Barefoot Running Simultaneously Better, Worse Than Running in Sneakers

Have you heard about the shift from running in expensive running shoes to running in expensive non-shoes (see Vibram Five Fingers) or barefoot?

Proponents of the practice say humans are better off running without the intervening inventions of Nike and Reebok. Detractors say running barefoot is dangerous, but the converted are a dedicated bunch, according to the New York Times:

These early-adopter runners, however, tend to be disproportionately enthusiastic and evangelical. Many cite the best seller “Born to Run,” by Christopher McDougall, which touts barefoot running, and claim that barefoot running cured them of various running-related injuries and will do so for their fellow athletes. “There are people who are convinced that barefoot runners never get injured,” said Daniel E. Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard who runs barefoot himself and spoke on the topic during last week’s symposium.

The symposium occurred last week at a sports medicine conference in Denver, a packed talk titled “Barefoot Running: So Easy, a Caveman Did It!.” The bottom line was that researchers probing the topic discovered both significant benefits and significant downsides to the practice:

The result can be an uptick in the forces moving through the leg, Dr. [Dr. Stuart J.] Warren pointed out, since you’re creating as much force with each stride as before, but no longer have the cushioning of the shoe to help dissipate it. Most barefoot runners eventually adjust their stride, he and the other presenters agreed, landing closer to the front of their feet — since landing hard on a bare heel hurts — but in the interim, he said, “barefoot running might increase injury risk.”

The clear conclusion to draw here is don’t go running. It’s about one of the suckiest and least pleasurable activities in which a human can engage. If you’re not destroying your feet, ankles and knees, you’re probably going to be soiling yourself or getting mowed down by people driving air conditioned cars and sipping a mochalatte.

Have you tried working out barefoot? Do you prefer it?