Barefoot Running – It’s Less Efficient
Barefoot or minimalist running has been attracting adherents as a more physiologically natural way to run.
A “normal” runner lands on the heel with each stride. In the minimalist style, the runner lands on the front part of the foot. Proponents of forefoot landing say that the front-of-the-foot landing style is more physiologically natural and is less likely to lead to runner’s overuse injuries.
But there’s one benefit that barefoot runners can no longer claim – increased energy efficiency.
In the most careful research conducted to date, at the University of Colorado in Boulder, researchers tested runners who were experienced in both running styles. When they switched from rear-foot landing to forefoot-landing, they became 4% less efficient.
The scientists speculate that the drop in efficiency occurs because the heel cushioning of a conventional running shoe absorbs some of the impact of landing. By contrast, when landing on the forefoot, the runner’s own calf muscles have to work harder to decelerate the landing. That uses extra energy.
The research did not test whether minimalist running offered other benefits, such as a decreased likelihood of overuse injury.
So if you’re looking to shave a few seconds off your time in a 10K, stick with a conventional running style and conventional running shoe.
On the other hand, if you’re a recreational runner, or if you’ve had injury issues when you’ve tried to increase your mileage, you may want to experiment with a forefoot-landing style. It may offer some protective benefits. Each body is different, so there may be a specific reason why your legs and feet are better suited to the forefoot landing pattern of gait.
If you’re a recreational runner and not racing, the odds of noticing a 4% (plus or minus) change in efficiency is about 0%.
Also, there’s some debate about the conclusions drawn from the study (including whether the subjects tested were even accomplished barefoot runners).
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