Barefoot runners' gait protects them from hard heel-strikes

A Harvard study published in this week's Nature confirms what barefooters have been saying for years: shoes teach you bad walking and running habits, while barefooters have a different gait that protects them from shocks when they run, even without the padding.

I have flat feet and associated back problems, and I've worn orthotic inserts since I was 17. Stick me in shoes without these inserts for 48 hours, and I'm in agony.

Unless I'm wearing a pair of Vibram "barefooting" shoes on holiday, in which case, I'm fine. (Only one data point: remember, the plural of "anecdote" isn't "fact.")

"People who don't wear shoes when they run have an astonishingly different strike," says Daniel E. Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University and co-author of a paper appearing this week in the journal Nature. "By landing on the middle or front of the foot, barefoot runners have almost no impact collision, much less than most shod runners generate when they heel-strike. Most people today think barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but actually you can run barefoot on the world's hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain. All you need is a few calluses to avoid roughing up the skin of the foot. Further, it might be less injurious than the way some people run in shoes."

Barefoot Running: How Humans Ran Comfortably and Safely Before the Invention of Shoes

(Image: barefoot, a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike image from kisocci's photostream)