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Barefoot running craze takes hit with new study

March 25, 2012

A new study suggests you may use more energy while running barefoot. — Afp picA new study suggests you may use more energy while running barefoot. — Afp picNEW YORK, 25 March — The shoeless stride has been a hot trend, with more and more people running barefoot and shoe companies targeting “barefooters” with minimalist shoe designs. While the barefoot craze has always been hotly debated, a new study makes a case for lacing up your running shoes. Researchers at the University of Colorado in the US have discovered that running shoes help wearers to run more efficiently, using three to four percent less energy compared to runners wearing no shoes. 

The findings, soon to be published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, are somewhat surprising, given that traditional running shoes add weight to your feet and barefoot running is touted as more natural. Previous studies have found every 100 grams in weight that you add to your feet will make you burn roughly 1 percent more energy when you run. 

But barefooters claim it's more about injury prevention than energy efficiency. Running barefoot is purported to maintain the health of the foot's 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles, tendons, and ligaments and keeps lower legs healthy and exercised. 

Robert Gotlin, director of orthopaedic and sports rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical Centre in New York City, said it's about biomechanics. When wearing shoes, the runner typically lands on the heel of the foot; barefoot runners land on the front of the foot. This “changes the impact of force on the foot and the lower extremities,” he said. “As such, when you land on your forefoot, the force upon the body is reduced significantly.” 

Barefoot runners enjoy other benefits as well, he said, such as strengthening the plantar fascia muscles — which run along the sole of the foot. Also barefoot running reduces the chance of shin splits. The tradeoff is that landing on the front of the foot can cause problems with the Achilles tendon. And of course the obvious risk is that you could accidentally step on, well, just about anything. — Afp-Relaxnews 

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