Four-week habituation to simulated barefoot running improves running economy when compared with shod

edited December 2012 in Running Science
Attempting to get the full text of the article below, but looks very interesting. Pretty big increase in economy with simulated barefoot running.

Four-week habituation to simulated barefoot running improves running economy when compared with shod running.

Warne JP, Warrington GD.

Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2012 Dec 17. doi: 10.1111/sms.12032. [Epub ahead of print]

Applied Sports Performance Research Group, School of Health and Human Performance, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland.

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of a 4-week familiarization to simulated barefoot running (SBR) on running economy (RE) when compared with shod running. Fifteen trained male runners (age: 24 ± 4 years; stature: 177.2 ± 6.21 cm; mass: 67.99 ± 7.36 kg and VO(2max) 70.2 ± 5.2 mL/kg/min) were recruited. Subjects completed two RE tests, 24 h apart, in a random order, in both the SBR and shod condition (pretest) at 11 km/h and 13 km/h. Oxygen uptake, heart rate, stride frequency, and foot strike patterns were measured in both conditions. Subjects then completed a 4-week familiarization period of SBR, before repeating the two RE tests (post-test). At pretest, there was no significant difference in RE between SBR and shod running (P = 0.463), but following the 4-week familiarization period, RE significantly improved by 6.9% in the SBR condition compared with shod running (46.4 ± 0.9 vs 43.2 ± 1.2 mL/kg/min; P = 0.011). A significant improvement in RE was observed in the SBR condition (8.09%) between the pretest and post-test (47.0 ± 1.2 vs 43.2 ± 1.2 mL/kg/min; P = 0.002). RE improved in the SBR condition as a result of familiarization, and became significantly lower in SBR compared with shod running.


  • It's always appeared to me that the advantage of shoes over barefoot is the ability to put in a higher training volume (and also a higher volume of quality work, in keeping with appropriate quality:easy mileage ratios) with shoes, whether that's due to abrasion resistance, cushioning, or otherwise (depending on the individual and their limiting factors). I'm assuming this study had both groups perform the same training (which means that the shod group would be doing some very limited training since the barefoot group is being "familiarized" with barefoot running). It's an interesting study, and if/when we're able to figure out what part or parts of barefoot running caused the increase of running economy, that's certainly something I'd like to see the engineers at shoe companies take into account, especially since 8% is pretty big. However, I can't help but wonder whether the increase in running economy (and VO2 max and lactate threshold) from the increase in training permitted with shoes would outweigh what you'd get with acclimation to barefoot running. Obviously, as you could probably guess, my hypothesis is yes, at least for those whose bodies are ultimately able to adapt to larger training volumes (but whose feet may not be able to adapt to barefoot running at similarly high volumes), though that sort of thing would only be applicable to people who have the time and interest to pursue that type of training.

    Just playing Devil's Advocate. ;) If you get the full text, I'd be interested to see what the actual training during the familiarization period was. Thanks Pete.
  • Trying to get the full text, but yeah, the big questions for me are what exactly is "simulated barefoot" and what did the training volume look like. The effect does look pretty big, which is why I'm really interested in the details.
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  • Wonder whether "SBR" = "VFF"...
  • I'm very interested in the details of this study. I run in VFFs for medium-long distances (16+ miles) but have not found anyone else that does so.

    I have tried almost all of the minimalist running shoes, and I wish I could run in something with a bit more padding, flexibile, with a level profile. However, whenever I try the other shoes, I end up with sore knees and strained hip abductors. Consequently, over the last year, I slowly transitioned into VFFs. Now it seems like I can't go back to more mainstream minimalist running shoes. It feels like I have blocks on my feet when I try the other shoes. 

    I know it's something peculiar to my biomechanics, but it would be nice to see more studies done. So far I have suffered no injuries from running in my VFFs, but I did a very slow gradual transition and had a "barefoot running form" prior to trying them.

    I'm not trying to say simulated barefoot is the best way. I read that a lot of runners ended up with metatarsal stress fractures from doing too much too soon in VFFs or barefoot.

    However, it seems to be the only way I am able to run without pain these days. I keep waiting for it to be too much for my feet over time and the type of distance I run, but so far there has not been an issue.

  • Pete, check your email. Just sent you the full text paper.


  • Got it Curb - thanks!
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  • Thanks, Pete, for discovering this paper.

    I have run with VFFs for some time.
    Now I run much more in bare feet.
    What I feel about VFFs is that they let me go faster than I would go in bare feet, specially when the asphalt is rough.

    But that is a problem, because, without proper technique, I got injured two times wearing VFFs.

    One time it was a Top of Foot Pain, after a 15K race.

    The other time it was a toe pain (left foot), after a Half-Marathon.
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