Before completely understanding the benefits behind barefoot or minimalist running, you need to understand the disadvantages to shod running. Modern running shoes began to appear in the 1970’s. Before this time, much of the available shoes were racing flats; however, in much earlier history, people ran with no shoes or with little protection. This brings up the question: Are modern running shoes as beneficial as they claim to be?
Benefits of Barefoot Running
I like to call this a forefoot pronation strike because your foot will tend to land at an angle and rotate inwards onto a flat foot. This is one of the largest benefits to running barefoot and it shows some amazing evolutionary advantages that our feet have developed over millions of years.
Unlike a heel strike, a forefoot pronation strike has almost no heel impact. The strike begins on the outside corner of the foot and rolls inward as the forces are absorbed by the foot muscles and the ankle rather than the heel and the knee. This protects your body from an immediate impact and can potentially dramatically reduce impact related injuries that runners commonly face such as ruptured ligaments and shin splints.
Strengthening Your Foot
Along with a softer impact, running barefoot can dramatically strengthen your muscles and tendons in your feet. According to Lieberman, as the foot evolved, many small muscles and tendons developed in the foot to help with running and balance. By running barefoot, many of these muscles and tendons will become stronger, giving you a new advantage, your arch.
The arch in your foot, along with many tendons in your foot, is very useful when using a forefoot pronation strike. As you move away from a heel strike, you will notice a spring that you rarely feel when landing hard. Your arch and the accompanying tendons offer a spring in each stride and allow for a more enjoyable step.
By strengthening your foot, you will also notice that you can “sense” where your foot is more often. When running barefoot or in minimalist shoes, you will notice an increase in balance due to stronger stability muscles, and also due to a better idea of where your foot is with respect to the ground. This can keep you from rolling an ankle or stepping awkwardly.
Disadvantages of shod running
According to a study called “Hazard of deceptive advertising of athletic footwear” by Robbins and Waked, as people wear running shoes they are more likely to be less cautious of their surroundings and in turn, develop more injuries. The lesser ability to feel the ground your foot is on and know where your foot is with respect to the ground can be dangerous.
Robbins and Waked found that as shoes are advertised with safety functions, people rely on the safety of the shoe rather than their own reading of a situation. This attempts to explain their finding that expensive running shoes tend to cause 123% higher injury rates.
When running barefoot or in minimalist shoes, you are always aware of your surroundings and are constantly being cautious about how and where you step, avoiding the accidental injuries.
Lieberman’s research explained that a heel impact causes an instantaneous impact that can generate two to three times the body weight in forces. These forces are absorbed by the heel, the knee, and sometimes the lower back.
When running in modern running shoes, a heel strike is very common and is more comfortable than a forefoot strike because the extensive padding on the heel offers a softer impact. Although this is so, it is very possible that the forces are not diluted by much, still causing a dramatic stopping force resonating through the leg.
This form of running was developed as running shoe companies began developing shoes to imitate a walking stride. Running was thought to have come into being based on the form of walking, but recent studies conclude otherwise. Therefore, running shoe companies in the 1970’s and on began developing shoes that helped cushioned the hard stopping force on your heel.
Take a look at Lieberman’s research on barefoot running
Also, here is the research done by Robbins and Waked: Hazard of deceptive advertising of athletic footwear