Running shoes beat bare feet in one important way

Frances McInnis
Shine On

The barefoot running movement has been gaining steam for several years now. But is the barefoot running craze just that — a craze? Or are traditional, cushioned running shoes on their way to extinction?

A new study suggests that traditional running shoes help you conserve energy, not lose energy, like what barefoot runner advocates have argued, according to the Globe and Mail. Researchers at the University of Colorado have discovered that running shoes help wearers to run more efficiently, using three to four percent less energy compared to runners wearing no shoes.

The findings, soon to be published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, are somewhat surprising, given that traditional running shoes add weight to your feet. Previous studies have found every 100 grams in weight that you add to your feet will make you burn roughly 1 per cent more energy when you run.

Related: The facts on 'barefoot' running shoes

However, the researchers speculate that the design of running shoes allows the runner to use less energy despite the extra weight added to their feet. Physiologist Rodger Kram, who led the study, told the Globe and Mail that running barefoot requires runners to use their leg muscles to cushion their body.

It should be noted though that the main draw of barefoot running has to do with injury prevention rather than efficiency. Running without shoes has been touted as a way to avoid the sprains, shin splints and other injuries that plague many runners. Its proponents blame these problems on the modern sneaker, which was invented in the 1970s.

In 2010, Harvard University's Daniel Lieberman, published a paper that said running shoes encourage runners to strike first with their heels, and that the repeated impact could lead to injuries.