Barefoot Versus Shod Running: Which Is Best?
With this in mind, what are the facts surrounding barefoot versus shod running? What does the scientific research say about the biomechanics and physiology of running in shoes and running without shoes?
How Common Is Barefoot Running Among Elite Runners?
In order to better understand whether running barefoot or running in shoes produces more injuries, it would be helpful to compare large populations of barefoot and shod runners in prospective studies in order to determine their injury risk. Unfortunately, even after all the discussion and media hype over the past few years on the potential benefits of barefoot running, individuals who only run barefoot are still relatively uncommon. In fact, in the last century of track and field, cross country and road racing competitions, there have been only a few notable runners who won races barefoot since the vast majority of elite runners over the past century have chosen to run their races in shoes.
One of the most famous barefoot runners was Abebe Bikila, an Ethiopian who won the 1960 Rome Olympic Marathon while barefoot in a time of 2:15:16. However, four years later, in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Bikila ran in shoes and, as a result, broke the world record for the marathon with a time of 2:12:11.11 Therefore, Bikila ran the Olympic marathon 7 seconds per mile faster while in shoes than when he ran barefoot. In fact, in over 50 years since Bikila won the 1960 Olympic marathon barefoot, no other athlete has won an international-level marathon by running the whole race barefoot.
Zola Budd, another famous barefoot runner from South African, broke the women’s 5,000 meter world record in 1984 while running barefoot.12 Now, 28 years later, Budd still runs competitively but prefers running in shoes. “I no longer run barefoot,” noted Budd. “As I got older, I had injuries to my hamstring. I found that wearing shoes gives me more support and protection from injuries.”13
In regard to the elite running athletes of today, even though many of them may use barefoot running as a training aid, very few of them compete while barefoot. No world records have been set while running barefoot for at least the last quarter century. In fact, all current track and field running event records have been set with shoes on. Even though nearly all the elite runners of today have chosen to race in shoes, there is currently no scientific research that explains why the world’s elite running athletes routinely avoid going barefoot while racing.
What The Research Says About Differences In Biomechanics And Physiology
Fortunately, in regard to the biomechanics and physiology of barefoot versus shod running, there is now considerable research evidence that does allow us to draw some conclusions about the differences between the two activities.
The most consistent research finding regarding the kinematic differences between barefoot and shod running is that individuals will shorten their stride length and increase their stride frequency while running barefoot.14-17 Barefoot runners also decrease their contact times, decrease their stride duration and decrease their flight times.18 Therefore, being barefoot causes a runner to take more steps per mile than while shod.