Researchers have recently discovered that sneakers and other sports shoes alter our natural gait. This raises concerns that sports shoes may promote injuries, instead of prevent them. Daniel Lieberman, a human evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, looked at more than 200 shod, unshod, and newly shod runners in the United States and the Rift Valley Province of Kenya to measure their running gait and the impact that running had on their bodies. They found that shod runners tended to land on the heel of the foot, whereas barefoot runners landed on the ball, or flat part of their foot. Landing on the ball of your foot causes more flex in the arch, ankle and knee, and blunts the impact on the body so that barefoot runners experience a shock of .5- .7 times their body weight where shod runners, landing on their heels experience a shock of 1.5-2 times their body weight. Dennis Bramble, an evolutionary morphologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, calls the findings “an excellent study…it confirms what we should have known all along: we’re built to run barefoot.” For the barefoot-curious, Lieberman cautions that a gradual transition that allows the feet and calves to strengthen slowly is best.
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