New Harvard Study Shows Advantages of Barefoot Running
by Steve Kirschner, citizen journalist
According to the results of a new study from Harvard University, and published in the January 28th online edition of Nature, people who run barefoot hit the ground differently than those who wear shoes, and in doing so, lessen the impact on their bodies.
Daniel E. Lieberman, the co-author of the study and a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University said, “People who don`t wear shoes when they run have an astonishingly different strike. 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.”
By contrast, runners with shoes on tended to strike the ground with their heels, leading to an impact equivalent to two to three times their body weight, Lieberman said.
This new study focused on the running gaits of shod and unshod people from the US, where most people have grown up wearing running shoes, and from Kenya, where running barefoot is still common.
The research found that people who grew up running barefoot in Kenya`s Rift Valley province, which is known for its endurance running champs, tended to land mostly on the front or middle of the foot when they touched ground.
Some world class athletes who run barefoot include:
Abebe Bikila, former Olympic marathon world-record holder Bruce Tulloh, former European 5k record-holder Tegla Loroupe, former Olympic marathon world-record holder Zola Budd, former world record holder in the women`s 5000 meters
People who have always worn cushioned running shoes, on the other hand, usually hit the ground heel first.
According to Biomechanist Reed Ferber of the University of Calgary in Canada, this study “is unique in that they actually went and found people who have been running barefoot and are world renowned as barefoot runners.” Previous studies focused on people who were asked to run barefoot for the first time during laboratory experiments, he says.
The study examined the physical stresses on feet and found that people wearing running shoes strike the ground with the mass of the entire leg, which is nearly 7 percent of the body. That`s more than three times the weight of impact for barefoot running.
“It`s really about how you hit the ground,” said Lieberman, who specializes in human evolutionary biology. “When you hit the ground, some of your body comes to a dead stop.” For runners in cushioned shoes, “It is literally like someone hitting you on the heel with a hammer,” Lieberman said. But, he added, that “The way in which barefoot runners run is more or less collision free.”