Why Many Studies Give Barefoot Running a Bad Name

Over the last decade, numerous studies comparing the effects of barefoot and shod running on biomechanics have been published, with contradictory data.

barefoot running vs shod running
Is barefoot running bad or good compared to shod running? Or, is it a matter of the proper foot strike that makes barefoot running safer?

Some studies have found that biomechanics improved with barefoot running while others demonstrated that wearing running shoes reduced biomechanical impairments such as excessive tibial rotation.

Interestingly, studies of which found barefoot running to improve biomechanics over shod-running, had provided instruction on proper barefoot running technique to the participants, which included landing with a forefoot strike, not a heel strike as most shod runners.

More importantly, foot strike type was clearly defined -barefoot runners were forefoot strikers, shod runners were heel strikers. Knowing this type of information gives runners more insight on the relationship between foot strike, footwear, and injury.

Importance of Identifying foot strike in runners
Many studies that have compared the effects of barefoot and shod running on biomechanics failed to mention foot strike type.

In contrast, most of the study’s that reported opposite results, i.e. biomechanics did not improve with barefoot running, often fail to define foot strike type of the participants. And, shod runners (who were probably heel strikers) were told to run barefoot without explicit instruction on the proper barefoot running technique.

Therefore, chances were, heel striking was maintained in the barefoot runners, but the reader does not know that which is just one symptom of a general failure to integrate scientific knowledge of barefoot running into biomechanics.

  • for instance, a study by Fukano et al. found that footwear reduced tibial rotation compared to barefoot running, but foot strike type was undefined
  • this type of research is of weak scientific validity because a big piece of the injury prevention puzzle was missing: were the participants heel strikers, or forefoot strikers?

Now, I am left with many vital, unanswered questions: was tibial rotation greater in the barefoot runners because heel strike was maintained, or did these runners adopt a forefoot strike without proper instruction which led to an increase in tibial rotation? And, looking at the big picture: was it barefoot running that caused an increase in tibial rotation, or was it barefoot running with a heel strike that caused tibial rotation?

We need to know how these runners were striking the ground to fairly assess if shod running is safer than barefoot running and why. Bottom line, runners need a trusted source to tell fads and fallacies of barefoot running from proved methods.

More Run Forefoot:

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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