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Minimal running shoes help reduce demand on the body, researchers say

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You might think that cushioned running shoes would help reduce the impact on your body. But a new study suggests that runners who wear ‘minimal’ trainers with no cushioning have a lower loading rate — the speed at which the force acts when their feet hit the ground.

The loading rate is known to influence a runner’s injury risk.

Runners in cushioned footwear tend to land on their heel — known as a “rearfoot strike” (RFS) — while those who run barefoot or in minimal running shoes are more likely to land on the ball of their foot — a “forefoot strike” (FFS).

UK and US researchers studied 29 injury-free runners, who ran along a 30m runway with their habitual foot strike and footwear condition. The team collected ground reaction force data and compared peak loading rate values between three conditions: those who habitually run with RFS in standard shoes, with FFS in standard shoes, and with FFS in minimal shoes.

They found significantly lower loading rates for those who wore minimal trainers and landed on the ball of their foot, compared to people in normal running shoes, regardless of whether the latter landed on the heel or ball of the foot.

Lead author Dr Hannah Rice, of the University of Exeter, commented: “So many people use running as a means of reducing the risk of chronic diseases, but about three quarters of runners typically get injured in a year.

“Footwear is easily modifiable but many runners are misguided when it comes to buying new trainers.

“This research shows that running in minimal shoes and landing on the balls of your feet reduces loading rates and may therefore reduce the risk of injury.”

Reporting on the study, the University of Exeter said that rearfoot strike runners experience an abrupt vertical impact force each time the foot lands on the ground.

This impact force is often missing when running with a forefoot strike, but previous studies have shown that forward/backwards and sideways forces can be higher with a forefoot strike, meaning the total force is similar.

The researchers found that total force was indeed similar between foot strikes if wearing cushioned trainers.

“This seems to suggest that, for runners in traditional, cushioned running shoes, foot strike pattern may not matter for injury risk,” Dr Rice explained.

“However, we suspected that the same may not be true of runners who regularly use minimal shoes, which don’t have the cushioning provided by traditional running shoes.

“Our research tells us that becoming accustomed to running with a forefoot strike in shoes that lack cushioning promotes a landing with the lowest loading rates, and this may be beneficial in reducing the risk of injury.”

The findings have been published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.