Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Another Opinion on the ACSM Symposium on Barefoot Running

I found another post about the discussion of barefoot running at the ACSM's annual meeting.  This one is from the New York Times Health section, written by Gretchen Reynolds.  She brings in a couple other studies done last year on how shoes affect children's gait.

One study ( found that, "with shoes, children walk faster by taking longer steps with greater ankle and knee motion and increased tibialis anterior activity. Shoes reduce foot motion and increase the support phases of the gait cycle. During running, shoes reduce swing phase leg speed, attenuate some shock and encourage a rearfoot strike pattern."

The other study Reynolds mentions is one done by Dr Daniel Lieberman on Kenyan children.  He compared children in an urban setting, who typically wore shoes most of the time, to those in a rural setting, in which the children were mostly barefoot (  He found that most of the city kids, when running, landed on their heels resulting in greater impact forces; whereas the barefoot rural kids landed more mid- and forefoot with less impact.

But, as pointed out in Dr Tucker's post in his blog The Science of Sport, that doesn't mean we all should ditch our shoes and run barefoot all the time.  According to Allison Gruber, lead author of another study done at the University of Massachusetts showing how impact forces are lesser when footstrike is mid- to forefoot, the “evidence is not concrete for or against barefoot or shod running.  If one is not experiencing any injuries, it is probably best to not change what you’re doing.”

Then again, if you do experience a lot of running injuries, you might want to try the minimalist approach.  The key, according to all of these experts, is to move into either a less constructed shoe or barefoot gradually.  Dr Lieberman suggests you, "remove your shoes for the last mile of your usual run and ease into barefoot running over a period of weeks."  It all depends on the individual, how fast or slow they should move into the minimalist shoe or barefoot running, but I would err on the side of caution.  Dr Lieberman also mentions form--running with a shorter stride and landing lightly.  As I tell all my runners, "run tall, run relaxed, run easy."

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