Running Shoes Reduce Activation of Certain Foot Muscles

More and more people have taken up jogging or running as a form of exercise. In the United States, the number of people who run (either recreationally or professionally) has increased almost every year since the 1990s. In fact, the number of people participating in racing events has gone up by at least 80% since the year 2000. This has resulted in a huge market for running shoes, thought to improve performance and reduce injuries. Recent research, however, suggests that there might be some downsides.

In a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, researchers studied a group of healthy people who were recreational runners. All of the subjects ran on a regular basis. They were asked to run on treadmills, either barefoot or while wearing running shoes. The shoes were fitted with electrodes and the researchers were able to study EMG, kinetic, and kinematic data at the same time.

The team of researchers found that running shoes reduce the activation of certain leg and foot muscles. Modern running shoes affect the longitudinal arch of the foot, reducing the muscle activation by 25%. The longitudinal arch acts as a kind of spring, helping us move forward as our foot lands. Running shoes negatively affect this spring mechanism.

Other foot muscles actually became more activated so the researchers noted that it’s hard to draw conclusions from this data alone. While it’s true that running shoes seem to affect muscle functions in the foot, the authors aren’t sure if running shoes are necessarily bad for you. They also aren’t sure if running shoes can actually improve performance, something that’s often been claimed. Running shoes don’t appear to reduce the risk of injuries; the rate of foot injuries hasn’t gone down since modern running shoes took off with recreational runners. However, current research provides no real evidence either way. The authors hope to find answers to these questions in future studies.


Luke A. Kelly et al. Shoes alter the spring-like function of the human foot during running. Journal of the Royal Society Interface (2016).

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