Thursday, March 25, 2010

Impact Forces in Barefoot Running

A recent thread discussing barefoot running impact forces on a biomechanics user group, reminded me of another important aspect of barefoot running and the main reason many researchers, runners and scientist are suggesting that it may be better to run barefoot than in shoes.

The impact forces are the forces that the muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones experience when the foot first hits the ground. Impact forces are absorbed by the foot and transferred and shared among all the muscles in the leg and up to the hips. Research has shown that this impact force has a higher impulse (change in force over a time period) when landing on the heel than when the runner lands on his mid-foot or forefoot.

Running in shoes has allowed runners to feel comfortable landing on the soft cushioned heel of the shoe and therefore the impact forces and impulses are increased sending larger shock waves through the body and possibly causing injuries. Barefoot running, forces the runner to land on the mid-foot or forefoot, reducing the impact forces and impulses.

The video below from the Nature channel on YouTube about the barefoot professor, Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman, gives a good explanation of the theory. Professor Lieberman also published an article in Nature magazine on barefoot running. Notice how they use video analysis to analyze the running mechanics. They also use force platforms in the treadmill that measure the forces. Force platforms are like large accurate bathroom scales that can determine the position of the foot.

There seem to be advantages to barefoot running, but there are many unknowns too. Even if there are advantages to barefoot running in lowering impact forces and the foot control that may reduce pronation, we may not be aware of the disadvantages that exist.

Barefoot running definitely seems to increase blisters, bruises and pain under the foot. The calf muscles are often more sore and stiff after running barefoot and other muscles may also be strained in ways that cause different injuries.

So if you plan to try running barefoot, start slowly and build up your tolerance and strength. Also record some video footage of your running and try to identify how you run differently in shoes and barefoot.

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