So what's the deal with Barefoot running? Well, barefoot running - also known as minimalist or natural running - is a modern movement amongst long-distance runners that believes running without shoes is the healthiest way to run. They also believe shoes with the minimal amount of material is also acceptable. Basically running without the aid of gait-correcting shoes.
Remember the post a couple weeks back about running styles and how certain shoes offer specialized support to correct deviations in pronation? Yeah. We're not at the opposite end of the spectrum.
This modern movement in Barefoot running really hit its stride in 2010 when Harvard released a study on the impact of heel-strike vs fore-foot strike on running. It showed that, while heel-striking isn't necessarily harmful on a runner's body, fore-front striking reduced impact stress on runners while also maintaining more kinetic energy in recoil. Basically, because the body doesn't hit the ground as hard with a fore-foot strike, running takes less energy when moving through the gait cycle.
While that is a large argument in favor of barefoot running, it isn't the only one. Supporters of the movement also cite that until the advent of the modern-sneaker (circa 1970s), humanity had been doing great with little to no shoe support while running! Even the early versions of the sneaker leaned towards barefoot running. They had unpadded upper-body coverings with thinner soles.
Proponents of barefoot running also point to several pockets of people across the globe, particularly the Tarahumara people of Mexico. Running is a way of life to them. Tribes are dotted across the Sierra Madre Occidental (a rocky mountain range in Mexico) where the primary form of communication between them is still running a messenger. A one-way trip can take up to two days - without stopping - and covers up to 200 miles!
With all this supportive evidence - and the added hype of the Vibram Five-Fingers shoes - many people have abandoned their conventional running style to embrace barefoot running. This, however, has resulted in more harm than good. Several lawsuits have been filed against the Vibram company because of falsified claims - that the shoe itself would result in stronger muscles and less injury.
It makes sense, however, that if a person abandons a method they have used their whole life cold turkey, then injury is likely to occur. So while a shoe may influence how your foot hits the ground, or how you flow through the gait cycle, it takes timing and training to do it properly and do it well. Like with the running style blog, we encourage that you seek out professional advice before making any sudden lifestyle changes.
While there are merits and disadvantages to both barefoot and conventional running, it all depends on the individual runner. Barefoot running follows the notion that most people pronate neutrally and do not need corrective shoes for running. So if you fall into the categories of over- or under-pronating, it's generally agreed that you should first correct your gait with supportive shoes before moving from conventional, padded sneakers to barefoot running.