In this section, I continue to promote barefoot sport. It will focus on running, its techniques and scientific studies that have investigated the question of running with or without shoes. [back to Part I]
Many people take their running technique from walking, they walk with a straight torso and touching the ground with the heel, which is why heel impact absorbers in running shoes are so important. Barefoot running, however, requires a different technique, and in fact it should be the same with shoes. With the body bent slightly forward, the forefoot should first touch the ground with the outer edge of the sole slightly forward, and then roll along the sole. Analyse in slow motion the strides of the best African runners1, and Usain Bolt2 runs no differently.
If you touch the ground with your heels, you are slowing down, because you are creating a backward force, whereas if you lean forward and touch the ground with the forefoot, you are pushing yourself forward by kicking your feet away.
To its detriment, the advantage of heel strike is that it allows us to lengthen the length of our stride, because the shoe absorbs a good part of the impact. Barefoot, we are automatically more cautious, so our stride length will be shorter.
I’m not saying that running barefoot makes you faster, because the shoe protects you from pain to a certain extent, so you can push yourself harder in a race situation, which is why you don’t really see barefoot champions anymore. It was a long time ago when the Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, winner of the marathon at the 1960 Rome Olympics, achieved the great feat of his life barefoot3.
There are, of course, scientific battles going on, with both camps – barefoot and shoe manufacturers – trying to prove their point. I will review these in the following. Over the last 10-15 years, marathon running has become increasingly popular because it is a feat that can be achieved if you can check out the 42 km at least once in your life. That is why we should start from the fact that, according to an American study4 , 90% of runners in shoes who are preparing for a marathon suffer from injuries of varying degrees, obviously due to the unusual, non gradual application of the load. My point is that shoes are not an impenetrable shield, as the above research shows.
According to an Australian study5 , which cites other previous studies, running barefoot can reduce oxygen consumption by 4%, partly due to running technique and partly due to the weight of the shoe being dropped. For a recreational runner, this figure may not be significant, but for a competitive runner it could be interesting. This is confirmed by a study6 where, corrected for shoe weight, runners wearing minimalist footwear ran 2-3% more economically than those wearing mainstream sports shoes. Another study from the land of the kangaroos7 found that running barefoot reduced stress at the patellofemoral joint in the knee by 12%.
There is a US study8 where EMG was used to look at stress on the tibia. The results of the study were disputed, as barefoot running destroys the calf and tibia. A closer look at what is claimed in the study reveals otherwise. Running barefoot can be dangerous at first – especially if you’re a heel-striker – so it’s best to introduce it gradually, but in the long term it reduces the likelihood of injury. Another study, also in the US9 , says that barefoot running increases injuries. In contrast, it is rather the case that all three runners studied switched without transitioning, and injuries did occur. The researchers therefore recommend a gradual introduction of the natural method.
In summary, it comes back to the point that, with the right care and a gradual introduction, it is safe to run barefoot or in minimalist shoes, just as our ancestors did in the past. It is also worth watching the accompanying videos to learn the correct running technique.
- Fredericson M, Misra AK.: Epidemiology and aetiology of marathon running injuries. Sports Med. 2007;37(4-5):437-9.
- Perl DP, Daoud AI, Lieberman DE.: Effects of footwear and strike type on running economy. Med Sci Sports Exerc.2012 Jul;44(7):1335-43.
- Bonacci J, Vicenzino B, Spratford W, Collins P.: Take your shoes off to reduce patellofemoral joint stress during running.Br J Sports Med. 2013 Jul 13.
- Olin ED, Gutierrez GM.: EMG and tibial shock upon the first attempt at barefoot running. Hum Mov Sci. 2013 Apr;32(2):343-52.
- Cauthon DJ, Langer P, Coniglione TC.: Minimalist shoe injuries: Three case reports. Foot (Edinb). 2013 May 10. pii: S0958-2592(13)00018-7.
- Sáfrán Mihály: A paleón túl
- Erwan Le Corre: The practice of Natural Movement
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