Background: Perceived acceptability of barefoot use has largely been ignored in the literature despite its importance to long-term implementation and behaviour change. This study aimed to compare acceptability of undertaking weight bearing 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 (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 the dominant calcaneus by quantitative ultrasound (QUS).
Results: Seventeen healthy male (n = 8) and female (n = 9) university students participated in the study [mean ± standard deviation, age 26.59 ± 7.26 years, body mass index [BMI] 23.08 ± 3.58 kg/m2]. Men were taller, heavier and had higher broadband ultrasound attention (BUA) than women (p<0.05). For “no” discomfort, “very easy” ease of performance and a “good amount” or “very good amount” of acceptability, shod conditions demonstrated response rates of 87.25%, 55.88% and 72.55% respectively. Barefoot conditions demonstrated rates of 62.75%, 39.22% and 48.03% for the same responses, respectively, and reported more ball of foot, forefoot, heel and plantar skin locations as sources of discomfort during activity than 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<0.05), but no difference was seen for the hop. Males jumped and hopped higher than females under both footwear conditions (p<0.05).
Conclusions: Participants initiating barefoot weight bearing exercise may experience slightly greater discomfort and less ease of performance in the initial transition from the shod condition, however, may perform better in vertical jump. Whether those differences in experience persist over the long term will require longitudinal studies.