The naked truth about barefoot running

Published: 25 January 2010

Glasgow scientist's Nature paper explores running barefoot versus shod

Runners who wear trainers run differently to those who run barefoot and who have never worn shoes, a Glasgow academic has found.

Research carried out by a team of international scientists including Dr Yannis Pitsiladis of the university’s Faculty of Biomedical and Life Sciences (FBLS), which is published online by Nature today, shows that habitually unshod runners usually land on the ball of the foot, fore-foot strike, or sometimes with a flat foot, mid-foot strike, whereas shod runners tend to land on their heels rear-foot strike.

The barefoot style of running reduces how much of the body’s mass comes to a sudden stop, eliminating the impact shock. This makes barefoot running comfortable and may be better for runners as it minimizes some impact-related injuries.

Modern humans show many adaptations for long-distance running, acquired during humanity’s long evolutionary history. Cushioned sports shoes, in contrast, date back only to the 1970s.

Using kinematic and kinetic analyses, lead author Daniel Lieberman, of Harvard University, and researchers show that barefoot runners who fore-foot strike generate smaller collision forces than shod rear-foot strikers.

Although there are anecdotal reports of reduced injuries in barefoot populations, more work is needed to test the hypothesis that either barefoot individuals or those with minimal footwear have reduced injury rates.

Dr Pitsiladis said he plans to continue to study this area of sport science in East Africa later this year.

He continued: “This new and ongoing research would suggest that barefoot running from a young age and not simply running may be a key factor contributing to the success of the east Africans by allowing them to train intensely and for many hours with reduced risk of injury.

“The most successful athletes are not necessarily the "best" athletes but the ones that can avoid getting injured and therefore can train wiser and recover better.

“We plan to continue this research in July. One of our next goals is to examine the energy cost of barefoot running in comparison to running with shoes in the hope that we can improve running economy during racing. If we can dramatically improve running economy we will have made an important step towards a sub-two hour marathon which is one of our ultimate goals.”

For more media information please contact Eleanor Cowie Media Relations Officer at the University of Glasgow on 0141 330 3683 or 

First published: 25 January 2010

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