Humans have been running for millions of years – long before the assistance of scientifically designed running shoes. Harvard research suggests that the commercial introduction of the running shoe after WW1 has encouraged a running movement pattern of heel striking. That is, hitting the ground first with your heel when your foot touches the ground. Running shoes are thought to promote this heel striking pattern due to the relative comfort of the cushioning. As a result of this heel strike pattern developed from running shoes, there is a large spike in force at the foots point of impact with the ground – this is effectively a large braking force
Conversely, barefoot running shows a pattern of the foot striking the ground closer to the front of the foot (forefoot gait). This forefoot landing is shown to reduce the impact of the foot hitting the ground due to the conversion of foot strike energy into a rotational force – rather than the braking force described with heel strike running.
Proponents of barefoot running suggest that the large spikes of force shown in heel strike running (developed with running shoes) has increased the incidences of modern stress-related running injuries, including shin splints and stress fractures.
So should you run barefooted?
Running barefoot was, at one stage of human existence, the only way! Our bodies have ‘devolved’ through western living to such an extent that it requires time and re-training to correct your faulty foot biomechanics. Introducing corrective exercises with a particular focus on regaining proper foot and lower limb biomechanics assist in the transition. However, I would advise great caution to anyone making a transition to barefoot running to take it very slowly. It takes time for your body to adapt!