An update on barefoot running

Here on EBL, we’ve written before about the trend of barefoot running and minimalist running shoes. Last week, the American College of Sports Medicine held its annual conference. There, researchers presented five separate studies on the benefits of running barefoot or with minimal footwear.

 

What did the evidence demonstrate? None of the five studies found a physical or economical advantage to running barefoot or with minimal footwear. (The New York Times published a summary of the new evidence.)

The most comprehensive review of the studies – published in the Journal of Applied Physiology – recruited 37 experienced runners for treadmill testing. Seventeen of the runners naturally used a forefoot strike that is promoted when barefoot running. The others used a heel-strike, which is more common when using cushioned running shoes. For both sets of runners, the researchers measured outcomes including oxygen uptake, heart rate and energy expenditure. They found that heel-striking used less oxygen to run at the same pace as forefoot strikers and depleted carbohydrate stores more slowly.

Another study found no change in the arch height (a sign of foot strength) of people who tried barefoot running. And a third study found that nearly a third of runners who experimented with barefoot running suffered injuries that caused them to revert to cushioned running shoes.

What does this new evidence mean, especially in light of previous studies that found running with minimal shoes can save energy and strengthen your foot?   The new studies make it clear: Running form and footwear are a complicated topic and many factors come into play.

Comments

  1. James says:

    Barefoot running will cause more harm than with a good pair of running shoes. More injuries will occur to the barefoot runners on rough terrains. Even on smooth terrain the friction on the foot is many times compared to running with a shoe. I personally won’t advocate barefoot running. Runner must protect their feet.

  2. Ken Schafer says:

    They found no difference because they were asking the wrong questions. It’s not about the shoes or lack thereof, it’s about the technique, and it usually takes weeks of retraining to get any energy savings from improved technique. The muscles and the nervous system need time adapt to changes in technique, and it can’t be done too quickly or there are likely going to be injuries.

    The study with the experience runners, is the only study that offers any compelling evidence that there is no advantage to running economy, but that study also assumes that “experienced runners” already have good technique. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence to support that assumption.

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