The benefits of going (mostly) barefoot: Increased running economy?January 21, 2013
By Dan Way
The merits of barefoot and more minimalist running continue to be a topic of debate. Proponents have argued, among other things, that barefoot running promotes more natural movement, can decrease the incidence of injury, and improves running form and economy.
However, only more recently have studies been done to add objective and empirical evidence to these areas.
Research from Dublin City University and published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sport found that a 4-week introduction of simulated barefoot running (using Vibram Fivefingers) by a group of trained male runners was indeed able to significantly improve running economy.
Running economy can mean a number of things but essentially boils down to how effectively and efficiently one runs. This means using less energy to travel a given distance as well as reducing the impact forces on the body thus minimizing the risk of injury. In this study, running economy was measured by oxygen uptake, heart rate, stride frequency and foot strike patterns.
Fifteen participants (all well trained, all male) conducted two baseline tests of running economy 24 hours apart, one barefoot and the other ‘normal’ (shod). There were no differences in running economy.
Participants then followed a four-week period of simulated barefoot running and were retested. Running economy significantly improved by 6.9% compared to shod running and the barefoot group increased their running economy by over 8% compared to pre-test values.
While this study does provide evidence in favour of barefoot running, the relative small sample size and the fact that they were all extremely well trained, makes applying these findings to less experienced and recreational runners problematic.
What this means for you. (Simulated) barefoot running (Note: Participants were NOT barefoot) may have some value for increasing running economy and could be introduced and incorporated into your existing running regime. Transitioning to barefoot running should be done gradually and cautiously. This could include running short distances, such as strides, and preferably on a soft surface, a couple times a week in lighter, more minimal shoes. Doing running-specific drills and stretching barefoot may also help the body to adapt to the different stresses on the body whilst barefoot.
What do you think? Have you ever considered or attempted to incorporate minimal/barefoot running into your training routine?