are running shoes causing injury?

I’ve recently reviewed a book called Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.


Man became the dominant species on this planet because we could run long distances efficiently, barefoot.

Yet companies like Nike over the past 3 decades have convinced us that we need buy $150 shoes to run. And convinced us to completely change running technique in those shoes.

There’s a growing body of research indicating that expensive running shoes are causing more injury than they are preventing. Other researchers are concluding that bare foot running is more efficient.

If interested, click through to this post – are running shoes ruining your feet? – and follow the links.

Or see the technique difference explained in videos:

• BBC – Shoes may have changed how we run

• Scientific American – Running barefoot is better, researchers find (video)

If this new research eventually proves that barefoot running prevents injury, it may turn out that gymnasts have been doing the right thing all along by working out barefoot.

I hope so.

Published by

coach Rick

Career gymnastics coach from Calgary, Canada.

20 thoughts on “are running shoes causing injury?”

  1. I’ve used running shoes called Nike Free for several years now. The sole is flexible so as to prevent running injuries and encourage more natural motion. I used to be a shin spints suffer…but haven’t had a problem since using the Nike Free. (unfortunately, they are not $$ free!)

  2. The running technique you are referring to is Pose Running. Not all barefoot running gymnasts (or other athletes for that matter) run correctly. Actually, we’ve all seen the poor running technique used by many gymnasts.

    If you do some research on Pose Running you will find many more scientific research papers to back the case.

    You don’t have to run barefoot to achieve the desired technique. Just buy shoes that have a low heel unlike ALL of the current running shoes sold in the stores. Some of the best shoes out on the market are not considered “running” shoes when you go to the stores. Nike Frees (mens) or Nike Eclipse (womens) are two of the best models. I personally prefer the Vibram Five Fingers. You are essentially barefoot, yet have a thin rubber barrier to prevent cutting your feet on rocks or glass. They garner very odd looks from others but are the most comfortable shoe I have ever owned.

  3. “…it may turn out that gymnasts have been doing the right thing all along by working out barefoot.”

    Gymnastics shoes shouldn’t cause gymnasts to run incorrectly since they are basically just a piece of leather/cloth with a little rubber or whatever for the sole. They are not at all like the running shoes in question.

    Light gymnastics and dance slippers along with rhythmic and lyrical sandals provide a little protection for the feet. Sometimes you don’t want contact with other people’s germs. Then there are cases like D. Moceanu’s. She started wearing beam shoes because she developed a sore on her foot that hurt like crazy when she was on beam.

    Thanks for the tip on shoes Katrina B. The next time I buy sneakers I’ll look for one of those types of shoes.

  4. The extreme heel padding in most of today’s running shoes encourages an unnatural gait; resulting in the atrophy of the calves and achilles tendon as well as damage to the knees and hips.

    The fallacy of running heel to toe is easily illustrated by simply stepping outside. In your bare feet, attempt to sprint down the road with the heels striking first. Now limp back inside and share your impressions with us.

    It is instructive to note that all barefoot runners the world (Kenyans, etc) over use a mid to forefoot strike when they run. Striding heel first is solely for walking.

    Yours in Fitness,
    Coach Sommer

  5. I wonder. Does this also apply to other forms of exercise? I have always been more comfortable working out barefoot in non-gymnastics exercises. I get strange looks when I explain that I can grip the floor better and I haven’t suffered any foot, ankle, or knee injuries from years of doing so. I also think my feet hurt worse after a full day of wearing shoes than going barefoot. Am I alone in this?

  6. Wearing shoes hurts my feet, too. I prefer to do everything barefoot. I used to do martial arts barefoot – outside. People thought I was nuts. But it felt much better.

  7. I tried on the Five fingers at the OR show last weekend, as well as the new Brooks Cascadia 5, designed by Scott Jurek, who was also featured in Born to Run, and liked them both.

    I’ve started running in my rubber soled kayak booties until the new Vibram 5 finger trail edition comes out in the fall.

    Ordered the Brooks, BTW, and will let you know. They have a lower heel as well.

    The other one to watch for are the new Newton trail shoes, due out this summer. Newton is a huge proponent of the barefoot and “chi” running techniques, and their shoes have been a HUGE hit, and are super successful with the top pro athletes. Ian Adamson, perhaps the world’s top-ever adventure racer is now their director of research and education for Newton.

    Born to Run’s arguments are pretty compelling, though…

  8. Rick, did you like the parallels in the book between a runner landing on thick cushioning and looking to bottom out for stability and gymnasts doing the same in landing on thicker vs thinner mats? Makes a lot of sense. Great book.

    1. I kept looking for useful parallels to gymnastics, Mac. …

      But I’m not sure that I learned anything. We already run barefoot (toe, ball, heel).

      Hopefully that natural running style helps prevent injury in other running situations in our lives.

  9. I agree with Katrina about the Vibram Five Fingers. They are absolutely the most comfortable shoes I have owned. I have had several foot surgeries and an ankle reconstruction and whenever I wear running shoes my feet go numb.Five fingers are essentially running shoes for people who like to be barefoot. I run and workout in them regularly. They are also the ugliest shoes I have ever owned, but I am willing to sacrifice the style for the comfort. Also, they retail for about $80 canadian which is almost half the price of most high end running shoes. I highly recommend them, expecially for former gymnasts who have spent so much of their life training barefoot.

  10. The main problem with gymnastics is that most of the coaches instruct their kids to land with legs together, and the judges encourage that.

    Stuck landings should have feet shoulder width apart.

    Increase the Q-angle (feet together on landing) and you increase femoral and tibial internal rotation, stress on the ACL, medial arch (for collapsed arches), etc. as described in lower body dysfunctions.

    This is one of the big reasons why we still see a lot of flat feet and potential other orthopedic injuries along this vein (except far less than in the normal population) in gymnasts still.

    I think you posted on this before Rick… either that or it was on conditioningresearch.

  11. I don’t see a parallel between running shoe cushioning and softer mats for landing. Dropping 2-3 inches in a stride vs. several feet onto the mats (with torque) are apples and oranges.

    As an NSCA personal trainer and CSCS, I whole-heartedly support the five fingers/barefoot running movement. To answer Nicole’s question, free weight lifting ought to be done in hard, flat shoes, for exactly the reason you give – thick shoes deaden the responses occurring between your feet and the floor. I recommend Chuck Taylors to my clients who are serious about lifting.

  12. WL shoes allow you to have a very sturdy surface to press your heel through besides allow for less ankle flexion.

    Myself, I’ve been probably barefoot 80% of my life. People are shocked when I wear shoes and I generally am barefoot or wear sandals/slippers (moccasins now).

    Nicole, I as well get really sore feet when I have to wear shoes. That and I’ve basically always hated shoes from a very young age.

    I have gotten a lot of flack for WL barefoot but WL in chucks is a new experience for me. I actually seem less stable than barefoot. Some will say, the forces on the foot are too much; but I’d wager the forces on the foot while sprinting may eclipse WL forces. For most of the past 13 years, I’ve just lifted in trainers, but in recent years I have taken to lifting barefoot since I was barefoot in the gym.

    One of the reasons many gymnasts don’t run well in the first place has to do with being too weak to run on the forefoot in the first place or muscle imbalances/leg issues (ankles/knees/hips).

  13. I’ll have to have a read of that book, thanks Rick. very interesting. I don’t know if you know about The Science Of Sport blog, not sure if a link will come up here or not but I’ll give it a shot Their latest post is about the Running Barefoot debate, one of the contributers is Ross Tucker who writes many Anatomy & Physiology books. if the links don’t come up here let me know :)

  14. The section connecting running to gymnastics is on page 173 (Chapter 25). It isn’t about gymnasts running, but rather landing on soft mats as a parallel to the soft padding in the heel of modern running shoes. The softer the padding, the harder and less stable the landing.

  15. It references this study:

    “In a 1997 study, researchers Steven Robbins and Edward Waked at McGill University in Montreal found that the more padding a running shoe has, the more force the runner hits the ground with: In effect, we instinctively plant our feet harder to cancel out the shock absorption of the padding. (The study found the same thing holds true when gymnasts land on soft mats—they actually land harder.) We do this, apparently, because we need to feel the ground in order to feel balanced.”

    Read more: How We’re Wrecking Our Feet With Every Step We Take — New York Magazine

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