Context: There has been recent speculation that the intrinsic muscles of the foot may play a larger role in lower extremity control and injury than previously believed. Multiple studies have shown that certain intrinsic muscles increase in size and strength after transitioning to minimalist shoe running, theoretically decreasing injury risk. There are currently no studies that examine the effect that training barefoot has in other athletic populations. Objective: Our purpose was to compare the intrinsic and extrinsic foot muscle size and strength in gymnasts (who predominantly train barefoot) and cheerleaders (who predominantly train shod). Another purpose was to measure time to stability for both groups shod and unshod. Design: Observational study. Setting: Human Performance Laboratory. Participants: 16 collegiate gymnasts (height = 159.3 ± 4.9cm, weight = 56.7 ± 4.3kg) and 16 collegiate cheerleaders (height = 161.9 ± 5.4cm, weight = 58.7 ± 7.1kg) volunteered for this study. Main Outcome Measure(s): The muscle size of 6 intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the foot were measured using ultrasound, toe flexor strength, as assessed using a custom-made dynamometer, and time to stability following a drop landing, as assessed using ground reaction force data collected with force plates. Results: There were no significant group differences in great toe flexor strength (p = 0.274), lateral toe flexor strength (p = 0.824), or any of the time to stability conditions (p = 0.086 – 0.90). Only one muscle, fibularis longus, was significantly bigger in gymnasts than cheerleaders (p = 0.017) Conclusions: Our findings suggest that the barefoot training of gymnasts may not have as large of an impact on the foot musculature and strength as running barefoot or in minimalist shoes has on these factors.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Exercise Sciences



Date Submitted


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ultrasound, muscle size, toe flexor strength, time to stability, drop landing, gymnasts, cheerleaders