• Doug Joachim

Barefoot Vs. Shod NYT article review

I’d like to address an article in the March 27th 2012 edition of The New York Times called “Making the Case for Running Shoes”:

The abstract from the journal paper titled “Metabolic Cost of Running Barefoot versus Shod: Is Lighter Better?” cited in the NYT article, is below.

The first thing I’d like to state, is what is meant by “better”?   The researchers wanted to test whether running barefoot has a lower energy demand then running in sneakers.  In this case they found that running with shoes is “better” because it was shown to exact a lower metabolic demand on the body.

So if we are to believe this study (and I do have some issues with its design and results) then running barefoot burns more calories then being shod.  Is that such a bad thing?  

Here are some issues and thoughts I have with the research and NYT article:

-all of the running was done a treadmill which (as you know) is much different than running outdoors — running down vs. running forward

-the sample size was quite small (12 individuals)  and no women (women’s bodies and gaits are different)

-weighted lead strips placed on the top of the foot does not equal a shoe weight which is equally distributed

-when running barefoot the increased amount of force is dissipated by the large muscles, which is a good thing….not bad

-the study does not state whether the shod runners were forefoot or heel striking (which would make a huge difference)

-the barefoot runners (with questionable “substantial experience”) were using a mid-foot strike pattern– which has been shown to be less efficient and more deleterious than a forefoot strike

-the “barefoot” runners were wearing socks which confines the toes and will prevent some of the natural toe spread that should occur during the gait cycle

-I wonder if Nike funded this research….just saying

Not all of us are good candidates for barefoot running, but if done correctly it has been shown to reduce chronic (running) injuries in many.   Running barefoot may very well take more energy but then again it connects your body to the ground, increases your foot strength, proprioception, agility and maybe your enjoyment.

Running is a very complicated biomechanical activity and it is different for everyone.  The science of barefoot running is still evolving.  Do what feels natural and good but above all have fun.  

For more info on barefoot running check out: Barefoot Or Not?

Metabolic Cost of Running Barefoot versus Shod: Is Lighter Better?

Franz, Jason R.; Wierzbinski, Corbyn M.; Kram, Rodger

Published Ahead-of-Print


Purpose: Based on mass alone, one might intuit that running barefoot would exact a lower metabolic cost than running in shoes. Numerous studies have shown that adding mass to shoes increases submaximal oxygen uptake (V[spacing dot above]2) by about 1% per 100 grams per shoe. However, only two of the seven studies on the topic have found a statistically significant difference in (V[spacing dot above]2) between barefoot and shod running. The lack of difference found in these studies suggests that factors other than shoe mass (e.g. barefoot running experience, foot-strike pattern, shoe construction) may play important roles in determining the metabolic cost of barefoot vs. shod running. Our goal was to quantify the metabolic effects of adding mass to the feet and compare oxygen uptake and metabolic power during barefoot vs. shod running while controlling for barefoot running experience, foot-strike pattern and footwear.

Methods: 12 males with substantial barefoot running experience ran at 3.35 m/s with a mid-foot strike pattern on a motorized treadmill, both barefoot and in lightweight cushioned shoes (~150 g/shoe). In additional trials, we attached small lead strips to each foot/shoe (~150, ~300, ~450 g). For each condition, we measured subjects’ rates of oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production and calculated metabolic power.

Results: V[spacing dot above]2 increased by approximately 1% for each 100 g added per foot, whether barefoot or shod (p<0.001). However, barefoot and shod running did not significantly differ in V[spacing dot above]2 or metabolic power. A consequence of these two findings was that for footwear conditions of equal mass, shod running had ~3-4% lower V[spacing dot above]2 and metabolic power demand than barefoot running (p<0.05).

Conclusions: Running barefoot offers no metabolic advantage over running in lightweight, cushioned shoes.

(C)2012The American College of Sports Medicine

Doug Joachim – NYC



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