Barefoot running which is a craze among running enthusiasts and who had long believed that running without shoes or in minimalist footwear makes running easier, speedier and less injurious have to look back at this concept due to new studies casting doubts on barefoot running. A large number of new studies examining how the body actually responds to when a person runs wearing birthday shoes or skimpy footwear suggest that for many people these expectations are not being met.
Findings published last month in The Journal of Applied Physiology looked into whether or not landing near the front of the foot when the concerned runner runs is more physiologically efficient than striking the ground first with the heel. The barefoot style running that involves running shoeless or in minimalist footwear promotes a forefoot landing. Without the heel cushioning provided by the standard running shoes, barefoot proponents say, runners will gravitate naturally towards landing slightly near the balls of the feet. Moreover, they should most proponents add, because landing near the front of the foot requires less oxygen and efforts to allow the runner to push harder at any given speed and ultimately run faster and longer.
Forefoot striking is the heart of the barefoot running idea that involves landing on the ball of the runners’ foot instead of the heel. However, this idea while appealing has not been well scrutinized. Therefore, researchers at the Massachusetts Amherst recruited 37 experienced runners, 19 of whom were habitual heel strikers and 18 of them who landed near the front of the foot. The researchers began by outfitting all of the volunteers with the same neutral running flats and then having each run on a treadmill, as the concerned runner would run using his or her preferred foot strike. The volunteers ran at three different speeds, equivalent to an easy, middling and fast pace. Throughout, the researchers measured oxygen uptakes, heart rates and through mathematical calculations the extent to which carbohydrates were providing energy.
Then, in a separate experiment, they asked each runner to switch styles – the heel strikers were to land near the balls of the feet and the forefoot strikers with their heels – while the researchers gathered the same data as before. In the end, the data showed that heel striking was the more physiologically economical running form by a considerable margin. Heel strikers used less oxygen to run at the same pace as forefoot strikers and many of the foot strikers used less oxygen meaning they were more economical when they switched form to land first with their heels. These findings thus, undermined some of the entrenched beliefs about minimalist shoes or barefoot running.