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Is Barefoot Best? Experts Debate at Ulster

Not since Zola Budd has there been so much talk about whether running without trainers is best – a scientific panel will tackle the ‘barefoot vs shod’ debate at the University of Ulster tomorrow.

The debate is part of the 2012 British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) Biomechanics Interest Group (BIG) one-day meeting, which will be held at the Jordanstown campus.

Dr Michael Hanlon, from Ulster’s Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Institute, said: “The event is designed to allow individuals interested in sport and exercise biomechanics to meet up and share new research findings with like-minded researchers/practitioners across the UK and Ireland.

“This is the first time the meeting has been held in Northern Ireland and we are expecting approximately 90 delegates from across the UK and Ireland.

“We are looking forward to a lively debate on the pros and cons of barefoot running – this topic has increased in popularity recently with many footwear companies advertising minimalist shoes that are designed to produce a ‘natural’ barefoot running style while still providing the foot surface with some protection.

“We are delighted to have world renowned biomechanics expert Professor Joseph Hamill, from the University of Massachusetts, delivering a keynote lecture on running related injuries.

“The meeting will also feature a golf biomechanics demonstration at our state-of-the-art lab here at Jordanstown which has attracted golfing stars like Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke.”

The keynote speaker, Professor Hamill has authored or co-authored over 120 research papers and three books. His research interests are focused on lower extremity biomechanics during normal and pathological locomotion.

Professor Hamill has utilised motion capture, modelling and dynamical systems to study the optimisation of human locomotion. His keynote lecture will reflect on the factors that influence footfall patterns during running and the subsequent associations with running-related injuries.

He said: "About 75-80 per cent of all runners use a rearfoot footfall pattern. That is, they first contact the ground on the lateral aspect of the heel. Less than three per cent of all runners use a forefoot pattern. That is, they contact the ground on the ball of the foot and the heel never touches the ground.

"There is considerable controversy in biomechanics regarding the footfall pattern that will reduce running injuries. Running-related injuries are multi-factorial. There are many factors that interact to cause an injury. There is not one single cause of an overuse injury.

"While some suggest changing from a rearfoot to a forefoot pattern will reduce the number of injuries, there is no evidence to suggest that this is true. Running with a forefoot pattern will probably result in the same risk of injury, they will just be different injuries."