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The Barefoot Running Debate: Who’s Right?

Athletic shoes have evolved over the course of time. Think about it, we went from The Oregon Waffle to Air Jordan’s to Adidas shoes. There are shoes specifically designed for weightlifting, tennis, running and any other athletic activity you can think of. Now, there are shoes such as the Vibram Five and the Adidas AdiPURE Barefoot.

We have come full circle in regards to toe shoes. This has now led us to the running barefoot or almost barefoot craze. Many people wonder whether they should give running barefoot a try or should they use shoes.

There are a number of pros and cons when it comes to barefoot vs shod. First, it’s a good idea to look at some of the research out there, especially research of running economy and safety. Running speed and oxygen consumption is important to look at too.

Hanson, ET AL, released a recent study that revealed that greater rates of oxygen consumption is required when it comes to running shod than it does running barefoot. It was reported that running shod on a treadmill required 2.0% greater VO2 than running barefoot. The different is quite significant, and it’s consistent with the information that’s already out there.

Out of seven studies, only two of them compared running shod and barefoot on treadmills found a big difference in VO2. It’s worth noting that one of the parts of the Hanson study compared barefoot running and shod over-ground. The results revealed that running shod was 5.7% greater than running barefoot, and this was the biggest difference in VO2 that has ever been reported in regards to shod running vs barefoot running.

Squadrone and Gallozzi released a study and some interesting facts were discovered. One fact that is ground contact time was shorter for barefoot running. Stride length was lower for barefoot running and stride frequency was a lot higher while barefoot running.

In another study, 35 subjects was used to compare shod vs barefoot running. The subjects took part in two rounds of 4 minutes at almost 11-feet per second on a treadmill. When compared to shod, barefoot running resulted in lower contact, lower passive peak force, higher pushing impulses and higher pre-activation of the subject’s calf muscles.

The conclusion was that when a sufficient number of steps are performed, running barefoot led to a reduction of impact peak to help reduce the stress that occurred during repetitive steps. This may improve the storage of elastic energy located in your ankles. It may also enhance your ankle’s elastic energy.

Liberman ET AL discovered that runners who run barefoot on a consistent basis tend to land on their forefoot before their heels are brought down. However, they sometimes land on the ground with a flat foot. Meanwhile, shod runners often land on their heels first, but modern running shoes have cushion in the heel part.

Other types of running reveal that barefoot runners don’t generate as much collisions forced than shoe-wearing runners that strike with their heels. These types of running include traditional running, endurance sports and ultra-running. One of the key differences is a plantar-flexed foot during the landing phase and during the impact phase, there is more ankle compliance, which means when the feet connect with the ground, the body’s effective mass is decreased. When more people ran barefoot, running gaits were likely far more common, and this may have helped them avoid injuries that are quite common among runners today.

There are many claims out there that say running shoes can prevent injuries, but researchers at Newcastle University found no scientific evidence to back such claims. They also found that there was no research that had been published that showed running shoes can control how much of a runner’s foot is rolled in, nor do shoes that have elevated cushioned heels do anything to prevent injuries from occurring. Some running shoes are designed to make runners land on their heel, which is not natural and this may lead to ankle strains or other related injuries.

So, what are the benefits of running barefoot? What are about the cons? Read on to find out and then you can decide if you should do it or not.

The Potential Benefits

  • Barefoot running may help strengthen ligaments in the foot, as well as strengthen tendons and muscles, which allows a person to develop a gait that is more natural. Another potential benefit is the Achilles tendon will be strengthened and stretched. The calf muscle too, and this may help reduce injuries.
  • Runners will learn how to not land on their heel and instead, land on the forefoot. The heel strike was born out of excessive padding found in running shoes. However, research has indicated that this isn’t actually the best natural running stride because braking can be caused on every single stride that the runner takes. The best way to land is mid-foot and strides should be kept fluid and smooth.
  • Running barefoot may help your arches act like shock absorbers. Not only that, but smaller muscles in your feet are used, and so are muscles in your hips, ankles and legs, which can create better coordination. Your balance can improve when you run barefoot and it helps you to connect with your environment.

Potential Negatives

  • You need to get used to running barefooted. In fact, it takes most people awhile to adapt to it. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only thing you should be concerned about when you run barefoot. If you experience no pain in your feet or have any known issues, then reconsider running barefoot, just to be on the safe side.
  • Wearing shoes protect your feet from debris on the ground. When you don’t wear shoes, then you could go right over thorns, glass, nails and rocks. Not only that, but shoes provide your feet with insulation during cold days and evenings.
  • Your muscles will feel overworked at first because you are probably not used to running with no shoes or shoes that are considered minimalist. This may lead to you injuring your straining your muscles. This is because you won’t be running the same as you would if you wore running shoes.
  • Most people’s feet are soft at the bottom. This may cause pain in that area while you are running. You may find yourself at greater risk of plantar fascitis if you run barefoot.

It’s important to use a minimal shoe before you decide to run barefoot. If you decide to go barefoot, then you could end up with blisters that don’t go away for weeks on end. Calluses may be form too.

So, is running barefoot better than running shod? This may be a matter of opinion. If you decide to run barefoot, just take things slow and take time to adapt to it.

February 5, 2017

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