The Benefits and Risks of Barefoot Running

Running barefoot surely gives you a skin ground contact and some performance efficiency. So, there are a significant rising number of runners toward a running barefoot. It is widely favored due to many offered benefits like enhancing running efficiency, improving performance and also preventing injuries. Despite a few scientific and extensive data to define its risks and benefits, you can count on your experience to figure out if it suits you. Also, you could read this post to clarify the benefits and risks of barefoot running.

Barefoot Running

A closer look at the barefoot running

How barefoot running difference with a running in shoes?

Running in barefoot or thin-soled shoes are not too bizarre as it appears throughout the human evolutionary history. From the Ethiopia's Abebe Bikila to the European running, England’s Bruce Tulloch, a barefoot running exists for such an extended period. Until 2009, one chapter of a book Born to Run mentions how a running shoeless could not prevent injuries ignited a controversy between two poles: a shod runner and a barefoot runner (no shod running).

As a matter of fact, no published research demonstrates how the running shoe prevents you from injuries. Also, the to date running shoes are truly reinforced with cushioning, the arch and motion support to help your feet stay comfortable. However, a matter of its control functions and protection of the foot has yet been confirmed. Besides, your heels have to prop up a weight as three times as your body when running. For this reason, it causes an imbalance that leads to a higher possibility of an ankle strain. In short, wearing running shoes has some notable injuries.

How barefoot running may support your performance

Scientific studies

Likewise, there is not much evidence of how the barefoot runners would gain a better performance and less likely to have injuries. Nonetheless, according to 96 barefoot running – related articles, many reviewers appreciate that during the shoeless running, they use less energy and more efficiently (increase by 4 percent). As stated by Harvard’s new study which was conducted on 94 habitually shod runners and 107 habitually runners, the barefoot runner has a better economy running.

When running barefoot, your gait is leaned forward on a forefoot or midfoot. By this way, you would achieve a shorter stride length and its higher frequency. Your foot, ankle, and hip's flex when contacting the ground are lessened. It also helps to flex your knees automatically. In other words, the barefoot running prevents you from enduring a vertical ground force. It means there is less maximum ground reaction force. As a result, you protect your feet from injury risks.

A biomechanics perspective from spec

Michael Frederickson, the head team physician of the Stanford Sports Medicine Program discussed the benefits and risks of Barefoot Running thoroughly. Out of all, he suggested considering about its foot protection lack thereof, plus the important of foot gear. He explains that during barefoot running; your body would shift from heel strike to forefoot. Hence, your motion is bouncier which results in a dissipation of the force on your foot.

During a period for a landing, the rest of force will travel back up to your spine, hip, pelvis, and knees. So, it provides the shoeless runners less impact related injuries. Though there is no extensive clinical data to consolidate this, some science appears to support how running in barefoot dissipate forces to the lower body and the joint of the spine.

Besides, the Harvard research does confirm that while the strike to ground by heel would bring more collision force on your foot and increases the higher risk injuries, barefoot running awards you more natural gait. Also, by contacting closely with the Earth ground, your feet would absorb negative electrons. And it is one of the most potent antioxidants to enhance your body’s anti-inflammatory effect.

Personal reviews

Specifically, Kate Clemens - a personal trainer from San Francisco get used to running barefoot after she found a sharp pain in her knee. Then she soon realized without running shoes, her knee pain and her alignment are better than before. As the balls of her feet strike the ground first during running barefoot, her gait does not have to weigh a thick mass of body weight. Hence, she comfortably avoids a stress fracture and no longer endures longer a power absorption at the knee. Instead, she could enjoy a softer landing.

Also, there are almost all the marathon runners in Kenya could run barefoot for a great distance with no injuries. Indeed, the physical therapist in Australia said that the plantar fasciitis which is the most common chronic injuries in runners less appears in the unshod runner group. And in developing countries where there is many habitually barefoot runner, there seems no sign of connective tissue in the legs and running-related chronic injuries to bones.

Overall, while shoes provide your feet from cuts, bruises, the weather, the barefoot running is believed to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries.

The benefits and risks of barefoot running

Two common reason why the runner prefers to run in a barefoot

Your feet have two primary functional roles. A first role is to propel the body forward by providing a rigid platform. And another one is to adapt the feet to the surface.

  • Increase running efficiency

As proven by many types of research, the lighter weight your shoes, the more efficient your running and time-saving.

  • Real ground contact

It allows more contact between the foot and ground that begins at the metatarsal areas. While the modern technique of standard footwear allows your heel, areas are striking the ground. And the first thing is that it impacts your health and performance negatively.

There also has a study published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science. It conducted a 12-week training program of barefoot running to test the effects on 39 volunteer runners. After the training period, the research revealed the athletes who run barefoot could adjust how their feet are striking to the ground. In particular, the runners who have a rearfoot strike pattern after adapting to a forefoot strike could reach a comfortable running speed and also higher speed (40 percent drop of rearfoot support).

Whereas, the researcher found that the foot and ankle are rotating (increase in external rotation from 5.5 to 13.8 percent) while an internal foot aversion consistently remains.

Many barefoot runners admit to completely enjoy a change of the strike patterns as the forefoot strike allows their motion flex obviously.

Notes: Nonetheless, I found most of the naturally rearfoot striker would not please with the stress put on their feet when doing unshod. Meanwhile, other average runners would rather run in the shoe than a barefoot. Whereas, Kevin Kirby - the sports podiatrist-biomechanist, alongside with many other doctors recommend incorporating the barefoot running into a routine instead quitting running in shoes at once.

4 benefits of barefoot running

In fact, a physical medicine and rehabilitation professor David from Harvard Medical School said if your feet are supported, it’s functionalities unnecessary to work hard. That’s why your feet’s muscle will be enhanced during a barefoot running. Indeed, as your feet could adapt in varied environments, you still able to land smoothly on a hard surface, even when running barefoot.

  • By changing the foot strike patterns (from heel to a forefoot or midfoot), you gain considerable benefits from this effective natural running stride. In fact, a cushioned running shoe allow a break in every step of landing. Whereas, many pieces of research concluded it would be more efficient to land on the midfoot. Consequently, your arches become a natural shock absorber-alike. Hence, you could land on the ground by midfoot lightly and gently.
  • Besides enhancing the muscle, tendons, and ligaments of the foot, you are given natural gait when running barefoot. As you utilize less muscle of your feet’s, ankles, hips, and legs, you could improve a proprioception.
  • Remarkably, you will feel more grounded due to a skin connection of the barefoot and the ground. You would learn how to expand your foot or spread your toes. Gradually, your feet soon become a firm base to support all your motions.
  • Additionally, your Achilles tendon and muscle are strengthened thanks to a removal of the shoe’s heel lift. It prevents you from many injuries such as Achilles tendinitis or calf strains.

Notes

There are many public data to backup how the change of strike foot pattern could decrease impact forces when landing. Though it indeed decreases the stress fracture risk, Fredericson recommends the runners to examine their foot structure before doing the unshod.

Specifically, the flat-arch runner and the severely high-arched runner would tolerate the barefoot running. As their feet could not absorb shock well, they crucially need a cushioned or supportive shoe to dissipate the impact stress to their foot. So, it also depends on your foot structure to determine whether you could follow this shoeless running. Otherwise, you may have to suffer severe impact forces and stress fracture.

6 Potential Risks of Barefoot Running

On the other hands, the research of Allison Altman (Delaware University) and Irene David (Harvard University) reveal the barefoot group tends to suffer more Achilles tendinitis. When research about no-musculoskeletal injuries on the foot’s plantar side (etc., bruises, cuts, blisters.), there are 57 such injuries found at the barefoot runner. So here are six potential risks you need to pay attention.

  1. Also, due to a little scientific evident that backups the barefoot’s foot benefit, it raises some question about some injuries, for instance, a stress fracture in the metatarsal or puncture wound on the soles. As it leads to some blister on the skin, Fredericson advises wearing the shoe to protect your feet from those traumas to the skin.
  2. As the running shoe offers many essential foot supports and protections, you need to take more precaution when running barefoot. Especially, when running on a road debris (glass, rocks or thorns) or in a harsh condition like the cold weather or frostbite in ice, a barefoot running would cause injuries.
  3. As a matter of fact, many runners should have a transition time before you go to the barefoot running. Otherwise, it would lead a significant shock on your feet, plus your muscles may feel overworked. Furthermore, you may suffer the Achilles tendinitis as the typical heel lift of the shoes is removed.
  4. Besides, your plantar surface is slightly tender. Hence, it requires a stiff-soled shoe to support. That’s why when you do an unshod running with no sole cushioning, of course, you are more likely to have an issue relating plantar fasciitis.
  5. There would be a few blisters appears after few weeks running barefoot before it forms as calluses. So, many runners have to struggle when running barefoot or wearing a semi-barefoot shoe.
  6. And lastly, prepare yourself when running barefoot as people would notice or even stare at you. No blame for their curiosity, though the barefoot running trend is commonly growing.

Notes

Because your feet and it calves muscles require time to accommodate to a shorter stride and different strike, you should start the progress slowly and carefully

Preparation step before transit to the barefoot running:

First of all, make sure you have screened out your foot problem by diagnosing thoroughly with your doctor.

A revealed result will clarify whether your foot and leg muscle could able to work properly for the barefoot running. You also need to talk to a podiatrist before ditching your running shoes. Moreover, it is evident a taboo to running without shoes if you have diabetes or lose any feeling in your feet. Indeed, when stepping on glass or pebble that demand a foot-to-asphalt contact, it especially vital to wear the running shoes.

The Benefits and Risks of Barefoot Running shoe:

After considering your feet health and safety conditions carefully, you should start the unshod progress slowly. In particular, you begin with walk-jog intervals. By spending one minute of running after nine minutes for walking, and repeat this chain, your feet are gradually prepared for the barefoot running. Importantly, this progress would help the skin on your feet to thicken.

Now, let’s figure out clearly how the barefoot running provides less impact on your running efficiency. Actually, by landing the forefoot in each strike, it produces less impact shock. Also, it increases the rotational force on your ankle, whereas it decreases the strength of the knee. However, it remains a question around the effect on other areas of the leg. There is a clear-cut evident, and the running bare roots hazards could not be proved.

Likewise, there are not so many well-controlled studies that its benefits to state whether it’s beneficial to running shod or unshod. That’s why a Vibram FiveFingers-a five-toed shoe is hoped to deliver a similar feeling to the barefoot running. Though it benefits has yet been clarified explicity, many American runners do wear this shoe. Let’s check out the benefits and risks of the barefoot running shoe.

Pros

  • Offer a great feeling of a ground contact. Besides, you could activate less muscle of the foot.
  •  Allow your body to sense the ankle joint’s position relative to the surrounding.
  • It strengthens your feet’s muscle, tendons, and ligaments.
  • Provide a lightweight and ideal platform to run faster for a short distance run.

Cons

  • You may have a blister and plantar fasciitis.
  • Your feet could accidentally step on a metal shard, sharp rocks or other debris.
  • There is no insulation from the elements provided.
  • Some part of your body could suffer more shock during running barefoot. It leads to many foot-related injuries.
  • Some stress fracture and bone edema in the foot are recognized by some studies. It requires an adaptation period to get used with this minimalist footwear and the barefoot running.
Verdict

In fact, a group of runners who wears shoes accounts up to 96 percent of all runners while there is a minor percentage belongs to the minimalist camp. Regardless of a rarity number, if you enjoy an extreme ground feeling and some supporting functionality for your feet, then wearing this minimalist shoe may meet your demand.

Despite many hypotheses about how striking the foot's lateral ball to the ground first declines an impact force, it has yet been confirmed to lessen injuries. So, the benefit of the barefoot running has yet been concluded also.

Three recommendations for you before running barefoot

Base on a statement from Dr. Kirby, the experienced runner would gain such benefits from incorporating barefoot running into their routine. Meanwhile, an entry and intermediate level runners should intensively outweigh the benefits over the risks of both cushioned shoes and barefoot shoes.

You should take note how a barefoot running and changing mechanic would cause injuries. Above all, remember to spend weeks for a transition period. So, you could avoid sprains, strains or any risk of foot fracture.

Final words

If you have not experienced any injuries during the barefoot running so far, then it’s fine to continue doing it. As summed up by David Willey-the Runner’s World Editor-in-Chief, when it comes to a running form or footwear, there is no single prescription applied for all types of runner. As long as you take care well your body, listen to each change in a body part, especially your feet, plus update a running science, you could run barefoot comfortably.

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