Background: Although minimalist footwear is increasingly popular among runners, claims that minimalist footwear enhances running biomechanics and efficiency are controversial.
Hypothesis: Minimalist and barefoot conditions improve running efficiency when compared with traditional running shoes.
Study design: Randomized crossover trial.
Level of evidence: Level 3.
Methods: Fifteen experienced runners each completed three 90-second running trials on a treadmill, each trial performed in a different type of footwear: traditional running shoes with a heavily cushioned heel, minimalist running shoes with minimal heel cushioning, and barefoot (socked). High-speed photography was used to determine foot strike, ground contact time, knee angle, and stride cadence with each footwear type.
Results: Runners had more rearfoot strikes in traditional shoes (87%) compared with minimalist shoes (67%) and socked (40%) (P = 0.03). Ground contact time was longest in traditional shoes (265.9 ± 10.9 ms) when compared with minimalist shoes (253.4 ± 11.2 ms) and socked (250.6 ± 16.2 ms) (P = 0.005). There was no difference between groups with respect to knee angle (P = 0.37) or stride cadence (P = 0.20). When comparing running socked to running with minimalist running shoes, there were no differences in measures of running efficiency.
Conclusion: When compared with running in traditional, cushioned shoes, both barefoot (socked) running and minimalist running shoes produce greater running efficiency in some experienced runners, with a greater tendency toward a midfoot or forefoot strike and a shorter ground contact time. Minimalist shoes closely approximate socked running in the 4 measurements performed.
Clinical relevance: With regard to running efficiency and biomechanics, in some runners, barefoot (socked) and minimalist footwear are preferable to traditional running shoes.
Keywords: foot strike; ground contact time; minimalist shoes; running biomechanics; traditional shoes.