Running economy barefoot, in minimalist shoes and traditional running shoes

I almost did not get to writing this post today. Mainly because the topic has been done to death and I would really like something more interesting to blog about. I have litigated the footwear and running economy issue many times: here,  hereherehereherehere, hereherehere, here, here, here and here. So why did I decide to blog about it yet again? Firstly, we have a new study on the issue that adds some new information. Secondly, remember all the heat I used to take for some of the things I used to say on this issue that all the research is still continuing to support? Where are those fan boys now with their unsubstantiated rhetoric and propaganda? This one is for them!

Here is the study:

Comparison of Running Economy Values While Wearing No Shoes, Minimal Shoes, and Normal Running Shoes.
Cochrum RG, Connors RT, Coons JM, Fuller DK, Morgan DW, Caputo JL.
J Strength Cond Res 31(3): 595-601, 2017
The purpose of this study was to quantify differences in running economy (RE) at 50 and 70% of each subject’s velocity at V[Combining Dot Above]O2max (vV[Combining Dot Above]O2max) across barefoot and 2 mass, stack height, and heel-to-toe-drop controlled footwear conditions (minimal shoes and normal running shoes) in 9 recreational distance runners (mean age 26.8 ± 6.8 years). Over 3 days, subjects ran in one of the footwear conditions while RE (oxygen consumption) and step frequency were measured at each speed with a 5-minute rest between each trial. A 2-way repeated-measures multivariate analysis of variance (p ≤ 0.05) and Bonferroni-adjusted follow-up analyses revealed that RE was not significantly different across footwear conditions at either speed. However, those running barefoot exhibited a higher step frequency than when running in minimal (50%, p = 0.007; and 70%, p < 0.001) and standard footwear conditions (70% only, p < 0.001). Higher step frequencies were also exhibited by those running in minimal versus standard footwear (70% only, p = 0.007). Thus, RE is not affected by footwear or running barefoot in those with experience running in minimal-type footwear. Significant adjustments in step frequency when alternative footwear was introduced may help explain why RE was statistically maintained during each footwear and speed condition across but not between subjects. Therefore, determination of footwear for the enhancement of RE should be based on individual physical characteristics and preferences rather than a global recommendation of an economical running shoe.

They pretty much showed that there were no differences in running economy between barefoot, minimalist shoes and traditional running shoes. Which is what the preponderance of all the other studies are showing. Though some do show barefoot/minimalism is more economical and others do show traditional running shoes are more economical, so they probably cancel each other out. Those with preconceived biases can cherry pick the group of studies that support those biases. The take home message I continue to bang on about is that if you look at the inter-subject variability in the actual data in the studies, the differences in running economy appear to not be systematic, but are subject specific. So by chance, some will show the results one way; some the other way, and most in the middle.

A strength of the above study is that the participants were habituated to running in minimalist shoes; whereas, in most of the previous studies, it was an acute intervention with no habituation. This was a point of criticism of those previous studies, so this study suggests that you more-or-less get the same results when habituated to the intervention.

I am sure that those who do not want to like the results of this study will point to the only 9 participants in the study. I have never dismissed the results of a study based on sample size, instead preferring to look at the actual data, effect sizes, etc before making conclusions (of course, the track record of the fan boys is to dismiss the sample size of any study they don’t like and blindly accept studies with even smaller sample sizes if the results fit in with their preconceived biases). When you look at the data in this study, there is no way that a larger sample is probably going to find a difference when this small sample did not find one.

As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise ….and the evidence takes me to exactly what the authors of the above study concluded: Therefore, determination of footwear for the enhancement of RE should be based on individual physical characteristics and preferences rather than a global recommendation of an economical running shoe.

Cochrum RG, Connors RT, Coons JM, Fuller DK, Morgan DW, & Caputo JL (2017). Comparison of Running Economy Values While Wearing No Shoes, Minimal Shoes, and Normal Running Shoes. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 31 (3), 595-601 PMID: 28222048

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3 Responses to Running economy barefoot, in minimalist shoes and traditional running shoes

  1. David Cashley February 24, 2017 at 8:59 am #

    Thanks for this Craig. I’m not convinced this study really adds a whole lot that wasn’t already available and the sample size is an issue in so much as an effect would have to be pretty large to be picked up by such numbers so I’m not so confident as you are when you claim “there is no way that a larger sample is probably going to find a difference when this small sample did not find one.” That said, I think the evidence is pointing to the fact the minimalist shoes confer no significant advantage but do pose an increased injury risk. That being the case I always ask my runners why they would expose themselves to increased risk without any hope of increased performance. Love the blog, keep it coming.
    Regards
    David

  2. JWarne February 24, 2017 at 3:46 pm #

    Craig, you might be interested in the following:
    Effects of footwear on running economy in distance runners:
    A meta-analytical review
    R.T. Cheung∗, S.P. Ngai

    You also chose to “Cherrypick” your studies to support your very negative view of minimalist or barefoot running. I have reported and published two separate independent studies showing a significant benefit of wearing minimalist shoes on running economy, and also have a third set of data that also show the same.

    David – can you provide longitudinal prospective evidence that minimalist shoes confer a “increased injury risk”?
    Cheers
    Joe

    • Craig Payne February 24, 2017 at 7:20 pm #

      I don’t see how it is cherry picking when I include all studies…

      As to increased injury risk. The preponderance of studies show that there is are no systematic differences in the injury rates. There is an increased risk of injury during the transition –> injury rate higher due to that risk during the transition.

      It is all largely irrelevant now as sales of minimalist running shoes have fallen to 0.3% of the market. Its over. Runners have voted with their feet!

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