Barefoot running has become a popular topic in athletics. There have been claims that it can prevent injuries, and claims that it can improve performance. Research has shown that there is a mechanical difference with barefoot running that results in less force transmitted to the joints upon impact. Today, we will review a research article that attempted to determine whether running barefoot is a more efficient style that could lead to improved performance.
In 2009, the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness published a study that compared barefoot runners, shoed runners, and runners wearing a special lightweight shoe (Vibram Fivefingers). The researchers collected data to determine pressure and impact on the foot, lower limb mechanics, VO2 (a measurement of physical exertion), and heart rate while the runners all ran the same speed and duration.
The results found that compared to the shoed runners, the barefoot runners (and to a lesser extent the runners who wore the special lightweight shoe) had an altered running stride which resulted in reduced impact forces. They also found the barefoot runners and runners who wore the special lightweight shoe had significantly decreased VO2 values, which indicates they had to expend less energy than runners wearing shoes.
Therefore, the results of this study agree with previous research that documented barefoot runners experiencing decreased impact forces, but this article also shows that running barefoot or with special lightweight shoes could help improve performance by decreasing the amount of effort needed to complete a given run.
- Squadrone R, Gallozzi C. Biomechanical and physiological comparison of barefoot and two shod conditions in experienced barefoot runners. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2009 Mar;49(1):6-13.