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Barefoot Running Debate

Discussion in 'Biomechanics, Sports and Foot orthoses' started by Kevin Kirby, Jan 21, 2010.

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    I was recently asked by the editor of Runner's World, Amby Burfoot, to be part of a debate on barefoot running. "Barefoot" Ken Bob Saxton, who hosts a website devoted to barefoot running represented the other side of the debate. The Barefoot Running Debate was recently published in the February 2010 issue of Runner's World magazine. The debate has already generated some interesting comments on the Runner's World website which I find to be both amusing and interesting. Overall, I enjoyed the debate and liked Ken Bob's side of the story about his own personal experience with running in shoes versus running barefoot. In addition, a thread on chi running and pose running from last year here on Podiatry Arena has some comments related to this discussion.

    I encourage those of you who have strong opinions on either side of this debate to contribute to the comments on the Runner's World forum since I think it will be an interesting fad/trend to watch over the coming years. As a runner of 40 years, and seeing how running shoe designs have changed over the last four decades, I am very interested to see how this interest in barefoot running affects the shoe designs within the running shoe industry and the running shoe industry as a whole.:drinks
  2. Griff

    Griff Moderator

  3. toomoon

    toomoon Well-Known Member

    The barefoot running debate is an excellent example of why clinicians, in particular MD's shouls stick to clinical paractice. For those of you vexed by this issue, have a look at the most recent, and oft quoted in the press piece of "science" at

    It pretty much sums up the unshod argument, and guess what? The lead author has developed and is flogging a "barefoot running shoe". Ayyyeee

    Here are a couple of observations:

    1. This has all been done, and slammed, before
    2. You cannot compare shod and unshod joint force data. At all. (I’ll give a link at the end that explains why).
    3. The title of the journal says it all. I’ve never read anything in it before. If this study was any good it would have been in Journal of Biomechanics.
    4. This sort of research, which gets a lot of media attention, is the number one reason why people with MD next to their name should stick to clinical practice and leave the research to people who know what they’re doing.

    Here are the reasons you cannot do this study:

    - Whenever you add any padding, regardless of the density, you need to apply a calibration factor to the centre of pressure coordinates. If you don’t do this, all of your inverse dynamic data is wrong. This study did not do that, therefore their numbers are wrong.

    Even if the study did correct for the padding height, there are still a number of other fatal errors
    - (From any force plate calibration guide) Deformation of the pad causes change in the foot-force plate interface plane. THERE IS NO SOLUTION IN TERMS OF CENTRE OF PRESSURE COORDINATES
    *Consequently, the better the shoe is at doing its job and cushioning the foot the more incorrect the data will be. Think of your foot in the shoe going into pronation, and how this will cause a lever arm that is dispersed throughout the sole of the shoe.
    - If you could create some sort of correction factor for the soft padding, you would still need to correct for the differences in height and density throughout the shoe. This would be next to impossible
    - If you created some sort of super algorithm which could do all this, you would still need to calculate the shear forces at the foot – insole interface as these would not be accurately measured by the force plates.

    - I love their statement in the discussion that they are using the most advanced techniques to model the biomechanics of running. They’re using a 20+ year old model which is really outdated.
    - Their statement about cushioning not reducing force at midstance: Who gives a rat's ? this is where the elastic energy storage and propulsion comes from – you don’t want reduced midstance force or your running efficiency will suffer.
    - The filtering of the force plate data is suited towards reducing the ground contact force: wearing shoes dampens the impact force, reducing the impulse. However, a second order low-pass Butterworth filter at 30Hz will have the same effect on the unshod ground reaction force data. It causes the force curve to look more like a soft wave than the rapid impulse that it is. It’s also next to impossible to get the data timed correctly. A Butterworth filter also adds in the “amazing anti-gravity force plate effect!”, which results in the force plate telling you that there is a massive vacuum sucking it into the air before the ground contact occurs. I watched a whole presentation in Mech Eng one day saying how this ruined otherwise good musculoskeletal models.

    Here’s a link to a great force plate calibration set of pages:


    I think that about covers it for now, if anyone has any more questions let me know and I’ll get stuck into it some more.

    Have a good one,



  4. Griff

    Griff Moderator

  5. toomoon

    toomoon Well-Known Member

    thanks Ian. Behind the times as usual! Been reading the postings this morning with great interest. Just got back from Costa Rica where email is one of those new fangled things!

    Off to toronto next week to lecture at the BioPed conference on barefoot running! Should be interesting. I am with Craig, in that I am not against barefoot running as a part of a structured, safe training program, just against fanatacism of any kind. Same with Chi and pose.. it of course will work for some people, but just as generic orthose prescription will not work for everyone, nor will these techniques. Very illogical. I think Chris Mc Donanld actually got it right. Barefoot runnig is fantastic providing you are a 5'2, 50 kg Tanahamara Indian who has been doing it since birth.

    I am well on my way to my stated gaol of becoming an irascible old bastard!
  6. Craig Payne

    Craig Payne Moderator

    This was in my email this morning from 'Chief Runner', Mike G at Road Runner sports:

    Attached Files:

  7. Simon:

    Good to see you contributing again. I just wrote a short article a few days ago titled "Barefoot Running: Growing Trend or Passing Fad?" for the April 2010 issue of Podiatry Today. Certainly, I share your frustration with the whole barefoot running issue, especially the medical professionals who are promoting "barefoot running shoes" and "minimalist shoes" and making claims through their "research" to help them sell shoe designs that they have a financial interest in.

    By the way, in the 1970's, I was running about 70-100 miles per week, and racing as a distance runner in cross-country, track, road races and marathons. Back in that "post-Frank Shorter" era, we called the shoes which were very lightweight with a minimum of sole thickness "racing flats". Now, the barefoot running community calls these same shoes, 35 years later, "minimalist shoes". "Nothing new under the sun" is all I can say to this nonsense.

    As you probably know, the Onitsuka Tiger Marathon Trainer was the prototype of the lightweight racing flat for that era. It was probably about 5-6 ounces in weight (same weight as the "minimalist" Vibram Fivefingers five-toed shoe) . In addition, many of my competitors ran in the Marathon Trainer during cross-country meets, track meets and road races here in Northern California during my early racing years.

    I ran my first marathon at the age of 17 in 1974 called the Ocean to Bay Marathon, which went from Half Moon Bay to Belmont, California, over King's mountain with a 1,500 foot elevation gain during the first half of the race. I took first in the "junior division" at that race and, for winning the junior division, I won a pair of Jayhawks shoes, also from Onitsuka Tiger. These Jayhawks were a fantastic racing flat, had a golden yellow upper, were lightweight and I ran most of my races and next marathon the next year (13th place,2:39:38, at the age of 18, on May 11, 1975 at the Avenue of the Giants Marathon) in that shoe. The next racing flat that I raced in (during the late 1970's when I ran for the UC Davis Aggies) was the Nike Elite, which had a "waffle tread", a blue nylon upper and a yellow "swoosh" on the side. I remember toeing the line in a three way cross country meet at UC Davis during my Junior year in 1977, looking across at all the shoes of my teammates and competitors and seeing 2/3rds of them wearing Nike Elites. It was the most popular racing flat of that era.

    I could go on and on about my love for good running shoes, but this is probably only interesting to the older runners, like myself. One of best things about running was, and still is, that running shoes are the only "necessary equipment" we need to run, train and race as a distance runner. I thought you, and maybe a few others that are reading along, would be interested in my early memories of the fabulous shoes from Onitsuka Tiger, before they became Asics.

    Maybe, Simon, you could provide some photos and weights for these early Tiger shoes....I think this information may come in handy when the barefoot runners start to tout their "new idea" of running in "minimalist shoes" to simulate barefoot running.:drinks
  8. Griff

    Griff Moderator


    You go on as much as possible - I love this stuff - I have a bit of a geeky fascination with the history of running shoes (and athletes in general). Being born in 1978 I have to use the internet and the stories of slightly 'older' runners such as yourself (no offence intended of course) to feed my obsession.

  9. toomoon

    toomoon Well-Known Member

    if I can figure out how to attch photos.. I am onto it!

    stand by..
  10. Ian:

    I am an old runner....I'll be turning 53 this Saturday! YIKES!!:eek::eek::eek:
  11. Simon:

    There is a "manage attachments" button in the "additional options" section below the "reply to thread" section that should allow you to display photos in jpg format. However, I still haven't figured out how to post multiple photos in one thread.:confused:

    By the way, Simon.....to help ease your mind.....you already are an irascible old bastard.:drinks
  12. toomoon

    toomoon Well-Known Member

    very cheeky from a man of your senior years..

    happy birthday old friend..!!
  13. I know you're not too far behind me in age.....and I'm as irascible as ever.....thanks for the BD wishes.....when we getting together to play and sing again??
  14. Ninjasox

    Ninjasox Active Member

    Thanks to all for the posts, very timely for me as i've been asked to provide input on the whole barefoot running debate by the local paper, so i'm looking forward to seeing what they publish :D
  15. toomoon

    toomoon Well-Known Member

    very soon I hope... we must make sure we have maximum exposure though so we can iritate as many people as possible..
  16. Yeah...we do get on now when we hang out together...don't we?! I must again remind you that in the USA vs Australia joke competition at Biomechanics Summer School in 2004, the USA won.;)
  17. Griff

    Griff Moderator

    Bit late notice I know, but I'm watching the BBC News and one of their main stories this evening is on Barefoot running - seems they may have picked up on the latest 'research'. For those in the UK get on BBC1 asap as its on now.

    Will try to get a link up once its on the BBC site

  18. Griff

    Griff Moderator

  19. Griff

    Griff Moderator

  20. NewsBot

    NewsBot The Admin that posts the news.

    Science Daily have this report on the research:
    Barefoot Running: How Humans Ran Comfortably and Safely Before the Invention of Shoes
    Full article
  21. JB1973

    JB1973 Active Member

    here is another link to a letter from Nature journal. "Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners."


  22. Griff

    Griff Moderator

    Thats not a working link dude


    This made the front cover

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jan 27, 2010
  23. I just wish....that for once....these "science" writers got their facts straight!! What a joke!!:craig::mad::bang:
  24. Craig Payne

    Craig Payne Moderator

    I use Science Daily a lot, but they just reproduce press release with very little editorial investigation or checking of the research's validity etc.
  25. toomoon

    toomoon Well-Known Member

    Do ya think..... at any point in time, someone is going to fess and say.." yeah we all agree.. footwear does not do much for cushioning.. but that is not what is important.. it is shock transfer and joint/ muscle loading that is the issue... and footwar absolutely influences that in a positive way"
    I just do not get it... must be dumb AND irascible
  26. Simon and Craig:

    We have known....I guess now for at least the last two decades....that modifying the surface that runners land on will modify their central nervous system (CNS) response to landing on that surface. Research has shown that individuals running in softer soled shoes often makes them contact the ground with more impact force and having these same individuals run in harder soled shoes often makes them contact the ground with less impact force. This seemingly paradoxical research finding is most likely caused by the CNS making nearly instantaneous adjustments in the landing strategy in the trained runner/individual, depending on the shoe or surface they are running on.

    Tom McMahon's early research, which I believe is now 35 years old, shows how surfaces can be tuned to improve running speed by matching the stiffness of the running surface to the stiffness of the runner's lower extremity. Harvard's tuned indoor track constructed 33 years ago was the end result of his research which allowed runners to run a mile about 5 seconds faster than on a normal track. He also showed how the human bipedal running animal will make various kinematic adaptations during both the support and forward recovery phases of running when running on very soft surfaces (e.g. pillows, sand) versus running on very hard surfaces (e.g. concrete and asphalt).

    Why then, now, 20 - 35 years later, is this such big news that runners will change their landing strategy during running when barefoot than in shoes to try to minimize the impact peaks of running without shoes on. I just wish some of these science writers would do their research on the existing running and running shoe research to see that unless the researcher is considering the central nervous compensations for barefoot versus shoe running, and the resultant changes in internal joint loading magnitudes and temporal patterns, they are only looking at half the picture in regarding the biomechanical differences between barefoot and shod running. It is a travesty....and science writing at it's worst...as far as I'm concerned!:bash:
  27. Bruce Williams

    Bruce Williams Well-Known Member

  28. NewsBot

    NewsBot The Admin that posts the news.

    Here is a video clip from Nature on the research:

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 22, 2016
  29. CraigT

    CraigT Well-Known Member

    Hi Simon!
    I have a pair of retro Onitsuka Tiger running shoes... how close are these to the 70's versions?
    Not planning to run in them...

    Kevin- waffle sole? You are almost talking about an era where those soles were actually made using a waffle iron...:D pre lives?

  30. I will be very pleased when the real biomechanists start to weigh in on these findings of "increased impact forces" with heel-strike running rather than the medical doctors and anthropologists that just recently are becoming interested in foot and lower extremity biomechanics. I am aware of absolutely no scientific research which has correlated the passive (i.e. impact) peak of heel-strike running to greater risk of injury. However, I have noted in my sports medicine practice over the past 20+ years many runners who have converted to Pose or Chi running, which advocate more of a forefoot striking gait, will end up with Achilles tendon injuries, distal plantar fasciitis, and gastrocnemius-soleus muscle strains. Why is it never mentioned that these forefoot strikers also get injured while running and, sometimes, with far more debilitating injuries than do the heel strikers?

    When will one of these "barefoot researchers" present a more balanced approach to the biomechanics of internal loading of structural components of the human foot and lower extremity? Just once I would like to hear one of them say something about the 80% of millions of runners who run as heel-strikers and in in shoes that aren't getting injured, rather than hearing how bad heel-striking running is for all runners because our ancestors ran barefoot without shoes.

    I guess the best way to draw attention to your poor biomechanics research these days is to embrace barefoot running....why?.....because the media loves it!!
  31. CraigT

    CraigT Well-Known Member

    BBC Website have more now....


    I love this...
    "Many successful distance runners have competed barefoot, including the South African-born athlete Zola Budd.

    This has caused researchers to question whether barefoot running might well be more efficient."

    Ummmm.... Many?? and how many successful athletes DON'T run barefoot?
    None of the Kenyans that I treat do any barefoot training.... and these are guys who train in Kenya doing 100mile+ per week. I do not know of any elite runners who do any racing barefoot.
    I actually think some barefoot traing is useful... on natural surfaces in a controlled and progressive manner.
  32. admin

    admin Administrator Staff Member

    I have been contacted privately by someone who wanted to use some comments from Podiatry Arena's barefoot debates on their website. The website is still under construction, so I can not post the web site address yet. I did however get permission to post this below for your amusement:
  33. YLG

    YLG Welcome New Poster

    For those that are interested I have attached the article,


    Attached Files:

  34. JB1973

    JB1973 Active Member

    "Many successful distance runners have competed barefoot, including the South African-born athlete Zola Budd."

    Zola Budd hasnt ran competitvely for maybe 15-20 years. is this still they example they use?
    also she was arguably a better cross country runner. did she also do this barefoot? i dont know

    i'm a keen amatuer runner and i thought i'd try it. i have to say after around a month i could barely acheive heel contact my calf muscles were so sore.
    it maybe did improve my posture a little but i couldnt sustain it, and could only do it on a treadmill or track. i'm afraid i wasnt brave enough to try my normal routes.
    and apologies for my earlier link not working. my thanks to Mr weber for kindly sorting me out.
  35. Griff

    Griff Moderator

  36. toomoon

    toomoon Well-Known Member

    Hi Craig.. how's Qatar?
    Every shoe in the Onisuka Tiger range is a faithful reproduction of an actual Tiger (now ASICS) competition model, most of them designed for Olympic use.
    Kevin is an expert on the waffle sole.. invented in 1927.. coz he was running in them back then...: hehehe
  37. That waffle tread was absolutely the best for improving traction during running races/workouts on wet grass, which we did quite often in cross country meets in high school and college. Nope, Simon, I wasn't even "invented" until 1957...the year that Elvis starred in "Jailhouse Rock". I believe that, back then, Chuck Taylor's were "state of the art" for running shoes?
  38. toomoon

    toomoon Well-Known Member

    Gosh I could not agree more Kevin. I am finding this more and more frustrating. Just wondering when we will see Nigg 1981or LaFortune 1989 cited as conclusively establishing that impact forces do not collelate to injury.

    Furthermore.. the body of evidence indicating higher impact forces are beneficial and necessary for the bone bank.

    I am shocked to see a quality resarcher like Irene Davis putting her name to a paper that specifically links "overuse injury" to 'impact forces". There simply is not such a link in the scientific literature.

    When are these guys gonna get real and present their data in a proper scientific manner and properly control for the variables.
    It is a joke to be comparing current injury data of distance running to that of the 80's. In the 80's, the average marathon time was 3hours 8 minutes. today it is 4 hours 20 something. That tells us we were dealing with quality runners in the 80's with some real selection issues coming to the fore...
    Maybe we should form a coalition of the pure and start getting the facts to the media. This is crazy..
  39. toomoon

    toomoon Well-Known Member

    Yes, and a tribute to the inventivenes of Bill Bowerman and his waffle iron. Funny the CT's are also going strong... just don't run in 'em! I might add that 1957 was a very fine year indeed for many of us :cool:... did you hear the one about....
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