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ACE Study on the Benefits of Barefoot Running

Should You Start Barefoot Running?

Has the sight of celebs traipsing around town in Vibram FiveFingers made you anxious to start barefoot running? Responding to the minimalist shoe craze, the American Council on Exercise decided to test out those barefoot running shoes to see how they fared for normal everyday runners. The council tested Vibram's Bilkia model on 16 recreational joggers and compared their performance running in these shoes, regular neutral shoes, and running barefoot. So, should you dip your toes into the barefoot running trend? Read on to find out the pros and cons of running like your ancestors after the break.

The pros
When correctly done, running in a minimalist shoe can decrease the risk of injury. During their tests, half of the participants switched running styles when they went barefoot or wore Vibrams. They landed more lightly and on the balls of their feet (forefront style), instead of on their heels (rear-strike style) like they did when wearing the neutral shoes. This decreased their risk of injury by upping plantar flexion, or downward flexing of the front of the foot toward the sole. All Vibram wearers, regardless of running style, also lowered knee flexion — another way to reduce risk of injury.

The cons
As much as minimal or barefoot running can help decrease injury, it can be hard to jump right into. Although the runners tested had two weeks to run in their Vibrams before test day to get comfortable with them, half still maintained their rear-strike running style while running barefoot or in the Vibrams, leading to higher loading rates when they ran (which can mean more stress on the body overall). And the runners also pronated more in their Vibrams, which can also lead to a higher risk of overuse injuries.

Bottom line
When used correctly, barefoot running shoes may be able to lower your risk of running injury, but it takes time to untrain your feet from all those years of sporting running shoes. Ready to start? The ACE recommends walking in your barefoot running shoes for a bit before you start running, and start out slow — run in them only for about 25 percent of your normal mileage routine until you've fully adapted to them. And if you have any issues like plantar fasciitis or high arches, check with your doctor before you hit the shoe store.

Are you a barefoot running fan?

Source: Flickr User billsoPHOTO

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