Running barefoot or with shoes?

Posted: Wednesday, 16 May 2012 by Strength&Nutrition24/7 in Labels: , , ,

Written by Martin Ng

Running barefoot has recently become increasingly popular.  In the United States, there is a Barefoot Runners Society consisting of 2000 international members and growing.  Some believe that barefoot running decreases injuries compared to shod (wearing shoes) running, but is this really the case?

  • Barefoot: Mid-foot strike to fore-foot strike pattern
  • Shod: Rear-foot heel strike pattern

Barefoot running has shorter ground contact time, flight time, and stride duration but increased stride frequency.  Furthermore, this increased frequency reduces the vertical center of mass velocity and thus reduces the impact load on body.  However, the flatter foot style of the running barefoot causes a larger impact on the knees and ankles because of a higher range of motion at the ankles which may lead to potential injuries near the ankle.  Another difference is that barefoot running has increased position detection of the foot due to direct contact.  When running barefoot, the sensory feedback of the sole activates muscle contractions which assist on absorbing the force on impact; the shoe support helps absorb this impact in shod running.  Basically, running barefoot can cause an over exertion of the lower leg muscles and the lower back.  On a positive note though, running barefoot is more efficient than running with shoes; heart rate and oxygen cost has been found to be lower.

Although the impact load on the body is lower in barefoot running with its decreased heart rate and oxygen costs, it comes at a cost.  The strain on the body is shifted towards the lower leg and the lower back which can cause potential injuries.  Furthermore, there is a loss of traction, stabilization, protection and shock distribution compared to shod running.

Rothschild, C. 2012. Running Barefoot or in Minimalist Shoes: Evidence or Conjecture? Strength and Conditioning Journal 34 (2): 8-17