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Is Barefoot Running Good for you?

Many athletes, and runners are no different, are a hugely trendy, easily influenced, group of people who will jump onto all sorts of bandwagons in the pursuit of improving their performance. Without being too negative, athletes can be highly emotional and passionate, but easily influenced group, who will adopt new practices rapidly if there is a perceived benefit to their performance. In many instances there is not necessarily a lot of thought into the long term implications of their decisions if there is a perceived shorter term benefit of improved performance or recovery

In essence this often makes them trend setters, earlier adopters, ground breakers or perhaps Ginea Pigs depending on your point of view. Long after trends and techniques have been adopted, discarded, modified or banned – comes the research and evidence to tell us if the latest development is fact fiction or fad.

Barefoot running seems no different. Some will sing its praises saying it will solve all your injury woes, make you run better, faster, further than ever before. Today if you google the subject you will find many web sites evangelising barefoot running and its benefits with promises that range from reasonable to straight out fanciful.

Equally, from the other side of those who value the traditional running shoe comes the opposite. The warnings of the dangers of barefoot running, its damaging effect on the body, the increased injuries, the stress fractures…

For every argument for barefoot running, the shod population will present an argument against. And here we are stuck in the middle.

I have read and listened to a lot of people on the subject over the past few years. Most are considered experts in their field and are highly intelligent passionate individuals. Most I’m quite sure are far more intelligent than me. I have been to conferences and heard speakers like Professor Daniel Lieberman, I’ve listened to podiatrist and exercise scientists. I’ve had force platform data presented in so many ways that I wasn’t sure which way is up and down. I’ve listened to people debate forefoot vs heel strike. How running shoes change your gait. Shorter stride, high cadence…….

So is barefoot running better for you? I don’t know but my personal experience with it is it can be fun, something different. Does it change your injury rate? Who knows? It might be that running barefoot simply exchanges one group of injuries for another.

It may be that traditional running shoes have taken a wrong turn in their development and the people marketing high tech expensive running shoes have got ahead of themselves. Currently no one has published a definitive study on whether barefoot running is better for you, on the other hand, no one has published a study definitively showing running shoes prevent injury.

The great news is that we are starting to do research to answer the questions? Sure it’s going to take time and I doubt we will get the definitive answer most people want, but hey that’s life. In the mean time I will keep listening to the experts argue passionately over the subject. I will listen to the fore and against and do my best to scientifically evaluate the evidence because that’s my job. Rest assured I will let you know as so as I know.

In the meantime I’m still running barefoot and have been for the past few years. I generally run with a smile on my face, savouring the sensation. For me it’s been a fun interesting experience that’s made me appreciate running again. I do feel softer and lighter on my feet. I’m no faster barefoot than when I was shod but I think it’s changed my running to make me a little less competitive, I certainly enjoy running more.

Even as physio I have been surprised by the remarkable way the human body adapts. So if your reading this pondering the answer to the question, then maybe you might like to try it one day and decide for yourself….Just like I have.

OK know I am sounding Evangelical.


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