Barefoot running claims and controversies: A review of the literature

Arizona School of Podiatric Medicine, College of Health Sciences, Midwestern University, Glendale, AZ 85308, USA.
Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association (Impact Factor: 0.65). 05/2011; 101(3):231-46.
Source: PubMed


Barefoot running is slowly gaining a dedicated following. Proponents of barefoot running claim many benefits, such as improved performance and reduced injuries, whereas detractors warn of the imminent risks involved.
Multiple publications were reviewed using key words.
A review of the literature uncovered many studies that have looked at the barefoot condition and found notable differences in gait and other parameters. These findings, along with much anecdotal information, can lead one to extrapolate that barefoot runners should have fewer injuries, better performance, or both. Several athletic shoe companies have designed running shoes that attempt to mimic the barefoot condition and, thus, garner the purported benefits of barefoot running.
Although there is no evidence that either confirms or refutes improved performance and reduced injuries in barefoot runners, many of the claimed disadvantages to barefoot running are not supported by the literature. Nonetheless, it seems that barefoot running may be an acceptable training method for athletes and coaches who understand and can minimize the risks.

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    • "In that particular study, habitual barefoot runners adopt a nonheel strike (NHS) landing pattern and are observed to sustain lower loading rates than shod runners who typically run with a heel strike (HS) landing pattern [14]. This could partially explain the growing prevalence of barefoot running amongst running communities [15]. The theory that barefoot running will naturally convert habitual shod, heel strike runners to a NHS pattern was partially supported by a recent study, in "
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    ABSTRACT: Barefoot running has been proposed to reduce vertical loading rates, which is a risk factor of running injuries. Most of the previous studies evaluated runners on level surfaces. This study examined the effect of surface inclination on vertical loading rates and landing pattern during the first attempt of barefoot running among habitual shod runners. Twenty habitual shod runners were asked to run on treadmill at 8.0 km/h at three inclination angles (0°; +10°; −10°) with and without their usual running shoes. Vertical average rate (VALR) and instantaneous loading rate (VILR) were obtained by established methods. Landing pattern was decided using high-speed camera. VALR and VILR in shod condition were significantly higher ( p < 0.001 ) in declined than in level or inclined treadmill running, but not in barefoot condition ( p > 0.382 ). There was no difference ( p > 0.413 ) in the landing pattern among all surface inclinations. Only one runner demonstrated complete transition to non-heel strike landing in all slope conditions. Reducing heel strike ratio in barefoot running did not ensure a decrease in loading rates ( p > 0.15 ). Conversely, non-heel strike landing, regardless of footwear condition, would result in a softer landing ( p < 0.011 ).
    BioMed Research International 06/2015; 2015(5):e240153. DOI:10.1155/2015/240153 · 2.71 Impact Factor
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    • "Barefoot running has been a very popular topic in books, magazines, websites, as well as in scientific research (e.g. Hsu, 2012; Jenkins & Cauthon, 2011; Rothschild, 2012b), and almost every major shoemaking company has started marketing a minimalist or barefoot-like shoe line. New minimalist shoe companies are continually emerging (Altman & Davis, 2012a), to the point that in 2011 this market accounted for 8% of total running shoe sales in North America (Less Shoe, More Sales, Footwear Insight, 2011). "
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    ABSTRACT: Abstract Despite the growing interest in minimalist shoes, no studies have compared the efficacy of different types of minimalist shoe models in reproducing barefoot running patterns and in eliciting biomechanical changes that make them differ from standard cushioned running shoes. The aim of this study was to investigate the acute effects of different footwear models, marketed as "minimalist" by their manufacturer, on running biomechanics. Six running shoes marketed as barefoot/minimalist models, a standard cushioned shoe and the barefoot condition were tested. Foot-/shoe-ground pressure and three-dimensional lower limb kinematics were measured in experienced rearfoot strike runners while they were running at 3.33 m · s(-1) on an instrumented treadmill. Physical and mechanical characteristics of shoes (mass, heel and forefoot sole thickness, shock absorption and flexibility) were measured with laboratory tests. There were significant changes in foot strike pattern (described by the strike index and foot contact angle) and spatio-temporal stride characteristics, whereas only some among the other selected kinematic parameters (i.e. knee angles and hip vertical displacement) changed accordingly. Different types of minimalist footwear models induced different changes. It appears that minimalist footwear with lower heel heights and minimal shock absorption is more effective in replicating barefoot running.
    Journal of Sports Sciences 12/2014; 33(11):1-9. DOI:10.1080/02640414.2014.989534 · 2.25 Impact Factor
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    • "The proponents [5] of barefoot running advocate that human feet are born to run bare on the ground because our ancestors ran for thousands of years without high-technology sports shoes, which were not invented until the 1970s [6]. The proposed advantages of barefoot running include gait changes resulting in a lower collision force, a reduction in running cost, and an increase in movement perception and muscle strength [1] [6]. "
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    ABSTRACT: People have advocated barefoot running, claiming that it is better suited to human nature. Humans usually run barefoot using a forefoot strike and run shod using a heel strike. The striking pattern was thought to be a key factor that contributes to the benefit of barefoot running. The purpose of this study is to use scientific data to prove that the striking pattern is more important than barefoot or shod conditions for runners on running injuries prevention. Twelve habitually male shod runners were recruited to run under four varying conditions: barefoot running with a forefoot strike, barefoot running with a heel strike, shod running with a forefoot strike, and shod running with a heel strike. Kinetic and kinematic data and electromyography signals were recorded during the experiments. The results showed that the lower extremity can gain more compliance when running with a forefoot strike. Habitually shod runners can gain more shock absorption by changing the striking pattern to a forefoot strike when running with shoes and barefoot conditions. Habitually shod runners may be subject to injuries more easily when they run barefoot while maintaining their heel strike pattern. Higher muscle activity in the gastrocnemius was observed when running with a forefoot strike, which may imply a greater training load on the muscle and a tendency for injury.
    Gait & posture 03/2013; 38(3). DOI:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2013.01.030 · 2.75 Impact Factor
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