The biomechanics of barefoot shoe jogging

‘Jogging’ is a natural gait at slow speeds and on soft surfaces

“the great tragedy of science- the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact”

Thomas Huxley

Jogging Misconceptions

Jogging (also known as pendular running) is a hybrid gait comprising some elements of walking (long, straight lead leg and rear foot strike) and some of running (spring-like action of the lead leg on loading) (Shrinivasan and Ruina, 2006). However, ‘jogger’ is often used as a derogatory slur to describe a cumbersome and unskilled runner. Proponents of forefoot and barefoot running also view ‘jogging’ as an unnatural and injurious movement pattern, a view based on a shallow or misguided understanding of factors governing human movement in general, and biomechanics of running in particular. The ‘unnatural’ slur originates from some observations of a tendency of habitually barefoot populations to fore or midfoot strike when running. These observations occur only under certain conditions. Other data paint a more complex picture of the truth and show that habitually-barefoot (natural) runners land on the rear foot and ‘jog’ much more often than is generally recognised.

Research Studies

Two studies contain all of the evidence required to confirm jogging as natural running gait. Hatala et al. (2013) recorded the gait characteristics of habitually-barefoot Kenyans running along a 13-m sand-based track. At endurance-running speeds, 83% employed a heel-strike ‘jogging’ technique with the remainder (17%) using a mid or forefoot strike. A more recent study by Lieberman et al. (2015) also including an habitually-barefoot group of Kenyan runners, recorded gait characteristics while running at slow (3 m/s) and fast (4 m/s) speeds along soft (smooth raked soil) and hard (compact dirt) tracks. 72% of the barefoot Kenyans varied their footstrike with speed and surface showing an increased tendency to heel strike at slow speeds and on the soft surface and vice versa at fast speeds and on the hard surface. Jogging is therefore a natural gait at slow speeds and on compliant surfaces, both of which result in low impact loads.

Heel striking jogging technique
Forefoot striking Jogging technique
Forefoot striking Jogging technique

The Truth About Jogging

Jogging is essentially slow running (6-10mph; 10-16km/h). Using this speed range, the majority of recreational ‘runners’ are actually ‘joggers’ and are using a movement pattern that is perfectly natural and appropriate for their speed, though perhaps not the surface they run on. Naturally-barefoot runners jog at slow speeds and/or on soft surfaces. Impact forces are relatively low under these conditions and ‘jogging’ is safe. ‘Jogging’ on hard surfaces requires protection for the heel to dampen the impact resulting from the uncompliant surface. In a shoe, the protection need not be excessive, but the shoe should of course allow full and unimpeded function of the foot and toes.

Author:

Dr. Mick Wilkinson, PhD, MSc, BA (Hons)
Northumbria University, Newcastle, England
Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science & Department Ethics Lead

References

Hatala, K.G., Dingwall, H.L., Wunderlich, R.S and Richmond, B.G. (2013). Variation in foot strike patterns during running among habitually barefoot populations. PLoS ONE, 8(1): e52548. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052548.
Lieberman, D.E., Castillo, E.R., Otarola-Castillo, E., Sang, M.K., Sigei, T.K., Ojiambo, R., Okutoyi, P. and Pitsiladis, Y. (2015). Variation in foot strike patterns among habitually barefoot and shod runners in Kenya. PLoS ONE, 10(7): e0131354. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131354.
Srinivasan, M. and Ruina, A. (2006). Computer optimization of a minimal biped model discovers walking and running. Nature, 439, 72-75.

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