Biomechanics of Foot Strikes
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Applications to Running Barefoot or in Minimal Footwear
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Frequently Asked Questions


What about surface hardness? Our ancestors didn’t run on pavement.

A common perception is that running on hard surfaces causes injuries, but runners typically adjust leg stiffness so they experience the similar impact forces on soft and hard surfaces. Further, forefoot and some midfoot strikers hit the ground in a way that generates almost no collision forces even on hard surfaces like steel. You can run barefoot and heel strike on a soft beach or lawn, but most natural surfaces are much harder and rougher. With proper forefoot or midfoot strike form, running on hard, rough surfaces can be comfortable and safe.


What is minimal footwear?

We define minimal footwear as any footwear that lacks high cushioned heels, stiff soles and arch support. If you want to try, there are a few things you might look for in minimal footwear for running:

  • The thickness of the cushioning in the rearfoot and forefoot should be about the same, and not too thick.
  • You should be able to easily twist the shoe along the long axis and bend the shoe at the midfoot.
  • There should not be a stiff arch support that prevents the natural movement of the arch of the foot.


How do I get started?

It is very important, in fact critical that you follow a slow progression when you transition to forefoot striking. Even with such a program, you will likely experience some muscle soreness in your calf, lower leg and feet. If you progress too quickly, you risk causing injury to your muscles or tendons. See our recommendations for getting started in Training Tips.


Should I run barefoot in the cold?

Please, don't run barefoot when your feet are numb from the cold. When your feet have lost sensation, you will not be able to notice damage that you may be causing to your feet until it is too late. In cold conditions, minimal footwear can offer protection, especially if you wear them with toe socks.


Who should NOT run barefoot or in minimal shoes?

Anyone who has sensory loss to the foot should not run barefoot. In fact, these individuals should probably wear shoes of some type at all times in order to protect their feet. Additionally, individuals with significant foot deformities that affect gait mechanics should avoid barefooting or running in minimal shoes. If you have any foot-related problems, you should seek the advice of a medical professional before you start barefoot running.


What surfaces should I run on?

Choose a clean smooth paved surface. A common perception is that our feet were not meant to run on hard surfaces and that running on hard surfaces causes injuries. But our ancestors ran on surfaces of various hardness and forefoot striking when barefoot has less impact than even walking. Runners typically adjust leg stiffness so they experience the same impact forces on soft and hard surfaces (Dixon et al., 2000).


What happens if I land on a pebble or other debris?

It hurts! But, as long as you are running in daylight, you should be able to see and avoid any debris that might be in your path. However, if you happen to land on a small pebble, you will naturally unload and minimize the pain. Use sound judgment in deciding where and when it is appropriate to run completely barefoot.


Will my feet become callused?

While the skin on your feet may become slightly thicker with barefoot running, the pavement acts as a pumice stone and helps to minimize too much callusing. You'll find that calluses form most especially on the ball of your foot.

 
What if I want to wear shoes?

By all means, wear shoes if you want to! You can still reduce your impact forces by utilizing a forefoot of midfoot strike pattern. This is easier if you pick a shoe that will allow your foot to function as naturally as possible (and, fortunately, many such shoes are available).


Do barefoot runners get injured less?

Barefoot runners often adopt forefoot or midfoot strike gaits and have a softer, more gentle landing, which may reduce their risk of injury. While there are anectodal reports of barefoot runners being injured less, there is very little scientific evidence to support this hypothesis at this time. Well-controlled studies are needed to determine whether barefoot running results in fewer injuries.


Is barefoot walking beneficial?

Probably. Even if you are not a runner, walking barefoot can help to strengthen the muscles of the foot and ankle. And if you are a runner, strengthening these muscles will allow you to run better barefoot.


Should I avoid a heel strike when walking barefoot?

This is not an issue we have studied yet much, but our observations are that its totally normal to heel strike when walking, even when barefoot. That said, barefoot walkers often walk with a less pronounced heel strike or more of a midfoot strike. One study has shown that heel strike walking is more efficient than forefoot strike walking.

 

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Creative Commons License

Running Barefoot or in Minimal Footwear by Daniel Lieberman et al. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on the research published in the scientific journal Nature.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by contacting Daniel Lieberman.