Running Without Shoes on Pavement: Good or Bad?

Many assume that running without shoes on pavement will cause major injuries. Indeed, pavement has a greater surface hardness than grass –that’s a no brainer. Plus, human’s evolved to run on natural surfaces, which does not include roads.

Running Without Shoes

Why Running Without Shoes on Pavements is Safe

What has gone under-appreciated is the understanding of the kinematics and mechanics of a barefoot/forefoot running style which actually permits safer running, regardless of surface hardness.

Habitually barefoot runners who land on their forefoot do not generate an impact transient force [1], allowing them to run safe on hard, unnatural surfaces. Landing this way is much safer than landing with a heel strike because a heel strike landing generates a distinct impact transient in the vertical ground reaction force, which projects more loading on the body [2].

In addition to the impact transient, a braking force is also generated at heel strike and becomes greater as the speed of running increases. This is why running with a heel strike is more dangerous than running with a forefoot strike.

Because the impact transient is eliminated, regardless of surface hardness, in a forefoot strike landing, forefoot runners are able to resist injury when running without shoes. Further, Dr. Daniel Lieberman and his colleagues found that other forms of impact did not differ with various surface hardnesses, such as a pavement, or a steel plate in habitually barefoot runners who naturally landed on their forefoot.

In other words, running barefoot with a forefoot strike on hard, unnatural surfaces did not increase impact –as once previously assumed.

Therefore, running barefoot –if a proper forefoot strike is maintained –on the roads is considered just as safe as if running barefoot on softer, natural surfaces, such as grass.

Click here to learn more about how barefoot running decreases the risk of injury. Or if you don’t want to run barefoot, have a look at these barefoot like running shoes as they will also improve your forefoot running form.

Here are more articles on the dangers of heel strike running:

Shin Splints – Insufficient shock absorption in heel strike running increases the risk of shin splints.

Knee Pain – Find out how heel strike running leads to severe knee injuries.

Lower Leg Stress Fracture – Find out how the peak impacts associated with heel striking shatters the shin bone.

Heel Pad Deformation – Another reason heel strike running leads to more impact.


References:

[1]. Lieberman et al. (2009). Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature 463, 531-35.

[2]. Samaan, CD., Rainbow, MJ and Davis, IS. (2014). Reduction in ground reaction force variables with instructed barefoot running. J Sport & Health Sci 3, 143-151.

Bretta Riches

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

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.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

1 Comment

  1. Thanks a lot for the interesting information not only in this piece but in general too!
    I had an ACL reconstruction surgery and my knee would swell when running for more than 10 minutes. I bought highly cushioned running shoes but they didn’t solve the problem. I figured out that I need to use my ankles and lower legs to cushion the shock during running. After going to forefoot running I have no knee swelling. I also shortened my stride and increased cadence, changed posture, etc.
    However I am not sure I would go for minimalist shoes as I believe I need all the cushioning I can get. In addition to the ACL reconstruction, a big part of my meniscus was removed. I have early stages of arthrosis because of damage to the cartilage prior to the operation.
    I realise that the cushioned shoes might not be helping but the set-up of improved technique and max cushioned shoes works for now and I am afraid of changeing. In any case technique is definitely more important than cushioned shoes.
    So I wonder if studies indicate effects from barefoot running for people with joint problems. Of course, cushioned shoes advantages (if existing) would be difficult to isolate from proper running technique benefits.
    Enjoy running and good luck!

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