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yay-5089418 pond5A stunning medical study (1) has reversed conventional wisdom on runners who pronate moderate to severely: The researchers found that it’s actually preferable to ditch your athletic shoes! This new study on mechanics of running focused on the interaction between pronation and the foot’s reaction to striking the ground. One of the most surprising findings is that your foot is in a far more anatomically correct position when you’re not wearing running shoes! After decades of having the necessity for wearing expensive athletic specialty shoes drilled into our heads by the billion-dollar advertising budgets of the big name brands, medical science has concluded that runners who pronate moderate to severely may be better off leaving them on the shelf! Bare feet may be the way to go!

Undesirable Pronation Can Be Best Avoided By Barefoot Running!

Pronation of the foot is an undesirable rotational movement at various critical joints, and it occurs often when the arch is lower when standing normally. The arch of your foot flattens out as you run in order to partially absorb the shock of your heel hitting the ground, but when we over-pronate it can lead to a wide variety of foot, leg and knee pain, as well as shin splints and tendinitis.

The Conventional Wisdom Was That Running Shoes Stabilize Your Foot

It has long been believed that athletic shoes can provide additional stability to a running foot due to cushioning and binding, therefore controlling excessive pronation: but that erroneous common belief was turned completely on its head by this study! The researchers investigated the effects of a number of test subjects while they ran with and without shoes. The runners were divided up into groups depending on whether they exhibited low, medium, or elevated levels of pronation. The intensity and frequency of the forces acting on the foot were meticulously measured and recorded.

The Proof Is In: Running In Bare Feet Lessens Over-pronation

The study found that the runners who were barefoot were subject to lower levels of pronation and thus had more anatomically natural and correct positions of the foot during the stride than the participants who wore specialized running shoes. Some of the reasons which were indicated by the researchers for this healthful barefoot advantage to runners include:

  • The tendency of the foot to flex more while running barefoot.
  • The fact that the foot moves around inside a running shoe less than was originally believed.
  • The distribution and frequency of the ground’s impact forces on the foot has a better and less stressful pattern on bare feet.

Barefoot Running Is Great, But Take Precautions Against Abrasion & Sharp Objects

You should take careful precautions before running barefoot: You must ensure that the track or path you’re running on is a non-abrasive surface, and is completely free of sharp or dangerous objects. Barefoot running is best done on a track with a smooth but tractable surface which you have personally inspected and removed any objects which could cut or damage your foot during running, and learning to run barefoot is a skill and must learned-slowly.

Run The Healthy Way! Run Au Naturel!

Barefoot running now has the weight of clinical evidence to conclusively prove that it lessens over-pronation and likely results in less of the damaging ailments associated with too much pronation. Perhaps, during your next run or jog you should leave those expensive athletic shoes at home and run au naturel!

Key to References 

(1) Effects of Varying Amounts of Pronation on the Mediolateral Ground Reaction Forces During Barefoot Versus Shod Running. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 2010, 2, 205-214

Image Credit – man’s feet running on the grass Photos by Pond5

  • Aspergers Syndromes Symptoms

    well written blog. Im glad that I could find more info on this. thanks

  • Doug Brandt

    As a barefoot runner, I find nothing in the article surprising. The proprioceptic reflex has been known about for years, so wouldn’t it suggest that running barefoot, which increases your awareness of the external world, would naturally correct poor running form? I suppose not, because more weight is generally placed on conventional wisdom, the numbers of experts who assume something to be true (correct or not), and the amount of money funding the studies. Nevertheless, it is nice to see the tide turning against conventional shod wisdom. There are a host of websites that can educate you on barefoot running.

    Dayton Barefoot Runner (Facebook)

  • Dr. Nirenberg

    Doug – Thank you for the supportive comment. A lot of people could be helped and a lot of injury prevented, if people LEARNED to run barefoot. For those who have spent a lifetime in supportive shoes, transitioning to minimalist or barefoot is something which needs to be slowly.

  • Doug Brandt

    Thanks for the reply. The nice thing about running barefoot is that much of the learning is self taught, as feedback when running barefoot is generally immediate. The biggest problem, as you note, is taking it slow to allow the foot to adjust and adapt to a new way of doing things. This is minimally a 3-6 month process and changes to and strengthening of the foot continue years thereafter.

  • georgecolombo

    My own experience validates everything in this post. So does an impressive amount of research and data, including great work by Harvard's Daniel Lieberman. (Search for “barefoot professor” on YouTube for a terrific video.) I spent most of the last twenty years (!) in one failed attempt after another at trying to run without pain. Running barefoot returned me to the road a year ago… and I've been wildly appreciative ever since. Thanks for this post, Dr. Nirenberg, and for your forward-thinking perspective.

  • Michael Nirenberg

    Thank you for the support. There are still people out there who believe Man was meant to run with his feet encased! Some of these people are well-intentioned, others may have a profit motive, or perhaps are just close-minded!