Joe Hamill, Ph.D.

Independent Researcher at the University of Massachusetts

I don’t see any real health benefit to barefoot running, except that people are running. People don’t walk without shoes. Why would they run without shoes? Many will look at the load rate of running shod vs. unshod, and it will show higher load rate in shod running. The fact is that this load rate is different because runners in shoes tend to heel strike and barefoot runners tend to midfoot strike. If you took a midfoot striker in shoes, he or she would have the same lower load rate of a barefoot runner. Load rates depend on gait not footwear. Runners do need to be aware of changing their gait to a midfoot strike because midfoot strikers are at a higher risk for Achilles Tendonitis.

If on a soft surface like grass or sand, it can be beneficial to run barefoot. Whether you are running barefoot or in shoes, you should also use your natural footfall pattern. Check the bottom of your shoes to see wear. If you see wear in the heel, you are a natural heel striker. It is not true that everyone was a forefoot/midfoot striker before wearing shoes. If you are a natural heel striker who wants to run barefoot, run on sand.

I don’t think it benefits any type of runner to run barefoot on hard surfaces. There are so many negatives, like glass, rocks, uneven surfaces, and weather conditions. Another issue that no one talks about with barefoot running is the hygiene factor. This is important. Barefoot runners, who have cracks, blisters, or scrapes on their feet, will have a higher risk of infection. Calluses are your body’s way of providing protection from this, but they take time to build. Until then, the risk for barefoot runners is very high.

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