Running With or Without Shoes?

on January 30, 2010
Featured in News to Know

Running shoes probably seem like prudent athletic footwear for most of us. But as some African runners have shown, God’s original design is superior.

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Harvard University evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman, described as an “avid runner,” was curious about how humans were able to run safely and comfortably before the modern invention of the running shoe. While measuring runners’ gaits both with and without shoes in both the U.S. and Kenya, Lieberman’s team observed a key difference in running behavior. Runners with shoes land on their heels, while barefoot runners land on the ball of their foot or flat on their foot—reducing the impact and keeping muscles flexed.

The scientists believe barefoot running may decrease the incidence of common running injuries by mitigating collision forces. Lieberman explained that landing on one’s heels “creates an impact; it’s like someone hitting your heel with a hammer with up to three times your body weight.” The only reason shod runners can maintain such an harsh gait is because of the cushioning in running shoes. Additional research by Stony Brook University’s William Jungers suggested that barefoot running is more efficient as well, taking advantage of energy buildup in the ankle and in the arch of the foot.

The scientists urge caution before runners who learned to run in shoes transition to barefoot running, however. Not only do muscles need time to stretch and adjust to the different gait, but the realities of running in urban and suburban environments—i.e., quite different from grass or soil—should be considered.

Lieberman’s research reminds us that, even factoring in the effects of the Curse, God’s original designs are always superior to human inventions in ways we may not first realize. And before the Curse, perhaps Adam and Eve would have run barefoot at up to 40 miles (64 km) per hour.

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