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15 August 2009

Barefoot Running

I often get asked what I think about barefoot running.

We were created to run barefoot to survive, so we can move camps, can hunt for our food, etc. But that was before concrete got invented and we started to run for fitness, recreation and competition rather than survival (but given the obesity epidemic we may need to run for survival in the near future!). Because of the invention of concrete, we needed another invention – the running shoe.

Running barefoot comes in two forms. Those that do it in moderation as part of a balanced running program and those that use it as a philosophy that underpins their running. It is this later group I have a problem with. They are like religious zealots that are fanatical about it. They use nonsensical non-scientific mumbo jumbo to support what they do. They use any piece of evidence that is negative about running shoes as “proof” that barefoot running is better. They grasp at straws to misrepresent other research and dismiss any anti-barefoot research. They claim there is research for it, but when you look at the research, it does not support it - they misrepresent what the research is showing (...and even when you point that out to them, they continue to claim it supports them).

At the end of the day, there is not one piece of evidence that shows barefoot is even ideal, let alone beneficial. Yet do an internet search for barefoot running and look at the extraordinary range of claims being made for the benefits of it. HOWEVER, there is no evidence that it is not beneficial either. Yet the fanatical supporters of barefoot running quote a wide range of research to support their cause. When I read the reference list for the claims, not one piece of the research says what they claim it says. Trying to discuss rationally with these people is like trying to argue a religion – you never going to win that argument.

They also like to be dismissive of claims by Podiatrists that running barefoot is not good as Podiatrists have a vested interest in foot orthotics. That is just silly nonsense. Podiatrists will, generally, always be motivated by what is best for the patient and if the evidence says that barefoot running is beneficial, then they will be recommending it. There are even Podiatrists who are barefoot runners! I love the way the fanatics claims that Podiatrists are anti-barefoot running because of the orthotic $. They need to come up with some better evidence and data than that silly argument.

There have been some very balanced discussions on Podiatry Arena on barefoot running (link); certainly more balanced that the fanatism and zealotry seen on some running forums to do with barefoot running.
I not opposed to barefoot running; it is just I want good evidence to guide me as to what runners should and should not be doing it; it probably should be done in moderation as part of a balanced running program; and the zealots need to get over it (they need to see Payne’s Law!)

Craig Payne

UPDATE: 7 October

What I wrote above has been discussed on a number of running forums. The nature of the discussions confirms exactly what I said above! Check them out for yourself and you will see exactly what I mean!

UPDATE: 8 October

This topic came up in a new thread on Podiatry Arena.

UPDATE 14 January:

If you ever want any evidence to confirm what I was saying about about the fanatical zealots, look at the research discussed here; how bad the research actually is; and how the running barefoot community have worshipped the research, without even considering the actual flaws with it!  This is exactly what I mean when I say they are "blind"

UPDATE: 31 January:

Yet more really bad research has been published that is being touted by the running barefoot community. See this thread on Podiatry Arena:. There is also this new anti-barefoot running website that is fun to read. It won't be fun for the barefoot fanatics!

UPDATE: 9 June:

There are increasing reports of stress fractures occuring in the Vibram Five Fingers. On barefoot websites, this is being dismissed as being due to training errors and not the barefoot running or the Vibrams.How come when a barefoot runner gets an injury, its a training error, yet when a runner using shoes gets and injury, its the fault of the shoe? Why can't that be a training error as well?

Even the French are getting into the barefoot debate.


See Also:

Chi Running


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