Cheap exercise — barefoot running

April 21, 2009

Running has always been one of the cheapest ways to exercise. No need for classes, or training, or admission fees, and no need for equipment except clothes you can sweat in and special shoes.

Except it turns out that the special shoes might be a giant con too.

I saw this story from the Daily Mail yesterday, but it’s not the first one I’ve read that claims that running barefoot or in plain sneakers is better for you than running in expensive “running shoes.” In fact, you get the impression that they should really be called “injury shoes.”

Money quote:

Despite all their marketing suggestions to the contrary, no manufacturer has ever invented a shoe that is any help at all in injury prevention.

If anything, the injury rates have actually ebbed up since the Seventies – Achilles tendon blowouts have seen a ten per cent increase. (It’s not only shoes that can create the problem: research in Hawaii found runners who stretched before exercise were 33 per cent more likely to get hurt.)

In a paper for the British Journal Of Sports Medicine last year, Dr Craig Richards, a researcher at the University of Newcastle in Australia, revealed there are no evidence-based studies that demonstrate running shoes make you less prone to injury. Not one.

I can attest that back when I had time to run, I switched to barefoot running for half hour sessions on the pavement. No problem, and previous issues with pain in my shins never re-occurred.

My Dad trained with Murray Halberg, following Arthur Lydiard‘s method based on “long slow distance”. Dad is fond of recounting how they pounded the hills of Auckland for hours wearing canvas sandshoes “and we never got hurt.”

So, dear readers: we recommend running, if you like it — and it’s now cheaper than ever before!



  1. My Dad took up Mountain running when he retired and did the Kepler Run for many years. He swore by $20 Warehouse sneakers – and he never got hurt either

  2. Stopping stretching before I ran hugely decreased my injuries/niggles. Still drives me nuts when I see “advice” that you have to stretch before you run to avoid injury.

  3. Stretching is bad, but warming up is important. They’re quite different things.

    I gave up after my knees were giving me pain, and found swimming again. Frugal swimming would involve the sea in Wellington, I suspect. I’m stuck in a desert for a few more months, and must pay.

  4. I’m a big fan of walking barefoot (though not of running – in any form, particularly). See http://nymag.com/health/features/46213/ for a bit more detail about how to get that funky barefoot stance while not worrying too much about e.g. broken glass, public toilets, etc.

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