- Human Evolution
- Running Before the Modern Running Shoe
- Modern Running Shoes
- Heel Striking
- Different Foot Strikes
Many people today think that they need stiff-soled shoes with lots of cushioning and arch support, yet we humans evolved to walk and run barefoot. In fact, until recently, everyone was either unshod or wore minimal footwear with flexible soles, and little arch support or cushioning. So try taking off your shoes! Adopting a barefoot style of running and having strong feet is not only more natural, but also may be very good for one's health.
Our research shows that when people run barefoot or in minimal shoes, they typically adopt a classic, gentle running style in which they land on the ball of the foot, and don't overstride. As an educator, I strongly believe that more of us need good, scientific, evidence-based research on how our bodies work so that we can make informed choices about how to walk, run, and stay healthy. I am pleased that VIVOBAREFOOT is helping to make this information widely available. All of us - and our feet - are sure to benefit.
Contrary to popular belief, the bare foot is well suited for running long distances without requiring modern, heavily cushioned, high-heeled running shoes.
Humans and our recent ancestors have been accomplished endurance runners for more than a million years (Lieberman et al. 2010). Research by Robbins and Hanna 1987, indicates that humans were able to run comfortably and safely when barefoot or in minimal footwear by landing on the fore- or mid-foot before bringing down the heel. Our evolutionary history as runners partly accounts for why aerobic exercise is such a key component of human health.
Unfortunately, studies suggest that at least 30% of runners get injured every year, and many of these injuries stem from problems that arise in the foot or lower leg (van Gent, 2007).
Try running barefoot on a hard, natural surface, you’ll notice almost instantly that it hurts to heel strike! This is because the human heel pad cannot cushion much of the impact force (Chi and Schmitt 2005 and Ker 1989) and this force is concentrated on a small area of the heel.
Humans were running for millions of years, apparently safely, in running flats, in thin sandals or mocassins, or in no shoes at all. Lieberman’s research indicates that they may have been able to do so by fore- or mid-foot striking.
Habitual barefoot runners use all kinds of landings, but predominantly forefoot strike, even when going downhill (Lieberman 2010). Furthermore many shod runners asked to run barefoot in laboratory conditions (a treadmill) naturally switch to a fore- or mid-foot strike.
Many people think modern running shoes are necessary in order to run safely and comfortably, but they were invented only in the 1970s. Before then, running shoes were just simple running flats that had little cushioning, no arch support, and no built-up heel.
Approximately 75% of shod runners heel strike (Hasegawa et al, 2007). While we do not know the definitive reasons why the majority of shod runners heel strike, we propose several potential explanations:
- It's comfortable. The shock-absorbing features cushion the force of impact. The shoe reduces the force by about 10% and slows the rate of loading considerably. This, in addition to distributing the impact force over a larger area of the rearfoot, makes it comfortable to heel strike.
- Thicker rearfoot cushioning than forefoot cushioning. This high heel makes it easier to heel strike because the sole below the heel is typically about twice as thick as the sole below the forefoot. So if your foot would tend to land flat when barefoot, it will land on the heel when in a shoe.
- It's stable. The shoe is designed to prevent too much movement such as pronation. This helps to make runners feel stable in modern shoes.
Why do Different Foot Strikes Matter?
- Quite simply, a runner can avoid experiencing the large impact force by forefoot striking properly.
- In heel striking, the collision of the heel with the ground generates a significant impact transient, a nearly instantaneous, large force. This force sends a shock wave up through the body via the skeletal system.
- In forefoot striking, the collision of the forefoot with the ground generates a very minimal impact force with no impact transient.
- Lieberman was able to hypothesize and find anecdotal evidence that forefoot or midfoot striking can help avoid and/or mitigate repetitive stress injuries, especially stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and runner's knee. We emphasize, however, that this hypothesis on injury has yet to be tested and that there have been no direct studies on the efficacy of forefoot strike running or barefoot running on injury.