How Bare Feet Running Makes You an Efficient Runner

How can you run with more efficiency? It’s time to ditch your shoes and try some bare feet running. The reason bare feet running is the antidote for correcting faulty running mechanics is that it allows for the falling into proper placement of the knee and ankle position at touchdown. It allows the runner to continuously maintain stable lower leg mechanics in response to a surge in sensory input stimulating the bottoms of the feet, which you would not receive if you ran in a thickly cushioned running shoe.

Research on running biomechanics is uniting around the idea that bare feet running helps you run better by increasing mechanical efficiency of the knees and ankles.

Bare Feet Running

How Bare Feet Running Makes You an Efficient Runner

Bare feet running increases mechanical efficiency at the ankles and knees due to a higher gear ratio compared to running in the standard running shoe.

  • Gear ratio is a relative estimate of the joint moments that affect the mechanical loads on a joint and is an indicator of mechanical efficiency.

For example, a high gear ratio lowers the amount of torque on a joint at touchdown thereby reducing braking and allows the system to accelerate rapidly.

A study by Braunstien et al. found that barefoot runners had a higher ankle and knee gear ratio during the 1st and 2nd phases of stance compared to the shod runners.

  • The high ankle and knee gear ratio in the barefoot runners reflected a flatter foot placement at touchdown which was achieved via ankle plantar flexion and increased knee flexion.
Bare Feet Running is Better
Ankle plantar flexion upon and at touchdown coupled with greater knee flexion equates to a higher gear ratio indicating better mechanical efficiency.

These kinematic variables reduce braking at touchdown and in the early phases of stance and is how barefoot runners harness better mechanical efficiency at the ankle and knee-joints compared to shod runners.

In contrast, the shod runners (who were heel strikers) had a higher gear ratio during the late phases of stance and at push-off. The researchers speculated that from a performance perspective, a high gear ratio at push-off may allow the extensors to generate forces at lower shortening velocities.

Does this mean that the heel strikers were more efficient?

No, because remember, the heel strikers showed more braking (low gear ratio) during the early stages of stance than the barefoot runners. This means that at foot strike, the heel strikers not only slammed into the ground harder, but they temporarily decelerated at each step, therefore, more energy is used to ‘start’ them into the next step.

The Take Home Message

The researchers concluded that running shoes affect gearing at the ankle and knee joints whereby the ankles and knees appear to be less mechanically privileged compared to running barefoot.

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References:

Braunstein et al. Footwear effects gearing at the ankle and knee joints during running. J Biomech, 2010; 43, 2120-2125.

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!

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