Theoretically we should always run barefoot, but theoretically I once tried to run barefoot on an old lava bed and afterwards my feet were in terrible medical shape.
Without sensory feedback between the sole of the foot and the surface of the ground…the runner may not have the complete neural cueing to convert to a forefoot strike pattern… even the thin rubber outer sole offered some protection to the heel to allow them to land on it.
It wasn’t barefoot running that made the Tarahumara great runners, though. (They wore huaraches.) Form is what matters in running. Barefoot running can help you develop great form, but it’s merely a means to an end. If you like running without shoes, great. If you prefer something on your feet, that’s great too.
Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek and Steve Friedman
It was five months since I discovered W.S. George’s “100-Up,” and I’d been doing the exercise regularly. In George’s essay, he says he invented the 100-Up in 1874, when he was an 16-year-old chemist’s apprentice in England and could train only during his lunch hour. By Year 2 of his experiment, the overworked lab assistant was the fastest amateur miler in England. By Year 5, he held world records in everything from the half-mile to 10 miles.
The Once and Future Way to Run by Christopher McDougall
The goal of the study was to determine how heel striking vs. forefoot striking while running might alter: 1) lower back movement, 2) peak leg acceleration, 3) impact shock attenuation (i.e., how much shock is attenuated from the shin to the head), and 4) subjective comfort.
So no matter what shoe you put on your foot (or leave off your foot), if your technique and posture is poor, you may well still be running heavily and inefficiently.
Better running form is more about feeling than thinking.
A great reminder for me, the king of overthinkers.
This is a great post by Jason Robillard on how how to get started barefoot running. It’s similar to the approach that I’m taking, though I’m spending more time barefoot walking. I’m using that time to recover from an injury and on building up strength and stability.
His more detailed “Start here” post on the Runner’s World barefoot running forum is also worth a read.
Running magazines would lead you to believe that barefoot running
reduces injury risk and potentially maximizes performance. However, it
appears that, as this is a new trend, there is simply insufficient
prospective data to say otherwise.
Rami Hashish, DPT has been doing quite a bit of research into barefoot running. Unlike Daniel Lieberman, who looked at experienced barefoot runners, Hashish has been researching novice barefoot runners.
The article links to a number of papers, not all of which I’ve read, but the conclusion seems to be that barefoot running requires a completely different form to shod running (heel strike vs. fore-or-mid-foot strike). This shifts the demand from the knee to the ankle. Novice barefoot runners will not have a sufficiently developed calf to support this. As a result, many new barefoot runners with injuries including plantar fasciitis, stress fractures and calf pain.
Hashish’s research supports a lot of the anecdotal evidence I’ve been reading and hearing from people who have tried minimal shoes, stuck with their regular training plan and found themselves injured.
My interest in barefoot and minimalist running is to improve my form and avoid injury. Other research I’ve been reading lead me to believe that barefoot and minimalist running will help me do that, so I’m willing to put in the time to cut back on the running and retrain.
His research is a good reminder to that retraining is going to take some time, and that I need to take it slow.
“We have this idea now that all you need to run is a pair of shoes. It’s a common statement, right? Well, it turns out that’s not true. You don’t need shoes. All you need is feet.”
I’ve been researching barefoot running as one way of improving my form. Much of my reading, references Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, which I have yet to read.But there are also a lot of references to the research done on barefoot running by Daniel Lieberman of Harvard.
His hypothesis is that humans evolved over two million years ago to run barefoot when the African forests gave way to the savannahs. Much of the research he’s done seems to support this hypothesis, showing that a forefoot strike—which is much more common among barefoot runners—generates less impact than a heel strike.
The video is a great place to start getting an understanding of how barefoot running could help contribute to an improved running form. The Nature paper he coauthoured is also fascinating, but is much more technical. I had to get to grips with a lot of vocabulary that I hadn’t encountered since studying biology in college.