Winning a gold medal in the Olympics marathon is one amazing feat, but doing it barefoot is an accomplishment on a whole new level.
Abebe Bikila ran sans shoes in the 1960 Olympics in Rome and took first place. Bikila’s shoes didn’t fit comfortably, so he ditched them pre-race. His choice was due to circumstances, but today’s runners are choosing to train and race without their sneakers in hopes of better performance results.
However, amidst all the buzz about the benefits of barefoot running today, new research finds that running shoeless isn’t necessarily better—and that correct running form is the more important factor when it comes to injury prevention and racing success, according to the Journal of Strength & Conditioning.
Barefoot runners strike with the forefoot during their stride, whereas athletic shoe wearers strike with their heel. Studies show that barefoot running causes more stress fractures, while athletes who opt for shoes suffer from more knee injuries. The study found that athletes who started running barefoot did it in hopes of increasing speed and avoiding injuries. Ironically, athletes who decided against the shoeless route did so because they thought it would negatively affect their training and possibly cause more injuries.
The bottom line: Research shows that if you run, you can get injured—barefoot or not. While there is no perfect option, it would be best to get a biomechanics assessment from a physical therapist to evaluate your stride and running form. If you do decide to ditch your sneakers, make the transition between bare feet and shoes a slow one, and put the emphasis on your form first. Proper training will help improve your running results and decrease your risk of injuries, whether you’re barefoot like Bikila or lacing up with athletic sneakers.