How to Better Know Barefoot Running
If you have done some searching around the web about running you might be aware of the hot debate over barefoot running. The debate, that started years ago, centers on whether running in shoes with cushioned heels and supportive structures changes the way people move so dramatically that it’s more likely to cause injuries. In short, people can learn,some argue, to run without heel striking. People can learn how to better know barefoot running.
Proponents of barefoot running say, “the natural way is more likely to prompt a runner to land on the padded and springy part of the foot, toward the front, rather than strike the ground with the heel as many shod runners do.” Reuters Health medical News. (Dec. 10, 2011)
Thus this post seeks to answer the question as to whether running in bare feet reduces or increases the risk of injury for you.
First, let’s get a good understanding of the concepts that I’m covering in this post.
Stuart Warden, a researcher for the Department of Physical Therapy at Indiana University, observes that the feet of runners land differently, depending on whether one is running in bare feet or in athletic shoes with a big cushion under the heel. The shoes encourage the runner to strike the ground with heels first. Barefoot running encourages the runner to land on the forefoot or balls of the feet. Source Citation MLA 8th
Stronger hips improved running mechanics, lessened knee pain (http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/18772.html#6)
When the heel strikes the ground in a shoe, there is an impact force that is felt up through the foot and into the body. As noted in a previous post, the impact force can cause stress fractures and other injuries associated with running such as Plantar Fasciitis. By decreasing those forces, the risk of injury is reduced. When barefoot runners’ feet strike the ground, “the runner is landing on the front or middle of the foot and the heel is lowered to the ground,” notes Stuart Warden in the mentioned report. This means the impact force is less and the risk of potential injury is lower.
The theory speaks to the ability of the feet to adjust to different environment and in the process become stronger. It goes something like this: when someone runs bare feet, the foot lands differently each time and works different muscles thus strengthening the foot.
Okay, let’s jump to it.
The Case For Running Barefoot
Meet the Tarahumara Indians.
They come from Northern Mexico and routinely run in races of 150 miles or more. Here’s the really impressive thing. The Tarahumara don’t seem to suffer from injuries associated with running. Christopher McDougall, a researcher tells an interesting story. He states, “back in 1994, a Tarahumara man ventured out of the canyons to compete against an elite field of runners at the Leadville Trail Ultramarathon, a 100-mile race through the Rocky Mountains. He wore homemade sandals. He was 55 years old. He won.” Daily Telegraph[London, England], 12 Jan.2010
McDougall noted that the Tarahumara didn’t pound their feet when running. He says,” Unlike the vast majority of modern runners, who come down heavily on their foam-covered heels and roll forward off their toes, the Tarahumara land lightly on their forefeet and bend their knees, as you would if you jumped from a chair.”
Christopher McDougall in the mentioned reports states:
“Daniel Lieberman, the head of the evolutionary anthropology department at Harvard, recruited Harvard students for an experiment: he had them kick off their sneakers and run every day in either bare feet or wearing a thin, rubber foot-glove called the Vibram Fivefingers. The results were remarkable. Once their shoes were taken away, the students instinctively stopped clumping down on their heels. Instead, they began landing lightly on the balls of their feet, keeping their feet beneath their hips and bending at the knees and ankles. Without knowing it, they were mirroring the Tarahumara.”
To further his case for barefoot running, Christopher McDougall goes to the army sort to speak. He notes how “ for centuries, armies have had to train out-of-shape recruits to cover marathon distances on their feet. Rather than dispensing plush trainers, the military took another route. As described in the classic military text The Soldier’s Foot and the Military Shoe, all new recruits are taught to land lightly on the balls of their feet. They keep their feet under their hips, swinging their legs in a quick, light shuffle to a beat of 180 strides per minute – which, not surprisingly, exactly matches the ancient running rhythm of the Tarahumara.” (Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
Increasing your Feet’s adaptability
Dr. Najia Shakoor a researcher at Chicago’s Rush Medical College notes that when your feet can sense the ground, it sends a message “Your body tells itself, My foot just hit the ground, I’m about to start walking, so let’s activate all these mechanisms to keep my joints safe. Your body’s natural neuromechanical-feedback mechanisms can work to protect the rest of your extremities. You have much more sensory input than when you’re insulated by a thick outsole.” [ Adam Sterbergh New York Magazine, april 28, 2008 pg. 24]
This simply means that shoes and thick padding, according to those who are barefoot running enthusiasts, changes the way you walk and run in a negative way.
You’ve been learning how to strengthen your feet by barefoot running. And while this may be a good method for lots of people, it’s not for everyone. Indeed, this method may be dangerous for people who already have Plantar Fasciitis and other related running injuries.
That’s because people with running related injuries at advances stages simply can not do this method because it will worsen their condition. If you fall into this category, then here’s what you should do instead. Stay with running shoes that give you good support. If later you want to transition to barefoot running you should do so gradually. If you are a recreation runner and have done well with running shoes, there isn’t any reason to switch.
I like to hear from the readers so please leave me a comment below to let me know if this post helped you or if you have any questions.