over the world as predicted by the fan boys. Chapter 9 in the book I reviewed: The Runners World Complete Guide to Minimalism and Barefoot Running has more information on the marketshare topic. Industry experts certainly do not see it going beyond that small 4-6% of the market, and there are a lot of companies fighting over that small market.

The industry publication for specificity running shoes stores, Running Insight, produced data that is somewhat consistent with this:


From that it appears runners are familiar with it, but most just don’t want to do it, with only 4-7% using minimalist shoes often. This data is from those runners who use the specialty stores. Most runners do not buy from these, instead use the larger non-specialty shoe stores, so this data is probably skewed toward the more serious runner.

This trend/movement has been going for a number years. Its certainly does not appear to being very widely adopted:

  • anecdotally, I not seeing runners doing it when out running
  • the Google search trends are showing a declining interest
  • the marketshare of minimalism shoes is small and not growing

I recall a joke I heard somewhere:

Q: How many runners wearing Vibram FiveFingers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: 100. One to actually change it and 99 to write online somewhere what a positive experience it was.

While this is a joke, it does represent the extraordinary presence that those who do barefoot or minimalism running have online. They are always writing about, commenting on blogs and in forums etc, which is giving the appearance that this movement is probably bigger, more pervasive and more influential than it really is. Most traditionally shod runners do not appear to be posting online as much! Even all the positive headlines in the more traditional media from years ago have been replaced with more negative headlines recently (even though the evidence never supported either!). I commented on that here.

None of this means that there is anything wrong with barefoot or minimalism running. It just means not many people are doing it and there is an apparent drop off in interest in doing it. The traditional running shoe companies have not gone out of business; those who treat running injuries are busier than ever thanks to all this – remember all the predictions years ago about all this going to put people out of business. Well, the opposite has happened. There is no evidence that it is better than traditionally shod running (despite all the claims that there is). It has not turned out to be the panacea or one size fits all that the guru’s were promising and their disciples believed. It has its place and uses (I do some of my runs in a minimalist shoe). My only objection to it has always been the misunderstanding, the misquoting, the misusing and misinterpretation of the research and science. For that reason, I always go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise.

POSTSCRIPT: The sales figure for running shoes for the first quarter of 2013 have just been released and showed a decline in sales of minimalist shoes to a marketshare of 4%. All other categories of running shoes increased in sales. More.



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18 Responses to How many are doing ‘barefoot’ or ‘minimalism’ running?

  1. Kevin A. Kirby, DPM April 26, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

    As I said a few years ago, barefoot running is more of a “virtual trend” with far more people talking about it than actually doing it.

    It all ties in my little commentary, written a few years ago, of how people can join “The Barefoot Runner’s Club”:

    Want to Join the Barefoot Running Club??? Here’s all you need to do:

    1. Read the semi-fiction novel “Born to Run” by Chris McDougall that has plenty of mistruths regarding foot and lower extremity function, exercise physiology and running/racing training philosophy and then, after reading the book, get excited to run “naturally” like our ancestors did, while barefoot.

    2. Go onto the internet and read all the fantastic claims of the one in 10,000 runners who run barefoot and believe all of what they say, all of which is basically regurgitated from the mistruths made in the book, “Born to Run”.

    3. Restart your running training back to near zero for about 3-12 months while your feet begin to develop the callouses necessary to run barefoot, or buy the Vibram Fivefinger shoe so you can get an easier ticket into the Barefoot Running Club by looking the part of a barefoot runner, without needing to toughen up your feet and reduce your training mileage drastically initially.

    4. Start spending 3-4 hours a day scouring the internet, posting on internet sites that discuss barefoot running, and posting under your first name with either “barefoot” or “unshod” before your first name. If someone with an advanced degree thinks that barefoot running is not the best thing that has happened to runners in the past few centuries, then be sure not to objectively discuss the valid points that the naysayer makes, but just attack him or her personally.

    5. Run slower than ever in races either barefoot or in the Vibram Fivefinger shoe and, as a result, get increased attention that you are really tougher, smarter and more natural than any of the shod runners ahead of you in the race since you are running like our ancestors did.

    6. Ignore all objectivity regarding how barefoot running could possibly cause more injuries or be less healthy than running in shoes. Be a fanatical zealot and insulate yourself from shod runners who dare to claim that they have run comfortably in shoes and heel striking for the past few decades without injury while they run.

    7. If you get injured while barefoot running, never post to the barefoot runner’s websites to report your injury for fear of being told by the other barefoot running zealots that you weren’t running with the correct form or that you weren’t running “lightly” enough.

    Welcome to the Barefoot Running Club!!

  2. Michael April 28, 2013 at 12:44 am #

    The bubble has certainly burst and the fad is in decline. It was never a trend. The only place that it seems to be being kept alive is, as you say, online. Everywhere else you see signs of it being over or declining.

    I along with 2 friends started out doing it, but we are all now back in our shoes and running just fine.

    I wonder if the 99 Vibram users come along to argue otherwise?

  3. simon bartold May 1, 2013 at 12:57 am #

    Craig.. Paul Fleet looked into the number of barefoot runners in the USA awhile back. He found that there were more Mountain Unicyclists, i.e., people who ride a unicycle up and then DOWN a mountain, than there were barefoot runners. From memory, the % of barefoot runners vs the total running population was 0.05%. A large voice for a very small group. Time for me to saddle up.. I got a hill and I got my unicycle..bye!

  4. Hans May 2, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    At the same time, the somewhat minimal shoes seem to be quite popular, as seen on the list of the best selling shoes, on the other blog post.

  5. Craig May 12, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    SportsOneSource in there latest newsletter on market figures stated:

    “One casualty of the return to more conventional (but lighter weight) shoes has been the Minimalist/Barefoot trend. Net of Nike Free, Minimalist/Barefoot declined in the low teens and represented only about 4% of total Running. It appears this fad is pretty much over.”

    • Mark Richard May 12, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

      Which one?

  6. Mark Richard May 12, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    Has it affected the major brands design decisions/direction?

  7. Craig May 12, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

    “Which one?” – it was in their subscription only email list.

    “Has it affected the major brands design decisions/direction?” – not really that much; some have offered up a minimalist shoes to compete in that tiny market. Motion control and cushioning shoes sales are up 25% in the same quarter that minimalist sales declined. The interest in the maximalist Hoka One One’s is increasing exponentially. The bubble has burst; it was all media and marketing hype; people have realized that there was no science that supported the nonsensical claims. Runners are voting with their feet.

    • Mark Richard May 13, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

      What is it about the NB Minimus you like?

  8. Hans May 13, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

    Regarding the google search graphs, one might not be able to draw many clear conclusions from them, regarding too the real numbers of interest. Firstly, the graphs are not about the real numbers of searches, but about the relative number of searches relative to the total number of searches. And the total number of searches are growing a lot.

    Also, there are many other factors involved as well, such as people as they get more knowledge about at topic perform more complex searches with more word combinations. A short explanation of this with some graphs, from an other but somewhat related field, you might find here,

  9. Craig May 13, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    Agree re the issues with Google trends; but it just one thing in the mix of indicators.

    Its just one of the many ques that people have been commenting on since around late last yr about the decline in interest in barefoot/minimalism. The latest sales figure confirm that decline:

    My real point was the incredible online presence of this, but the lack of it in the real world – the number of people actually doing it are just not there. It was all a virtual phenomenon.

  10. Hans May 14, 2013 at 8:07 pm #

    Yes, I agree. As most novelties, the media interest and coverage is much larger than the real numbers of people actually doing the activity. For instance the guy who parachuted from space, going up in a ballon, got more media coverage than all other parachuters together that year. Deservedly so I would say, but there is no large “trend” of people parachuting from space. But my impression is that the small group of minimalist runners, and even smaller group of barefoot runners are larger now than 5 years ago. But in percentage of total runners not very large.

  11. Mark Richard July 5, 2013 at 11:47 pm #

    A few million in Africa

  12. Bob Budding August 15, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    Anything that gets the mainstream manufacturers to examine their products is fine by me. I’ve had problems with Morton’s Neuromas caused by tears of wearing dress shoes. Yes, they were fit properly, but there’s only so much that can be done with shoes that are not shaped like feet!

    I do own a pair of Vivobarefoot shoes, but I use those for walking only. Running on extremely hard surfaces without any padding does not appeal to me. Yes, me may have evolved without shoes, but we did not eveolve running long distsances on concrete.

    • Craig Payne August 15, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

      How does that explain all the maximally padded shoes that are now coming on the market? ie Hoka, Altra, Transcend, Boost, Fresh Foam etc. Some pundits are already calling 2014, ‘The Year of the Maximalist running shoe’

      A minimalist shoe is probably better for a morton’s neuroma due to the width of the forefoot.

      The point I trying to make above is that there is this extraordinary online/virtual presence of barefoot/minimalism, but out in the real world the numbers are just not there. Runners are voting with their feet.

  13. Bob Budding August 15, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    Not every variation will prove to be beneficial, particularly if they are made without benefit of actual science. So the best that I can hope is that there will be enough variation in offerings that something will work for me. At least some manufacturers are making wider toe boxes!

    I’m enjoyiny your site, but I was educated as a scientist.

    • Craig Payne August 15, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

      I have always been consistent is saying: different running ‘forms’ load different tissues differently. Its never about one form or shoe being better than the other – its the one that loads or offloads the tissues of the individual runners in the most optimal way. ….

      All the most recent research is clear that their is no difference in global injury rates between the different running ‘forms’.

  14. Bob Budding August 16, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    Different forms loading tissues differently makes perfect sense.

    My teenage son is joining his high school cross country team this year so I’ve been looking into the whole barefoot/natural running movement. I saw Lieberman’s web site and I immediately noticed that the peak forces for various strikes was the same. Yes, the little peak for the heal strike was there, but it was smaller than peak force. Additionally the area under the force curves looked identical. So it did seem odd to focus only on the initial impact.

    Back to my son – he’s played basketball for a long time, and he naturally strikes with his mid-foot. So I bought him two pairs of shoes – a traditional Brooks shoe, and an Altra Instinct 1.5 (I have no interest in putting him out to run on concrete with no padding at all). I then advised that he build up miles slowly, and that he should figure out which shoe works best for him. Who knows – maybe alternating might work if he’s able to heel strike with the Brooks shoes. It seems that it would be best to vary tissue loading. But that’s conjecture – I have no data.

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