Is Running “Barefoot” Really Better?
Evan Jensen | My Body
Barefoot running shoes: harmful or helpful? Those specially shaped, minimalist running shoes that give you the feel of running barefoot are all the rage, but you might not want to leave your full sneakers in the closet for good.
Early humans ran barefoot, and some still do, but when barefoot runners known as the Tarahumara Indians were featured in the book Born to Run, running shoe companies began making shoes to provide runners with a close-to-barefoot running experience.
The result was a new kind of running shoe designed to closely match the experience of running barefoot. The design is intended to help your foot adopt a natural heel-to-toe transition as you run. Some research suggests it may help prevent running-related injuries, but a new study finds that barefoot running might not be for everyone. In a study presented at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, researchers found that people older than 30 should transition to minimalist running shoes carefully to avoid injury – or not wear them at all.
Here are the questions to ask yourself about whether you should go “barefoot,” and the risks and rewards of your running shoe choice.
How long have you been running?
In the study, researchers compared barefoot running performance and foot biomechanics between experienced runners (10 years or more) to teenage runners. They found that it was easier for people new to running to make the transition from traditional shoes to minimalist shoes without injury.
What part of your foot strikes the ground first when running?
Traditional running shoes are designed to encourage your heel to hit the ground first when you run, because the heel of the shoe is higher than the forefoot. Over time, your foot, joints, muscles and tendons adapt to running this way. Barefoot running shoes have little to no “drop” from heel to toe, which your foot may not be prepared to handle right away.
How many miles a week do you run?
In the study, researchers found that runners who logged more miles in traditional running shoes needed more time to transition to barefoot running. Those who increased their mileage too quickly in minimalist shoes were more likely to develop running-related injuries.
Are you willing to make the transition to barefoot running over a couple of months?
If you do want to try barefoot running, make the transition gradually. Run short distances in minimalist shoes at first. Then, gradually increase your mileage. This approach is best to make the transition to barefoot running and lowers the risk of getting injured in the process.
Join the barefoot running phenomenon, lace up your usual running shoes, or do a little of both. You’ll still get the benefits of logging some miles to burn calories and build endurance.