Barefoot in the park?

To me, the idea of running barefoot is like reading the “Twilight” series as an adult. I guess I understand why some people do it, but it definitely isn’t for me.

To justify the idea of pounding the pavement with unshod feet, barefoot runners point to studies supporting the idea that their natural running form is is compromised by the constraints of padding. But all I can think of every time I think I come close to trying the barefoot thing is that I like my feet clean and rusty nail-free.

It was nice, then, to read this recent New York Times blog post making the case for running shoes. The piece references a study wherein 12 men with extensive barefoot running experience were asked to run in both lightweight running shoes and in socked feet with small weights attached to the tops of their feet, equaling the weight of the shoes.

The study concluded that when barefoot runners and runners with shoes carried the same weight on their feet, barefoot running used almost 4 percent more energy during every step than running shoes — the bottom line being that barefoot running was actually less efficient than wearing shoes.

The lesson, the writer says, is that a slimmed-down show might be the way to go, a middle ground between a heavier shoe and going barefoot. It seems like a nice compromise to a girl who’d like to cut down on injury and increase speed, but who doesn’t want to have to get a tetanus shot.

What do you think? Have you tried barefoot running? Would you consider it?

8 comments Add your comment

Own2Feet

March 28th, 2012
5:55 pm

I run barefoot because I like the way it feels and otherwise, I wouldn’t exercise as much. As for the study, the runners were not really barefoot – they had all manner of contraptions on their feet and were running on a treadmill. Not a true measure of efficiency at all, but the press loves to put one side against another, so that’s what’s happening here. And even if shoe-running did turn out to be more efficient in terms of burning energy, so what? A Prius gets better mileage than a Cadillac, but some people prefer the comfort of a caddy to the better gas mileage of a smaller car. The important thing to know is that both running barefoot and in shoes that work for a given runner are equally valid ways of exercising by running. Trying to spin it any other way is just, well, spin.

Meanwhile, barefoot remains healthy, natural and free. Check out “The Barefoot Book” by Daniel Howell to learn more.

Moobs Johnson

March 29th, 2012
7:47 am

Not only do I like to run barefoot, I like to runs sans all clothing.

Greg

March 29th, 2012
8:29 am

I’m not clear on why this even has to be such a religious-style debate. I run barefoot or in vibrams and do enjoy it, yes. But I only talk to people who ask me about it when they see me running or who, like me, found themselves suffering from running injuries to the point that they might have to give it up.

I started exploring minimalist running because my knee was deteriorating running in traditional running shoes. And yes, got my form checked and supposedly I was doing everything “right” in the padded-style shoes. But things kept getting worse. Not wanting to abandon running because I love it so much, I started experimenting. Lo and behold, my knee started improving. It improved so much that my doctor — who had previously said that surgery would probably be necessary if I didn’t stop running immediately — said that he was surprised that this was even the same knee as the one he’d seen previously. Especially given that I’d not changed my mileage at all, just my shoes and the resulting forefoot running form.

I believe in it because it kept me from having to give up something I love. But it was tough to adjust to after 30+ years of heel striking. If you’re one of the lucky ones who never gets injured in regular shoes, you’re probably fine. But if you do get injured, especially if you develop a specific recurring injury, barefoot/minimalist might be helpful.

Now that I’ve shared my story, here’s my $0.02 about both sides…

Fellow barefooters: stop being such crazy evangelists about it. You’re making us look like a bizarre cult. Not everyone needs to do things the way we do. No amount of research, biological evidence, or preaching will change the fact that IT’S OKAY IF THERE’S MORE THAN ONE WAY TO DO THINGS. Really, it’s okay.

Regular runners: stop mocking us, rolling your eyes, or being jerky just because “it’s not for me.” You’re making fun of something that has saved my and many other runners’ bodies in profound ways, and that’s just not cool. I’ve been made fun of on race days for the toe shoes and it makes my blood boil, especially since I never said word one to any of those people.

In other words, to both sides: don’t be a jackass. Run in what works for you and let others run in what works for them and stop judging. Running races especially is about community, so make it about fellowship and not about cliques.

Ken

March 29th, 2012
8:48 am

I view barefoot running as a therapeutic training regimen to deal with my hip, knee, shin and ankle issues, improving strength and flexibility through low impact but slow running. For anything longer than 3 or 4 miles, I. Wear Vibrams or Nike Free. I am not tempted to run a road race barefoot though perhaps someday I could try it

Jennifer

March 29th, 2012
9:33 am

That is the most ridiculous study and I think it is also ridiculous that you are basing your opinion of barefoot running on this…why would you put weight on bare feet? This makes absolutely no sense…it’s like saying Person A will run 13 miles with a weighted vest and Person B will run 13 miles without a vest – which one will use more energy???

Greg…I love your points.

I personally do not run barefoot but I run in a minimal shoe that allows my foot to act like a foot: Vibram FiveFingers┬«. At the end of the day, if you don’t start using your feet…whether you are running or working out – you will become a horrible statistic at the age of 65. If you can’t spread your toes you are in BIG trouble and it is IMPOSSIBLE to do this without being barefoot or in a show that allows your toes to move freely.

Stacey Lei Krauss is brilliant and has GREAT tips on barefoot training: http://www.willPowerMethod.com – educate yourself and try something before making a judgment Yvonne.

Barry Combess

March 29th, 2012
11:02 am

I take exception with your “Twilight” statement. When asked about the “Barefoot” debate I reply that there is no debate, the press is looking for a debate. I won’t debate this issue, I could say you want to be a sissy and strap leather, plastic, and any other petroleum products that they can come up with around you feet and I prefer to man up and run tough. But I won’t. I’ll just stick to pointing at my feet and saying “fun” and to your super absorbant ortopedic monsters and say “work”.
Why would someone want to insult a large group of people, who mean no one any harm, who just want to excerise and have fun doing it? I think you are petty and a bore. You just made a lot of people spit on the ground at the mention of your name. Congratulations.

richard

March 30th, 2012
2:48 pm

Any study with 12 participants should be highly suspect. It’s simply impossible to draw broad conclusions from such a small sample. Replicate the study with 1200 runners and then maybe you’ll get good data. Beyond that, beyond professional runners, who really cares if you are 4 percent less efficient in your running? Is efficiency the goal of most runners? I doubt it. How does 4 percent less efficiency affect your cardiovascular health, the enjoyment of running with friends, or the pleasure of being outdoors and having the physical ability to move your butt?

I ran for almost 30 years with a “heel strike” form, suffered from numerous bouts of plantar fasciitis and knee pain, and chronic back pain. My doctor, unhelpfully, told me to just stop running, and I have for the last three years. Within the last few months, however, I’ve started running again with a “forefoot strike” or barefoot style (though I am wearing a pair of Altra Adam zero drop shoes, with no cushioning).

The transition period is taking a while (that is, my distances are quite short for now, but slowly getting longer), but I can already tell the difference. No back pain, no knee pain, and my legs feel like they have energy for the first time in years. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to realize that I can continue to run.

The “debate” is not about shoes vs no shoes, it’s about form–heel strike vs. forefoot strike. I don’t know if I’ll ever run barefoot, it’s just not that meaningful to me. But re-teaching my body how to run with a forefoot strike is making all the difference.

Brenda

March 30th, 2012
3:36 pm

I love my minimalist shoes…mainly for the fact they totally took away my piriformis syndrome which totally debilitated me when I wore ‘regular’ running shoes. I don’t think I am any faster, just in lots less pain.