Study shows shoes change spring-like foot mechanics when people run

Credit: Paul Brennan/public domain
(—A team of researchers with the University of Queensland's Centre for Sensorimotor Performance has found that running shoes alter the natural spring-like mechanics of the foot while a person is running. In their paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the group describes experiments they conducted with volunteers running on treadmills, and the differences they observed in foot mechanics when comparing runners running barefoot, versus wearing running shoes.

To avoid gaining weight, many people have taken to jogging, or running as a form of exercise. As running has become more popular, shoe makers have begun selling shoes designed especially for runners, offering both support and protection from injury. But, as the team notes, recent research by other groups has shown that running injury rates have not declined over the past 40 years, causing some to question whether offer any benefits at all, or if they in fact actually decrease performance.

When running, the longitudinal arch (LA) in the serves as a form of spring, bending as we land—the energy in the LA is then expended as we move forward just before lifting our foot for another step, propelling us forward. But, the researchers wondered, do shoes interfere with this spring-like mechanism, and if so, does the foot compensate for it in other ways.

To find out the researchers asked 16 healthy volunteers who were also regular recreational runners, to run on a treadmill multiple times—sometimes while wearing running shoes, other times barefoot. Each of the volunteers was fitted with intramuscular electrodes to record muscle activity in the feet. The running shoes were modified slightly to allow for the electrodes, but not in a way that would interfere with function. The team also used cameras to film the feet in action. The setup allowed for recording kinetic, kinematic and EMG data simultaneously as the volunteers ran.

In studying the data, the researchers found that the running shoes did cause a change in the spring-like mechanism of the foot—there was less compression and recoil—but, they noted also that the body had learned to compensate by building muscle activation. The team was not able to come to a definite conclusion, unfortunately, as to whether people would be better off running with or without shoes, however. They suggest more research will need to be done to find the answer to that question.

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Running barefoot may increase injury risk in older, more experienced athletes

More information: Shoes alter the spring-like function of the human foot during running, Published 15 June 2016.DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2016.0174 ,

The capacity to store and return energy in legs and feet that behave like springs is crucial to human running economy. Recent comparisons of shod and barefoot running have led to suggestions that modern running shoes may actually impede leg and foot-spring function by reducing the contributions from the leg and foot musculature. Here we examined the effect of running shoes on foot longitudinal arch (LA) motion and activation of the intrinsic foot muscles. Participants ran on a force-instrumented treadmill with and without running shoes. We recorded foot kinematics and muscle activation of the intrinsic foot muscles using intramuscular electromyography. In contrast to previous assertions, we observed an increase in both the peak (flexor digitorum brevis +60%) and total stance muscle activation (flexor digitorum brevis +70% and abductor hallucis +53%) of the intrinsic foot muscles when running with shoes. Increased intrinsic muscle activation corresponded with a reduction in LA compression (−25%). We confirm that running shoes do indeed influence the mechanical function of the foot. However, our findings suggest that these mechanical adjustments are likely to have occurred as a result of increased neuromuscular output, rather than impaired control as previously speculated. We propose a theoretical model for foot–shoe interaction to explain these novel findings.

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Citation: Study shows shoes change spring-like foot mechanics when people run (2016, June 15) retrieved 17 June 2019 from
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Jun 15, 2016
experiments they conducted with volunteers running on treadmills

There's nothing natural about running on a treadmill in the first place, because the body balance is different when the runner is forced to stay stationary vs. the active imbalance or falling forwards when actually running over ground.

Jun 15, 2016
It happens that I am spending more of my spare time on the net because of a running injury; periostitis on the lower left shin. I do not know your circumstances but I can tell, by the volume of the comments that you write, that you are not an active person. I do not usually react to your comments because they are too twisted for me to give them attention. But now you are hitting on a subject that I know and care about and I can certainly say by the comment you wrote that you do not know shit about it. Would you mind keeping your postings for the things you know and care about? I find your never ending rants terribly annoying.

Jun 15, 2016
I do agree somewhat with Eikka. When I run on a treadmill, it is not natural, it is close but you are not pushing your body forward, you are just pushing the treadmill backward. It feels odd, like sliding on the floor, and the balance mechanisms seem different also.

I also have to say that when I run barefoot, in grass especially, I feel MUCH more athletic and capable. I have maneuver more effectively and have excellent grip (in grass, not so much on concrete). I may get a pair of those Toe Shoes and try them out. I think we need to recapture the usefulness of the Human Foot in modern athletics, it is not just a chunk of bone, it has functions and needs to be utilized more in shoes.

Jun 15, 2016
It's not just running. What about walking, standing, etc.?

"Free the Foot!"

Jun 15, 2016
The book "Born To Run" by Christopher McDougall is a good book to read on this subject even if not all of the info in it is scientifically rigorous . Personally, I am surprised that it is taking the independent scientific community so long to investigate the subject.

Jun 15, 2016
You are a runner? Cool! Some interesting chats might get going here after all.

On the first subject that came up: treadmills. You can run all your life without having to ever make a stride on one of those. So if you have to get one better make it a good one. A machine that is built for running has a suspension that absorbs the energy of your push forward and channels it backwards trough the motion of the mat. If you feel jumpy on yours, the proper place for it is at the junkyard. While it is true that the posture of a runner on a treadmill is upright, I will remind you that it is not different from the posture we have on a slight uphill. Concerning the 'lean forward'. The body of a good long distance runner only appear out of balance, but is really always in balance. The only runners that you are going to see out of balance are sprinters when they are getting out of their starting blocks.


Jun 15, 2016

I will admit that I find running on a treadmill a little fastidious but I am a little softy when the temperature get bellow -10°C; so I do a lot of my winter running on it. Why do I find it fastidious? A lot of it lies on the motivation side; it is not much fun to run without feeling your body actually moving forward and witnessing the change of scenery, so I make sure to record something interesting to watch on TV during my sessions. Also, the air content is very different inside a house and you can feel it on the cardio; so my pace is a little slower on the treadmill. One last thing; the fan on treadmills are not up to the job; you better get a nice big fan on a stand.

Jun 15, 2016
The second subject that came up: a little word on my injury. I am not much of a long distance runner. My outings in the last 6 months are in the order of 6 to 8km for an average of around 25km a week (I will make sure to bring it back to at least 40Km per week ASAP). I am definitely lacking volume but I do not want to tax my weak knees on my slight excess of weight; I should be at 160 pounds but lately it stands between 170-175. So my wife recently ran the half marathon in Ottawa; I planned to run a little part of it as a cheerleader, but ended up running most of the distance with her; her pace not being much work for me. I should have took a few days off after to let my body recuperate, instead of that I ran another 11 km 2 days later. After that I began to feel a slight amount discomfort close to my left ankle and there I am, injured. I have enough experience as a runner and should not to commit this kind of mistake :-(


Jun 15, 2016

So Here I am with my wife (the pink cap), you will notice that I have no bib and a backpack... I was supposed to be there as spectator. If you are a good runner you will notice that I am on trainers, but I usually run on semi-flats ( I need some support). https://www.marat...MDC10870

Jun 15, 2016
The third subject that came up: Shoes. It is not for you to decide which shoes are for you; your body dictates it. I definitely recommend that you run with trainers when you are putting distance volume or when the performance does not count. If you are an inexperienced runner and especially if you are not on your ideal weight, you should stick with them. One thing that you have got to make sure before going minimal is to have a strong plantar arch. If your feet pronate under the stress of your strides you might fall victim to knee injuries. Observe and remember; a good pair of trainers and a good pair of flats are the tools used by most long distance runners. Running bare foot in the grass or on the beach is good for building straight in your feet but I suggest some moderation; 3 to 5km a week of this is plenty.

Jun 15, 2016
This has been known for a while. Frances Ashcroft talked about this in her book Life at the Extremes which was published in 2000.

Jun 16, 2016
I find your never ending rants terribly annoying.

Then don't read them. That's a bit fat coming from a person who then goes on to make five consecutive posts mostly talking about themselves.

On the subject: one doesn't need to be an active athlete to recognize the differences between running free and on a treadmill. It's also a consideration in walking dynamics in robots.

The body of a good long distance runner only appear out of balance, but is really always in balance.

Of course it is in balance, but it is also leaning forwards slightly because otherwise the force from air resistance would topple you. You're basically leaning into the wind.

Jun 16, 2016
TechnoCreed, I admire your passion for running. I do sprint around a bit but I am not a "runner". I'm a big guy and and I don't have a powerful Cardiovascular or Respiratory System to go running for an extended period of time. I'm glad you enjoy it.

Studies have shown that you can get more or about the same benefit from simply sprinting for about 30 - 60 seconds and walking for a few minutes until your heart rate goes down, then repeat. I just cant stand running/jogging and going on and on and feeling more and more like the walking dead. Uh, not for me. let me sprint and get it over with. High-Intensity Interval Training all the way:


Jun 16, 2016
It's not just running. What about walking, standing, etc.?

"Free the Foot!"

you sound like my wife... she hates shoes too

I am not much of a long distance runner
I used to be before i got injured... was a hell of a mile-runner but i preferred long distance running...
So Here I am with my wife
ya really should reconsider posting personal stuff like that considering the folk who tend to float around here... even with excellent computer skills, there is always someone better

just sayin'

which brand of shoes did you prefer, or were you open to testing new brands/shoes?

Jun 16, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Jun 17, 2016
Being active has a big influence on my well being; I can feel it whenever I have to slow down for x reason.

If high intensity workout is what you prefer, good; it is an important part of athletes training; you cannot gain speed without them. I personally cannot do much high impact runs because of bad hips (arthrosis).

Concerning your shoes, if you have a good running form (see video) then it is ok for shorts sprints to train with flats. Let me suggest the Saucony Type A. They are light, durable and affordable. Keep training and thank you for your kind words. https://www.youtu...VIYPwgyw

Jun 21, 2016
just jumping into the discussion here, but all of you gave valid points, however:

1. Walking/running mechanism of humans is based on controlled falling. A treadmil makes you use this mechanism as well, just like you would use outside in nature. So basically this is the same, whether you are on a treadmill or in nature. Only the start of the run on the treadmill might be weird (because your foot/feet are pulled backwards). Once you set the first step it is the same (except for 2,3).
2. Walking/running on a treadmill you will not encounter air resistance, since there is almost no air flow inside your house. So on a treadmill you burn less due to overcoming less resistance. Also, this adds to the feeling that running inside on a treadmill is not natural, because you are in a stationary atmospheric environment.
3. Underground is different, won't argue that.

Jun 21, 2016
For some reason I find it much easier to run on a treadmill than outside - counting the time until I get winded. So treadmill excercise seems not as effective to me as doing the real thing. The difference is so large that I can't really attribute it to air resistance.
On the other hand running outside is terribly boring to me because of the lack of change of scenery. After a while you've exhausted all the routes near your home.

The treadmills at the gym, at least, have internet...though typing a comment on them is nearly impossible while running (and I, too, don't like to run in rain or cold weather)
When excercising outside I'd much rather hit the bike which allows me to go much further with more variety.

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