Ever since Christopher McDougall’s inspiring book Born To Run was published the interest in barefoot and minimalist running has increased. Is it a good idea to run barefoot? I am not so sure. Will it make me a better runner? It could. Would I run barefoot? No.
These are questions I am asked, often.
Here is what the experts say.
Daniel Lieberman (who is quoted in Born To Run) runs the Skeletal Biology Lab at Harvard and publishes studies, but does not endorse barefoot running. If you like graphics, video and data check it out.
It has been proven that running in shoes increases the chances you will be landing heel first by 75 – 80%, while barefoot runners do not heel strike. It would hurt and your heel is not designed to absorb the force. Mid foot and toe first strikers don’t have the impact forces that accompanies landing on your heel. Shoes with a lot of heel padding will change the foot strike pattern and may lead to more injuries – we are not designed to run this way. Heel strikers hit the ground with 1.5-3 times their body weight and if you hit the ground on average 600 times per KM, or 1000 times per mile that is a lot of impact traveling up your leg which can lead to repetitive stress.
People have been running for millions of years, longer than the running shoe has been available – around 1970 – with apparently no ill effects. The modern running shoe makes landing on your heel comfortable by absorbing some of the force while toe first runners are more “compliant” meaning they lower their center of gravity and adjust their leg stiffness based on the surface. It is also thought that perhaps running shoes weaken the muscles of the feet and arch strength leading to other foot problems.
This all sounds great – now I don’t need to buy anymore shoes! Not so fast. Habitually is a word used often in the studies, such as “habitually barefoot versus shod runners” if you regularly run with shoes, orthotics or other devices, suddenly throw them away, go for a run and wake up sore and stiff what were you expecting? You are stressing muscles, tendons and ligaments that are not usually stressed. Changing how you run takes time, practice and patience and can cause a whole new set of problems. Which is why I am not running barefoot – if it ain’t broke…
The media loves a sound bite and science does not say what it doesn’t know, which can lead to some confusion in the general population.
This year at the American College of Sports Medicine Meeting there was research presented that showed barefoot running was more efficient. These runners took 20 seconds off their mile time, however 109 competitive runners studied there were 37 injuries.
Bottom line, not everyone is made for barefoot or minimalist running. Not every surface is safe for barefoot running. And just like everything else you should start slowly, increase gradually and don’t expect miracles.
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