Researchers find variation in foot strike patterns in predominantly barefoot runners

January 9, 2013

A recently published paper by two George Washington University researchers shows that the running foot strike patterns vary among habitually barefoot people in Kenya due to speed and other factors such as running habits and the hardness of the ground. These results are counter to the belief that barefoot people prefer one specific style of running.

Kevin Hatala, a Ph.D. student in the Hominid Paleobiology at George Washington, is the lead author of the paper that appears in the recent edition of the journal Public Library of Science, or PLOS ONE. In their study, Mr. Hatala along with Brian Richmond, associate professor of anthropology within GW's Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, contradict the idea that all habitually barefoot people run by landing on their first in order to avoid the high impact forces typically associated with a heel strike. This idea has become widely cited in popular running journals and has helped fuel the barefoot running movement now popular among recreational runners. However, previous research supporting this hypothesis was limited to only one population of habitually barefoot people.

Mr. Hatala, Dr. Richmond and their colleagues studied the Daasanach, a modern habitually barefoot population from northwestern Kenya, to support their theory. Data was collected from 38 adults as they ran along a track with a plantar pressure pad placed midway along its length. The subjects ran at self-selected endurance running and sprinting speeds. The collected data supported the theory that a forefoot strike reduces the magnitude of impact forces on the feet, but the majority of Daasanach subjects opted instead to use a rearfoot strike at endurance speeds.

"The Daasanach people grow up without shoes and continue to spend most of their lives barefoot," said Mr. Hatala. "We were surprised to see that the majority of Daasanach people ran by landing on their heels first and few landed on their forefoot. This contradicts the that a forefoot strike characterizes the 'typical' running gait of habitually barefoot people."

Some Daasanach individuals switched to a forefoot strike when running at high speeds but a forefoot strike was not the typical foot strike pattern at any speed.

The analysis of running gaits within the Daasanach is only the second study of its kind and its results differed significantly from those of earlier research, which had suggested that, when running at endurance speeds, habitually barefoot people tend to land on their forefeet instead of their heels. Given that humans were barefoot for millions of years during which our foot evolved its current shape, the research also has implications for hypotheses regarding the running gaits that would have been used by our ancestors.

Mr. Hatala said the results of the study suggest that running speed, alongside other factors such as the firmness of the running surface, may have similarly influenced variation in the gaits of early man, rather than one gait being preferred in all circumstances.

"The challenge ahead is to identify the most important factors that influence how barefoot people run and the healthiest style for today's runners," said Dr. Richmond, a co-author of the research.

Explore further: Running shoes may cause damage to knees, hips and ankles

Related Stories

Running shoes may cause damage to knees, hips and ankles

January 4, 2010

Knee osteoarthritis (OA) accounts for more disability in the elderly than any other disease. Running, although it has proven cardiovascular and other health benefits, can increase stresses on the joints of the leg. In a study ...

Recommended for you

Study finds 'rudimentary' empathy in macaques

December 1, 2015

(—A pair of researchers with Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Université Lyon, in France has conducted a study that has shown that macaques have at least some degree of empathy towards their fellow ...

Scientists overcome key CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing hurdle

December 1, 2015

Researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT have engineered changes to the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system that significantly cut down on "off-target" ...

Which came first—the sponge or the comb jelly?

December 1, 2015

Bristol study reaffirms classical view of early animal evolution. Whether sponges or comb jellies (also known as sea gooseberries) represent the oldest extant animal phylum is of crucial importance to our understanding of ...

Trap-jaw ants exhibit previously unseen jumping behavior

December 1, 2015

A species of trap-jaw ant has been found to exhibit a previously unseen jumping behavior, using its legs rather than its powerful jaws. The discovery makes this species, Odontomachus rixosus, the only species of ant that ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jan 10, 2013
The pdf of the paper "Variation in Foot Strike Patterns during Running among Habitually Barefoot Populations" can be downloaded here http://www.ploson....0052548

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.