What are the benefits of barefoot running?
Well, Harvard’s Dr. Daniel Lieberman has another answer. His studies from 2 years ago showed how barefoot runners who forefoot strike put less force into the ground and, therefore, less force into their joints.
Now he has 2 new studies that have just come out that support how proper barefoot running form and minimalist running shoes can result in fewer injuries and more efficient running.
“Foot Strike and Injury Rates in Endurance Runners: a retrospective study” looked at college cross-country runners and found that those who heel-strike (landing on their heels first) had approximately twice the rate of injury than those who forefoot strike. For those of you who’ve been exploring barefoot running know, proper barefoot form involves landing on the forefoot first.
BTW, that doesn’t mean you “run on your toes” — your heel can naturally drop to the ground after the forefoot meets the ground first. In fact, letting your ankle relax is part of the natural spring mechanism of the leg.
You may also know that the easiest way to help train yourself to forefoot strike is to go barefoot or wear something genuinely minimalist, like Xero Shoes. The more you can feel the ground when you run, the less you’ll want to land on your heel… because IT HURTS!
Be careful, though, many shoes that call themselves “minimalist” still have enough padding and protection between you and the ground that you lose the barefoot feel and can still heel strike. In fact a recent barefoot running study by ACE and some video of barefoot runners made by Pete Larson of runblogger.com showed that a majority of Vibram Fivefinger wearers still heel strike as they run. In my experience, this is probably because the VFFs have enough padding (especially the ones made for running, ironically) that the wearers can’t tell they’re still heel striking.
Dr. Lieberman’s other study, “Effects of Footwear and Strike Type on Running Economy” demonstrated that runners in minimal footwear have increased efficiency than those in traditional running shoes. Specifically, the study concluded that “Minimally shod runners are modestly but significantly more economical than traditionally shod runners regardless of strike type, after controlling for shoe mass and stride frequency. The likely cause of this difference is more elastic energy storage and release in the lower extremity during minimal shoe running.”
If minimal shoes make you more efficient, that’s good news for us, since Xero Shoes are about the most minimalist running shoe you can find.