The barefoot running technique involves a forefoot strike which initiates controlled ankle dorsiflexion during stance, giving barefoot runners a performance advantage by increasing elastic energy storage in the Achilles tendon.
Perl et al. (2012) found that highly controlled ankle dosriflexion was key in giving barefoot runners and most minimalist runners an economic advantage over shod-heel strike runners.
However, the researchers speculated a possible downfall to highly controlled ankle dorsiflexion in that it may increase muscle contraction of the plantar flexors, thereby increasing muscle costs which may counter the benefit of elastic energy storage in the Achilles.
The good news is, this can be avoided by keeping the foot/ankle complex completely relaxed at all times while forefoot running. Tension usually accompanies contraction, which is why it is vital to learn to relax your legs.
The Take Home Message
Essentially, the barefoot running technique is a skeleton key which unlocks the doors to areas of the lower leg that provide elastic energy, whereas the lack of controlled ankle dorsiflexion in heel striking, reduces the capacity of the Achilles tendon to store more elastic energy, therefore narrowing the resources of passive energy. Nevertheless, these findings jibe with the long-standing assumption that minimalist shod and barefoot running is cost effective compared to shod-heel strike running.
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Alexander M. Energy-saving mechanisms in walking and running. J Exp Biol. 1991;160:55–69.
Kerr BA, Beauchamp L, Fisher V, Neil R. Footstrike patterns in distance running. In: Nigg BM, Kerr BA, editors. Proceedings of the International Symposium on Biomechanical Aspects of Sports Shoes and Playing Surfaces. Calgary: Calgary University Press; 1983. p. 135–42
Perl et al. Effects of footwear and strike type on running economy. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2012;44(7):1335-43.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.