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Comparative Acceptability of Weightbearing Physical Activity in Sporting Footwear Versus Barefoot in Habitually Shod Individuals

Christian A. ThanThe University of Queensland, School of Biomedical Sciences, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

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Laura A. SeidlThe University of Queensland, School of Biomedical Sciences, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

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Belinda R. BeckSchool of Health Sciences and Social Work, Menzies Health Institute Queensland, and The Bone Clinic Pty Ltd, Queensland, Australia.

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Background: Perceived acceptability of barefoot use has largely been ignored in the literature despite its importance to long-term implementation and behavior change. This study aimed to compare the acceptability of undertaking weightbearing physical activities in regular running shoes versus barefoot in habitually shod individuals.

Methods: Healthy young men and women were recruited from the Gold Coast. Participants completed six activities (ie, lunges, walking, jogging, sidestep, vertical jump, and hop) in shod and barefoot conditions then answered questions pertaining to level and source of discomfort, ease of performance, and acceptability. Indices of bone quality were measured from their dominant calcaneus by quantitative ultrasound.

Results: Seventeen healthy male (n = 8) and female (n = 9) university students participated in the study (age, 26.59 ± 7.26 years; body mass index, 23.08 ± 3.58 kg/m2). Men were taller, heavier, and had higher broadband ultrasound attenuation than women (P < .05). For “no” discomfort, “very easy” ease of performance, and a “good amount” or “very good amount” of acceptability, the shod condition demonstrated response rates of 87.25%, 55.88%, and 72.55%, respectively. The barefoot condition demonstrated rates of those responses of 62.75%, 39.22%, and 48.03%, respectively, and reported more ball-of-foot, forefoot, heel, and plantar skin locations as sources of discomfort during activity than in the shod condition. The group vertical jump height was higher barefoot than shod (44.88 ± 8.44 cm and 43.25 ± 8.76 cm, respectively; P < .05), but no difference was seen for the hop. Men jumped and hopped higher than women under both footwear conditions (P < .05).

Conclusions: Participants initiating barefoot weightbearing exercise may experience slightly greater discomfort and less ease of performance in the initial transition from the shod condition, but may perform better in vertical jump. Whether those differences in experience persist over the long term will require longitudinal studies.

Corresponding author: Belinda R. Beck, PhD, School of Health Sciences and Social Work, Gold Coast campus, Griffith University, QLD 4222, Australia. (E-mail: b.beck@griffith.edu.au)