Daily Archives: April 27, 2014

Barefoot running versus minimalist shoes

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Currently, the ever-present question in the running world is: to run barefoot or to not run barefoot? Barefoot running is all the rage these days, with many barefooters swearing it has helped improve their running. They claim that sneakers tend to distort our running, making us run in a less optimal manner. Some barefoot runners run barefoot all or most of the time, weather permitting. Others may do it occasionally as a form of cross-training.

While it is true that barefoot running has different biomechanics and running economy than running with sneakers, what little science we have doesn’t confirm most of the benefits barefooters regularly tout. Barefooters often claim that running sneaker-less encourages landing on the forefoot(as opposed to running with sneakers which encourages landing on the heel), which they claim reduces the risk of injury. This isn’t necessarily true, and there is little evidence of reduced injury due to barefoot running.

Of course, there are some rather obvious issues with running barefoot for more than a few miles, like callouses, and blisters, among other things. As a compromise, some people wear minimalist shoes while running. They are like socks but with extra padding for the soles of your feet. They are supposed to be just like barefoot running bio-mechanically, while providing just enough protection for your feet.

The point of this blog post though isn’t to answer the question of whether or not barefoot running is better, but if minimalist shoe running is bio-mechanically equivalent to running barefoot. According to
Running in a minimalist and lightweight shoe is not the same as running barefoot: a biomechanical study:

CONCLUSIONS:

Barefoot running was different to all shod conditions. Barefoot running changes the amount of work done at the knee and ankle joints and this may have therapeutic and performance implications for runners.

So it looks like minimalist shoe running is not the same as barefoot running, at least when it comes to bio-mechanics. As for me, I’ve never tried barefoot running for more than a few miles. The most common arguments for it are unpersuasive to me since they are almost always based on a very common logical fallacy I’m a bit tired of: The naturalistic fallacy – “it’s more natural, therefore it’s better!”. I did a post on this fallacy a while back: Radioactive Brazil nuts and the naturalistic fallacy

I will of course continue to look into this and I hope more good research is done on the bigger question of barefoot running, rather than how minimalist shoes compare with it. I may try doing it occasionally if I have the time, just as an experiment, even though I find the arguments for it unpersuasive at best.

Have you tried barefoot running or running in minimalist shoes? Have you experienced any benefits from it?