Researchers at England’s Northumbria University analyzed the gait and oxygen uptake of 18 recreational and elite runners performing a series running tasks both barefoot and shod.Dr. Michael Wilkinson, lead researcher and avid barefoot runner determined the following in their study:- a significant saving in energy from taking off running shoes- mechanical differences in the foot strike patterns (shod runners did more heel strike, unshod were more midfoot striking)- there were immediate foot strike changes in previously shod  runners who suddenly changed to unshod foot strike- there is less oxygen use during barefoot running compared to running shod at the same speed. Hence improved running economy.Characteristically, skilled unshod runners have a distinctive running gait utilizing:- mid-foot landing- shorter stride lengths- faster stride rates- reduced ground contact time- lower impact force and loading rates which dampens injury inducing forces- reduced oxygen utilization. The 6% improvement in economy was the same as that previously reported after a nine-week training program for shoe-wearing runners, who also enjoyed a 3% improvement in running performance.Click on the link above for the Science article.

Is Barefoot more economical ?

Oxygen cost of running barefoot vs. running Shod.

This study concluded that at 70% of vVO (2)max pace, barefoot running is more economical than running shod, both overground and on a treadmill.  So, if you have a competent enough foot to run barefoot or in minimalistic footwear, and it is important to note that some people are not purely from an anatomical perspective, you can improve your economy of running and use your energy sources efficiently. But if you are one of those unfortunate ones that has excessive pronation or other functional foot challenges, you will have to settle for the less economical shod running.  That does not mean you will not have as good a workout, it just means that you will be protecting your foot doing so.  Sure, you might not be the fastest one on the track, but you will be able to show up every day having not compromised  your feet.


Int J Sports Med. 2011 Jun;32(6):401-6. Epub 2011 Apr 6.

Oxygen cost of running barefoot vs. running Shod.

Hanson NJ, Berg K, Deka P, Meendering JR, Ryan C.


Health, Physical Education and Recreation, University of Nebraska at Omaha, United States.


The purpose of this study was to investigate the oxygen cost of running barefoot vs. running shod on the treadmill as well as overground. 10 healthy recreational runners, 5 male and 5 female, whose mean age was 23.8±3.39 volunteered to participate in the study. Subjects participated in 4 experimental conditions: 1) barefoot on treadmill, 2) shod on treadmill, 3) barefoot overground, and 4) shod overground. For each condition, subjects ran for 6 min at 70% vVO (2)max pace while VO (2), heart rate (HR), and rating of perceived exertion (RPE) were assessed. A 2 × 2 (shoe condition x surface) repeated measures ANOVA revealed that running with shoes showed significantly higher VO (2) values on both the treadmill and the overground track (p<0.05). HR and RPE were significantly higher in the shod condition as well (p<0.02 and p<0.01, respectively). For the overground and treadmill conditions, recorded VO (2) while running shod was 5.7% and 2.0% higher than running barefoot. It was concluded that at 70% of vVO (2)max pace, barefoot running is more economical than running shod, both overground and on a treadmill.

Here are some excerpts from a talk we did earlier in 2011. Dr. Shawn Allen talks to a private industry group about shoes, shod and unshod ambulation, the research based facts from both old and new studies, and thoughts about the benefits and caveats of going into minimalistic footwear or barefoot.
Thank you for watching our video, please feel free to share it with anyone and everyone. We have lots of other videos here on youtube.
Shawn and Ivo…..The Gait Guys

Shod vs. Unshod : What the Lieberman-Harvard study really said.

Shod vs. Unshod : What the Lieberman-Harvard study really said.

Thanks to OwenAnderson of for this excellent article.

If you are paying attention to everything that is going on, you want to read this well thought out article.  The Gait Guys are digesting this article and we will render our thoughts and opinions shortly.  But, differing points of view, when laid out logically and with sound reason, deserve consideration. This is how the truth is eventually discovered.

Give this article a productive and attentive read.  We will get back to you shortly.

Summary statement seems to be this….. (quoted word from word from the article).


“Ironically, the popular press has been using the Harvard study as a launching pad for the idea that barefoot running is healthier than shod ambling, even though Lieberman’s paper provided no data at all to test the idea that barefoot running lowers the risk of running injuries!

  Here’s what Lieberman et al actually found:  

(A) Habitually shod runners (groups 1 and 5 from above) who grew up wearing shoes are usually rear-foot strikers (RFS), meaning that their heels make the first impacts with the ground during running, right at the beginning of the stance phase of gait. This is not new information. The strong link between running in shoes and heel-striking has been known for many years.  

(B) Runners who grew up running barefooted or who switched to running barefooted (groups 2, 3, and 4) are generally fore-foot strikers (FFS), meaning that they tend to land initially on the balls of their feet while running, after which their heels drop down to make contact with the ground. Again, this is nothing new – the tight connection between barefoot running and FFS (and also MFS, mid-foot striking) has been general knowledge for years.  

(C) Impact forces transmitted through the foot, ankle, and leg immediately after impact with the ground are about three times greater in shod runners using RFS, compared with barefoot runners with FFS. Some – but not all – previous studies have shown this same relationship, with RFS producing greater impact force during the first portion of stance, compared with MFS and FFS. The sudden rise in force with RFS, immediately after ground contact, is known as the “impact transient.” The disparity in impact transient between barefoot and shod running represents a “foundation” for the belief that barefoot running is “safer” and less injury producing. While this appears to be logical thinking, it is important to know that no study has ever shown that greater impact forces during the first portion of stance magnify the risk of running injury.  

(D) Rates of loading of impact force are actually quite similar between shod RFS runners and barefoot FFS athletes (Figure 2b from the Nature paper). The rate at which impact force is loaded into the leg has also been suggested to be a risk factor for injury, although convincing proof of this notion does not exist.  

(E) During the early stance phase of barefoot FFS running, there is greater knee flexion, greater dorsi-flexion at the ankle, and a 74-percent-greater drop in the center of mass, compared with shod RFS running. “Vertical compliance” is defined as the drop in the runner’s center of mass relative to the vertical force during the impact period of stance, and it is obviously greater in barefoot FFS running, compared with shod RFS. Vertical compliance varies as a function of running-surface hardness, and this is why force-loading rates are similar for barefoot FFS runners over a wide array of running surfaces (the runners adjust compliance according to surface). This is not novel information, however.  

(F) During barefoot FFS ambling, the ground reaction force torques the foot around the ankle (and therefore increases the amount of work carried out by the ankle, compared with shod RFS running). With shod RFS running, the ankle converts little impact energy into rotational energy. Potentially, this could spike the rate of ankle-area injuries (for example in the Achilles tendon and calf) for barefoot runners, although this hypothesis has not been tested.  

And that was pretty much it! The Nature investigation did disclose some interesting information about the effective mass of the foot and shank (which we won’t discuss here), but it offered no other information about the potential links between barefoot running and either injury or performance.   And that’s why it’s too early for you to consider changing from shod to barefoot running, unless such a shift would be a lot of fun for you. 

There’s just no proof that barefoot running will reduce your risk of injury or make you faster.   In fact, it’s important to remember that most injuries in running are caused by an imbalance between the strain and micro-damage experienced by a muscle or connective tissue during training and the tissue’s ability to recover from such stress. This imbalance can occur when training is conducted shod – or barefooted! A weak or overly tight hamstring muscle which has been undone by excessive mileage won’t care if its owner was running barefooted or wearing shoes – it will still feel the pain. ”

Owen Andersson,

Its great to wear shoes if you are jumping, but not necessarily running. It is interesting that ground reactive forces were not significantly different for shod vs unshod conditions and that that knee flexion, angular velocity and power were higher for those “perceiving” that there would be more cushioning. It goes to show we are not smarter than our brain (we just think we are !). Knee. 2010 Aug 24. [Epub ahead of print] Shod landing provides enhanced energy dissipation at the knee joint relative to barefoot landing from different heights. Yeow CHLee PVGoh JC. Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, National University of Singapore, Singapore; Division of Bioengineering, National University of Singapore, Singapore.

Shod landing provides enhanced energy dissipation at the knee joint relative to barefoot landing from different heights.

Barefoot Shoe Companies please take note. Barefoot-Natural Running: Fad or Trend

One question still remains, is this whole barefoot “thing” a fad or is it truly a trend that is here to stay ? The Gait Guys believe it has become entrenched enough now, in reputable research journals, that this is a firm trend that will not be going anywhere anytime soon.  The studies are just too convincing that there are benefits. However, Dr. Waerlop and I feel that there are risks for some folks.  Those mainly being that some foot types do not, and never will, have business being in such minimalistic shoes. We remained concerned about the misleading advertising, that these types of shoes will make everyone’s feet stronger. For some, they will, but most of the time strength education must be directed, so why would it be any different here ?  For example, there is a right way to do a squat, and a wrong way and merely doing more of them without guidance does not guarantee that the intended and proper motor patterns will be achieved. We all need direction when it comes to difficult things, like proper foot function.  Thus, merely putting on a minimalistic shoe does not mean that the correct patterns and strategies for foot strengthening are being automatically instituted. We see plenty of folks who are in minimalist shoes and yet still display toe hammering and clenching behaviors which are clearly not seen in strong feet, to the claims that these shoes will do it all are just not true.  And, for those that have challenged foot types and lower limb torsional issues (ie. FF varus, Rothbart Foot, cavovarus foot, excessive tibial varum and/or tibial torsion etc) these folks will likely trend towards local foot problems or injuries or issues further up the kinetic chain (hip, knee, low back etc).  Understandably, these are heavy medical terms and conditions that are very much out there in the running public. We know, we see them daily.  The problem could be that those providing the education do not have enough clinical background to know what these issues are let alone recognize them.  So how can they then draw these issues to the surface in educating the public ?  As I say in my lectures, “You first have to know what a platypus is in order to identify it.  Otherwise it is just a hedge hog with flippers and a duck bill.”  These underlying anatomic issues are the elephants in the room that everyone is missing, everyone except us.  We get the folks who are running in these minimalist devices and we get to see who never should have been in them in the first place.

The good thing is that many companies are setting up educational programs to help folks drop down into “minimalism 2.0” but still, to date, no one is talking about the elephants in the room, those being those foot types that are too risky to be in the shoes and even more specifically, how to strengthen the foot.  Merely putting the shoes on and wearing them does not mean the end user who already has challenged feet will begin to engage the correct muscular motor patterns.  But who would admit to those risks, that would be stupid advertising and product risk.  With 36+ clinical years we feel this is where we have some pull and can help.

Someone needed to be talking about the elephants in the room.  We finally decided that we had enough experience clinically, and with runners and shoes, to be that person. Agreeably, there is a danger in doing too much barefoot running too soon. We made this clear over the past few years as Biomechanics Advisory Board members for one of the big players in this game.  For us it is about “keeping them honest” as we like to say now. We are trying to make the calls on the products that have questionable statements and applaud those that stick their neck out but whom take our critique well.  We do not know everything, but we seem to know much more than most when it comes to the biomechanics of what is going in these products.  If you put 10 different feet in a product, you will get 10 different biomechanical presentations from the shoe. So, much of what is being missed is the education of what is going on with the parts that are in the shoe, and that is our world.  A major part of the barefoot or natural running trend are the problems that exist with the thing you are putting into all of these products, a person. A person who likely does not have the classic middle of the road, ‘Average Foot’ these shoes were designed around; that foot that all these companies base their research and dialogue upon.  To us, the most important thing for us to do is to raise the knowledge and awareness to the public, shoe companies and shoe stores that there is likely a ~10-15% standard deviation off of that average foot where their products will work as they claim.  Those other 70%, well…….they need us and they deserve to have us help them see the elephants in the room that no one is talking about.

If the collective goal of the natural running movement is to reduce injuries then the education MUST continue into educating the fabricators and running public of all of the issues at hand (or “foot” in this case) which should include talking about the elephants in the room.

Please help us get the message out. Wouldn’t it be great if this message went viral ? Send this to your friend who just bought a pair of “barefoot or minimalistic shoes”. Send it to your shoe store owner, your coach, your trainer, your doctor, therapist, your running club colleagues, your brother etc.

Lets educate everyone so this positive trend does not have a dark undercurrent that no one speaks of.

Shawn Allen, Ivo Waerlop………with almost 4 decades of clinical experience…..we are,  The Gait Guys

The Gait Guys: Some strategies in Controlling the Foot Arches and Big Toe

As promised. We fixed the volume.  Less hiss next time. Enjoy

Dr. Shawn Allen of The Gait Guys speaks about proper stabilization of the medial foot and arch. Muscle specifically discussed are a team: FHB (flexor hallucis brevis), AbDuctor hallucis, and tibialis posterior. He discusses the functional anatomy, normal and pathologic movement patterns of the arch and first ray complex and big toe (hallux). His foot’s ability to show the optimal patterns for the arch and hallux are excellent examples. Follow up videos and DVDs will show more details you need to know, and some of the exercises he and Dr. Ivo Waerlop use to restore a foot that has lost these abilities. The DVDs are in the works. Take their lectures and CME on Visit them at and on their facebook PAGE & Twitter of the same name for daily feeds of unique things.