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Kids Running Barefoot: Lessons from the Pros

Casio Exilim EX-F1 I’m fortunate that my line of work allows me to purchase gadgets that let me do some pretty cool things.  This year, I have seven research students who will be working with me, and several of them are very interested in studying the mechanics of running and cycling.  With the allotment of research funding provided to me as a result of supervising these students, I was able to purchase a digital camera that is capable of shooting video at ridiculously high frame-rates (up to 1200 frames per second).  In a market where research grade high-speed video cameras usually cost upwards of $5000-$10,000 or more, the camera that I purchased, a Casio Exilim EX-F1, is fairly reasonably priced (under $1000.00) given what it can do.  After receiving it in the mail yesterday, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to bring it home over the weekend and give it a test run.

I’ve posted fairly often of late on the recent trend in the running community toward more minimalist footwear.  With the increasing number of people giving barefoot or barefoot-like running a try, I thought that a few professional barefoot runners would be worthy subjects for my first high-speed video shoot. Who are these intrepid souls? My children of course!  For my 5 year-old son and 4 year-old daughter, traveling sans footwear is the preferred mode of locomotion. Should the need to wear shoes arise, Crocs are their preferred choice of footwear, though even getting them to slide into those hideous hunks of foam can be a challenge when trying to get out of the house in a hurry.  My kids will run barefoot over just about any kind of terrain (and running is the preferred speed for them), including up the asphalt street with me as I leave on my own runs. They’ve never seemed to suffer any ill effects from this, and it is for that reason that I wanted to see just what is going on with their stride and footstrike when they run barefoot.  Here are my very preliminary results:

5yo Running Barefoot on Asphalt from Pete Larson on Vimeo.
Slow motion video of my 5yo son running barefoot on asphalt. Appears to be midfoot striking most of the time (one clear heel-strike apparent). Video taken with a Casio EX-F1 at 300fps.

5yo Barefoot Running in Grass from Pete Larson on Vimeo.
Slow motion video of my 5yo son running barefoot in the grass. Appears to be midfoot striking most of the time. Video taken with a Casio EX-F1 at 300fps.

5yo Barefoot Running in Grass – Single Footstrike from Pete Larson on Vimeo.
Slow motion video of my 5yo son running barefoot in the grass – single footstrike. Heel swings forward, but landing appears to be on midfoot. Video taken with a Casio EX-F1 at 300fps.

5yo Running in Crocs on Grass from Pete Larson on Vimeo.
Slow motion video of my 5yo son running in Crocs on grass (his preferred footwear). Looks like mid-foot striking. Video taken with a Casio EX-F1 at 300fps.

4yo Running Barefoot on Asphalt from Pete Larson on Vimeo.
Slow motion video of my 4yo daughter running barefoot on asphalt. 4 footstrikes – looks like heel, mid-foot, mid-foot, forefoot. Video taken with a Casio EX-F1 at 300fps.

To my still relatively untrained eye, it appears that in almost all cases my kids are striking with their midfoot when they run barefoot.  Although the heel swings forward and appears to touch down first in some cases, when the foot plants it seems that the entire sole is contacting almost simultaneously.  Int the final video of my daughter, you can see the distinction between a heel strike, mid-foot strike, and forefoot strike quite clearly.  My suspicion (soon to be tested) is that given the proximity of the heel to the ground as the foot swings forward, adding in a pair of sneakers with a thick heel would force a heel strike in most cases, which would support the argument that modern, cushioned, thick heeled running shoes force people to be heel-strikers.  My hope is that as we begin to collet more data, we’ll be able to post it here and elsewhere in order to chronicle our journey into this fascinating topic.

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Recent Posts By Category: Running Shoe Reviews | Running Gear Reviews | Running Science

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Nancy Thesing says:

    Where did you puchase the camera?

    • Pete Larson says:

      No longer for sale – they discontinued it, but Casio has some cheaper new cameras that will shoot reasonably well at 240fps check out the FC-150

  2. Khris Puckett says:

    Pete,
    I completely agree with your assessment of how today’s popular running shoe makes us strike heel first in most cases. I have similarly aged children and have recently signed up one for Track. We go to the park often and run barefoot but my hunch is that running barefoot will not go over well in organized Track. Have you or anyone else found a running shoe for kids that is of this minimalist style?
    Thanks

  3. Hey Man – nice blog. Just found it today. And you’re from NH too!

    What’s your longest distance so far in 5-fingers?

    Barefoot?

    I’m running across the USA Barefoot right now – and would love to help each other promote our blogs if you’re interested.

    SHABAMBO!
    -Tellman

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks for the comment on my blog – much appreciated. Checked out yours – what you are doing is pretty amazing – good luck! I added a short post to my blog with a few video clips to help spread the word about what you’re doing.

      I’ve done only about 30-40 miles total in the 5-fingers so far myself, with two 7-mile runs and several 5-milers. Haven’t gotten up the courage to try completely barefoot yet, maybe after my Fall marathons (don’t want to risk anything with only a few weeks to go).- Pete

  4. I’ve noticed with my own three kids that early on when they start running through to about 5 or 6 years old kids run quite flat footed or mid foot strike but as they get a bit older and continue to run barefoot they transition to more of a forefoot strike.

  5. have you tried running in crocs? I’ve thought about it as a possible barefoot transition method/minimalist shoe, but haven’t given it the chance…would be interested though!

    • Pete Larson says:

      I haven’t run in them, but my kids do all the time. They have all kinds of
      models now, I should check them out!
      Pete

  6. Ask the Doctor says:

    You really have an excellent blog here. Even as a busy medical doctor, I make sure to get my morning run in each day. I too am an avid running lover. Keep up the great work here. I would love for you to visit my health website at Ask Dr. Jacobson Online. Please stop by and drop me a line if you have any questions. Take care and stay healthy!

  7. I also notice that the kids clearly flex at the knee as their heals strike the ground using their quads to cushion the landing as much as their calves.

  8. kids footwear says:

    That one can walk on rough terrain without hurting your feet as much… To keep your feet healthy and free of disease. Because it looks nicer than bare feet with a business suit.

  9. This is so fascinating. I have looked at all the videos. One thing popped in my head was how fast your kids was running. If your kids was just simply “jogging”, I think it would be natural to be a heel to mid-foot striker. Let say if your kids are going “sprinting” or run faster, I think there will be more of a forefoot striker than mid-foot striker. It is no question that modern day kicks with thick cushioned support are heel striker while VFF or Racing shoes are fore-foot striker.
    I will look forward to what your researchers find through mechanics of running. All I can say this is SO fascinating! I wish I am into this field.

    • Pete Larson says:

      To be honest, this is a new field for me. My background is in evolutionary and developmental anatomy of frogs, so moving into human locomotion is exciting, different, and is sure to be a great learning experience. I’m going to be teaching a course called “Biology of Sport and Exercise” for the first time next semester, so I thought that this research would be a natural way to tie together my personal and professional interests. I plan to post on it regularly as we progress. It thought is was pretty cool in the one video of my son taking off in the grass to see him up on his toes for the first few strides! -Pete

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