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Preferred Foot Strike Among Barefoot Cultures

When it comes to running—both shod and barefoot—debate abounds as to which foot strike is best, with many favoring a forefoot strike (FFS) or midfoot strike (MFS) over a rear-foot strike (RFS) for efficiency and injury prevention. But is there really an optimal way to run?

Researchers from George Washington University in Washington, DC, visited Kenya to study the running patterns of the Daasanach people. This group was chosen because they spend a great deal of time barefoot, but do not run as often as previously studied groups. Thirty-eight subjects were asked to run along a 15-meter track with a pedal pressure pad placed midway to capture foot strike data. Subjects ran three times at a self-selected endurance pace and three times at a faster pace.

“When running at their endurance running speeds, the Daasanach subjects used an RFS in 96 out of 133 trials and used an MFS in 32 of 133 trials,” explained the study authors.

The authors added that the RFS was predominately used when subjects ran at speeds of ≤5.00 meters per second. Once they reached 5.01–6.00 m per second, the group used both FFS and MFS equally. At faster speeds, the majority preferred an MFS. “These results therefore indicate that not all habitually unshod individuals prefer to use an FFS when running at their self-selected running speeds,” the authors said. “They show that our sample group consistently preferred an RFS or MFS over an FFS even when sprinting.”

While subjects may have favored RFS and MFS, the researchers concluded that, “on average, individuals using an FFS experienced lower relative impact forces than would be predicted by speed alone. This was not the case for individuals using an RFS or MFS, who on average experienced equal and higher relative impact forces, respectively, than predicted. These results suggest that the adoption of an FFS, albeit rare in our sample group, reduced the impact forces experienced at foot strike.”

The report was published in PLOS ONE (2013; 8 [1], 1–6).

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