Study: Barefoot Running May Improve Perception And Working Memory

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

ThinkBarefootA recent study (pdf) out of the University of North Florida is shedding light on the cognitive effects of running barefoot. Their study, which consisted of 72 fit and healthy students, tested how working memory is affected by running barefoot versus shod.

The results were rather interesting, and support the idea that barefoot running requires more attention and awareness to avoid treading on obstacles. The trial ran over 2 days, and participants performed several running sessions around a track, alternating barefoot and shod. While running they were tasked with trying to step on small targets strewn about the course, while also performing a working memory test (phew!).

The results showed that runners who had completed a barefoot run in an earlier session and were trying to step on the targets in a later session, had higher working memory scores than the the other groups. What this suggests is that running barefoot and trying to pick a particular route, can engage the working memory part of the brain more effectively than in other scenarios.

The paper suggests that this may be a result of increased proprioception from actually feeling the targets, and also from the need to be more aware of the route chosen when running. They go on to suggest that further studies are required, on larger populations, and that testing experienced barefoot runners could provide some more interesting and useful results.

It’s exciting to see creative studies involving barefoot running starting to emerge. This particular study seems to have been reasonably rigorous, well thought out, and conservative in its conclusions. Another small part of the puzzle of what makes barefoot running different from shod running has been revealed, which is great news for our sport.

What do you think of this study? Have you noticed any benefits from making the switch to barefoot? Let us know in the comments!


BOLE Balls – Turning Barefoot Running Into A Team Sport

The following is a guest post by BOLE founder, Logan Bittle, who is bringing the ancient game of rarajipari to the rest of the world

Boles7The ancient running sport of the Tarahumara Native Americans remained mostly hidden from the world until the release of Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run.” This book did two big things: it launched the barefoot shoes movement, and it introduced us to the team endurance sport, rarajipari (pronounced rah-rah-gee-par-ee).

If you’ve never heard of the Tarahumara, they are a remote group of Native Americans living in the Copper Canyons of Northwestern Mexico. The Tarahumara are famous for their ability to run barefoot over ultramarathon distances at an incredible pace. In many ways their entire culture is centered around running.

By now most of us have heard the many benefits of minimalist running, but what we’re still catching up on is the many reasons why we should play the Tarahumara ball game, rarajipari. These are the biggest reasons why I couldn’t wait to hit the trails with a rarajpari ball:

  • Boles1Rarajipari combines endurance running with a team element. Traditionally, in one race the Tarahumara will run between 12 and 150 miles (did I mention they are really good at running long distances). It’s easier to achieve longer distances when you have a group of friends or a team depending on you.
  • All runners typically wear no shoes, sandals, or minimalist shoes. The Tarahumara are known for wearing huarache-style sandals while running. If you’re down with barefoot running, rarajipari sounds like something you might like to try.
  • Playing the Tarahumara game requires a certain level of dexterity. The additional skill requirement adds excitement to what would have otherwise been a simple run.

Playing the Game

Boles5The game is simple, two teams choose an agreed upon distance and race each other. Each team has one small, wooden ball, which they pass between their own team members using their feet. The most common kick is something I call the “shovel-kick.” The “shovel-kick” is used by placing your toes under the ball, lifting the ball onto the top of your foot, and flicking the ball to a desired distance. The first team to pass the finish line with their team’s ball wins.

Traditionally, the two teams have four or more people. The key strategy being to let one teammate run ahead with the ball, and once the ball gets caught in an outcropping or goes off the trail, the other team members catch up and a new teammate runs ahead, taking a turn with the ball.

Boles2Besides the traditional way of playing,there are many fun variations to the game, such as having more than two teams or running alone. Having more than two teams increases the intensity of the race, and running alone with a rarajipari ball helps you concentrate on the run as you move over different terrain.

Beginning Barefoot would like to thank Logan and the team at BOLE for giving us an overview of the game of rarajipari. Rarajipari is a very interesting sport with a lot of potential to help us become better runners, and get even more enjoyment from running. If you’re interested in trying out the sport, the team at BOLE have everything you need to get started!