View Full Version : Performance Effects of Barefoot Running

03-30-2010, 01:41 PM
As the barefoot running debate continues as to whether it is a less
injury-producing form of running, one factor that seems to be overlooked
by many is the potential performance effect of barefoot running.
Previous research studies seem to all agree that wearing shoes or adding
mass to the feet increases the energy cost of running (Catlin, 1979;
Burkett, 1985; Divert, 2008) with steady state oxygen consumption
increasing with either shoes or mass added to the feet. It seems
intuitive that running unshod will reduce the work required to swing an
added mass at the end of the lower extremity with each forward recovery
phase of running. With reduced metabolic work per mile run, then
running barefoot should, metabolically, be faster than running in shoes.

However, for anyone that has followed international running
competitions, it is obvious that there are very few elite runners who
choose to race barefoot and no world running records have been set in
the past few decades while running barefoot, even though barefoot
running should theoretically be the fastest and lightest way to run. In
other words, barefoot runners are virtually absent when the finishing
tape is broken, with the notable exception being Abebe Bikila who won
the Rome Olympic Marathon now 50 years ago in 1960, but who also ran 7
seconds faster per mile to win the Olympic Marathon and set a world
marathon record in 1964 in Tokyo.....wearing shoes!

My question for this group, then, if all the studies show that barefoot
running is more metabolically efficient than running shod, then why
aren’t more elite runners shedding their shoes to race? Is there some
other physiological or biomechanical factor that makes wearing a
lightweight running shoes (that we called racing flats back in the 1970s
and not “minimalist shoes”) faster than barefoot? Are the elite runners
simply afraid that they may injure themselves while racing barefoot? Or
are they simply afraid that they lose valuable sponsorship money from
corporate shoe companies who are eager to have their shoes being worn by
the winner of an important racing events?


************************************************** **************************
Kevin A. Kirby, DPM
Clinical Associate Professor
Department of Applied Biomechanics
California School of Podiatric Medicine at Samuel Merritt University

Private Practice:
107 Scripps Drive, Suite 200
Sacramento, CA 95825 USA

Voice: (916) 925-8111 Fax: (916) 925-8136
************************************************** **************************


1. Catlin MJ, Dressendorfer RH: Effect of shoe weight on the energy
cost of running. Medicine and Science in Sports. 11: 80, 1979.

2. Burkett LN, Kohrt M, Buchbinder R: Effects of shoes and foot
orthotics on VO2 and selected frontal plane kinematics. Med Sci Sports
Exer, 17:158-163, 1985.

3. Divert C, Mornieux G, Freychat P, Baly L, Mayer F, Belli A:
Barefoot-shod running differences: shoe or mass effect? Int J Sports
Med, 29 (6):512-518, 2008.