Before there were shoes, there was barefoot running. Elite runners have incorporated this type of running into their training for decades. But it wasn't until about 12 years ago, in 2004, with the introduction of the first Nike Free, that the concept started to make its way into the mainstream.
While out performing running field research two years earlier, Nike designers spoke with Stanford track coach Vin Lananna, who attributed his men's team's success (they won the 2002 NCAA Outdoor Championship), in part, to training barefoot on the grass. He claimed it made the athletes stronger and helped prevent injuries.
"Running without shoes on changes up your activation patterns, making you stronger from the ground up. You'll have improved hip function, more gluteus maximus activation, a better range of motion at the ankle and greater involvement from all of the supporting muscles/joints in your lower body," says Nike Performance Council Member Lance Walker, MS, PT, global performance director at Michael Johnson Performance. "Going barefoot can also shrink your stride length by about 3 percent, which increases running economy and efficiency."
But running barefoot does not come without risks. So the question for Nike quickly became, how could they bring the potential benefits of "barefoot" running to the masses, without actually telling them to take their shoes off? To find the answer, the company launched a biomechanical research project of its own, analyzing the pressure and movement patterns of 20 men and women running barefoot in the grass. The conclusion from designer Tobie Hatfield was that they should create a shoe that was lighter, more flexible, with a lower heel-to-toe drop, that would encourage a more natural running stride, which ultimately turned into the first Nike Free 5.0 — a style that fell right in between their most stable shoe (10.0) and barefoot (0).
Over the years, the concept of barefoot/minimalist running has totally changed. Barefoot is no longer considered the answer. With a growing amount of research showing that athletes perform their best when running the way they're individually meant to, Nike has been able to fine-tune its designs to better mimic the experience of natural motion, creating shoes that also help make you stronger as you stride by putting your foot back in control, rather than simply taking control of your foot. The newest version of Nike Free technology ("Run Strong") has a unique, dynamically flexible outsole that expands and contracts with your foot while you run, successfully acknowledging that every runner's stride is their own.
"The majority of our 'natural run' training is done with lower volume and higher intensity," says Walker. "For us, it's all about exposing athletes to elements of 0 —or close to it— on a weekly basis, then gradually working it into their training more. That way, when they put their shoes back on, they may be able to use them better, be stronger, and run more efficiently."


Nike Free was originally created to offer athletes the benefits of natural running (ie, better range of motion, increased efficiency, etc.) without making them take their shoes off.
The newest version of Nike Free technology puts your foot in control, rather than taking control of your foot. It has a dynamically flexible outsole that expands and contracts with your foot while you run.
Transition into natural running gradually, decreasing support and increasing mileage slowly. Your body has to adapt to this type of training and will become stronger one step at a time.


For a more natural running experience, check out the dynamically flexible Nike Natural Motion footwear, which expands and contracts just like your foot.