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Performance Effects of Barefoot Running

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  • Performance Effects of Barefoot Running

    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.