Does the conventional running shoe harm or protect the body?
The Claims: external support reduces foot strength and joint-tissue health; increased cushioning blocks proprioception thereby impairing foot placement; and a cushion, flared heel encourages a heel strike landing thereby preventing a less forceful foot strike, a forefoot strike.
Why Running Barefoot is Not a Joke
The Facts: Robbins and Gouw published a compelling, if not groundbreaking study titled “Athletic Footwear: unsafe due to perceptual illusions”. This was my eureka moment too.
The study focused on how barefoot and shod running effected avoidance behavior via the feedback control circuit in running and provided even more compelling supplementary data to support their hypothesis.
More important, the researchers noted the difference in injury rates among shod (shoe) and barefoot running populations: running injuries are rare in barefoot running populations whereas running injuries are high in shod-running populations.
When running barefoot, the body seems to make the correct adaptations regarding biomechanics in response to proprioceptive feedback in the feet.
- proprioception is a very powerful form of sensory feedback that dictates the feedback control circuit to optimize protection for safe mechanical interactions between the body and the ground
- an example of a safe, mechanical adaptation in response to running barefoot is a forefoot strike landing
Ultimately, feedback control when running barefoot enables the body to move with favorable biomechanical adaptations to reduce impact that are otherwise, impaired in a cushioned running shoe. Why?
Because the feet cannot obtain an accurate reading of the ground in a cushioned shoe, reflexive biomechanical adaptations in response to potentially painful stimuli goes down the drain.
Although shoe cushioning provides plantar comfort, it disturbs the natural, reflexive mechanical adaptations, preventing a non-heel strike running style, needed for safe, less forceful running.
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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.