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!

Review: Tombolo Paperfeet Barefoot Sandals

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

Over the past few weeks I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of the Paperfeet Barefoot Sandals beta testing program. For those of you who haven’t come across them yet, Paperfeet are these fantastic shoes made from recycled billboards. Simple, thin, and durable, these shoes are the brainchild of surfer-turned-cobbler Jimmy Tomczak.

Paperfeet shoes were originally designed as a simple, lightweight, eco-friendly solution to the problem of crossing rough terrain in bare feet. Paperfeet not only solve this problem, but do so with a great design that can be rolled up and put into a pocket.

I was sent a few different pairs of Paperfeet to test, and put them through their paces (pun intended) in a few different environments. These included walking on surfaces ranging from grass to gravel, and running on the same. I didn’t get a chance to test them on the beach unfortunately, but I’ll try to get to that at some point soon and amend my review accordingly.

Construction

Each shoe consists of a single piece of billboard material, cut into a shape that allows it to be folded around your foot. They are attached in 4 places by simple adhesive velcro tabs.

Fitting

Despite the multiple attachment points, the shoes go on very easily and intuitively. The velcro tabs allow for a custom fit, and in extreme cases can be removed and repositioned to get a tighter or looser fit if required.

I did find that on a couple pairs the heel was a bit loose out of the box, though this may be just because of my own weird anatomy. By repositioning the velcro, however, I was able to get a fairly snug fit.

Appearance

I’ll be honest, when I first pulled the shoes from the reusable delivery package they came in, I was dubious. I’ve seen, worn, and tested a fair few pair of shoes over the years, and these were by far the most unusual looking. I think, however that this uniqueness is one of the great traits of these shoes that will set them apart from other shoes.

Walking

At first, the shoes felt a little odd. The toe-strap in particular is a feature that I’ve not seen before. I had only expected to wear them for a few minutes to wander down to the shops but a couple hours later I looked down and was still wearing them.

They really have that ‘barely there’ feeling that a lot of other shoes advertise, but rarely deliver. They are so light, it’s easy to forget you’re wearing shoes at all.

Running

When I first spoke to Jimmy about Paperfeet and told him of my intention of running in them, he reminded me that they are primarily a walking shoe. Being a bit of a risk-taker though, I decided to take them out on the road to see how they went.

I’ve done a few runs in them so far and they went reasonably well. With a couple of small modifications, I think that these shoes will be a real contender in the minimalist running shoe arena. Most notably, the lightweight and easy to carry design would make these perfect for carrying on long barefoot races for those rough gravel patches that have a tendency to slow barefooters down.

Conclusions

Overall, these shoes performed surprisingly well for such a simple design. For their intended purpose of taking the edge off short stretches of gravel, I think they’re remarkable, but there is maybe a little bit of work to be done to bring them into the mainstream.

I’m really impressed at the imagination involved in turning what would otherwise be landfill material into a decent pair of very lightweight, portable shoes.

I’ll definitely be tucking a pair into my bag for my next trip, and might even do a little custom work to make them race-worthy!

Beginning Barefoot would like to thank Jimmy Tomczak and Tombolo for providing
Paperfeet Barefoot Sandals for testing.