Naked Feet – A Look At The Barefoot Running Movement
Update: After speaking with Dr. Lieberman of the study mentioned below, we’ve edited the first few paragraphs for accuracy and clarity. To view the original article click here.
After hundreds of years of walking with shoes on, is it time we relearn? There’s a movement going on that challenges the very foundation of sneaker wearers (not to mention sneaker companies) everywhere, around running barefoot. This broad grouping of perspectives includes some runners who are finding they prefer to run exclusively barefoot, some who prefer to run with minimally cushioned shoes, and others who like to vary their runs between shod, minimally shod, and shoeless. Recently, runner and Harvard researcher Daniel Lieberman released a study in the journal Nature (subscription required) that ignited broad popular discussion on the topic. Lieberman’s research explored the physics behind the various ways the foot comes into contact with a surface when in shoes and shoeless, and found that most shod runners favor a heel-first strike while shoeless runners tend to naturally strike forefoot- or in some cases midfoot-first.
The underlying mechanical theory is based on the simple fact that a shoeless foot striking the ground heel-first, tends to hurt. As the study’s site explains, “This is because the human heel pad cannot cushion much of the impact force (Ker et al., 1995; Chi and Schmitt, 2005) and this force is concentrated on a small area of the heel. Many shod runners asked to run barefoot in laboratory conditions (a treadmill or trackway) switch to a midfoot or forefoot strike.” Lieberman’s research did not explore or favor a particular type of strike over the other in terms of injury prevention, or seek to show that barefoot running is objectively “better” than shod running, but many publications (including ours in this article) initially understood it as making such a claim.
Apart from and in addition to discussion on the recent study, there are advocates and skeptics of barefoot running. The majority of runners still take issue with forgoing footwear at this point. On a practical level alone, it’s hard to fathom running through a dirty city, along the river in the cold, or even in a twig and stone-ridden forest without some sort of shoe for protection. And—think about it—during a race, it doesn’t seem like hitting the porto for a bio break would be the most sanitary of options.
So where does that leave us?
At New Balance, we’re committed to developing shoes with various levels of cushioning and support—from very little to plenty. And we’re continually exploring the human foot and the best way to accommodate it. We do this by working with renowned bio-mechanical engineers, podiatrists, and top-ranked ultra-marathoners—even barefoot ones. In this way, we’re able to offer footwear options for all kinds of needs—from the most minimal support on upwards. Unless of course you’re going barefoot. Then we’ll just cheer you on and offer another kind of support—the emotional kind.
For additional perspectives on barefoot running, here are some helpful sources:
- A lively debate at Runner’s World
- A Boston Globe article written by Carolyn Johnson discussing the Lieberman study, that quotes New Balance manager of advanced project engineering Sean Murphy
- A Christopher Joyce NPR report on the Lieberman research