Purpose: This study tests if running economy differs in minimal shoes versus standard running shoes with cushioned elevated heels and arch supports and in forefoot versus rearfoot strike gaits.
Methods: We measured the cost of transport (mL O2·kg−1·m−1) in subjects who habitually run in minimal shoes or barefoot while they were running at 3.0 m·s−1 on a treadmill during forefoot and rearfoot striking while wearing minimal and standard shoes, controlling for shoe mass and stride frequency. Force and kinematic data were collected when subjects were shod and barefoot to quantify differences in knee flexion, arch strain, plantar flexor force production, and Achilles tendon–triceps surae strain.
Results: After controlling for stride frequency and shoe mass, runners were 2.41% more economical in the minimal-shoe condition when forefoot striking and 3.32% more economical in the minimal-shoe condition when rearfoot striking (P < 0.05). In contrast, forefoot and rearfoot striking did not differ significantly in cost for either minimal- or standard-shoe running. Arch strain was not measured in the shod condition but was significantly greater during forefoot than rearfoot striking when barefoot. Plantar flexor force output was significantly higher in forefoot than in rearfoot striking and in barefoot than in shod running. Achilles tendon–triceps surae strain and knee flexion were also lower in barefoot than in standard-shoe running.
Conclusions: Minimally shod runners are modestly but significantly more economical than traditionally shod runners regardless of strike type, after controlling for shoe mass and stride frequency. The likely cause of this difference is more elastic energy storage and release in the lower extremity during minimal-shoe running.