Leeds scientists to study the benefits of barefoot running in rural Africa

Leeds Beckett research to explore mechanics of barefoot running.
Leeds Beckett research to explore mechanics of barefoot running.
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THE MECHANICS of barefoot running are to be investigated in remote parts of Africa by a research team from a Yorkshire university.

Sports scientists from Leeds Beckett’s Carnegie Faculty are travelling to Botswana this month to carry out extensive four-month research study that will gather biomechanical data from the local population in order to better understand the science of barefoot running.

They will use equipment such as high-speed video cameras, electromyographic recorders and force platforms to analyse the techniques of urban and rural Botswanan runners.

Barefoot running has become more popular in recent years with many believing it can reduce injuries and improve performance. Dr Nassos Bissas, principal lecturer in Sport Biomechanics, at Leeds Beckett said: “It appears that the popularity of barefoot running is non-scientifically driven, but it is rather based on anecdotal evidence or non-scientific publications such as running magazines and blogs.

“This research study will focus on the biomechanics of barefoot running using habitual barefoot runners in Botswana as well as people who run in shoes.

“In the majority of Botswana, especially as you go further away from the cities, prefer doing their daily chores barefoot, such as going to school, farms, cattle post and hunting.

In remote regions, there are communities for whom barefoot dominates their footwear style.”

The research will be led by Leeds Beckett PhD student Masalela Gaesenngwe, who is sponsored by the University of Botswana, under the supervision of Dr Bissas and Dr Brian Hanley from Leeds Beckett.

Dr Bissas added: “Humans have developed efficient running techniques through millions of years of evolutionary processes. However, these techniques were mastered by humans running barefoot or by wearing minimal footwear as modern running shoes were only developed in the second half of the 20th century. Most of the research in running has examined habitually shoed runners and it has ignored barefoot conditions even though they have influenced the way modern humans run.”

“Understanding the biomechanics of barefoot running is essential to understanding human locomotion not only from a performance and injury prevention but also from an anthropological perspective. The analysis of barefoot running mechanics can also offer invaluable information concerning the design and function of modern running shoes, something that will be central to shoe manufacturers designing running footwear. This study will be the first scientific attempt ever to reach such population groups and gather biomechanical data through a systematic and scientific manner. We anticipate that the findings of the study will attract worldwide attention with the potential to impact current beliefs and practices in competitive running and footwear design.”

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