Monkey Feet (pt. 2)
Barefoot running is such a hot subject right now that I decided it warranted further discussion. I would love to hear what you all have to say, but first I want to take this opportunity to further clarify my position on the issue (and dispel one major myth about barefoot running).
I do agree that running barefoot is a more efficient way to move. In fact, it’s been proven that running in shoes is 5% less energy-efficient than running barefoot. This seems to have been accepted by the larger running community as well. Throughout college, I was urged to get up on the balls of my feet for the last 3-400 meters of a race. And when I could muster the willpower to do so, I found that it perceptibly raised my turnover rate.
And running barefoot has felt GREAT the few times that I experienced it. Your feet are naturally so bouncy that it’s easy to lift your knees and really open up your stride. And besides, feet want to bend around the uneven ground and stones of the trail (though I wouldn’t run unshod on the streets around here). The only bad experience I’ve had running barefoot was my own fault; I didn’t think the track was hot enough to eat through my callused soles (I was wrong).
What I’m disputing is not the efficiency or fun of running barefoot, however. I’m disputing the idea that switching to barefoot running will solve all of your injury woes. Injuries, according to many minimalist runners, come from running in shoe technology that works against our natural biomechanics. Which is to say, the way humans evolved to move. Less popular are the studies proving that biomechanics actually change over our lifespan to accomodate our big, heavy running shoes. To excerpt from Pete Larson’s excellent article:
“…years of wearing lifted shoes in most modern societies has adapted our legs and feet to the presence of a heel, and the vast majority of runners are now heel strikers (see Hasegawa et al. 2007). As a result of musculoskeletal acclimation to thick-heeled running shoes (particularly in places like the Achilles tendon and calf muscles), some degree of heel lift may be a necessity for many runners in order to avoid injury, at least as they transition to more minimal footwear.”
So, while shoes may not be adapted to your body, your body has sure adapted to shoes. If you had been walking barefoot (or at least with minimal foot protection) since birth, your body would be ready to run barefoot. But as it is, most of our feet rely on clunky, cushioned, supportive shoes. Our natural structure is moot.
So is it too late for us? Should we give up on minimalism and re-lace those Brooks Beasts? Perhaps not; running barefoot, at least a little every week, is believed to strengthen muscles in the foot associated with efficient movement. But the proof that doing so reduces injury just isn’t there. As William Roberts, M.D., says, “there is no evidence to show that either the shod or unshod foot reduces injury rates, mostly because the issue has not been studied scientifically” (Ask the Sports Doc).
Dr. Roberts is backing up my past assertion that barefoot running is not based on science. It is based on sound theories and highly unsound studies. So while it bears potential, and there are many success stories, don’t let anyone tell you that this is a proven science.Share on Facebook