Initial Response of Mature, Experienced Runners to Barefoot Running: Transition to Forefoot Strike

  • Scott M. Mullen
  • E. Bruce Toby
  • Damon E. Mar
  • Megan Bechtold
  • Bryan G. Vopat
  • Heath Melugin
  • Terence E. McIff
Keywords: running, gait, human forefoot, shoes, sports

Abstract

Introduction

Forefoot strike has been advocated for many runners
because of the relatively lower impact and push-off forces compared
to a heel strike. The purpose of this study was to explore the ability
of mature (> 30 years old), experienced runners to transition from a
heel foot strike to a forefoot strike when first introduced to barefoot
running on a treadmill. We hypothesized: 1) mature runners who heel
strike while wearing traditional training shoes would persist in heel
striking immediately following a switch to barefoot, 2) mean shoe
heel-to-toe drop would be significantly greater in runners who persist
in heel striking when running barefoot compared to those who transition
to a forefoot strike pattern, and 3) there would be a significant
decrease in heel striking in the barefoot condition as running speeds
increased.

Methods

This was a controlled crossover laboratory study. Thirty-
three experienced runners (average 23.4 miles per week) with
an average age of 45.6 years were recruited for this study. The participants
first ran in their standard running shoes and subsequently
barefoot. A motion capture system was utilized to detect and analyze
any transition from heel strike to forefoot strike made by study participants.

Results

Of the 26 participants who were classified as heel strike
runners in their running shoes, 50% (13/26, p = 0.001) transitioned
to forefoot strike when changing from running in shoes to running
barefoot.

Conclusions

The injuries associated with transition from standard
running shoes to barefoot running or minimalist shoes may be influenced
by the persistence of heel striking in mature runners. Older
experienced runners may have limited ability to transition from heel
to forefoot striking when first introduced to barefoot running. Mature
runners should be cautious when beginning a minimalist shoe or
barefoot running regimen.

Published
2019-11-26
Section
Original Research