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Foot Strike Pattern in Running Adolescents Changes With Footwear Type

I just came a across a link to an article on Science Daily that discusses a study that was just presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Details are scanty, but the study authors apparently recruited 12 experienced adolescent runners (they were on track teams) and had them run on a treadmill in three conditions:

1. Traditional trainers with a large heel

2. Track flats

3. Barefoot

As reported on Science Daily:

“The researchers found that shoe type “dramatically” altered running biomechanics in the adolescent runners. When wearing cushioned heel trainers, the athletes landed on their heel 69.8 percent of the time at all speeds. With the track flats, the heel was the first point of contact less than 35 percent of the time; and when barefoot, less than 30 percent of the time. Shoes with cushioned heels promote a heel-strike running pattern, whereas runners with track flats and barefoot had a forefoot or mid-foot strike pattern.”

This study is of interest because it looks at adolescents (no info provided on exact ages), and it seemingly demonstrates that type of footwear can have an impact on how the adolescent foot contacts the ground. I’m actually surprised that patterns in the track flats were so similar to barefoot as my observations of adult runners in Vibram Fivefingers indicate that approximately 50% still heel strike on asphalt (this observation is based on analysis of video footage the 2011 NYC Barefoot Run), and this makes me wonder if maybe things change as we age (perhaps our form gets more ingrained and hard to change).

A sample size of 12 is very small, which is a concern when it comes to making comparisons, and hopefully they will add more subjects before the study goes through the publication process. The article also mentions something about performance, but doesn’t provide any data that specifically addresses performance differences between the conditions.

I don’t have much more to say since this is all second-hand from another site, but it seems like we are being constantly bombarded by studies that are making the foot strike issue seem even more complex than previously thought!

For some additional foot strike study coverage, see this article by Amby Burfoot on a study that looked at how running surface influences foot strike type.

Also, check out the current issue of Outside Magazine which contains an article that discusses the pitched battle between the minimal and traditional shoe camps – it’s sure to anger both sides!

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. Interesting, but I wonder if the dramatic change has more to do with them being members of track teams than it has to do with them being adolescents. Of course I’m assuming the track runners have more experience, are faster and are more efficient than your average kid.

  2. Victoria Preston says:

    Footfall patterns are pretty interesting – I wonder if footfall mechanics would change if people could see how their feet were behaving…I’ve recently seen student groups trying to develop technology that does just that. Here’s one:… I bet it could make researcher’s jobs easier too!

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