Effect of Minimalist Footwear on Running Efficiency: A Randomized Crossover Trial

Stephen M Gillinov, Sara Laux, Thomas Kuivila, Daniel Hass, Susan M Joy
Sports Health 2015, 7 (3): 256-60

BACKGROUND: Although minimalist footwear is increasingly popular among runners, claims that minimalist footwear enhances running biomechanics and efficiency are controversial.

HYPOTHESIS: Minimalist and barefoot conditions improve running efficiency when compared with traditional running shoes.

STUDY DESIGN: Randomized crossover trial.


METHODS: Fifteen experienced runners each completed three 90-second running trials on a treadmill, each trial performed in a different type of footwear: traditional running shoes with a heavily cushioned heel, minimalist running shoes with minimal heel cushioning, and barefoot (socked). High-speed photography was used to determine foot strike, ground contact time, knee angle, and stride cadence with each footwear type.

RESULTS: Runners had more rearfoot strikes in traditional shoes (87%) compared with minimalist shoes (67%) and socked (40%) (P = 0.03). Ground contact time was longest in traditional shoes (265.9 ± 10.9 ms) when compared with minimalist shoes (253.4 ± 11.2 ms) and socked (250.6 ± 16.2 ms) (P = 0.005). There was no difference between groups with respect to knee angle (P = 0.37) or stride cadence (P = 0.20). When comparing running socked to running with minimalist running shoes, there were no differences in measures of running efficiency.

CONCLUSION: When compared with running in traditional, cushioned shoes, both barefoot (socked) running and minimalist running shoes produce greater running efficiency in some experienced runners, with a greater tendency toward a midfoot or forefoot strike and a shorter ground contact time. Minimalist shoes closely approximate socked running in the 4 measurements performed.

CLINICAL RELEVANCE: With regard to running efficiency and biomechanics, in some runners, barefoot (socked) and minimalist footwear are preferable to traditional running shoes.

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