Shoe’s vs. Vibrams:
I put it to the test.  Below you’ll see variations in running form in the same runner, on the same day, at the same pace.  Looking at footstrike in Shoes vs. Vibram’s.  On the left is me in shoes, and on the right is me in Vibrams.  Notice any differences?

Conclusions:  It’s hard to tell off of these lower quality videos, but shoes cause changes.

Early on, you can see greater dorsiflexion (toe up).  Footstrike is also different.  With shoes I did not have a pronounced heel strike, if you got to look at better video you’d see  I land whole foot, tending towards the back.  In my vibrams though, the footstrike is different.  The forefoot touches down first, barely, with the rest of the foot following.

This little experiment pretty much sold me on the role of proprioception in foot strike.  Yes, you can change foot strike in heavy shoes, but these shoes were made to make you land heel first.  It’s tough to battle against what your body wants to do in these heavy shoes, which is heel strike.  Given this, it’s important to recognize this, and incorporate at least some minimal training to make sure you are prepared to forefoot/ midfoot strike.

This frame by frame analysis also gives some nice pictures to analyze running form with, so if you have any thoughts, throw them out there.  I’m very pleased with it while running in Vibrams, not as much in shoes.  Footstrike wasn’t wear I wanted it.  Drive phase looks good in both though (although I didn’t include the pics for those…).


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    1. Patrick Ward on February 7, 2010 at 8:27 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to put this together Steve.

      I was wondering about your last statement regarding "foot strike not being where you wanted it"…

      Obviously there are changes with regard to running mechanics in shoes vs. barefeet (or vibrams); but, do you think that your foot strike in the shoe'd picture is "bad"?

      Watching marathons, even some of the top level runners are striking with their entire foot, as you do in that photo. I think "heel strikers" get into trouble because most of them overstride, creating a greater breaking force – and running in barefeet/vibrams makes them move to more of a forefoot strike, and decreases their overstriding.

      If heel strike (or full foot strike like in the photo) happens under your body, and not in an overstrided position (way out in front of you), do you think that it is really that bad?

      Thanks. Keep up the great work.

      Patrick Ward

    2. gary on February 7, 2010 at 9:33 pm

      Steve — the post is a pretty interesting viewpoint, but I'm curious to know if you maintained cadence also? (as you did speed) It looks to me like your flight in the vibrams is different, which could alone change your footstrike.

      The other thing from the stills is the camera angle, it doesn't appear to be the same in both which will change perception too.

      I'm on the same line of thought at Patrick about the forefoot strike, if you are striking with a whole foot or flat foot under your center of mass, then is there an advantage in your point of view on forefoot striking?

      Last thought. Do you have any thoughts on your body lean / posture in terms of it's roll in foot strike?

      Gary Ditsch

    3. Amby Burfoot on February 8, 2010 at 4:46 pm

      Steve: In addition to the above Comments, it would be interesting to have you do two identical workouts in the two conditions while wearing a HR monitor to see if you note any differences. You're never going to solve the injury question, but you could perhaps accumulate more data w/ regard to possible changes in running economy.

    4. Faceless Ghost on February 8, 2010 at 4:46 pm

      I'm curious–what shoes were you wearing in the photos on the left?

    5. stevemagness on February 8, 2010 at 5:10 pm

      Thanks all for the comments!

      Patrick-My footstrike in the shod picture isn't bad.

      I agree with you that the main problem w/ heel striking is that the overstriding it causes. The real problem is reaching out with your lower leg and striking way in front of the hips.

      I think it depends on the person/race a little on how bad heel striking is, even if its under your body. If you are a runner who is what I call an elastic runner then heel striking, even if it's under you, is 'bad.' You lose a lot of the elastic response with heel striking.

      That brings me back to my critique of my form. It's not perfect, because I'm a runner who relies on rhythm and elastic response. It's one of the reasons I don't run well in the mud. Foot strike is one reason why Gebersalassie wasn't near as dominant over Cross Country as he was on the track. Geb, in his prime especially, was a very elastic runner.

      On the other hand you have runners who are completely the opposite, and for them, a heel strike under them might not be a disadvantage.

      I think whole foot is a good way to strike. In some cases, better than forefoot. So, in my photos where I'm striking wholefoot it's not bad, it's just I'm a perfectionist. I've got almost a decades worth of running form video/work on myself so..

      Gary- Cadence was about the same. The flight is going to be slightly different because the vibrams change your form slightly.

      Good call on perception and angle, but I've got a whole video. I went over the entire thing. I just chose those frames because they were the easiest to get frame by frame in photo form.

      In most cases, I don't think there is an advantage to a forefoot vs. a wholefoot. In fact, when changing peoples form I strive for a wholefoot because people tend to want to hold the heel off the ground when forefoot striking. That's a big no-no.

      Body position definately effects foot strike. Leaning back tends to trigger the person to kick out with their lower leg. You want an upright, very slight lean from the ground. Other things effect foot strike too. Shoulder swing/arm swing are two other big ones. If the opposite arm continus to swing forward or across, it causes that lower leg to reach out.

      Remember, the whole body is connected. Too many people see footstrike and think only of that. When in reality the foot strike might be a consequence of an entirely different mechanism. Many times, the foot strike is the symptom. You have to find the cause. That's one thing people/biomechanists are TERRIBLE about.

      Amby-Good idea! I'll even go one step further and take some lactate samples. It'll have to be when I'm back in Houston b/c thats where my HR monitor and lactate analyzer are. But that would be very interesting. If I had more "gadgets" to test things out I would haha. Maybe I'll get my hands on some other equipment from my university.

      Faceless ghost- Asics speedstars

    6. Pete Brown on February 8, 2010 at 7:42 pm


      One of the things I noticed when looking at the pics is that with shoes, I can see your rt shoulder, as if it is forward more. In the vibrams it appears as if you are more erect and I do not notice your right shoulder as much if at all.

      This could be very insignificant as it could be camera angle but I thought I would throw it out there.

      Fun stuff. Nice work. Pete

    7. Michael on February 10, 2010 at 12:36 pm

      Steve- Good stuff. I going to try the same thing in my office. If I get any good video I will forward it to you.

      Mike Engel

    8. Alex Hutchinson on February 11, 2010 at 1:05 am

      Interesting pics, Steve. I second the comments that your footstrike looks pretty good in both sets of pics — I wish I looked like that even in spikes!

      One thought: "I agree with you that the main problem w/ heel striking is that the overstriding it causes."

      I'm not sure which is cause and which is effect. Or at least, I'm not sure that heel striking and overstriding are as inextricably linked as people make out. Isn't it possible to heel strike without overstriding (and thus end up with what looks like an almost whole-footed landing)?

    9. stevemagness on February 12, 2010 at 6:49 pm

      Thanks for the comments.

      Good point on heel striking. I don't think they are linked as tightly either. It's definately possible to heel strike without overstriding.

      The biggest problem, in my opinion, is the overstriding/reaching out.

    10. I must eat, sleep and run. The road to my soul. on August 13, 2010 at 3:51 pm

      It would be interesting to see if a light racing shoe that has been "zero dropped" would result in you running similar to how you run in the Vibrams? In other words, what's the impact of the weight of the shoe and the heel differential? If you go with a light running shoe with no heel build-up, what happens?

      I had a cobble zero drop a pair of Free 3.0's, Run +'s and Hypespeed 3's and I've noticed a big difference as my foot is more dorsiflexed in the zero drop shoes just like when I run in Vibrams.


    11. FREDERIC on September 22, 2010 at 4:07 pm

      I was wondering what type of training session you had. Obviously you seems to run fast on the pic. I'm a minimalist runner (VFF, Kigo edge and EVO) and I found them not efficient for speed work (1 km/h less than with my adidas adizero adios – 19 km/h) although I found them terrific at marathon pace (14 km/h) and a bit so so for endurance speed (15 km/h). Is that also your opinion ? I mean, do you find minimalist shoes to be efficient for a certain range of speeds and unefficient for other ranges.

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