As the lobby for barefoot running becomes stronger it is no surprise science once again has turned to the laboratory to prove a point. A new piece of work conducted by scientists from Harvard, Glasgow and Moi Universities was published recently and highlighted the differences between gait patterns for runners wearing shoes compared to those without. Researchers discovered running barefeet, or in minimal footwear, can be potentially less injurious than running in sport shoes. Wearing sport shoes they infer may introduce an artificial ‘heel strike phase’ when the weight bearing limb is subjected to repeated high impact forces (the equivalent to two to three times body weight). Under certain circumstances this can cause painful symptoms long associated with sport injuries of the leg and foot. Researchers believe running barefoot may in some cases prevent these injuries. The multi centred research involved working with populations of runners in the United States and Kenya, and researchers looked at the running gaits of three groups: those who had always run barefoot, those who had always worn shoes, and those who had converted to barefoot running from shod running. Subjects were less prone to generate high impact on ground contact through the leading foot when unshod.
This simple study may at first sight appear to give fresh insights into the growing debate but the data findings are not new nor are the extrapolations particularly illuminating. The research was funded by the American School of Prehistoric Research, the Goelet Fund, Harvard University, and Vibram USA. Vibram USA is a private company which produces minimal footwear.
An elementary understanding of human locomotion would confirm the difference between walking and running cycles. Heel strike is perfectly normal up until middle distance running where forefoot contact supersedes heel contact. At this point walking turns into running*. Unless you run at middle distance speeds heel contact would be the norm. Most sport shoes will take this into account and provide heel support. If the study has any merit it supports the need for faster runners to wear appropriate shoes rather than suggest athletes perse adopt barefoot running carte blanche.
* The transference from heel contact to forefoot contact in locomotion is used in walking races suffice when athletes transfer first contact to the forefoot (running) they are disqualified.
Lieberman D.E, Madhusudhan Venkadesan M.,William A. Werbel W.A., Adam I. Daoud A.I. Susan D’Andrea S., Davis I.S., Mang’Eni R.O. & Pitsiladis Y. (2010) Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners Nature 463, 531-535 (28 January 2010) | doi:10.1038/nature08723; Received 27 July 2009; Accepted 26 November 2009
Running barefoot or minimal footwear