Published: June 1, 2012 By

woman runningBefore you throw your sneakers away and frolic down running trails barefoot this summer, read this.

Despite the added mass, running with shoes is actually more efficient than running barefoot, according to a CU-Boulder integrative physiology study that measured how much oxygen people consumed and how much carbon dioxide they produced while running. In fact, researchers told the BoulderCamera that, when mass is equalized, running in lightweight shoes requires 3 to 4 percent less energy than running without shoes.

Undergraduate Corbyn Wierzbinski, doctoral student Jason Franz and Rodger Kram, director of the Locomotion Lab, recruited 12 males who ran an average of 19 miles a week with lightweight shoes and who landed on the mid-sole of their feet, regardless of whether they wore shoes. Then the researchers put the runners on a treadmill, adding weights to the top of their feet to measure impact.

While the study’s goal was to determine if there is a scientific basis to the argument that barefoot running is more efficient, the researchers note they don’t advocate one form of running over the other.

“We recognize people choose to run barefoot for a variety of reasons,” Franz told the Boulder Camera. “Some want to connect to their inner caveman; some people think it protects them from running-related injury.”

What’s next? The lab aims to explore the decrease in efficiency, which could be attributed to barefoot runners using more muscles to soften the impact of each stride.

Thinking of going barefoot? Here are some tips.

Take baby steps
For the first four weeks, walk barefoot 20-30 minutes/day.

Condition your feet
Do side-to-side hops and single-leg jumps onto a box or platform.

Get flexible
Do calf stretches and foam rolling to loosen up your calf muscles and Achilles tendon.

Get strong feet
Stand on one leg and practice rolling your body weight from the outside of your foot to the inside and back.

Source: Excerpts from Ben Greenfield, fitness and triathlon expert, host of “Get-Fit” Guy podcast