The debate about barefoot vs. trainer has been a hot one in podiatry and running communities alike, for quite some time now. Vibram has relied heavily on the theory that barefoot running is less likely to cause running injuries, for their Five Fingers ads. There have been countless books and articles over the past few years, that have also discussed this topic.
February 1, 2010 Science Daily published an article citing data from a study conducted by scientists at Harvard, relating to barefoot vs. trainer-shod running. It appears as though the Harvard Study has concluded that barefoot running, does indeed cause a runner to alter their stride in a way that the heel strike is less forceful than when the runner is wearing padded trainers.
Science Daily explains these findings, stating that:
Scientists have found that those who run barefoot, or in minimal footwear, tend to avoid “heel-striking,” and instead land on the ball of the foot or the middle of the foot. In so doing, these runners use the architecture of the foot and leg and some clever Newtonian physics to avoid hurtful and potentially damaging impacts, equivalent to two to three times body weight, that shod heel-strikers repeatedly experience.
The results of the study, as Daniel E. Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University explains, show that when a person is wearing a trainer the brunt of the impact is taken by the heel of the foot. Lieberman contrasts that finding with subjects who were running with no shoes, stating that the shock of each foot strike was absorbed by the entire foot, because of the way that barefoot runners instinctively flatten out their feet before each strike.
Lieberman warns that making a transition from running in trainers, to minimalistic footwear, or bare feet, should not be done hastily. In the article he states:
Running barefoot or in minimal shoes is fun but uses different muscles. If you’ve been a heel-striker all your life you have to transition slowly to build strength in your calf and foot muscles.
It is pertinent to point out that Vibram was one of the sources of funding for the Harvard study. This fact doesn’t necessarily mean that the results are biased. But, to those who view the barefoot running trend as the running world’s equivalent to the latest fad-diet, point to Vibram as evidence. Even the critics of the study would most likely agree that it has shown that runners can safely run distance with minimal or no footwear.