Barefoot running improves economy at high intensities and peak treadmill velocity

K. A. Reeves, Jo Corbett, Martin J. Barwood

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Aim - Barefoot running can improve running economy (RE) compared to shod running at low exercise intensities, but data is lacking for the higher intensities typical during many distance running competitions. The influence of barefoot running on the velocity at maximal oxygen uptake (vVO2max) and peak incremental treadmill test velocity (vmax) is unknown. The present study tested the hypotheses that barefoot running would improve RE, vVO2max and vmax relative to shod running.

Methods - Using a balanced within-­subject repeated measures design, eight male runners (aged 23.1±4.5 years, height 1.80±0.06 m, mass 73.8±11.5 kg, VO2max 4.08±0.39 L·min-­1) completed a familiarisation followed by one barefoot and one shod treadmill running trial, 2-­14 days apart. Trial sessions consisted of a 5 minute warm-­up, 5 minute rest, followed by 4×4 minute stages, at speeds corresponding to ~67, 75, 84 and 91% shod VO2max respectively, separated by a 1 minute rest. After the 4th stage treadmill speed was incremented by 0.1 km·h-­1 every 15 s until participants reached volitional exhaustion.

Results - RE was improved by 4.4±7.0% across intensities in the barefoot condition (p=.040). The improvement in RE was related to removed shoe mass (r2=.80, p=.003) with an intercept at 0% improvement for RE at 0.520 kg total shoe mass. Both vVO2max (by 4.5±5.0%, p=.048)and vmax (by 3.9±4.0%, p=.030) also improved but VO2max was unchanged (p=.747).

Conclusion - Barefoot running improves RE at high exercise intensities and increases vVO2max and vmax, but further research is required to clarify the influence of very light shoe weights on RE.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1101-1113
JournalJournal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness
Issue number10
Early online date7 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2015


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