Did Humans Evolve To Run On Pavement?

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

One of the major barriers to the uptake of barefoot running is the perception that humans weren’t meant to run on flat, hard surfaces, such as paved streets. I’ve been asked this question countless times, and though I know it not to be true from personal experience, it’s often hard to convince people otherwise.

I spent a bit of time this weekend researching the subject, and discovered, that like all thing barefoot, there is precious little research on the matter. I did, however unearth a small study from 2000[1] that examined this question for shod heel-to-toe runners.

What it found was that there was no significant increase in the forces applied to the body due to the change in terrain. Interestingly, however, it also found that on harder surfaces, such as asphalt, that there is a reduction in loading rate.

Basically what this means is that as the surface becomes harder, the body adapts its form to compensate for it, allowing the knees to absorb the shock a little bit more gradually.

What I fiind fascinating about this is not only that the body can, and does, adapt to its surroundings, but that it also still manages to do this in shoes. The loading rate reduction is very reminiscent of Daniel Lieberban’s study[2] from 2010 that found a similar reflex in barefoot runners.

Of course these studies are very small and I would LOVE to see some proper, large-scale studies into some of the more common barefoot running questions, but at this point, all signs seem to be pointing towards us being evolved running machines that are well and truly able to adapt to all kinds of terrain (barefoot or otherwise).


1. Dixon SJ, Collop AC, Batt ME, (2000) Surface effects on ground reaction forces and lower extremity kinematics in running. Department of Exercise and Sport Science, University of Exeter, United Kingdom http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11079523

2. Lieberman DE, Venkadesan M, Werbel WA, Daoud AI, D’Andrea S, Davis IS, Mang’eni RO, Pitsiladis Y. (2010) Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature 463: 531-5. http://barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/Nature2010_FootStrikePatternsandCollisionForces.pdf

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Barefoot Basics #2: Bend Your Knees

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

When you first take off your conventional shoes and try running barefoot, the first thing you will probably notice is that the ground is really hard! It might sound silly and obvious, but the truth is that it’s easy to forget this simple fact when running with a big wedge of padding beneath your soles.

To compensate for this hard ground, your legs come with built in shock absorbers. And because you’re now running without the squishy comfort of foam underfoot, you need to make absolutely sure that you’re using them to your best advantage.

The easiest way to do this is to bend your knees. And when I say bend them, I mean really bend them. At first you’ll feel a bit funny, like you’re running in a crouch, but this is what you want. The more you bend your knees, the more they will absorb the shock that your legs and feet experience during running.

When you bend your knees, you’re not only engaging your knees, but also your ankles, Achilles tendons, and even your feet. All this extra absorption not only makes for a more comfortable run, it also will allow you to store and reuse a lot more energy which you can use to run further and faster.