Research Essay

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Samuel Landesman

Professor Justin

English 11000


Inquiry Based Essay

                  Barefoot running is, as it sounds, running without shoes. The practice of barefoot running has become increasingly popular over the past few years. Supporters of this movement claim that running shoes have ruined the natural human running pattern, leading to poorer performance and a greater risk of injury. Running shoe supporters, on the other hand, argue that shoe technology has improved athletic ability and performance, as well as safety. Because barefoot running can be tough on the body as well as dangerous, some proponents of barefoot running prefer minimalist shoes. Minimalist shoes are shoes with minimal padding and support, designed to mimic the bare foot. Despite the risks involved in barefoot running, for most people, running barefoot is healthier than running in cushioned sneakers.

The impact a runner has with the ground travels through the feet into the various joints in the lower half of the body. This translated force can cause joint injuries. (Sinclair 165). The impact with the ground can be described as upward force. A greater upward force calculated at a runners contact with the ground will correlate to a higher risk of impact-based injuries (Sinclair 165). Many studies have been conducted to measure the amount of force a body makes with the ground upon landing at the end of a stride. Runners were evaluated by running over pressure sensors to test their force with the ground. At least two studies show that shod runners have less impact with the ground than barefoot and minimalist runners (Rezende 144)(Sinclair 168). Running without cushioned shoes increases impact with the ground, and therefore seems to increase risk of injury.

“Running gait” is the form or manner in which one runs. A cushioned heel can withstand the impact of the ground without feeling pain, allowing shod runners to strike the ground with their heels first. The front of the foot and the toes then come in contact with the ground, and then push off for the next stride. A bare or minimally covered heel, on the other hand, cannot comfortably hit the ground, so instead, barefoot runners land on their toes or on the balls of their feet. The back of the foot then comes in contact with the ground, and the arch of the foot acts as a spring of sorts, transferring the impact from the previous step into the next one. This difference in pattern can be described as “rear foot versus forefoot striking.” As the first humans did not have cushioned shoes, they probably ran in a forefoot-striking gait. This form, therefore, is believed to be a human’s natural gait (Roche)(Quinn). Shod runners can physically touch their toes to the ground before their heels, but this form is much more common in those who don’t wear cushioned shoes. This alleged more natural form is believed to reduce injury, improve running efficiency, and allow the body to move in its “intended” manner.

With a forefoot gait, the front of the foot hits the ground, the back of the foot then comes in contact with the ground, and the arch of the foot acts as a spring, transferring the impact from the previous step into the next one. Therefore, instead of absorbing the forward momentum of the previous strike through the heel’s contact with the ground, landing on the front of the foot allows the arch of the foot to transfer momentum into the next step. This maintained momentum means that a runner must expend less energy in the next step to remain at the same speed. Less energy used per step means less exhaustion. The same runner with a higher running efficiency can travel a farther distance without any change in physical fitness or stamina. In a 2018 study, runners were asked to rate their level of exertion at different time intervals after a given run. This test showed that runners felt they exerted less energy running barefoot, implying that barefoot running requires less energy (Rezende 143,144). Barefoot running may allow a runner extra stamina in comparison to shod running.

The “drop” in a shoe is the difference in height between the back of the foot bed and the front of the foot bed. Many running shoes are designed with a taller, cushiony heel and shorter, more freeing front. This design accomplishes the different goals of protecting the heel while allowing the front of the foot to move more freely without obstruction. The difference in height, though, causes problems with posture. The difference in height between the front and back of the shoe creates an inclined plane for the foot to stand on, meaning that the foot does not lay perpendicular to the ground. Naturally, when not in motion, the feet stand parallel to the ground, with the legs directly above them, then the hips, and so on. When the foot is tilted forward, the rest of the body tilts as well and the stacked alignment is thrown off balance. To maintain balance, some combination of knee, hip, back, and neck are bent. This leaves the body in a bent over or otherwise not straight posture. Not only in running shoes but in all cushioned footwear, this drop tampers with proper posture. A proper posture is important not only for looks, but for optimal athletic performance. This change in posture caused by a running shoe’s drop could negatively impact a runner’s abilities. (Shapiro)

Pain plays a big factor for routine running. With the possibility of pain and injury, even the smallest discomfort could cause immense pain over a long run. Running shoes contain foot bed cushioning, which protects the runner from foot pain. Minimalist shoes, or no shoes at all, leave the foot open to the forces and pressures of the running surface, as well as sharp or rigid objects that may be on the ground. In a 2018 study, runners were asked to run for fifteen minutes on a synthetic athletic track both barefoot and shod in a random order. They were then asked to rate their pain at different time intervals after the run. These runners perceived more pain running barefoot than with cushioned shoes (Rezende 144). The same runners though, perceived equal amounts of pain in a similar experiment conducted on sand (Rezende 144).

A Plos One study points one that much of the research done on barefoot running might be flawed. In the 2016 study, a group of researchers attempted to study habitually shod runners over a sixteen-week period, gradually introducing barefoot running into their regular shod running routine. Because of the length of the study, many of the subjects were disqualified either due to injury, or for not following the training schedule. Despite these setbacks, the study managed to obtain some minimal results on the effects of gradual barefoot training. The study found that upward force lowered in both barefoot and shod running after the training program. It also determined that muscle activation decreased in both barefoot and shod running over the course of the training. Muscle activation during running is another factor that can lead to a greater risk of injury. This study shows that runners need time to acclimate to barefoot running to reap the true benefits. Contrary to this study, most studies test habitually shod runners for only short periods of time, so any results obtained from these short studies cannot accurately describe the true benefits of barefoot running (Avezedo). Switching to barefoot running can be dangerous when starting out, but in the long run after adjusting, barefoot running might be safer and more effective than shod running.

A gradual switch to barefoot running can lower the initial risks (Quinn). It allows the different muscles of the body which are not used as much when running with shoes to properly develop before they are overworked. Elisabeth Quinn explains how to gradually introduce barefoot running to one’s running routine. She suggests walking around barefoot to accustom the feet to the ground. Next, after a warm up, practicing proper running mechanics at low speeds and short intervals. In the beginning, be sure to not train too much too fast. Lastly, after runs be sure to stretch the feet. This gradual introduction allows the muscles not generally used in shod running to develop before they are over worked on long runs. It also allows for a runner to learn a new running gait, and lastly allows a runner to strengthen and care for their feet. Transitioning to barefoot running too quickly can be very dangerous (Roche)(Quinn). An improper transition is surely more dangerous than shod running, but barefoot running utilizing a gradual approach could be beneficial.

Deciding whether to switch to barefoot running does not seem to be a simple question. The Plos One study suggests that adapting to barefoot running is possible, but that doesn’t mean that everyone can or should (Azevedo 13). David Roche explains that the decision about barefoot running should be based on a runner’s goals. Running at high speeds or long intervals could be more dangerous barefoot, as barefoot running can be hard on the body. Running at a moderate pace for either short or mid ranged distances may be healthier when done barefoot.

Much of the research conducted on barefoot running has suggested contradictory evidence (Roche). Research from 2010 to 2017 has shown some difference in opinion. Some studies focus on aspects of barefoot running posture, pointing out its benefits or weaknesses. For example, research suggests that forefoot striking, hip adjunction, and hip motion are healthier in barefoot running, while other research explains that barefoot runners are more susceptible to ankle pronation. For every potential positive of barefoot running, there seems to be a negative. Many studies found no difference in statistics of any kind between barefoot and shod running (Roche). The vast and contradictory information leaves determining the value of barefoot running difficult.

The discussion of barefoot versus shod running contains many factors. One new to barefoot running has a greater risk of impact-based injuries. This same risk though, lessens over time, and eventually, barefoot running actually lowers one’s risk of impact-based injuries. Also, as a runner becomes more comfortable with their new running gait, they are able to more effectively protect themselves against injury. The forefoot running gait is more similar to the natural running gait of our ancestors. Running with a forefoot gait allows the foot to absorb some of the shock from the ground, and therefore allows one to move more efficiently. General upright posture is simpler when not wearing shoes, or when wearing shoes with little padding because the padding doesn’t tilt the body’s center of gravity forward. This change in posture can negatively affect a runner’s health and performance, so avoiding it is beneficial. Pain is a big factor for routine runners. The cushion of a running shoe protects runners from foot pain. Running barefoot, on the other hand, can be very hard on the feet. Some studies show that many of the perceived negative side effects of barefoot running only hold true for the beginning of a runner’s transition from shod to barefoot running. After a runner has acclimated to a forefoot gait, properly strengthened the leg and foot muscles, and become more agile with their feet, a runner can perform both barefoot and shod running more safely and effectively. Because of this difference in performance after an acclimation period, it is essential that all runners making the switch do so gradually and methodically; the biggest risk of injury seems to be only in the beginning. Barring a gradual adjustment period, for most people, running barefoot is both safer and more efficient than running in cushioned shoes.



Works Cited:

Azevedo, Ana Paula Da Silva, et al. “16 Weeks of Progressive Barefoot Running Training Changes Impact Force and Muscle Activation in Habitual Shod Runners.” 16 Weeks of Progressive Barefoot Running Training Changes Impact Force and Muscle Activation in Habitual Shod Runners, vol. 11, no. 12, 1 Dec. 2016, pp. 1–16. Academic Search Complete, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0167234.

Quinn, Elizabeth. “The Pros and Cons of Barefoot Running.” Very Well Fit, 27 Aug. 2019,

Rezende, Paulo E.N, et al. “Analysis of Race Performance on Different Floors Using Cushioned Sneakers And Barefoot.”Motricidade, vol. 14, no. 1S, 2018, pp. 142–147. Academic Search Complete.

Roche, David. “Should You Be Barefoot Running?” Trail Runner, 9 Apr. 2018,




Sinclair, Jonathan, et al. “EFFECTS OF BAREFOOT AND MINIMALLY SHOD FOOTWEAR ON EFFECTIVE MASS – IMPLICATIONS FOR TRANSIENT MUSCULOSKELETAL LOADING.”Kinesiology, vol. 50, no. 2, Dec. 2018, pp. 165–171. Academic Search Complete, doi:10.26582/k.50.2.1.