I’ve had many inquiries about barefoot running and to be honest, I’m not too familiar with the literature on this topic. However, I was recently at a conference, where an expert consensus panel basically hashed out what we currently know about barefoot running. So for those of you interested, here’s the run down :
Claim 1: Barefoot running is associated with toe landing while shod running with heel landing- This claim is not correct. Kinematic (think experiments with high speed cameras) have shown that landing pattern is subject specific, and has very little to do with footwear.
Claim 2: Forces during barefoot landing are smaller than during shod running, therefore reducing injury potential- this claim is not entirely true. It is true that the external forces (force between the foot and the ground) has a smaller peak in barefoot running, but in the context of injury, the forces that are relevant are internal (the force across joints etc.) not external. It is incredibly difficult to study these internal forces, but through estimations, researchers have shown that there is not much of a differences especially around the ankle joint. Forces tend to remain the same but shifted towards other muscles. The implications of this still need to be substantiated.
Claim 3: barefoot running is associated with fewer injuries. there is currently NO study that has shown conclusively that this is the case.
Claim 4: barefoot running provides more training (compared to shod running) for the muscles that cross the ankle joint. Studies have actually shown that shod running can lead to higher activation of these ankle muscles compared to barefoot running.
Here’s a summary from the conference for anyone interested.