Barefoot running: What is it?

Opinions on barefoot running are divided.  While some people see no benefit, others swear by its ability to reduce running injuries, aches and pains.

Barefoot running is not a new concept, it’s been used by professional athletes since the 60s at the very least, with the most notable example being the renowned Olympic gold medallist Abebe Bikila.

Despite the name, barefoot runners usually still wear specialist footwear called minimalist shoes.  Minimalist shoes have little support, no cushioning, and thin soles, giving the illusion of running barefoot.

The theory behind barefoot running is that it changes the way that we run, encouraging us to run in a way that is more natural to us.

When running in cushioned and structured shoes we tend to land on our heel, whereas running ‘barefoot’ encourages us to land on the midfoot or forefoot.

This suggests humans were not meant to run on their heels, which some people believe is the cause of a lot of the discomfort and pain suffered by runners.  They believe that running on the midfoot or forefoot is more natural and doing so can help to reduce pain.

How can running barefoot reduce pain and injury?

  • The ground reaction force is the force exerted on the body by the ground when impact occurs.
  • The vertical loading rate is a measure of how quickly the ground reaction force occurs.

We can all agree that subjecting the skeletal system to high impact activities is going to have a negative effect. So generally, the higher the ground reaction rate and the faster the impact occurs, the greater the risk of injury.

Studies have found that when striking the ground running barefoot, runners point their toes more on landing, decreasing the mass of the foot that hits the ground when compared to running in shoes and striking the ground with the heel.

Barefoot running is thought to reduce pain and injury by reducing the vertical loading rate.

The jury is out, some people swear by barefoot running, whilst others don’t believe it to be effective and research is inconclusive..

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