http://sweatscience.runnersworld.com/2012/02/barefoot-versus-running-shoes-which-is-surprisingly-more-efficient/

This article was brought to my attention by my friends at the Natural Running Store and I, like them, was very surprised by the results.  It’s been assumed for the last few years that barefoot running is more efficient than running in shoes because of the naturalness running barefoot.  Some will tell you though that while they feel lighter and more free running bare that they also feel a lot of muscle soreness in the lower legs than they ever have.  That extra muscle effort means a lot things are happening inside the body that most people don’t take into account.  One of those things that is effected  is the use of oxygen.  When the muscles are working harder they are using more oxygen which means there is room for the idea that running without shoes makes you less oxygen efficient than when in shoes but where is that line?  At what weight is the shoe too heavy?  Is there an adaptation period that barefoot running takes in order for you to move past this oxygen inefficiency and if so how long is that period?  To be completely honest these are questions I’ve had in the back of mind for a long time but since I don’t have a research lab, a lot of money, or ideas on the best ways to test this I have only been able to sit around and speculate.  Thankfully I’m not the only person wondering these things and that is where this article from Runner’s World comes in.  It appears the studies to answer these questions are being done and as always they seem to be presenting some interesting results that many of us may not have expected.

My friends at the Natural Running Store posted on Facebook that this is “an authentic “holy crap” moment for them and I agree.  I love running bare and have done so as part of my training for over half of my life but I’ve also very much enjoyed running in minimal shoes so studies like this really appeal to me.  I have no idea where this all ends or where it will settle but I’m very intrigued to find out.  Enjoy the article and please share your thoughts.  I’m really looking forward to hearing what you think about this one.

http://sweatscience.runnersworld.com/2012/02/barefoot-versus-running-shoes-which-is-surprisingly-more-efficient/

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7 responses »

  1. Erik says:

    Whether or not this study is valid, who runs barefoot because of efficiency considerations? I just like it. It’s good for the sole. When it’s really cold and I have to put on Moc3s, it isn’t half as fun. If it’s really cold for a week, my feet get itchy.

    • I agree that most people aren’t running barefoot for efficiency reasons but there has been a lot of discussion about the idea that not carrying weight on your feet through shoes would make you a more efficient runner. To a certain degree this study shows that may not be the case until you get into the heavier shoe range. I can see this being interesting information for those barefoot runners who also want to race. It appears that maybe barefoot running could be like strength training and then wearing a thin shoe for a race would yield a more efficient experience with which to perform at a higher level. Sort of how people back in the day used heavier shoes for training and then lighter shoes for racing except the opposite in this case.

      • Erik says:

        Yah, I too find these kinds of studies interesting, but they need to be taken with a big rock of salt. And haven’t there been other studies proving the opposite? of course, further study into injury prevention, shod or barefoot, is good and necessary. But my understanding is that pretty much everyone who wants to win a race already uses shoes of some sort. I’m not against using prosthetic devices to improve performance. In fact, the only spectator sport I enjoy is (American) football, which is heavily mediated by objects and protection. When pro runners start winning races barefoot, on a consistent basis, I think we’ll have convincing evidence that barefoot is best for performance. Just my two cents.

      • I like the way you’re thinking. There are studies that show barefoot is more efficient but that is versus heel striking. This study had only mid foot strikers to level the playing field if you will. That’s one of the reasons why I think the scope of this study is so interesting. They did the best they could to limit the outliers and just focus on a single aspect. It was all mid foot strikers and they at least had some consistent barefoot experience. It’s a small study and like you said you gotta take it with some salt but cool to see people getting more detailed with the way they look at these things.

      • Erik says:

        Totally agree. This study is a good first start, but the sample is small, and, in general, there are few people who have been running barefoot for more than a few years, and most barefoot runners are pretty casual runners, it seems to me. And I didn’t mean to suggest that because I don’t care about efficiency in my own running, that no one should. Thanks for the article link. Look forward to seeing what others have to say.

  2. oscarvalles says:

    This is probably a little off topic, but never barefoot run on a treadmill. I committed that idiotic mistake and within a mile my feet began to blister in several places. I was actually trying to avoid agitating another blister by running barefoot.

    Anyway, thanks for your review on your F Lites. I’ve been meaning to by those for about a year now..

    • Oscar that’s a good piece of advice but I know a lot of people who run barefoot on treadmills so I have a counter. Don’t just jump on the treadmill thinking you can run normal mileage or pace barefoot at first. The treadmill surface is actually fairly abrasive and most people don’t realize that because they think it’s smooth. It can also get pretty hot which most people never realize because they usually have shoes on. If you really wanted to run barefoot on a treadmill you could build up the ability to do so but it takes some time just like running barefoot on any surface does. Sorry you got the blisters though.

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