Is barefoot running bad for runners, or does it return body motion to proper running form? While barefoot running is prevalent in much of the world by necessity, interest has increased in other parts of the world by choice. What is this increasingly popular approach to running-and what are some benefits and risks worth considering before throwing away the running shoes?
What is Barefoot Running? As the name suggests, barefoot running is simply running in bare feet. Historically, running without shoes or with only thin soled sandals or moccasins was the only option. Even as research and development in designing shoes specifically for runners became popular in the 1970’s, barefoot running remained common in many parts of the world. Today an interest in barefoot running is emerging by choice in many countries.
Why the Interest in Barefoot Running? Barefoot running advocates note a desire to return to “natural” running. Reasons include environmental concerns, greater runner satisfaction, and decreasing injuries or overcoming personal aches and pains associated with running. For other runners, barefoot running allows the opportunity to simply experience the activity differently.
What are Some Reported Benefits to Barefoot Running? The Barefoot Runners Society cites a page of academic research studying various aspects of running both with and without running shoes. The group lists the often cited Lieberman study, which addressed foot strike patterns in shod vs. non-shod runners, and the Kerrigan study which examined the impact of running shoes on the lower extremities, as evidence that running without shoes returns a runner to a more natural, thus safer, stride and technique. Additionally, many outdoor barefoot runners claim a stronger, gentler connection with nature as they must become more in-tune to the terrain and the body to safely run without shoes.
What Risks are Associated with Barefoot Running? Opponents to barefoot running, such as Barefoot Running is Bad cite flaws and imperfections-as well as misinterpretations in many of the same studies and reports proponents cite as supportive. Opponents to barefoot running claim that while certain injuries, such as those resulting from heel striking, may be reduced by barefoot running-other injuries, such as damage to the Achilles Tendon, muscular strains and physical cuts, scrapes and wounds become more prevalent.
Does Research Label Barefoot Running as Safe or Risky? This seems to be the crux of the debate regarding barefoot running. The activity receives a lot of attention from groups advocating its safety as well as those opposing it-with both groups citing much of the same scientific research to support respective group claims. Opponents on both sides cite the need for additional research and study into both sides of the activity before definitive claims are made.
Is Barefoot Running Right for You? As with any physical activity, especially for individuals with certain medial conditions or a history of injuries, it is best to discuss plans to begin barefoot running with a medical practitioner-and seek advice regarding training and conditioning. The answer to this question may actually be a very individual one-but, certainly requires proper training and transitioning for success.
Barefoot Running Pros and Cons
Biomechanics of Foot Strikes & Applications to Running Barefoot or In Minimal Footwear