What are the benefits and downfalls of barefoot running?

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Years ago, a book called Born to Run convinced an entire generation of runners that barefoot running was better than running with shoes.

Africa has produced many Kenyan NYC marathon winners who grew up running barefoot to school and culturally spent most of their time without shoes.   The book suggested that they were better runners because of this and as a result, they ran faster and it was better for them.   The book failed to mention that years of adaptation were also built into their boy mechanics. The truth is that many Africans would also make sandals out of old tires to protect their feet.

This book started the barefoot running craze around 2010 and then Vibram, known for their boot soles invented their 5-finger running shoes which became popular.  The shoes, which were more like foot gloves had a bottom layer to protect the feet.  

Other manufacturers began to develop shoes that had low heels, high flexibility, and no support.  

The Barefoot Runners Society, an international organization designed to promote barefoot running represented barefoot running and I was one of their advisors answering medical questions.   There were many barefoot running injuries due to materials being embedded in feet while running as well as other types of running injuries. They used a promotional video that showed a runner barefoot on a freshly paved road.  Most of us do not have that available to us unless we lived in the country somewhere. 

Running barefoot pushes the runner into a mid-foot stride with the idea that it was more natural and that it eliminated the problems associated with heel strikes.  The truth is that many barefoot runners who began to change too fast had calf pain and other problems that developed with the change of gait style. Check out this video done by the Latvian Barefoot Runners Society.

I did my own series on this called Going Barefoot Almost a number of years ago. Check it out here  Part 1 Part 2 Part 3.  You can check it out here.  After two weeks, my calves were killing me telling me I did this too fast.

Recently, the American Chiropractic Assn. did a piece on barefoot running.  Check it out below.

Barefoot Running  

Until recently, most of us considered athletic shoes an important and essential part of our athletic training gear. This belief was fortified by the advent of the modern running shoe in the mid-1970s. Every year since then, the big running shoe companies have introduced new product lines based on shoes with increased cushion and support. Today, however, there has been an uprising among subgroups of runners, cross-fitness enthusiasts and weightlifters: Less shoe is better, and no shoe is best. The topic of barefoot running is gaining traction.

Why Go Barefoot?

The premise behind barefoot running is essentially that the intrinsic muscles, joints, ligaments, and mechanoreceptors of the feet require stimulation to function properly. This optimal function is inhibited by highly supportive and cushioned shoes. Intrinsic foot muscle atrophy and mechanoreceptor activity combine to cause injury and reduced performance. Also, the thickly padded heels of running shoes have produced a world of runners who now strike heavily on their heels, producing a gait that is reportedly quite different from those who run without shoes. Whether or not barefoot running is better for humans has yet to be determined scientifically, but advocates have made some very compelling arguments in favor of it.

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