Variation in foot strike patterns during running among habitually barefoot populations

PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e52548. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052548. Epub 2013 Jan 9.


Endurance running may have a long evolutionary history in the hominin clade but it was not until very recently that humans ran wearing shoes. Research on modern habitually unshod runners has suggested that they utilize a different biomechanical strategy than runners who wear shoes, namely that barefoot runners typically use a forefoot strike in order to avoid generating the high impact forces that would be experienced if they were to strike the ground with their heels first. This finding suggests that our habitually unshod ancestors may have run in a similar way. However, this research was conducted on a single population and we know little about variation in running form among habitually barefoot people, including the effects of running speed, which has been shown to affect strike patterns in shod runners. Here, we present the results of our investigation into the selection of running foot strike patterns among another modern habitually unshod group, the Daasanach of northern Kenya. Data were collected from 38 consenting adults as they ran along a trackway with a plantar pressure pad placed midway along its length. Subjects ran at self-selected endurance running and sprinting speeds. Our data support the hypothesis that a forefoot strike reduces the magnitude of impact loading, but the majority of subjects instead used a rearfoot strike at endurance running speeds. Their percentages of midfoot and forefoot strikes increased significantly with speed. These results indicate that not all habitually barefoot people prefer running with a forefoot strike, and suggest that other factors such as running speed, training level, substrate mechanical properties, running distance, and running frequency, influence the selection of foot strike patterns.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Foot / physiology*
  • Forefoot, Human / physiology
  • Humans
  • Kenya
  • Kinetics
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Running / physiology*
  • Shoes*
  • Videotape Recording / instrumentation
  • Videotape Recording / methods*

Grants and funding

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, grants BCS-0924476 and DGE-0801634, and the George Washington University Lewis N. Cotlow Fund. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.