Barefoot running has become popular in the running world in the last few years.  Advocates of barefoot running feel that since our bodies were evolutionarily designed to run long distances, it must be better for us to run barefoot as nature intended us to do.  So, what does the science tell us about barefoot running – is it really good for us, or does it set us up for further injury?

Let me ask first of all, were we actually designed to run long distances in the first place?  The theories are actually pretty convincing in this regard.  Some humans in the world still use our design for its proposed main evolutionary purpose of persistence hunting (check out my previous blog post on this, along with David Suzuki’s documentary on it, here).

As for whether running bare foot is good or bad for us, a recent review summaries the research currently available on the topic.  The review is extremely detailed and I will be the first to admit that I am not a biomechanics expert – for those who want the in depth discussion, I encourage you to read the full article.  However, I would like to share the bottom lines of the article with you, as the question of barefoot running has become relevant for many people who run and aren’t sure what is best.

The bottom lines are:

1.  There is still very little known about barefoot running and its relationship with injury and performance; whether barefoot running prevents or promotes injury is still unclear.   As the authors note,

The current promotion of barefoot running is
based on oversimplified, poorly understood, equivocal and in
some cases, absent research, but remains a trend in popular
media based solely on an evolutionary/epidemiological hypothesis


and anecdotal evidence.
2.  Barefoot running is not an instinctive skill, but likely to be one that requires practice to master.  Optimizing the foot strike is one key component to efficient barefoot running, and is different than the foot strike in a running shoe.  It is also not clear whether every runner is capable of optimizing barefoot running.
3.  The actual running technique is probably more important than whether or not the runner is wearing shoes.
So in summary:  A lot more research needs to be done to establish whether barefoot running is actually a good thing, and it is premature for the practice of barefoot running to be a disseminated practice for athletes.

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