Metro talks with Daniel Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, about barefoot running.

What are the crucial differences between running barefoot and with running shoes?
Most peoples’ heels strike in modern running shoes. Heel striking causes the foot to collide with the ground suddenly and with lots of force. The force is equivalent to someone hitting you with a hammer on the heel with 1.5 to three times your body weight. The heel of the shoe makes this impact comfortable by spreading it over a longer period of time, but the impact remains. If you are barefoot or wearing minimal shoes, it hurts to heel strike, so you naturally switch to landing on the ball of your foot. Impact not only hurts but probably leads to repetitive stress injuries. We hypothesize that running in a barefoot style is not only more natural, but also may help avoid some repetitive stress injuries experienced by many runners.

Were humans really born to run?
Yes! We’ve been running long distances for about two million years. Humans have many features — from head to toe that make us great at this long distance running. We can outrun just about every creature in the world over long distances, especially when it’s hot.

What is the biggest problem with the modern running shoe?
A factor possibly involved in some injuries is that many modern running shoes make it easy and comfortable to heel strike, but heel striking generates more impact than other kinds of landing styles. They also develop weak feet because many modern running shoes have stiff soles and arch supports, which enables the muscles of the arch to avoid having to work, and thus leading to weak feet, collapse of the arch, over pronation, and plantar fascistis.

Why are tribes such as the Tarahumara in Mexico, such skilled runners?
They run either barefoot or in minimal shoes … in an impact free, natural way.

Can runners get seriously injured even when running barefoot?
People shouldn’t be scared of being barefoot, but the key issue is not about going barefoot or not, but if the heel is striking or if the forefoot/midfoot is striking. That said, if you land on glass, of course you can get hurt!

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