January 29, 2010 posted by

Barefoot Running Strikes Back

If you’re a runner, to shod or not to shod is the question of the millennium. Or, at least, how to shod; high tech running shoes or something minimal? The January 28, 2010 edition of Nature provides some of the most compelling info yet. Two articles were published. The first:

Biomechanics: Barefoot running strikes back

Is the more laymen of the two, likely titled as such in response to Denis’ post from a few months ago. Be warned, Nature is a science rag so it’s not like reading People. The second is more eggheadedly titled and gets down to the nitty gritty.

Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners

Both give in depth analysis to various forms of foot strike (RFS [rear foot strike, MFS [mid foot strike], FFS [front foot strike]) and its impact on the body. You’ll need a subscription to Nature to read them, but it’s worth the money if you run. You’ll save the price many times over the next time you don’t have to buy a $150 pair of shoes.

Here’s a summary of the science:

Evidence that barefoot and minimally shod runners avoid RFS strikes with high-impact collisions may have public health implications. The average runner strikes the ground 600 times per kilometre, making runners prone to repetitive stress injuries6–8. The incidence of such injuries has remained considerable for 30 years despite technological advancements that provide more cushioning and motion control in shoes designed for heel–toe running27–29. Although cushioned, high-heeled running shoes are comfortable, they limit proprioception and make it easier for runners to land on their heels. Furthermore, many running shoes have arch supports and stiffened soles that may lead to weaker foot muscles, reducing arch strength. This weakness contributes to excessive pronation and places greater demands on the plantar fascia, which may cause plantar fasciitis. Although there are anecdotal reports of reduced injuries in barefoot populations30, controlled prospective studies are needed to test the hypothesis that individuals who do not predominantly RFS either barefoot or in minimal footwear, as the foot apparently evolved to do, have reduced injury rates.

pic: plus, you got to admit that the FFS looks far more graceful.


  • This is SO not music to my ears… I love shoes! And you should see my sneakers collection…

  • I've got a decent one too that I'm weaning myself off of. The cool thing is that you can use "worn out" shoes now because they're flatter. I think some transition is necessary to strengthen the foot muscles but there are cases, like Barefoot Ted, where people have just stopped wearing all support and done great.

  • So what I want to know is: I've been a FFS ever since my days as a quarter-mile specialist (yes, before the switch to metric track distances; you kids get off my lawn). I don't buy the latest aerogel filled Nike monstrosities. Am I ahead of the curve on this one?I don't run on concrete, it's too hard on my other joints, and I don't think I'll take up running barefoot around the arroyo, so I guess I'll keep the shoes. I could try running barefoot on concrete, but that seems both painful and callous-y. Plus glass.The downside of FFS is that it's harder on your achilles tendon. Gots to stretch those puppies out religiously.

  • I have been waiting for this article for weeks. Dennis wrote a similar one on the fitness nerd I think. I actually like barefoot resistance and regular cardio (not insanity) type workouts. I sometimes use the vibram 5 fingers, but mostly for running.Thanks for the article.

  • In one of the articles you linked to there was this part about the 20 runners they trained to run with a fore foot strike:"And I will illustrate this with our own insight into footstrike and injury. When the Pose research was done in Cape Town, athletes basically had their footstrike patterns changed through 2 weeks of training in the new method. The biomechanical analysis found lower impact forces (sound familiar? Same as the Nature paper), and even less work on the knee joint. This was hailed as a breakthrough against running injuries, because lower impact plus lower work on the knee meant less chance of injury. Jump ahead 2 weeks, and 19 out of 20 runners had broken down injured. Why? Because their calves and ankles were murdered by the sudden change. And the science showed this – the work on the ANKLE was significantly INCREASED during the forefoot landing."So obviously there are a few things to remind people thinking about this. 1. start slowly and train those muscles that you haven't used much in a long time. (I think this might be less important for climbers who already have pretty strong feet, but I certainly don't know). 2. Well, there might not be a clear #2, but in my mind I think that the fore foot strike is probably the important part of the equation. I think that old shoes might be a bad idea for some people is it doesn't make them change their foot strike. If they continue to heel strike then what they have is less cushioning and a heel strike, which in my mind, should lead to more injuries. Finally I saw one video that measured strike forces on a treadmill. The impact forces were about the same, but the heel strike had both an initial impact force and then a secondary force. But the impact force was not greater than the secondary force. I'll see if I can find it.I tried changing my footstrike a little recently and my ankle is definitely not strong enough right now to do it comfortably. I have been back to walking etc for about 2 months after breaking my ankle and I am definitely not back to the same strength and can't do much running besides with a heel strike yet.-R

  • Nice hoof work, Reed. Super important point about the ankles and starting slow. I've been trying to mid foot land every since I got PF in 2001 but after reading this I'm exaggerating that again to become more "Kenyan". After 2.5 hours yesterday both my foot and ankles are sore, and I have pretty strong feet and ankles. So, yes, that point is huge.So that video is consistent with the graphs in article one. Send it if you find it.

  • Okay, that video that I was talking about is the same as the people in Article one. It's their video. At least they're consistent I guess. ~R

  • What a great resource!

  • That is interesting… I do think running barefoot your body would land the way it has evolved to do, instead of on the heel. However, I also think alot of the problem is that our bodies havent evolved to run on solid rock, which is essentially what pavement/concrete is. As an aside I also remember NBA center Hakeem Olajuwon having horrific knee pain his therapists believe was due to his running on the balls of his feet instead of his heels. Now that is a 7 foot man, but its still something to keep in mind nonetheless.

  • I have been running barefoot for 18 months, since reading "Born to Run", by Christopher McDougall. I followed all the advice I could find on the web and in the book: start slow, walking barefoot until it's comfortable. Only then start running in short increments, again until it's comfortable. If you hurt, stop running and walk. I started barefooting after a lifetime of running and a decade of chronic injury, especially one achilles tendon and the other ankle. I run on concrete. I run on asphalt. I love dewy grass and soft trails, but grass often hides roots, rocks and other things that go bump on your feet. Trails are actually the hardest on me, because of their rockiness, rootiness and unpredictablity. It may seem counterintuitive, but for me, the street and sidewalk are just fine for barefooting. My knees have not hurt since I began running this way. My hips and back do not hurt. They DID before. My take: it's the form. Learning the MFS and the FFS without shoes on gives your body the form it needs to avoid the standard running injuries of the Westerner in his fancy and seemingly useless shoes.

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