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: 0.57). 05/2011; 101(3):231-46.
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT 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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    • "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 · 2.10 Impact Factor
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    • "Consequently, as habitually barefoot runners clearly and consistently run with lower LR (Altman and Davis 2011; Lieberman et al. 2010), through the associated MFS or forefoot strike pattern, running with shoes specifically designed to put the runner as close to actual barefoot running as possible is expected to provide similar, yet attenuated effects and may therefore be of interest to potentially reduce the risk of stress fractures. This may explain the recent development of ''minimalist shoes'', i.e., shoes designed to mimic barefoot running, with less motioncontrol technology, cushioning, stiffness, sole drop and weight than standard running shoes (Jenkins and Cauthon 2011; Lohman et al. 2011). As detailed above, the literature has proposed several factors potentially influencing LR (footwear, stride frequency, foot strike pattern). "
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    ABSTRACT: Running-related stress fractures have been associated with the overall impact intensity, which has recently been described through the loading rate (LR). Our purpose was to evaluate the effects of four acute interventions with specific focus on LR: wearing racing shoes (RACE), increasing step frequency by 10 % (FREQ), adopting a midfoot strike pattern (MIDFOOT) and combining these three interventions (COMBI). Nine rearfoot-strike subjects performed five 5-min trials during which running kinetics, kinematics and spring-mass behavior were measured for ten consecutive steps on an instrumented treadmill. Electromyographic activity of gastrocnemius lateralis, tibialis anterior, biceps femoris and vastus lateralis muscles was quantified over different phases of the stride cycle. LR was significantly and similarly reduced in MIDFOOT (37.4 ± 7.20 BW s(-1), -56.9 ± 50.0 %) and COMBI (36.8 ± 7.15 BW s(-1), -55.6 ± 29.2 %) conditions compared to NORM (56.3 ± 11.5 BW s(-1), both P < 0.001). RACE (51.1 ± 9.81 BW s(-1)) and FREQ (52.7 ± 11.0 BW s(-1)) conditions had no significant effects on LR. Running with a midfoot strike pattern resulted in a significant increase in gastrocnemius lateralis pre-activation (208 ± 97.4 %, P < 0.05) and in a significant decrease in tibialis anterior EMG activity (56.2 ± 15.5 %, P < 0.05) averaged over the entire stride cycle. The acute attenuation of foot-ground impact seems to be mostly related to the use of a midfoot strike pattern and to a higher pre-activation of the gastrocnemius lateralis. Further studies are needed to test these results in prolonged running exercises and in the long term.
    Arbeitsphysiologie 08/2012; 113(3). DOI:10.1007/s00421-012-2465-y · 2.30 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Introduction Driven by experience and intuition, barefoot training is commonly used by athletes to increase foot muscle strength, to prevent injury and to enhance performance. With the aim to simulate barefoot conditions, the production of sport shoes with flexible midsole constructions grew up in the last few years. It could be shown that flexible footwear allows higher ranges of dorsiflexion in the metatarsophalangeal joint (MPJ) than conventional footwear [1]. The effects of wearing flexible shoes over five month determined Brüggemann [2] and identified an increase of toe flexor strength (TFS) of nearly 20%. However, the outcome on gait patterns and sports performance remained mostly unclear. Currently it is discussed whether muscle strength training alters dynamic joint loading or not [3, 4]. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of increased TFS to foot and ankle function in walking, running and jumping. Methods Twenty three men participated in this prospective longitudinal designed study and were randomly divided in two groups: The experimental group (EG, n=14; 24±4 y, 77±9 kg) performed a heavy resistance TFS training with 90% of the maximal voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC) for 7 weeks, 4 days per week, 4 sets per session (5 repetitions, 3 s loading, 3 s relaxation) for the left and right foot. The control group (CG, n=9; 25±3 y, 76±6 kg) participated in no training programme and continued their daily activities. The software controlled training programme was performed in a custom made dynamometer (Fig. 1). Max. MPJ plantar flexion moment (MMPJ) and max. ankle plantar flexion moment (Mankle) during a MVIC were measured before (PRE) and after (POST) the intervention. To evaluate the training effects on foot and ankle function PRE and POST, motion analysis (inverse dynamics) were performed during barefoot walking (1.6 ms-1), running (3.5 ms-1), vertical and horizontal jumping (as high/far as possible). Figure 1: Custom made dynamometer designed to determine MPJ moments. Results Between PRE and POST MMPJ, Mankle and jumping length increased sig. (P≤0.05) in the EG. In the standing long jump the max. MPJ moment was sig. (P≤0.05) higher and the MPJ absorbed 12% and the ankle generated 6% more energy. There were no differences (P≥0.05) in all parameters of walking, running and vertical jumping in the EG and CG between PRE and POST. Discussion Toe flexor muscles highly respond to increased loading within few weeks. The increased force potential could not alter gait patterns but influenced standing long jump performance. In this jumping task, MPJ and ankle are dorsiflexed and high moments of force appear. The toe flexor muscles may operate at the plateau region of the force-length relation in these dorsiflexed joint angles [5]. Furthermore, enlargement of the functional base of support (anterior shift of the center of force application under the distal phalanx) may influence the center of mass take off angle in the standing long jump. This could be a further reason for higher MPJ moments and increased jumping length [6]. It could be shown that TFS training has an effect on sports performance. References 1. Goldmann, J.P., et al., 2010. In Deutsche Vereinigung für Sportwissenschaft. Hamburg: Mattes & Wollesen. 2. Brüggemann, G.P., et al., 2005. In International Society of Biomechanics, XXth Congress. Cleveland, Ohio. 3. Thorstensson, C.A., et al., 2007. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 15(10): p. 1163-70. 4. Thorp, L.E., et al., 2010. J Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact. 10(2): p. 166-73. 5. Goldmann, J.P., et al., 2011. In 7. Jahrestagung der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Biomechanik. Murnau. 6. Endo, M., et al., 2002. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 57(6): p. M392-7.
    The International Society of Biomechanics; 10th biennial Footwear Biomechanics Symposium; 07/2011
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