Is barefoot running for me? What’s all the hype about? The idea behind barefoot running became popular after a major Harvard University found decreased peak vertical ground reaction forces (grf) when testing runners on a treadmill barefoot versus shod and found decreased grf when subjects ran barefoot. Businesses (shoe companies) got behind the idea, authors took up the topic, and VOILA! a new fad was born. The viable concept behind barefoot running is not the lack of shoes, but the idea of reducing vertical ground reaction forces.
When an individual runs barefoot, the foot acts as a semi-rigid lever in plantarflexion and hits the ground at the forefoot/midfoot. The foot springs back off the ground quickly and limits the time and energy in contact with the ground. The reaction force to the ground is less and thus the force up the skeleton (impact on the body) is less. Recent studies have supported the idea that midfoot/forefoot striking decreases the injury risk as opposed to heel striking.
The important idea here is that you do not have to be barefoot to alter the way your foot hits the ground. Barefoot and minimalist footwear decreases the shock absorption usually provided by shoes. In small amounts this is acceptable, but on hard surfaces for many miles, it becomes a dangerous situation for the bones of the lower legs, increasing the risk of stress fractures.
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