Benno Nigg, an expert in the field of biomechanics, has written many research articles in proclaimed science magazines like Footwear Science. In an article written by him called “Biomechanical Considerations on Barefoot Movement and Barefoot Shoe Concepts,” he eloquently describes the potential of barefoot running in athletics:
At the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Abele Bikila won the Marathon with a new world record time of 2:15:16. He was added to the Ethiopian Olympic team only as a last minute replacement. The interesting aspect of Abebe Bikila’s victory was that he ran barefoot. Four years later, at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, he entered the marathon again, this time running in a pair of Onitsuka Tiger shoes, a sub-brand of ASICS today. He won the Olympic Marathon again with a new world record time of 2:12:11.
Zola Budd, born in 1966 in South Africa broke the world record in the women’s 5000 m twice, the first time at the age of 17 with a time of 15:01:83, a record that was not accepted by the IAAF due to political reasons. However, she broke the world record a second time 2 years later with a time of 14:48.07. The interesting aspect of Zola Budd’s performance was that she always trained and competed barefoot. (Nigg)
There was a time when footwear was nothing more than a sheath around the foot. Cameron Kippen’s book, The History of Footwear, explains that footwear consisted of “cowhide laced together with cords along the front and the back” (Kippen). Found in “Armenia,” this style of footwear is only about “5,500 years old” (Kippen). Before that humans allegedly only survived with the skin that was naturally found under their feet. The evolutionary process created a complex mechanism that could perform well enough to allow humanity to survive, and the recent design of footwear has gone in a backwards direction by not allowing that mechanism to be utilized as it should. The recent invention that has promisingly gone back to that idea, the barefoot shoe, has potential to reinvent the athletic footwear industry.
Barefoot training “has been used by coaches for a long time with the suggestion that barefoot training improves the strength of the overall muscular system” (Nigg). It is a style of training that is slowly becoming mainstream for good reasons. The barefoot shoe is that promise. The term “barefoot shoe” is a “contradiction in terms. A condition is not a barefoot condition” (Nigg). Nevertheless, that term has been coined and marketed as shoe manufactures try to take another step towards advancing running shoe technology. The barefoot shoe, is a kind of shoe that ideally does nothing more than protect your feet against adverse conditions and penetrations from sharp objects found on the ground. They are extremely lightweight and have no cushioning at all. Your foot will function as the biological machine that it is and should be. Barefoot shoes are beneficial to the runner because they improve the health of the foot itself, decrease injuries, and improve athletic performance.
Modern running shoes have only been around for almost fifty years. These running shoes are all very similar no matter which manufacturer is examined. The cornerstone of the running shoe is the “spongy, rubber outer sole made for the purpose of absorbing the impact of your feet when they strike the ground” (Kippen). Running with typical running shoes (shod running) has changed how people run from a mechanical standpoint and an evolutionary standpoint. Daniel Lieberman in Nature Video’s YouTube video, which illustrates Lieberman’s research article “What We Can Learn About Running from Barefoot Running: Evolutionary Medical Perspective”, “The Barefoot Professor: By Nature Video,” explains that at some point in human evolution not 2 million years ago, hunter gatherers began to use running as a means to procure meat. If a person could run at “speeds that make animals gallop,” then after a moderate amount of time the animals will overheat because “quadrupeds cannot pant and gallop at the same time” (Nature Video). If a jogging hunter was able to make an “animal gallop for 10-15 minutes,” then he’s “got dinner” (Nature Video).
Lieberman discovered that “barefoot runners run in a way that minimizes sheer impact” (Nature Video). In a study by a group of experts published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine called, “Mechanical Comparison of Barefoot and Shod Running,” it was found that this contrast between barefoot running and shod running was due to a switch from “rear foot to forefoot technique” in running (Divert et al 597). The rear foot technique is referred as a heel strike by Lieberman. It is when the heel of the foot makes contact with the ground before any other part of the foot. This causes the foot to suddenly stop upon colliding with the ground. It’s like having the foot stroke with “a hammer at two to three times” the individual’s “body weight” (Nature Video). In contrast, barefoot runners land with their forefoot. They make contact to the ground “underneath the heads of the fourth and fifth metatarsals” at an acute angle close to flat (Nature Video). Landing this way causes the kinetic energy of the impact to not be absorbed in “one single blow, but it is rather spread out” (Nature Video). In a study by a group of experts published in the Journal of Biomechanics titled, “Biomechanical Analysis of the Stance Phase during Barefoot and Shod Running,” it was speculated that barefoot runners naturally evolve into forefoot running in “an attempt to limit the local pressure underneath the heel” (De Wit et al). In Lieberman’s article he illustrated the difference between the two techniques using data he collected found in the figure to the left. Underneath the graphs there is a visual of the two running techniques. In the graph designated as (A) the impact from the heel can be observed. Immediately upon landing, the foot is subject to force almost totaling two times the individual’s body weight. To the right of (A) on graph (B), the spread of the impact of the foot to ground collision can be observed. Instead of a sharp spike, the forefoot strike gradually increases. This change is often cited for the increased health of the foot.
In Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, he explains that “up to eight out of every ten runners are hurt every year” (5). The places they’re most likely to see injury is on their “knees, shins, hamstrings, hips, or heels” (McDougall 5). Ever since the modern running shoe there has been an increasing amount of running related injuries reported.
No invention yet has slowed the carnage; you can now buy running shoes with steel bedsprings embedded in the soles and Adidas that adjust their cushioning by microchip, but the injury rate hasn’t decreased a jot in thirty years, If anything, it’s actually ebbed up; Achilles tendon blowouts have seen a 10 percent increase. Running seemed to be the fitness version of drunk driving (McDougall 5).
Shod running may be the cause for many common running ailments including “pain in the soft tissues of the foot”, “shin splits”, and “other kinds of repetitive stress injuries” (Nature Video). Lieberman hypothesizes that people “who avoid landing on their heels and land on their forefoot may be less susceptible to” those kinds of injuries (Nature Video). On another note, it has been speculated that bone movements inside of the foot may also be of a concern for runners. However, a group of researchers who authored “Tibiocalcaneal Kinematics of Barefoot Versus Shod Running” in the Journal of Biomechanics, found that “bone movements during barefoot running are generally very similar to those inside typical running shoes” and thusly not concerning to any potential injuries (Stacoff et al).
One of the biggest factors when it comes running performance is oxygen consumption. According to an article by a team of researchers which was published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine titled “Barefoot-Shod Running Differences: Shoe or Mass Effect?,” there is a “higher oxygen consumption reported when shod running compared to barefoot running,” and that effect can be “attributed to the additional mass of the shoe” (Divert et al). In the study, they took twelve trained subjects and ran them under various different conditions. It’s reported that there exist “differences in running mechanics between barefoot and shod running” (Divert et al). Some of the differences include “higher stride frequency, lower contact time and flight time, lower passive peak (1.48 versus 1.70 body weight [BW]), higher braking and pushing impulses and higher pre-activation of the triceps surae muscles than shod running” (Divert et al). These results show that “barefoot running is the less fatiguing means of running and leads to a lower energy consumption” (Divert et al). This means for the athlete that adjusting to barefoot shoes allows them to perform well for longer periods of time.
It’s well-known that most elite runners use shoes because they protect the foot and allow one to “run on rough surfaces without worrying about foot placement” (Lieberman 68). Abebe Bikila and Zola Budd have set world records in marathon and short distance racing using bare feet. The world record holders for almost every long distance running event are forefoot runners who race “and sometimes train in racing flats or other kinds of minimal shoes” (Lieberman 68).
In another study called “Running in a Minimalist and Lightweight Shoe is not the same as Running Barefoot: A Biomechanical Study,” which was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, performed by a different group of researchers, they took “22 highly trained runners during overground running while barefoot and in three shod conditions (minimalist shoe, racing flat, and the athlete’s regular shoe).” The results found that there were significant differences between barefoot and shod conditions for “kinematic and kinetic variables at the knee and ankle, with no differences between shod conditions” (Bonacci et al). Barefoot running demonstrated “less knee flexion during midstance, an 11% decrease in the peak internal knee extension and abduction moments and a 24% decrease in negative work done at the knee compare with shod conditions” (Bonacci et al). The ankle demonstrated “less dorsiflexion at initial contact, a 14% increase in peak power generation, and a 19% increase in the positive work done during barefoot running compared with shod condition” (Bonacci et al). Barefoot running was shown to drastically improve performance for the runner in this study. It “changes the amount of work done at the knee and ankle joints” allowing for “therapeutic and performance implications for runners” (Bonacci et al). Lieberman argues in his article that the “effects barefoot running has on performance allow runners to go faster for the same effort.”
The barefoot shoe is a somewhat new invention with a fair amount of controversy backing it. According to another group of researchers who published their work in the Journal of Marican Podiatric Medical Association titled, “Barefoot Running Claims and Controversies,” barefoot running “is slowly gaining a dedicated following” (Jenkins et al). This following is creating market tensions which bring a strong amount of misinformation to the media. The researchers found that “many of the claimed disadvantages to barefoot running are not supported by the literature” (Jenkins et al). Barefoot shoes have been proven to improve the health of the foot itself, decrease injuries, and improve athletic performance.
Bonacci, Jason, Philo U. Saunders, Amy Hicks, Timo Rantalainen, Bill (GuglieImo) T. Vicenzino, and Wayne Spratford. “Running in a Minimalist and Lightweight Shoe is not the same as Running Barefoot: A Biomechanical Study.” British Journal of Sports Medicine (2012). Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
This source was very reliable. The information contained in the article was written by experts in their field. The main nugget of information taken from this source is the effects barefoot training has on athletic performance for runners.
De Wit, Brigit, Dirk De Clercq, and Peter Aerts. “Biomechanical Analysis of the Stance Phase
during Barefoot and Shod Running.” Journal of Biomechanics 33.3 (2000): 269-278. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
This source was very reliable. The experts who worked on this article have a lot of data backing up their research. The main nugget of information obtained from this source is the idea that forefoot running technique is naturally acquired by barefoot runners.
Divert, C., G. Mornieux, H. Baur, F. Mayer, and A. Belli. “Mechanical Comparison of Barefoot and Shod Running.” International Journal of Sports Medicine 26 (2005): 593-598. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
The source was very reliable. The researchers who took part in this study have shown up many times in research in this field, and they are some of the most knowledgeable in it. The main nugget of information taken from this source is the discovery of the forefoot technique.
Divert, C., G. Mornieux, P. Freychat, L. Baly, F. Mayer, and A. Belli. “Barefoot-Shod Running
Differences: Shoe or Mass Effect?” International Journal of Sports Medicine 29.6
(2008): 512-518. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
This source was very reliable. The researchers who took part in this study have appeared several times in research on this field, and they are some of the most knowledgeable in it. The main nugget of information retrieved from this source is the technical aspects of the differences between shod running and barefoot running.
Jenkins, David W., and David J. Cauthon. “Barefoot Running Claims and Controversies.” Journal of Marican Podiatric Medical Association 101.3 (2011):231-246. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
This source was very reliable. The Journal of Marican Podiatric Medical Association is a great place to find detailed reports on literature. In this case, the research was done for the validity of barefoot research. They took a look at several of the other sources found in this paper. The main nugget of information retrieved from this source is the rebuttal of the misinformation there is about barefoot shoes.
Kippen, Cameron. The History of Footwear. Perth: Podiatry, 1999. Print.
This source was somewhat reliable. The author went into detail about many aspects and histories of shoes, but the finer details seemed inadequate. With that in mind, the information that was retrieved, which has to do with a brief history of the earliest shoes was double checked for accuracy using other sources.
Lieberman, Daniel E. “What We Can Learn about Running from Barefoot Running: Evolutionary Medical Perspective.” Exercise & Sport Science Reviews 40.2 (2012): 63 72. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
This author was one of the most used sources for the paper. The writing style, and emphasis on evolution had the most impact on the direction of this paper. The specific information that was retrieved was information about performance enhancing powers of barefoot shoes and a very nice graph detailing the differences between shod and barefoot running.
McDougall, Christopher. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. Random House. 2011. Print.
The book was filled with great information from reliable secondary sources told in an interesting way. The information retrieved was a brief statistical look at some injuries due to shod running.
Nature Video. “The Barefoot Professor: By Nature Video.” YouTube. YouTube, 27 Jan. 2010. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
One of the most used sources for this paper. This video is directly connected to Daniel E. Lieberman’s research article, “What We Can Learn about Running from Barefoot Running: Evolutionary Medical Perspective.” The information retrieved from this source are the finer details of the biomechanics involved between different running techniques usually observed between shod and barefoot running.
Nigg, Benno. “Biomechanical Considerations on Barefoot Movement and Barefoot Shoe
Concepts.” Footwear Science Volume 1, Issue 2 (2009): n. pag. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.
The author for this work is one of the leading minds of the biomechanics of feet and the scientific or engineering basis involving modern footwear. This source was very reliable, and it inspired much of the in depth biomechanical adventure found in this paper.
Stacoff, Alex, Benno Nigg, Christoph Reinschmidt, Anton J van den Bogert, and Arne Lundberg. “Tibiocalcaneal Kinematics of Barefoot Versus Shod Running.” Journal of Biomechanics 33.11 (2000): 1387-1395. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
A very reliable source which looked at a small cause for concern of barefoot running: potential bone damage. The information retrieved was enough to show conclusively that bone movements between barefoot and shod running are identical and not an issue. This source has been authored by some of the leaders of the field, and is without a doubt a good source.