A bright pair of expensive runners will make you look the part, but could you be better off running barefoot?
Walk into a shoe shop and you will be forgiven if you end up walking straight back out without purchasing a pair. The range of sneakers available for runners is varied with everything from a minimalist barefoot-style runner to the maximalist shoe with their chunky, heavily cushioned soles. When you think about back in time, we’ve been running well before sneakers were invented so it makes sense to think we would all be better off running sans shoes. But, is barefoot running really an option on hard footpaths?
In 2009, the release of Christopher McDougall’s book Born To Run set the wheels in motion for the minimalism running era. Then, in 2011 anthropologist Professor Daniel Lieberman published a study looking at how and why we can run comfortably barefoot. These two events have driven the now $1.7 billion barefoot-style shoe industry.
But despite popular belief, ditching your runners doesn’t mean you will run faster or be injury-free, and it’s definitely not for everyone. According to Emily Smith, sports podiatrist from three highly regarded sports medicine centres in Sydney, your running technique determines what footwear you should be running in.
“I define barefoot running by technique rather than footwear. A barefoot technique is that of a forefoot or midfoot strike pattern, rather than a heel strike. You can then run a barefoot technique in appropriately pitched shoes,” explains Emily.
According to Emily, approximately 40 years ago the heel pitch (or heel-to-toe ratio as it’s also known) was developed and a standard of 12mm was set. Forefoot and rearfoot cushioning systems to allow for shock absorption on urban footpaths was also created. This is how the modern era of running began.
The findings from Lieberman’s research however turned the running industry on its head when it found shoe-wearing runners to have a different strike action than barefoot runners. According to his research, people who grew up running in shoes were more likely to strike the ground with their rearfoot and those who grew up running barefoot were more likely to strike the ground with their forefoot. This sparked the barefoot running revolution and the development of “barefoot” shoes that have a minimal heel pitch of 0-6mm.
But you shouldn’t automatically change to a minimalist shoe says Emily; it should be as gradual planned process that combines levels of technique training and muscle conditioning in order to gradually transition from a heel strike pattern to that of a midfoot or forefoot strike pattern.
“Barefoot running can be used safely by anyone who has transitioned progressively over time and is able to maintain a forefoot strike pattern for the length of the run. It can be used as an adjunct to a training program running on a grass oval or running track to build strength in the feet and legs and improve technique,” explains Emily.
“It should not be used by novice runners who do not understand the concept of a safe forefoot strike pattern – landing on your heel whilst barefoot (or in a barefoot shoe) will quickly cause an injury.”
So the stronger, fitter and technically fine-tuned you are, the safer it is to run in a minimalist shoe.
Photo Credit: Ingimage
About the author
Caitlin Reid is a unique health professional with qualifications as an accredited nutritionist, accredited exercise physiologist and yoga teacher. Caitlin is passionate about all things health and wellness, and keeps up-to-date with the latest health research, which she uses when contributing expert advice to health, fitness, lifestyle and food companies. She is also the nutrition expert for the Women’s Fitness magazine, the dietitian for the South Sydney Rabbitohs and ambassador for Papaya Australia. Follow Caitlin on Instagram @caitlinareid or visit her website.