Is Barefoot Running Better for Your Hips?

Hip injury is another common problem in runners, namely runners who wear thick cushioned running shoes, that was found to be fully resolved with barefoot running.

Are Cushioned Running Shoes Bad for You?
Evidently, the more cushioning in a running shoe exposes you to even greater risks for injury because studies have found that too much underfoot cushioning negatively alters hip-joint mechanics that accounts for persistent hip pain as compared with barefoot running.

An eye-opening study in Human Movement Science discovered that shod (shoe) runners with no experience with barefoot running or running in barefoot shoes (minimalist shoes) had marked reductions in hip demand and loadings than shod running.

  • In the study, the runners ran 1-minute bouts at fixed running speeds in two running conditions: shod vs barefoot.
  • Running velocities and conditions were randomized and all running velocities within each condition were performed consecutively.

2D kinematic data recordings were taken of the lower legs, and revealed improvements in hip kinematics occurred within the first 1- minute of barefoot running, suggesting that barefoot running triggers naturally occurring acute responses to create a safer landing strategy in the absence of underfoot protection.

What is more, the researchers discovered that running barefoot kept hip range of motion in a safer range, which contributed to the big reductions in hip demands and loadings.

Why Barefoot Running is Better for Your Hips Than Cushioned Running Shoes
The more you can feel the ground with your feet, the better your mechanics are at staying in a safer range of tolerance vs thicker cushioned running shoes.

Better yet, a paramount study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, found another major benefit of barefoot running: the braking phase was far less impact-intensive, thereby further reducing efforts at the hips as compared with shod running.

The big reason barefoot running did a far better job at safeguarding the hips is because a forefoot strike was engaged whereas thick cushioned running shoes tends to encourage a heavy heel-strike. This is because few mechanical defections have been reported in forefoot running, since landing on the balls of your foot engages a contact with the ground that’s so brief that certain impact variables are not fully produced, and some forms of impact aren’t even produced at all!

When you run barefoot, it activates a range of reflexive responses that mainly play important roles in engaging low-impact mechanics, such as a forefoot strike, higher step-rate, less pronation and a shorter stride. These are one of the great outcomes of running barefoot, aside from literally age-proofing your feet!

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It should be noted that the more you run barefoot, or in barefoot shoes, the safer and more efficient you actually run in cushioned running shoes. This makes a lot of sense because barefoot running engages the brain in a unique matter, involving our brain to make use out of a number of the different sensory inputs and cues stimulating the bare-foot. As a result, there are higher reflexive and neuro-muscular engagements that actually make a better contribution to avoid high impact landings. This is always why injury prevention in running boils down to your foot strike pattern. If you’re heel striking, you’ll always be more vulnerable to injury than using a forefoot strike landing on the basis of forefoot running always produces less net impact.

The Take Home Message

This research has important implications for how we think about what we wear on our feet. Evidence of this is accumulating fast, and it’s actually revealing an imperfect correlation between thick cushioned running shoes and less injuries. Put another way, the research shows, more underfoot cushioning translates into excessive impact that the body cannot absolutely absorb, which is why injury rates still remain far too high, even with all the advancement’s in running shoe technology.

Any intervention aimed at preventing injury at the hip, and elsewhere on the body, needs to involve gait (running form) retraining under barefoot or minimalist shod conditions. Learn how to run properly without your shoes FIRST, so you can learn to run safely in shoes.

Need more convincing of the value of barefoot running in fine-tuning your running form? Here’s all the evidence-backed reasons barefoot running is the best for improving form, while making your feet stronger and more tolerant in the face of new, harder training levels. 

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Daoud, A. I., Geissler, G. J., Wang, F., Saretsky, J., Daoud, Y. A., & Lieberman, D. E. (2012). Foot strike and injury rates in endurance runners: a retrospective study. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 44, 1325–1334.

Flemming et al. Acute response to barefoot running in habitually shod males. Hum Mov Sci, 2015; 42:27-37.

Lieberman, D. E., Venkadesan, M., Werbel, W. A., Daoud, A., D’Andrea, S., Davis, I., et al (2010). Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature, 463, 531–535.

Robbins, S. E., & Hanna, A. M. (1987). Running-related injury prevention through barefoot adaptations. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 19, 148–156.

Warne, J. P., & Warrington, G. D. (2014). Four-week habituation to simulated barefoot running improves running economy when compared with shod running. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 24, 563–568.

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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