observations on gear, adventure, and the world

Outside Magazine’s Fitness Myth #2: “Running barefoot is better for the body” ReBUNKED

The myth here is that the issue is shoes. The issue is technique.

Careful readers of Born to Run will note that most of the books characters were using some sort of footware and the best American runners in the book all wear moderately conventional shoes, and EVERY runner wore some sort of footwear in the Copper Canyon… even Barefoot Ted.

The issue is technique. It’s running wrong, specifically heel striking, that causes injuries(1). Figure 1 at left from the science of sport shows the impact force from heel striking in shoes. The strange little spike represents a sheering force on your extended knee joint this is where many of the knee injuries from running start.

Figure 2 shows that running wrong (heel striking) presents more sheering force than with a shoe.

Figure 3 shows that this sheering force is eliminated in a forefoot strike stride. This is the case with or without shoes. Both Pose and Chi running train coaches to teach you how to remove this shearing force from your stride. It takes some time and expense but seems to yield great results by removing the heel strike from your stride.

As I’ve said, technique not shoes are the problem. The problem with shoes is that they mask the pain of running wrong. The thing that the figures from the science of sport don’t capture is how wrong heel striking barefoot feels. First and foremost, it REALLY hurts. But second, without a huge EVA foam heel strapped to you it is quite easy to implement proper technique and land on the midfoot or forefoot (I’ve heard it both ways).

The foot is quite jam-packed with nerves and gives you copious instantaneous feedback about your technique. I found that a few simple instructions about how to run properly set me in the right direction and then my feet gave me all the feedback I needed.

Since the feedback is so fast and constant when barefoot learning to run well is quick. Much faster than sessions gait analysis and coaching.

Barefoot running will help healthy to modestly injured runners get stronger feet and improve technique. If you’re in love with your crazy space-age running boats, fine, just use barefooting to improve technique and strength. Whatever you do

Shoes are bad.
Bad technique is bad, but shoes can get in the way.

(1)A secondary problem is foot strength.


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