OK, seriously, why barefoot?

The crux of the argument is that modern running shoes enable one to run in ways that lead to injury and inhibit the natural stride feet were designed to support. Enclosing feet inside cushioned cocoons causes atrophy of the muscles that naturally work to protect our knees, hips and shins. There’s real science behind the argument.

Statistics: In Born to Run, McDougall cites indirect evidence. The motion control shoe of today has really only been around for the last 30 years, and during that time the incidence of running injuries has substantially ramped. Studies have shown that the more expensive the shoe, the greater the incidence. And, new shoes seem to cause more issues than worn out shoes.

Physical Medicine: A recently published article in the PM&R Journal talks about a compelling study in which researchers directly observed volunteers on a treadmill and measured the difference in strain on hip, knee and ankle joints between barefoot and shod runners. They concluded that there as a significantly more torque on the joints of runners with shoes.

Physics: Newton Running has a great little animation that illustrates a proper, natural stride next to the heel striking stride supported by thick heeled shoes. Be sure to click on all three icons on the upper left of the animation; they illustrate three ways in which a natural stride is superior.

Biomechanics: Stem Footwear has a great illustrated explanation of how the bones and muscles in the foot work together to absorb shock and effectively propel the body forward.

Qualitative Observation: It not only makes sense; it feels right.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Barefoot Running, Research

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4 Comments on “OK, seriously, why barefoot?”

  1. Addison Says:

    So a question. I have had a number of knee surgeries, and as a result have greatly reduced meniscus in both knees. The cushions in the knee joint. I have always thought I needed well cushioned shoes to help “save what remained” of my meniscus in the knees. And indeed old shoes (> 6 months old) seem to get my knees hurting quicker than a new pair of shoes. Would barefoot running actually be better or worse for the tired old knees.

    Any thoughts from Barefoot Phil or his readers?

  2. Avram Says:

    I think the important information missing here is that the effects are vastly different depending on your feet. “Supinators” (folks with high arches) have rigid feet that need less restriction. “Pronators” (folks with low arches) need more support.

    Very cool topic, research and visuals. Thanks very much for posting.

  3. Phil Odence Says:

    In “Born to Run” McDougall cites studies to suggest that people get fewer injuries with old shoes than with new. I’ve not seen the studies myself and that seems to be counter to your experience, Addision. The theory from the barefoot crowd is that barefoot would be easier on your knees, because you will run such there is less impact and that you foot works to absorb the impact. You’ve got to work your way up to it, strengthening your foot to the point that it can do its job properly.
    This brings me to Avram’s point. FIrst, I’ll keep my eyes open for how barefoot running impacts differently impacts Pros vs. Supis. What I have read is that people with low arches can actually increase them by building up the muscles in their feet. My sense is that this might take a number of months, but it makes sense to me that low arches could be the result of weak muscles. I’m out of my depth here–a podiatrist might blow me out of the water–as I say, I’ll keep my eyes open and will blog anything I find.


  4. I’ve recently become a barefoot running convert. And now wear minimalist shoes on longer, rougher runs. This weekend i completed a 20-mile trail race in Vibram FiveFingers. I beleive I avoided all the typical running injuries by wearing FiveFingers, however, my calves and achilles are still not yet adjusted to the degree of stretching they receive, because they are a little sore. If I had worn a conventional running shoe, my calves may not be so sore, but I most likely would have suffered a knee injury or something else from the chain of unnatural impact forces.


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