A study by Robbins et al. revealed more benefits of barefoot running and that is avoidance behavior and the prevention of mechanical interference.
The study found that barefooted subjects demonstrated avoidance behavior in response to applied loads on different surface types, however most subjects were unaware that they were avoiding the surface!
More Benefits of Barefoot Running Revealed
Avoidance Behavior Comes Naturally
Avoidance behavior in the context of running is the body’s natural ability to avoid injury.
- Avoidance behavior diminishes when plantar proprioception is impaired or blocked.
This means that the body is less likely to seek a natural behavioral response to prevent injury when proprioceptive input is weak.
Therefore, avoidance behavior in running is dependent on plantar sensations which are enhanced only when barefoot. This is why barefoot runners are more competent at maintaining stability and landing safely than shod runners.
Avoidance Behavior is a Reflex
The reason the barefoot subjects were unaware of their avoidance behavior was due to the fact that avoidance behavior is unconscious or reflexive. This is concerning because cushioned running shoes impairs this reflex.
The researchers argued that running shoes designed for high impact environments do not modify injury-producing forces during running which jives with the evidence of high running-related injury rates associated with the use of such footwear. In other words, the avoidance behavior reflex pathway is ‘lost’ when cushioned running shoes are worn thereby causing dysfunctions in motor function resulting in high impact landings.
Cushioned Running Shoes Impair Key Reflexes Needed for Safer Landings
Reflexes, such as the avoidance behavior reflex, are a by-product of evolutionary adaptations and are hardwired into our neuromuscular system. Interfering with these reflexes results in balance failures and injury.
As evidence accumulates about the effectiveness of barefoot running, the researchers also found that during avoidance behavior, the unloaded leg in the barefooted subjects showed increased hip extension which indicated activation of the withdrawal reflex.
Therefore, barefoot running would allow an habitually shod runner to recapture as much reflexivity as possible for safer running.
Cushioned Running Shoes = Mechanical Interference
The other benefit of barefoot running is the prevention of mechanical interference, particularly in the arch.
- When barefoot, the foot becomes saturated with plantar sensory feedback which increases muscle tone in the muscles that controls the lowering and raising of the arch.
- Plantar sensory feedback is the most important mediator of increasing arch strength.
The benefits of barefoot running are often evident after a week or so, but when performed intensively over months, barefoot running produces long-term gains that restore reflexive and motor function.
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Robbins SE and Hanna AM. Running-related injury prevent through barefoot adaptation. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1987; 19:148-56;
Robbins SE., Hanna AM and Gouw GJ. Overload protection: avoidance response to heavy plantar surface loading. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1988; 20(1):85-92.
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.