According to the skeletal biology lab at Harvard University there is simply no doubt about it: barefoot people can run with ease on some of the hardest surfaces in the world without experiencing any discomfort from landing. With the possible disadvantages of running barefoot no longer appearing as an issue, the myriad of advantages can be explored and experienced by anyone with two feet.
Running Shoes: Advantageous or Disadvantageous?
Barefoot running is often referred to as “Natural Running,” primarily due to the fact that it is the way nature intended human beings to run. Shoes designed to be worn while running rely on synthetic materials and often haphazardly place “support” areas, including under the arch of the foot and beneath the toes. These regions interfere with the natural motion of the human foot, which is intended to easily absorb impacts generated when colliding with the ground while running.
While manufacturers of running shoes advertise their products as being synergistic to the natural motions of the foot, in almost all cases this is simply an untested claim. Running shoes may, in fact, cause more injury than they prevent, including increasing the risk of ankle sprains, plantar fascitis, and other chronic lower limb injuries.
The Benefits of Barefoot Running
The act of barefoot running makes use of all the natural resistances the human legs and feet have to repeated collisions generated by running.
Without going into too much technical detail, the structure of the human lower leg, when combined in its action with the foot, has evolved to be very efficient at absorbing energy received when the foot hits the ground. Through the springing motion of the natural arch of the foot, energy is distributed without harming the bones and tissue of the lower body. When the differences in energy dissipation between barefoot and shoe-wearing runners were analyzed, it was observed those running with shoes typically landed with a heel strike (which is commonly the cause of many running-related injuries), while those running barefoot tended to land on the ball or middle of the foot therefore avoiding the negative heel strike.
Even and especially when running barefoot: care must be taken to observe proper running form. One must always strive to land on the ball or middle of their feet, avoiding landing on the heel. Regardless or shoes or not, bad running form can result in injury and a negative running experience.
Making it a Habit
Runners who continually run barefoot for significant periods of time have been shown to undergo physiological changes, primarily in the form of the shortening of the arch of the foot. This allows the benefits of running barefoot to be expressed in even more profound ways. Elasticity in the muscles of the foot also typically increased in those who made running barefoot a habit, allowing for decreased oxygen consumption while running and thus allowing for longer periods of running to occur. Such increases in the efficiency of oxygen consumption while running do not occur in those who continually wear running shoes.
Why Do It?
If you plan on becoming a habitual jogger, whether for the purposes of health, pleasure, or any other reason; consider barefoot running. The process of running barefoot will more than likely allow an increased enjoyment of the activity, as well as reducing the risk of undesirable injuries caused by bad running form coupled with the wearing of running shoes. When made a habit, running barefoot will allow you to maximize the enjoyment and benefits you can receive from jogging.
This article was written by a certified personal trainer at the National Council on Strength & fitness. For more information visit the NCSF at www.ncsf.org