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Study Shows Barefoot Running is Not Good for People Over 30

In response to Dr Mullen’s study which suggested that “older runners (age 30 and older) are not able to adapt as quickly to running barefoot,” a number of runners have expressed their opinion based on their own experiences. What’s your take on barefoot running? Don’t forget to vote on our poll (to the right)

David, Portland: This ‘study’ was done on a treadmill. You can’t run barefoot on pavement and heel strike, your body won’t let you due to a little known physiological phenomenon known as ‘pain’.

Mike, Oregon: What about runners who are old but without much previous running practice? Running on treadmills is different from hitting the streets. As a short distance new barefoot runner, to hit heal first on concrete seems like an unlikely long-term solution for new or old runners. Maybe you can get away with heal first on a treadmill but concrete is less forgiving.

Maqroll, North Florida:  Intermittent barefoot running is good for most older runners. Not only does it remind them to strike at midfoot, rather than the heel. but it reminds them to lighten their strike by shortening their stride, quickening their cadence, and imagining that they are lifting the foot that is about to strike a split second before contact with the ground (such as by picking up the striking foot sharply and lifting the knee markedly).

Midfoot striking can be learned by the older runner and it can become ingrained. My experience, tho, was that aging had effaced some of the cushioning tissue in the bottom of the foot–fascia??–and eventually I developed sore areas on the bottom of my feet. For that reason, I would strongly advise older runners who try barefoot running or minimalist shoes, to stay off hard surfaces. The uneven surface of grass or a dirt trail also gives older runners a chance to improve their balance and stability.

Darryl, Los Angeles: Be careful about becoming a barefoot runner… About three years ago when this was the craze, I tried it (I’m now 59) also did the standing exercises designed to develop a proper landing because my knees were hurting a bit… I developed a very severe case of Plantar fasciitis that took me a year to get over.

I’m running on Newtons now — and feeling much better. Maybe I just did too much, too fast…. But it was a bummer and it hurt…

I wish this advice would have been available back then.

Susan Samalin, Las Vegas, NV: I am the only person who can explain how to run correctly, so called barefoot form:

1) Stand up straight, chest out, shoulders back, pelvis slightly extended.
2) Lean your weight on the front of your feet
3) Kick back with your hips and keep your stride behind you
4) Push off with your big toe
5) Land your foot under you, not in front of you.

Any age can learn how to do it. It is the secret to running without injuries, with fun, and o yeah, for hundreds of miles.

Tonyboy9, Cebu, Philippines: Barefoot running may be harder for all runners.
I’m kind of surprised there was no mention by Gretchen Reynolds of the class action lawsuit against the makers of Vibram Five Fingers barefoot running shoes.

I purchased two pairs at the same prices as
good moderately priced Reeboks. I ran in the funny looking shoes until the foot pain would not go away.

MST, Midwest: This is not a problem unique to older runners. Once the person is informed, it’s really easy for them to make the adjustment. The difficulty lies in giving them direction on how to adjust their running stance, which Vibram and other companies definitely do not do.

Marc A, New York: Barefoot WALKING is harder for older people! Did you know that 15 minutes could save you 15%?

Jim, Arizona: Try it for yourself. Go to a grassy park, take off your shoes, and run. See what happens. You will more than likely end up striking on the balls of your feet. Your body won’t allow you to heal strike. Also, try and touch your feet 180 times per minute. That is, your feet should hit “left-right-left” (or vise-versa) with each passing second.

You may also try running in sandals, as I do. I run trails in mountainous northern Arizona, about 25-35 miles per week, in my Luna sandals. They have a very strong soul with lots of protection, but have not drop (heal to tow), and are flat as a pancake.

Enjoy running…it is the one way we can honor our ancestors for all their hard work that resulted in our ability to run.

Roger, MN: Assumption not discussed: Older runners have the same padding as younger ones. True, or has there been some dissipation?

NM, NY: “…But teenagers do not have older runners’ decades of ingrained experience of wearing running shoes and striking the ground with the heels…”

Teenagers do also not have older runners’ loss of fat pads in the ball of their foot. Best tread lightly when you are over 30.

Why cant running shoes be made to shift the strike from the heel to the ball of the foot, with adequate padding for older metatarsal pads (or lack of them)?

Sarah, New York: I suspect that some of the injuries from switching to barefoot running come from runners underestimating how long it will take to condition the different muscles that are used in a forefoot strike. I’ve been wearing minimalist and negative heel shoes for walking for about seven years. When I first started, I noticed ‘white heat’ type pain (similar to the feeling of tendonitis) in my lower legs after only 15 minutes of walking! There were secondary muscles in my calves that I’d essentially never used in my life, so they had to be developed from scratch. I managed to avoid injury, but only through extreme patience. For the next several months, I walked in the minimalist shoes until the point of pain (but not beyond) several times a week…after three months or so, I could wear the shoes for half a day a few days a week…it took more than six months before I could wear the minimalist shoes all day every day without pain developing. But having gone through that process, everything they say about minimalist shoes is true: my posture is better, less pain in my lower back, my calves and the backs of my thighs are more shapely, and my feet have woken up (because they get more interesting sensory stimulation through minimalist soles, especially when walking over uneven surfaces).

Lutoslawski, Iowa: Barefoot running did not work for me, but shoes that simulate aspects of barefoot running – notably a minimal drop between heel and toe – combined with lots of cushioning (Newton, Saucony Virrata) work very well. They encourage me to run on the forefoot, although I’m a long-time heel striker.

My experience also suggests, contrary to this study’s findings, that the faster I run the more likely I am to strike with the forefoot. For me, an 8-minute-per-mile pace seems to be the threshold.

Melpub, NYC and Germany: Get that tetanus shot, now.
Me, I’ll stick to my Nikes.

Blueingreen66, Minneapolis: I’ve run for over fifty years and for the life of me, I’ve never understood why anyone thinks running barefoot on pavement makes sense. The beach, grass, dirt, yes. But concrete and asphalt?

Ralph, Wherever: I first began running long distance in the 1960’s. At that time, there was no such thing as running shoes, so I ran in light weight wrestling sneakers. By the early 1970’s, I was running with indoor track shoes. Both kinds of footwear were very light and provided no support or cushion. Like many barefoot runners today, I ran on the balls of my feet. By the time I was 27, I had arthritis in my feet. By the time I was 35, my running days were over. Now I walk and wish that I could run.

I am only one person, but those who run on bare feet should be very careful. It may not work out well over time.

Tom, Midwest: My hat is off to those who can run. Thanks to my military service, my knees and hips were damaged in my teens and 20’s (I still have arthritis 45+ years later but it never qualified for disability), have developed Morton’s neuroma in both feet. My problem has never been shoes, it is hard surfaces. 10 blocks on a city street regardless of the footware just walking is agony, let alone running but give me my dog and a full day up and down across hills and grasslands and I have walked some twenty something marathon runners into the ground (granted there is pain, but nothing close to hard surfaces).

Gojogo15, Colorado: I have noticed that older generations also have ingrained notions that the proper way to run is heel first and that touching the ground first with the balls of your feet is actually bad for you. The study doesn’t seem to account for these notions and interprets the results as purely physiological rather than a symptom of outdated information.

John Kayne, Chicago, IL: I switched to Vibram 5 Fingers at 49 (2009) after decades in padded shoes. I’m not a long distance runner, 3x 3-5 miles a week or so. I switched due to knee problems and it was about the time Born to Run came out. I knew it would change my gate so I consciously learned how to run again… and rediscovered the joy of running. Six years in, with healthy knees, and a few minor injuries, I’m not going back. If you live in Chicago, I’m the white-haired guy you see running downtown and along Lake Michigan in 5 Fingers.

JH, Seattle, WA: The most important sentence: the last sentence in this article.

Barefoot running has little to offer someone “whose running form is working fine.”

Unless you are beset with injuries, don’t switch to barefoot running thinking you will prevent injuries, or run faster or farther.

George A, Pelham, NY: As a longtime runner, I certainly understand the passion that runners have for this activity. However, I see the choice of running without shoes as an extension of the various shoe types used for running. Remember running shoes and orthotics were developed because runners have different height/weight ratios, height and flexibility of their foot arches, and other factors. While I experimented with different types of shoes when I was younger, I found I did better with motion control shoes. I certainly don’t think barefoot running is a panacea for all runners, just as I believe that if an individual wants to run barefoot and enjoys it he or she should continue. I also think a lot of trying to prove whether one form of running is better than another is like trying to prove that chocolate is better than vanilla.

MamaC, Portland: The conclusion in this article makes no sense. In the first session of running after going barefoot, a segment of people did not transition away from heel striking. There is no data to suggest that they would continue heel striking after their initial jog without shoes. To make a conclusion that they will definitely continue to always heel-strike and therefore get injured is completely specious. Yet now there is a NY Times headline that says older runners should not try running barefoot. Please. Have some scientific integrity!

Lawrence, Montreal: It is pretty obvious that older runners may have ingrained habits of posture and movement. It is obvious, also, that older runners who have been heel-strikers for years may have underused calf muscles. However, running, at least on the flats, when done well, involves very little impact. After all, the body is moving up and down a couple of inches, not enough to create great landing forces. What causes problems is when runners hold a leg in front of their bodies, and wait for the ground to cause a change in direction of the leg. This is not over-striding, it running into the leg. This causes impact. If the runner has a nice free neck, and spinal movement is working as it has evolved to do, the change in direction of the leg from extension to recover and back to extension will occur naturally, and the recovered foot will already be moving back toward the body when it touches down. I’m a 64 year old barefoot runner, and I have no problems with this. I don’t shorten my stride, my foot touches the ground well in front of my body’s center of gravity, and I have absolutely no discomfort from impact, etc. Of course, I’ve taught the Alexander Technique for 26 years, so I run with pretty good dynamic posture.

Bello, Western Mass: Except on hard /wet sand on a beach, I’m not into barefoot running. Just walking outside barefoot often results in painful encounters with small stones and other dangerous objects. Is this an April fools piece?

Erin, St Louis: Running on a treadmill results in a different stride pattern than running on ground, since the floor is moving under you, it has a lot more “bounce” than concrete, and there is less theoretical space to stride. This could very reasonably be a confounding factor on heel-striking. To directly oppose the previous study, the only changed factor should have been age – not the environment as well.

Laura, East Coast: Run in whatever shoes/or lack of shoes work for you,


pore over lots of conflicting studies and agonize over whether or not you are doing the right thing.

The choice is yours!

Jwood, AA,MI: Running or walking barefoot, even wearing flip flops or sandals without padding/arch support is a leading cause of plantar fasciitis – particularly in adults over age forty. Those already afflicted by this easily avoidable, painful, and in some cases debilitating malady, would readily admit their regret for past poor choices in foot wear and foot care.

The Pooch, Wendell, MA: Do we suppose that early humans and human ancestors all slowly hobbled across the African savanna, crippled by plantar fasciitis because they were barefoot?

Not spending _enough_ time barefoot weakens the foot and contributes to plantar fasciitis, or transitioning into barefoot activity too quickly and without enough rest. Thickly cushioned, raised heel shoes with arch support are like casts for broken bones. They are great for protecting and healing certain injuries, but at some point you want to take cast off and strengthen the underlying tissues.

Lawrence, Montreal: Not true. Plantar fasciitis is more often caused by weak toe flexors, which most walkers and heel-strikers have, so then rely on plantar fascia (or arch support) to support the arch. Barefoot runners with good form naturally strengthen toe flexors and avoid unnecessary strain on the plantar fascia.
Further, habitual heel strikers bear weight on the heels when running/walking, which leads to increased pronation and strains the plantar fascia. If you stand on your heels, you can see how little lateral stability you have. Stand on the balls of your feet, and you can see how toes fiexors add lateral stability, and prevent excessive pronation.

The Pooch, Wendell, MA: @Hope:
We are descended from the ones who survived, not the ones who died.

The Pooch, Wendell, MA: Heel vs. forefoot landing is less important than the position of the foot landing relative to the body. Landing nearly under the center of mass is better for most runners than overstriding.

The runners in this study were a very select population: older runners who had been training successfully without injury for years, confirming the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” axiom. However, the _majority_ of recreational runners get injured, and they get injured almost every year. For these frequently injured runners changing form, changing shoes, and/or trying barefoot could help, because something clearly is broken in these cases.

Rini10,  Huntingdon valley, PA: I am sticking with my extra padded running shoes for now. Even the thought of striking the ground with my bare foot makes my hip hurt. Yes, I’m old and if I need cushioned shoes to keep running, so be it.

Cheryl: This may mark the first use of “aspirational” in describing a common physical activity – – – a caution to avoid all hype and noise and pay more attention to what feels right.