Is barefoot running a fact or a fad?

By Sabrina Gonzalez | Photo by Amine Rock Hoovr/Unsplash

We might learn a thing or two from children running free without shoes or slippers. Barefoot running is gaining its footing in the running world for good reason. As the name suggests, barefoot running is a method of running without wearing any footwear.

The Barenaked Truth

At present, there is still no clear consensus on whether barefoot running is a good or a bad thing. Those who are against barefoot running argue that proper running footwear protects from cuts, blisters, injuries, and ground impact. Running shoes are especially important when running in extreme temperatures and harsh weather conditions.

Proponents of barefoot running, on the other hand, claim that barefoot running is actually more advantageous than shod running. Researches on the topic support this claim. A 2010 study led by Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman looked into the mechanics of running movements in barefoot runners.

The study revealed that barefoot runners run differently from those wearing shoes; whereas most shod runners land on their heels, barefoot runners land on the forefoot. The forefoot strike running pattern minimizes impact on the foot and generates as much as three time less force by translating the energy produced into forward movement. This ultimately results in decreased stress on the lower extremities and subsequently, decreased risk for both acute and chronic injuries.

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An Australian research meanwhile showed a higher risk for injury in shod running groups, which was attributed to a lack of awareness or perception of foot position when running with shoes on. It was pointed out that there is inadequate evidence supporting the benefits of using running shoes and that paddings may in fact increase running stress on lower extremity joints, especially the knee.

A 2014 research published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science revealed that a large percentage of barefoot runners actually had prior injuries related to shod running, which were resolved after shifting to barefoot running. Moreover, it has been shown that barefoot running uses three to four percent less energy and oxygen than shod running. This small energy savings are especially important to competitive runners.

So Should I Join the Barefoot Craze?

Barefoot running has its advantages and disadvantages. With barefoot running, you may be able to slightly improve your running performance while preventing chronic injuries from developing. But you risk incurring wounds and punctures when running au naturale. If you do decide to give it a try, an important rule is to not transition too quickly. You need to allow you muscles to adequately prepare and adapt to your new running motion to avoid injuries.

So the next time you see a child running without shoes, you might want to think twice before stopping them. Allowing them to run young, wild, and free might actually be good for their feet.