Article in 'Pages' contributed by Barefoot TJ, Oct 29, 2013. Current view count: 101.

By Jason Robillard
Is barefoot and minimalist shoe running supported by empirical evidence? In other words, do we have science on our side? This is a question that springs up quite often. Barefoot running skeptics ask the question. The barefoot-curious ask the question. Even some of us that have been doing this for awhile ask the question.

The answer is… sort of.

The holy grail of research would be some sort of large, representative-sampled double-blind longitudinal experiment that compared the injury rates and/or efficiency of barefoot runners and shod runners over a long period of time. As of May 2012, this research has not been conducted.

Instead, we have a lot of small studies that hint toward the benefits of barefoot and minimalist shoe running. That leaves us in a strange position when people ask if this is legit.

Anecdotal evidence certainly supports the premise, but anecdotal evidence tends to be selective in nature. For example, we only hear from the people that have successfully transitioned to barefoot or minimalism. We have no idea how many people tried and failed. Because of this serious limitation, we can’t use anecdotal evidence as the lone rationale for barefoot and minimalist shoe running.

So what about the research that hints at the benefits? [Edit by TJ: Many of these research articles are a rundown a few of us collected at "that other place" a few years back, and some of them have been added recently, as of October 2013:]

Peer-reviewed research/articles
This isn’t an exhaustive list and it hasn’t been updated with research that has been published over the last year, but a quick skimming of the titles will provide an idea of the research that has been conducted. If you happen to know of any peer-reviewed published researchcovering barefoot running or related topics that ISN’T listed above, please leave the link and/or citation in the comments.

The sheer volume of this list would seem to suggest that science definitely supports barefoot and minimalist shoe running. It is important to note that most of these studies have limited sample sizes or other methodological flaws that limit their generalizability. Some are literature reviews. Some are published in questionable journals or websites. At the very least, it highlights the need for further research.

From a practical standpoint, a prudent consumer would approach barefoot and minimalist shoe running with a degree of skepticism. While some people experience a profound reduction in injury rates and a dramatic increase in the intrinsic joy of running, some people also experience overuse injuries and do not enjoy the feeling of the skin-on-ground contact.

My advice- educate yourself. Carefully examine anything and everything you read about barefoot and minimalist shoe running. I’ve written about some of these issues from a skeptic’s perspective:
If you do decide to start, be smart about it. Most people have to go through a transition period to allow their body to adapt to the new stresses of a changed running gait. The exact methods you choose to help learn can be a bit confusing, so I’d recommend this progression:

Where Should You Begin?

Should you get to the point where you decide to use resources that aren’t free, here’s a quick rundown on some great options that I’m familiar with:

Which method should I use?

In conclusion, educate yourself. Remain skeptical. Experiment. Have fun. [​IMG]


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