If you’re a runner than you know, shoes are an interesting and complicated topic . Shoes provide the feet with protection from the environment, while cushioning them from impactful forces. But do shoes actually reduce these forces experienced by the lower body while running? Are shoes reducing our ability to control body alignment and overall muscle control? Today we are looking at the method and benefits of barefoot running and comparing it to running with shoes.
RUNNING WITH SHOES: THE HEEL STRIKE
Most people run with what is called a heel strike. This is when you land on your heel with each step. A heel strike pattern is most common in people who run with shoes on. On the other hand, those who run barefoot, have been shown to adopt a forefoot striking pattern (striking with the toes on each step). Forefoot striking is different than heel-striking as they produce different forces on the body during running.
RUNNING BAREFOOT: FOREFOOT STRIKING
Forefoot striking puts the majority of the work on the calf muscles in the back of the leg, whereas heel-striking puts the majority of the work through the heel and up the front part of the leg. Since majority of the work is put on the large calf muscles in forefoot striking, the muscle is able to produce higher breaking forces upon impact, leading to increased shock absorption. Conversely, heel striking does not produce the same potential to increase shock absorption.
Forefoot striking has also been shown to increase stride frequency and decrease stride length, allowing the calf muscle to reduce the impact forces on each stride. Additionally, barefoot running allows for improved proprioceptive feedback in the feet. This means you’ll feel more, understanding how you are connecting with the ground, and how the muscles in your legs are controlled. Both of which you can not get with shoes on.
TO RUN BAREFOOT OR NOT
So, with all of the evidence showing that barefoot running is beneficial to reduce impact forces, allowing for better control of leg and feet muscles… Should you take off the shoes and go for a barefoot run? Not just yet!!
Just like anything to do with exercise, it is best to work yourself into it. As discussed, barefoot running results in different loads on the lower body than experienced when running with shoes on. Switching over immediately can lead to injury. For this reason, barefoot running should be taken up with caution and over a long period of time. Start off slow, walking around barefoot for a while when and where you can, preferably inside. Slowly progress barefoot running into your workouts. Remember to keep in mind that these impact loads are different and like with any type of training, your body must adapt to these differences over time.
BAREFOOT RUNNING: DO IT RIGHT
Barefoot running may not be for everyone. Those who adopt a barefoot running style and heel strike as opposed to striking with their forefoot, may experience greater impact forces. For this reason, it is important to learn the foot strike pattern before taking off the shoes. Remember, you’ve been running a certain way for many years and a sudden change can cause serious injury. If you are considering switching to barefoot running, we recommend contacting an exercise specialist to learn HOW to run better!
To learn more about running or to improve your performance, join InsideOut’s running group every Sunday morning at 9AM. For more information or to RSVP email@example.com.