Should you bare it all to run better?

Article written by Michelle Berg, AFLCA Group Exercise and Resistance Trainer with mind/body and portable equipment accreditations, NASM corrective exercise specialist, and NAIT Personal Fitness Trainer program graduate. View Michelle’s full profile and qualifications on

A recent study published in the American Physiological Society’s Journal of Applied Physiology followed 37 experienced runners to try to explain some of the proposed benefits of barefoot running. The study focused on determining if runners who habitually run with a forefoot (FF) or rearfoot (RF) pattern were more “economical” in terms of energy expenditure, oxygen use and fat burn.

Proponents of the barefoot or minimalist running shoe style urge the biomechanical advantages of a forefoot running style. As the researchers explain, “It continues to be argued that a forefoot (FF) strike pattern during running is more economical than a rearfoot (RF) pattern” (JAP, 2013). However, the JAP study actually showed evidence to the opposite.

The researchers (based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst) structured their experiment on both foot strike patterns with the runners. Measurements of oxygen consumption and carbohydrate usage both favoured the RF runners, which would not support the ideas associated with barefoot or minimalist shoe movement.

Lead on this study, Dr. Allison Gruber says “I always recommend that runners run the way that is most natural and comfortable for them. Each runner runs a certain way for a reason, likely because of the way they were physically built. Unless there is some indication that you should change things, such as repeated injury, do not mess with that plan.” (source, Gretchen Reynolds, Is Barefoot Style Running Best, NYT blog, WELL )

Changing, or eliminating your shoes isn’t the only way to improve your running performance. Here’s some tips that will work, regardless of what shoes you wear.

  • Be sure to warm up effectively Warm up 3 to 5 minutes before you start your run. “Warm-up before physical activity is a universally accepted practice” according to researchers Young & Behm. A warmup can start with a walk that gradually increases in speed.

  • Include dynamic movements like leg swings, hip openers, arm circles and walking lunges. These mimic the movements required for running, and get blood flowing to working muscles.
  • A proper cool down after your run is also needed to allow your body to return to its normal state, and ensure adequate blood flow. Blood flow during exercise is essential for nutrient and oxygen transport, and after a run your blood will help remove waste products. Give yourself at least 5 minutes to adequately cool down and slow your heart & breathing.

  • Include static stretching of all primary muscle groups in your cool down. This should also include static stretching of all primary muscle groups used in running. Static stretching requires holding a comfortable stretched position for a minimum of 30 seconds, up to 2 minutes.
  • Consider cross training on non-run days as a way to further condition your body, and improve your running.

What is cross-training?

Cross training can include a resistance training program to build muscular endurance, and complimentary cardiovascular training like swimming, cycling, rowing, etc. Yoga, Pilates and exercise programs focused on stretching, strengthening and relaxation may also improve your running by increasing range of motion, reducing tension and improving the physiological systems used in running.


Economy and rate of carbohydrate oxidation during running with rearfoot and forefoot strike patterns

authors: Allison H. Gruber , Brian R. Umberger , Barry Braun , Joseph Hamill
Journal of Applied Physiology Published 15 July 2013 Vol. 115 no. 2, 194-201 DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01437.2012

Is Barefoot Style running best? , posted on NYT WELL blog, 2013, 06, 05.

Young, W. & Behm, D. (2002) Should static stretching be used during a warm-up for strength and power activities? National Strength & Conditioning Association Journal, Vol. 24, no. 6, 33–37

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