Barefoot running continues to be relevant and effective for endless reasons. One important reason is its the best way to help you develop and secure safer, optimal mechanics that include forefoot striking, less ground-contact time and a shorter stride, all of which are consistently associated with the biggest reductions in net impact forces than running in cushioned shoes.
It’s also evident that barefoot running makes your feet more energy efficient by improving the spring properties of key components in the foot, allowing these components to deliver the type of energy that helps support running economy by helping the foot spring up with less muscular effort.
Strong evidence for this came from a 2016 study in the journal, PLOS One which discovered that barefoot running was associated with the most elastic strain energy storage in the arch by allowing greater arch compression during initial ground contact. Also, barefoot running did a better job at allowing more elastic energy storage in more areas of the foot, such as the plantar fascia and the metatarsophalangeal joint (MPJ) as compared with shod running.
The researchers discovered that the arch compression engaged when running barefoot had the biggest influence on optimizing elastic energy storage in the arch and the associated structures of the foot, whereas runners who wore conventional running shoes had the lowest arch-strain value due to greater arch compression restriction, confirming that the best way to get the foot work more effectively for running is to run barefoot.
The researchers also found that barefoot running increased MPJ flexion which enabled the area to store more elastic energy. Even more exciting, a novel finding of the study was that the MPJ accounted for almost 12% of the total lower leg energy absorption during stance, meaning the MPJ was better at absorbing more energy under barefoot running conditions than in shoes.
Last but not least, it’s important to understand that the more you can access these elastic structures when you run, the better you are economically because your stride is more spring-enabled which reduces muscular strain because less muscle demand is needed to accelerate the body forward.
The Take Home Message
These findings indicate how important it is to run barefoot because the most positive changes in the foot’s functional strength occurs when the foot has full freedom of movement.
These findings also point to the fact that there are other areas of the foot that are just as important for running economy as the arch. The study made the novel discovery that when running barefoot, the MPJ had a large effect on freeing up more elastic energy to put to work, since good running economy requires elastic energy, again, because it reduces muscle metabolism.
These aren’t the only positive differences we see with barefoot running. Here are more ways barefoot running is incredibly useful for helping you run your best.
If you enjoyed my post on barefoot running, you’ll love my YouTube channel, here, where I talk more about the importance of running barefoot as well as on why forefoot running is better than heel strike running!
McDonald et al. The Role of Arch Compression and Metatarsophalangeal Joint Dynamics in Modulating Plantar Fascia Strain in Running. PLOS One, 2016; DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0152602.
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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.