What Barefoot Running Does To Your Running Cadence

I just realized that I haven’t posted much on the body mechanics (like running cadence or foot turnover) of barefoot running in a while. I think I’ve taken this for granted now and I usually mix things up with running barefoot or running in Luna Sandals or my Vibram KSO. But I wanted to share what a fellow runner and technologist @benkepes sent me today over a tweet. He said ‘Amazing what happens to my running dynamics when I go barefoot for the middle few kms of a run‘ and he sent me this very cool picture (below).

Running Cadence

If you’ve read Born To Run, then you probably (vaguely) remember that the running cadence (or foot turnover) is recommended to be around 180 steps/minute. My Garmin Forerunner 220 tells me that mine’s closer to ~200 which is fairly quick. My strides are short and my ground contact time is fairly low too. But this chart below is so cool. So @benkepes decided to run barefoot for a few kilometers (apparently he read Born To Run for the 4th time and got inspired!) and you can very clearly see the difference.

Running Cadence

Running Cadence and Body Mechanics of Running Barefoot

There are a few interesting things going on here. His running cadence immediately jumped from ~160 to the mythical, ideal ~180 steps/minute. Vertical oscillation, which is a measure of much his body was bouncing up and down, also dropped indicating a more stable posture. He was essentially gliding smoothly during that segment. Interestingly the ground contact time also dropped. It’s like he’s running on hot coal where his feet are not sticky but gently grazes the ground. All in all, this is gentler to the body, not to mention a quieter run. Most of what I learned about barefoot running (and documented in my book Un-learning to Run) was through personal experience, but I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a very cool set of charts that clearly show the effect on running cadence and body mechanics when you go barefoot!

Do you have a chart to share on the effect of barefoot running on running cadence?


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