Should I Go Barefoot Or Stick With Trainers?

What's the best technique to help with speed, efficiency and a reduced risk of running injuries? This has become a hot topic of debate with no firm conclusions. Its important to consider each runner as an individual and what works for one person may not work for another. I've been experimenting recently...

On the one hand we have the more traditional view that our foot requires support and cushioning, and on the other the ‘barefoot’ or ‘minimalist’ crowd are saying that we should ditch bulky running shoes and go ‘native’.

Check out this video on barefoot running technique

I’ve looked at both approaches and have worked out that for me, a blend of the two styles of running seems to work quite well for me at this stage.....no injuries so far anyway, and feeling pretty good on my feet.

It goes something like this...

I want to ensure that when my foot strikes the ground, its underneath my centre of gravity (that is my body weight) and not too far in front of me. At the same time my knee needs to be slightly bent and I am aiming to land on the middle to front of my foot (barefoot style). According to Blaise Dubois, a Swiss Chartered Physiotherapist who has studied running biomechanics in great depth, this style of running will reduce the speed at which impact forces are transferred through my lower limb. In order to achieve this type of running style, he suggests trying the following

  • shorten the stride length, so that you take more steps to cover the same ground
  • try to land as softly as possible with as little noise
  • change to a running shoe without a large heel pitch - a flatter runner in other words, or what some would call a minimalist shoe

So far I have tried 1 and 2 and have found that my foot strike is certainly more to the middle of my foot with my feet more underneath than in front of me. I find this slightly revised way of running comfortable, and maybe I’m not as tired at the end of the run? However being heavy on my feet, an over-pronator with a leg length discrepancy and a history of biomechanically related knee and low back pain, would I be advised to ditch my more structured/ supportive runners which I use with an orthotic? Probably not at this stage.

One could argue that I am making a transition to barefoot running. I am following the advice I give my patients which is to do nothing in a hurry and make small changes slowly, otherwise the risk of injury increases dramatically. For now at any rate I am finding adopting some of the principles of barefoot running while still using an orthotic in a structured shoe is working well. Perhaps as my ankle/ foot adapts slowly over time I may try a move away from the more bulky structured runners I am currently using and go for a barefoot/minimalist running shoe?

I’ll let you know how I get on.

By Simon Coghlan MSc, BSc Hons, DipMedAc, MISCP
Simon holds a Master of Science Degree in Physiotherapy and is a member of the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists. A post graduate Diploma in Medical Acupuncture entitles him to accredited membership of the British Medical Acupuncture Society. Simon specialises in the integration of medical acupuncture techniques with manual therapy and therapeutic exercise for the treatment of musculo-skeletal pain and dysfunction.
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