Barefoot Running Benefits.

Barefoot running has developed something of a cult following – and, admittedly, I’m starting to drink the Kool-Aid. You might even say that it’s a movement.

Think about it: Our feet are the result of millions of years of evolution and designed to safely and efficiently transport our bodies over a variety of surfaces at varying speeds. Running shoes, on the other hand, have only been around for a few decades. Maybe there’s something to be said for being barefoot.

I’m a big fan of data, but there hasn’t been much research on running barefoot versus running with shoes. And so, I was excited to discover a new study about barefoot running by researchers at Northumbria University.

The study followed a mix of recreational and trained runners who completed a variety of runs in both shoes and barefoot on separate days. The study concluded that newly barefoot runners immediately alter their gait to that of habitual barefoot runners – and strike the ground with lower impact forces and loading rates than runners who use shoes. The altered gait is both safer and more comfortable.

Moreover, barefoot runners used an average of 6% less oxygen. In other words, their running became 6% more efficient. This could be for a number of reasons – not the least of which may be the added weight of sneakers. According to research, there’s about a 1% increase in energy demand for every 100 grams of additional footwear mass.

A mere 6% might not sound like much – but when you look at Olympic events, for example, you quickly realize that every hundredth of a second counts. Even a little added efficiency can make a huge difference for athletes performing at this level.

While the increases in efficiency and decreases in injury risk associated with barefoot running may seem small and inconsequential for most recreational runners, I’d recommend giving it a try. If you’re interested, the Nike Free Run (read my review) is a great transitional sneaker. It’s the sneaker that I use, and I’m in love with its flexibility.

And beyond the potential benefits, there’s something very freeing, natural and almost romantic about running barefoot and feeling the earth beneath your feet. That is, until you step on a piece of glass.

In the comments below, let me know if you’re a fan of barefoot running – or if you’re curious to give it a try.

About Davey Wavey

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Comments

  1. Over millions of years, humans have been walking and running on soil, not concrete and the like.

  2. lol will it be fantastic when you step on glass? 😀 im sure its fabulous if you dont stand on anything sharp though, but how likely is that?

  3. There’s a great book called ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall that really goes into depth about barefoot running. I also have some Nike Free Runs, but I also really love running (and even walking around NYC) in my Vibram Five Fingers.

  4. Tony Anthony says:

    Hey Davey –

    Currently I wear (older model) Asics Evolution shoes and run mostly on a composite polyurethane local high school track. Occasionally a few miles on local asphalt roads. I suffer from some lumbar/sciatica/psoas issues and wonder if I should switch to one of these “barefoot” shoes, either the Nike Free or the Vibram Finger or stick with what I’ve got.
    Your thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks,

    Tony

  5. have you seen the vibram sport shoes?

  6. Hi Davey –

    I’ve been barefoot running (BFR) for over three months now and am a fan. BFR will strengthen your feet, whiten your smile and make you last longer with increased girth, but there area a couple of things to consider:

    1) BFR is not a panacea. It is an alterative way to run. In the end, it is up to the individual to figure out if this is going to work for him or her. What works for some may not work for others.
    2) If you’re normally able to run 10K while wearing shoes (or, “shod”), know that you will not be able to do that immediately when you convert to BFR. I went from 5 to 6 miles down to 0.5 miles – reason being is that the muscles, ligaments, tendons, etc… need time to develop after being supported and cushioned by shoes, lo these many years. If nothing else, the soles of your feet will only allow you to go so far before it hurts. The good news is that this gets corrected over time – your feet and soles get stronger and tougher and you can get back to your normal distance. But patience is required.
    3) I cannot stress this enough: Watch out for too much too soon (TMTS) – if you try to go too far too soon during your foray into BFR, you run the risk of injury. When this happens, most people blame the fact that they were BFR without acknowledging the fact that they pushed too hard too soon.
    4) Know that #2 and #3 will vary from person to person. Admittedly, I have heard of people doing 10K on their first try and living to tell about it. Just because it’s doable, doesn’t mean is should be done, though. Listen to your body – it will tell you when you’re flirting with disaster; ignore it at your own peril.
    5) Read read read about BFR – there are approximately 17 thousand million resources out there and know that some advice is going to conflict. You need to figure out what works for you and know that it may be different for someone else.
    6) You can visit http://www.thebarefootrunners.org for research and post questions or get thoughts and ideas on how to progress with BFR. We’re a friendly group, but we’re weird. We run around without shoes on, for God’s sake!
    7) Finally, a bit of semantics: Barefoot running is just that – Barefoot. Wearing Vibram Five Fingers (VFF’s) or Huaraches or any of the minimalist shoes out there is not BFR (even though they’re called “Barefoot Shoes”).
    8) Finally, finally: Read Born to Run. It’s required reading for barefoot runners.

    All this said, I’m happy I’ve made the conversion and I do recommend it to folks that are willing to be patient and work on their form a bit.

    Hope this helps!

    Chris

  7. When you said “I’m starting to drink the Kool-Aid”, I immediately thought of Jonestown …

  8. I’ve been barefoot for 5 years now and it’s been great for my health! I’ve even walked on glass with no problems…

  9. Jonathan Pritchard says:

    Hey Davey 🙂

    Thought I would comment on this one because it’s so close to me. I have been running without shoes and in Vibram five-fingers (another great minimalist shoe/foot glove) for almost 4 years now, and I will never go back to traditional shoes again! Before I ran barefoot, I could barely get to a mile without my Achilles and knees throbbing in pain. Within a week of taking off the shoes I was able to run 3 miles with no pain at all, running finally became fun 🙂 Since then I have been running 6 to 8 miles regularly, and have even done a few half-marathons.