Great legs are thought to be a natural result of exercise, but research presented at Griffith University’s Gold Coast Health and Medical Research Conference has revealed exercising in bare feet, or using “barefoot” runners can shape a person’s leg better than normal shoes.

The results by Griffith Health Institute’s Centre for Musculoskeletal Research found barefoot exercise increases bone density, decreasing more fat and increasing muscles mass.

Associate Professor Belinda Beck, who studies the effects of exercise on bone, began testing with ‘barefoot’ shoes following on the current enthusiasm for barefoot running. She wanted to know if running barefoot was better for bones and muscles than regular shoes.

The current craze for barefoot running evolved from the United States and its adherents believe it reduces injury levels in runners.

It is backed by the lack of evidence that expensive runners are of any benefit in reducing leg injuries.

“It’s not actually about the shoes, it’s about how we land when we walk or run,” Dr Beck said.

“When we have a shoe with lots of padding we tend to land heavily on the back of our foot, which may cause injuries. When we have less or no padding we tend to land on the front of our feet, which is how our feet probably evolved to land.”

“We did an exercise intervention and had a group wear a traditional shoe on one foot and a ‘barefoot shoe’ on another and the results were clearly measurable. Not only that, some of the participants could feel the difference in their legs and began noticing when they pulled their jeans on that one leg was skinnier than the other.”

“The trends in this research were all in the right direction but the study, it was a very small pilot trial but the results are fascinating.”

Expanding the research

Associate Professor Beck’s team tested a small group, who had previously done little to no exercise, with the two shoes over six months. They plan to expand their research to a much larger, more diverse group, over a longer period of time to see if their results bear out.

For the Griffith researchers, positive results could lead to new treatments for preventing injuries and hopefully, osteoporosis. Better looking legs may just be a bonus.

“It’s amazing really, after all the millions spent on developing expensive runners, we’ve found this perfectly designed thing on the end of our legs that works pretty well on its own.”