Ethiopian runners spend much of their childhood and adolescence running barefoot and as a result have learned the proper forefoot running technique. Most recreational runners however, wear the conventional running shoe as soon as they start walking and contributes to heel strike running. But, in barefoot running, the feet contribute to running efficiency without the aid of a running shoe.
A common belief in the running community is that the feet are delicate and runners must wear thick cushioned stability running shoes for protection.
Yet, East African runners have stronger feet as a consequence of barefoot running and a stronger foot may support all the locomotor demands of walking and running.
As soon as we rely on a shoe to work for the feet, pain and injury arise.
Thick Cushioned Running Shoes Found to Cause Foot Pain and Reduce Foot Strength
The difficulty in convincing runners that running barefoot, or switching to a minimalist shoe, will strengthen the feet is still acute. The footwear industry routinely reminds us that running is dangerous, and by not wearing excessively cushioned footwear, we will get injured.
Mounting research shows that modern shoe technology provides nothing fundamental for injury prevention. That is, the technology in a running shoe doesn’t work because it has not been proven, yet.
A noteworthy example of the injurious effects of a cushioned running shoe, are much publicized studies showing that these shoes reduce foot strength and impair biomechanics.
One study found that running shoes with arch support weakened arch strength by preventing adequate lowering of the arch, which strained the plantar fascia. With enough repeated loading, plantar fasciitis occurs.
- Some experts believe that with increasingly supportive footwear, the feet become lazy as evidence shows that runners with collapsed arches or with plantar fasciitis develop stronger, healthier feet when running barefoot.
Hopefully, more evidence on the health benefits of barefoot running will bridge the gap between the running community and the notion that barefoot running is ridiculous
Unfortunately, we remain completely ignorant on how barefoot running positively influences foot health and proper biomechanics. Clues to potential therapies may also lay in habitually barefoot running populations, such as Ethiopia, who are pretty much injury-free.
More From Run Forefoot:
- Running on the Forefoot Saves the Knees
- Examples of Good Forefoot Running Shoes
- The Purpose of the Toe Shoes in Running
- Forefoot Running Eliminates Shin Splints
Run Forefoot, You Are Faster Than You Think!
Davis, I. What we can learn from watching children run? AMAA Journal. Fall 2011. 8-9.
Robbins, SE and Hanna, AM. (1987). Running-related injury prevention through barefoot adaptations. Med Sports Sci Ex, 19(2):148-156.
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.