Barefoot Running Laced With Health Benefits
Running Barefoot Creates Less Collision Force Than Running in Cushioned Shoes, Study Says
Jan. 27, 2010 -- Running barefoot causes less collision force to the feet
than running in cushioned shoes, a new study says.
Researchers reporting in the Jan. 28 issue of the journal Nature show
that runners who run without shoes usually land on the balls of their feet, or
sometimes flat-footed, compared to runners in shoes, who tend to land on their
Cushioned running shoes, which date back only to the 1970s, may seem
comfortable but may actually contribute to foot injuries, say Daniel Lieberman,
PhD, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, and
The scientists, using motion and force analyses, showed that barefoot
runners who strike on the fore-foot (land on the balls of their feet)
generate smaller collision forces than shod rear-foot strikers.
The researchers say that although there are anecdotal reports of reduced
injuries in barefoot populations, more work is needed to test their view that
either barefoot runners or those with minimal footwear (such as sandals or
moccasins) have reduced injury rates.
Running Barefoot Can Be Comfortable
By running on the balls of the feet or the middle of the foot, runners avoid
more forceful impacts, equivalent to two to three times of body weight, that
shod heel-strikers repeatedly experience.
“People who don’t wear shoes when they run have an astonishingly different
strike,” Lieberman says in a news release. “By landing on the middle or front
of the foot, barefoot runners have almost no impact collision, much less than
most shod runners generate when they heel-strike.
“Most people today think barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but
actually you can run barefoot on the world’s hardest surfaces without the
slightest discomfort and pain.”
He says a few calluses can help runners avoid injuries.
Build Up to Barefoot Running
Lieberman and colleagues analyzed the running styles, or gaits, of five
groups of people -- U.S. adult athletes who had always worn shoes, Kenyan adult
runners who grew up barefoot but now wear cushioned running shoes, U.S. adult
runners who grew up wearing shoes but now run barefoot or with minimal
footwear, Kenyan adolescents who have never worn shoes, and Kenyan adolescents
who have worn shoes for most of their lives.
And they say they found a striking pattern.
Most shod runners, which would encompass 75% or more of Americans,
strike their heels when they run, experiencing a large and sudden collision
force an average of 960 times for every mile they run, “making runners prone to
repetitive stress injuries,” the authors write.
On the other hand, people who run barefoot tend to land with a step toward
the middle or front of the foot, causing less impact force to the foot.
Madhusudhan Venkadesan, PhD, a co-author and researcher in applied
mathematics and human evolutionary biology at Harvard, says in the news release
that heel striking is painful when running barefoot or in minimal shoes
“because it causes a large collisional force each time a foot lands on the
But barefoot runners point their toes more at landing, avoiding the
collision effect by decreasing the “effective mass of the foot that comes to a
sudden stop when you land, and by having a more compliant, or springy leg.”
Modern people have grown up wearing shoes, so running barefoot is something
to be eased into, Lieberman says. Modern running shoes are designed to make
heel-striking easy and comfortable. He suggests runners who want to shed their
shoes do so slowly, to build strength in the calf and foot muscles.