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The First Scientific Support for Minimalist Running

Study finds landing heel-first increases injuries.

A recent study of foot strike patterns and injuries in Harvard University runners is certain to throw fuel on the barefoot running fires.

The study, the first of its kind to find a connection between which part of the foot strikes the ground and repetitive-stress injuries, highlights that form is more important than shoes in preventing injuries.

Researchers looked at a group of long-distance runners, and found that heel strikers had twice the rate of injuries as those who landed on the forefront of their foot. The trend was seen in both men and women.

Advocates of barefoot or natural running are certain to spin this finding as support for their style of running, where landing on the forefront of the foot is encouraged. In a previous study, one of the researchers found that early, barefoot hunter-gatherers landed on the balls of their feet, lending credence to this as the “natural” running style.

In response to the article, Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run, lashed out at the shoe industry. “Cushioned running shoes are a fraud. They don’t help, they probably hurt, and the billions of dollars that are made every year by selling and promoting them are cashing in on your pain.”

Unfortunately, as the authors of the new study are quick to point out, none of the Harvard runners were barefoot, so the study cannot address the barefoot question. Forefront runners, also, were also not immune to injuries. More research will need to be done to determine whether barefoot running decreases injuries.

If you are considering switching to forefront running—or even running backwards for that matter—the best advice is to make the switch gradually. Give your body time to adapt to the new force patterns caused by the change.

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