The Washington Post article caught my eye, “Minimalist running style may be undermined by new findings from Kenya.” The January 21 article by Lenny Bernstein on the web was about a new study published at PLOS One.
Bernstein starts the article with a figure that catches your attention, Americans spent $59 million on “minimalist” running shoes last year, on the premise that the most healthful way to run is the way people have done it for thousands of years: barefoot.
Years after runners everywhere were introduce to running barefoot in 2009 in Born to Run and a 2010 study of Kenya’s famous Kalenjin distance runners, the new study may cause some to rethink how they run.
In the new study, a group of George Washington University researchers tested a different population of barefoot African runners and determined that most of them naturally strike the ground with their heels.
The study at PLOS One is Variation in Foot Strike Patterns during Running among Habitually Barefoot Populations.
The study measured subjects running along a trackway at least three times at their self-selected (comfortable) endurance running pace, and three more times at a faster pace. The track had a plantar pressure pad placed midway along its length.
The article quotes Kevin Hatala, a doctoral student in anthropology at GWU, and how they expected the group’s study of 38 Daasanach subjects of northern Kenya to support Harvard researcher’s Daniel Lieberman’s conclusions about the Kalenjin. Hatala said, “Instead, we found the opposite to be true. In the group we were looking at, the majority of them were rear-foot striking at their preferred endurance running speed.”
Bernstein wrote, At higher speeds, some of the Daasanach switched from a heel strike to a forefoot strike, but even then, heel-striking was more typical. Hatala was reluctant to speculate why his findings differed from the prevailing wisdom. In addition to the effect of speed, running style could be the result of information that is culturally transmitted from generation to generation. Or it might have something to do with the predominant surface where each group lives. Hatala and Lieberman are at the early stages of comparing their data.
“I guess what we found really interesting about this is it directly shows that there is not one way to run barefoot,” Hatala said. “We have a lot more to learn about how people who are barefoot run and what might be the best way to run barefoot.”
The abstract for the study says, “Our data supports the hypothesis that a forefoot strike reduces the magnitude of impact loading, but the majority of subjects instead used a rearfoot strike at endurance running speeds. Their percentages of midfoot and forefoot strikes increased significantly with speed. These results indicate that not all habitually barefoot people prefer running with a forefoot strike, and suggest that other factors such as running speed, training level, substrate mechanical properties, running distance, and running frequency, influence the selection of foot strike patterns.”
Sales of minimalist shoes are up 303 percent between November 2010 and November 2012, compared with a 19 percent increase in running shoe sales overall in the same period.
Are you a barefoot runner? If so, what is your foot strike pattern when running – forefoot, midfoot, or rearfoot? And importantly, does your foot strike change as your pace changes?
I suspect some of my readers will love this and others won’t.
The actual title is: Free Your Feet – Why Running Shoes Do More Harm Than Good
It starts out like this.
Since you were a baby, you’ve worn shoes. You might remember your first Nikes or Adidas, too: a nice thick sole with padding up to the base of the ankle. In a few remote parts of the world, though, nobody ever wears shoes, and evidence shows they’re in much better shape because of it.
I received an email from one of the creators of this work and was intrigued. It’s done by people at XRayTechnician Schools.net. Melanie wrote me and said,
I work with a team of designers and researchers who have put together a graphic that talks about how running shoes do more harm than good.
The image below is taken from the start of their work.
Here’s the link to see the full screen. You have to go to the Free Your Feet webpage on their website because the image is long and cannot be easily embedded inside a blog post.
They make some good points: 9 out of 10 runners sustain injuries while training for marathons; Achilles tendon blowouts have increased 10% since the 1970s; and then states facts about common injuries caused by traditional running shoes.
Are they right?
Again, here’s the link: Free Your Feet webpage. Go to the link and read it through. Then come back here and comment on what you think.
I think they have made a great graphic that draws attention to a problem that some people want to ignore. Importantly, they also draw the conclusion that many runners are interested in transitioning to minimalist shoes and even barefoot running – and need to do so gradually.
Having worked in a number of hospital settings, including emergency rooms and trauma centers, I have a great deal of respect foe X-Ray technicians. They know their stuff. My bet is they decided to take on this controversial subject and see what they could show. They work in a setting where they see X-rays of feet, knees, and hips, and take X-rays of many people where they see things we don’t get to see. I think they have done a fine job.
Thank you Melanie and your fellow X-Ray technicians. The full graphic is credited to the XRayTechnicianSchools.net.
Source: SportsOneSource Media
According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder, running shoes make running physiologically easier than going barefoot. The study, published online in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, began by recruiting 12 well-trained male runners with extensive barefoot running experience.
The New York Times indicated that a few previous studies have indicated that it’s easier to go barefoot in terms of physiological effort since more effort is required to handle the extra weight of a shoe.
In the new study, runners were asked to run multiple times on treadmills while either wearing shoes (the Nike Mayfly at 150 grams) or unshod. When unshod, runners wore thin yoga socks to protect them from developing blisters and for hygiene purposes for the treadmills. Next, according to the Times’ article, 150 grams’ worth of thin lead strips were taped to the top of runners’ stockinged feet. Adding an equal amount of weight to the bare foot promised to reveal whether barefoot running was physiologically more efficient than wearing shoes.
Researchers found that when barefoot runners and shod runners carried the same weight on their feet, barefoot running used almost 4 percent more energy during every step than running in shoes.
“What we found was that there seem to be adaptations that occur during the running stride that can make wearing shoes metabolically less costly,” Jason R. Franz, a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado who led the study, told the Times. The researchers believe that when barefoot, forces generated by the collision of food and ground shift to the leg muscles absent the cushioning provided by shoes.
Moreover, the study found that even when unweighted barefoot running was compared foot-to-foot with running in the Mayflies, 8 of the 12 runners were slightly more efficient wearing shoes, even though they added more weight.
The study only looked only at the metabolic efficiency of wearing shoes, versus not. The scientists didn’t evaluate whether barefoot running lowers injury risk.
The Times article concluded, that “serious racers might want to mull over the trade-off between having less mass on their feet when barefoot versus having greater potential strain on their leg muscles.”
But for the average runner, Dr. Franz recommends that a more lightweight model might be better for many given that some cushioning spare leg muscles from extra train yet avoids the metabolic cost to wearing heavy running shoes.
Related Links: Making the Case for Running Shoes
I subscribe to the Pedorthic Newswire newsletter. It is useful to keep me in the know about trends in the footwear industry from a pedorthist’s perspective. Here’s my description about Pedorthist in Fixing Your Feet:
Pedorthists work with the design, manufacture, fit, and modification of shoes, boots, and other footwear. Pedorthists are board certified (C.Ped) to provide prescription footwear and related devices. They will evaluate, fit, and modify all types of footwear. A C. Ped. can help find a shoe built on a last (the form over which a shoe is constructed) that best matches a person’s feet, and then construct a custom orthotic that meets his or her particular biomechanical needs and interfaces with the shoe in a way that improves its fit and performance.
In the June 1, 2011, issue of the Pedorthic Newswire, there were six answers to a question posed by a pedorthist. Here’s the question.
Question: I am seeing a lot of patients who are runners, wearing shoes like the Nike Free and New Balance Minumus. For many of these people, these shoes are completely inappropriate and actually causing problems, yet they insist on wearing them. Is anyone else encountering this and how are you handling it?
Now for an explanation about the answers. The first five are from pedorthists. They may or may not be experienced in working with athletes. But they know footwear and physical problems caused by wrong or bad footwear.
Response #1: We have also been seeing a great number of these athletes, as well as those wearing toning footwear that has been well marketed to the populous without consideration of the individual’s biomechanical needs. Video gait analysis has often been the answer. A talking head is quickly muted, and often overpowered, by marketing genius – however the visual of a flexible pes planus (flat feet) with huge torque through propulsion (and the resultant deformation of the foot and ankle in the patient’s eyes) is often the proof one needs to sway their opinion. For the blue Kool-aid runner who insists on wearing minimalist footwear in spite of their biomechanical challenges, assisting them with their training regime, or referring them on to someone who can, may be beneficial. Limiting their use to shorter runs could be suggested, and will keep them in the cool crowd.
Response #2: I would suggest telling your patients to try a pair of the Five Finger shoes or go barefoot when running. This exercises the feet and allows a more natural running gait. We have seen in our practice that most running shoes, including the Nike Frees, give too much support and cause many tendonitis and fasciitis problems. If your runners usually run 6 or 7 days a week, have them run barefoot about 5 days and wear shoes only once a week for their long run.
Response #3: I like to take some history first. Usually, if we are seeing them, it’s because they are symptomatic in some way. The best approach is not to “attack” the shoe choice right away. Ask about the type of symptoms, the timeline, and what shoes they wore before and during their symptoms. As we know, runners can be some of the most challenging patients as far as treating them “between the ears.”
Some runners will listen, while others will kill themselves with a shoe if some expert, book or coach told them they were the best shoe for them. No shoe or style is a silver bullet for everyone. Unfortunately, like unstable toning shoes, minimal shoes are being presented as a great shoe for a large number of people. I use the eyeglass analogy. If I passed out 100 pairs of 1.75 corrective reading glasses to random people, I would get similar results. A certain percentage would have great results. Others would have marginal results. There would also be a given percentage that would have poor to awful results.
The good thing about eyecare is they have a standardized system of measuring and fabricating that doesn’t exist in our field. Some runners have the flexibility and biomechanics that allow them to adapt to minimal shoes. I may be over-simplifying it, but I chalk that up more to how they picked their parents and their DNA. On the other hand, some runners lack the ability to adapt to those shoes and that style of running. It’s also possible that some of the runners reporting amazing results could have simply been “over-shod.” Not bashing anyone, but about 90% of the runners I see who had an expert evaluate them, are in moderate to heavy pronation control shoes.
My experience with symptomatic runners shows that many of them should actually be in a neutral shoe. Perhaps these minimal shoes are nothing more than getting them closer (by default) to their actual prescription? If the runner is clearly doing harm with a minimal shoe, I ask them in a nice way why they are using them and what they are trying to achieve. Some responses make sense, but often it’s not a very valid reason, especially if it could be contributing to their symptoms. Again, runners can be quirky, so I rarely tell them something they are doing is terrible. If they are smart, they will put 2 and 2 together and make the right choice.
You can also wean a runner on or off those shoes (if they aren’t sure about them, or they are having poor results). One option is to suggest a traditional neutral cushion shoe instead. Some runners become symptomatic in a pronation control shoe with 250 miles on it. Imagine what can happen going from that to a minimal shoe, and one can see how some runners have awful results using these shoes. For the ones who are stubborn, I don’t lose breath arguing or trying to prove how smart I am. You will gain nothing by engaging in a circular debate with them. Wish them luck, and tell them to feel free to contact you if they develop any problems.
Response #4: I wonder what you mean by “inappropriate,” and what problems they are causing. I think the running shoe manufacturers have injured an entire generation of runners by claiming cushioned shoes with elevated heels will propel you further and faster. My personal experience with minimal running shoes is that there is far less internal rotation on the tibia and excessive pronation when you reduce the heel height and softness of the shoe. The acceleration of the foot moving to foot flat caused by heavy heel striking is likely the cause. I agree with Christopher McDougal (Born to Run fame) that the shoe manufacturers are to blame for most of the injuries in the sport. BTW, I do use orthotics in my minimal running shoes.
Response #5: I have been in the footwear industry for close to 30 years, and have seen the “barefoot” versus running shoe debate raised several times. Back during the beginning of the first running boon in the 1970s, only skinny ectomorophic types like myself, too small for football, were destined to be runners. The were plenty of plimsoll shoes to provide the protection needed for our sport of running. The 1970s running boom inspired by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, aerobic fitness studies, and the international success of American distance runners such as Frank Shorter and Jeff Galloway, drew “less gifted” participants into the sport of running. Back then, we egotistical runners referred to them as joggers. However, there was a need to develop running shoes to accommodate to protective needs of the rapidly diversifying running population. The choice materiea during those days was sheet stock EVA. It was light weight, and provided a blend of cushioning but rapid compression under repetitive loads. The only reason that the 24mm heel to 12mm forefoot ratio was deemed optimal was to alleviate Achilles tendinitis, and knowledge that the material compressed close to 50% under impact loads typically experienced during foot strike during running.
The current minimalist running craze has me equally concerned. While I do advocate some barefoot running to help strengthen and “awaken” the intrinsic musculature of the foot and lower leg, minimalistic footwear only addresses about 10% of the running population. Today’s average runner maybe more athletically gifted, but there are also mesomorphic types who have participated in other sports and are entering the sport for the first time in their 20s and 30s. Minimal footwear does not offer sufficient protection for average larger framed runners. In our Lab we have found that running barefoot does effect footstrike by increasing the angle of plantarflexion at the ankle joint, however there is no evidence that changing footstrike pattern will reduce injury. In fact, we are hearing of more metatarsal stress fractures from runners attempting to adapt to minimalist footwear. Minimalistic footwear has always existed; we called them racing flats. How many average runners can successfully train in racing flats without experiencing injury? A strong voice from the foot care and Sports Medicine professions is needed to tame this fad. Run Healthy!
Response #6: The minimalist footwear movement has traction, and is not going away anytime soon. Many athletes, runners especially, are eager to try these new shoes in the hope it will improve their race times, or simply help them “feel” the trail. For some of these athletes, the shoes work. For others, they cause problems. Most of the time, it is because they buy the new minimalist shoes and try to run the same miles they ran in their older, heavier, and more supportive shoes. Occasionally, there are people who buy the shoes because they want to start running. For all these folks, reducing mileage and starting slow is the best advice you can give. Almost like starting over. You’re right, they see others doing it and read about the movement everywhere, and so of course it will be OK for them. And they are not going to stop.
Many shoe companies are adding a minimalist shoe(s) to their line. New companies are starting up with footwear that may be fine for walking – but not for running. Yet runners see these new shoes and figure less is better so they can run naturally and have a better feel for the earth. Again, reducing mileage and starting slow is the best advice, and to be attentive for possible injuries. And of course, educate them on the warning signs of possible injuries. If you have the opportunity to do a gait analysis, it would be helpful. Last summer I provided foot care at a six-day stage race where a runner ran 115 trail miles in the Colorado Rockies in Vibram Five Fingers. He did fine because he had a high base mileage as conditioning. His feet were in better shape at the end than many runners who wore “normal’ supportive and cushioned shoes.
My response was #6. Could you tell? What are your thoughts?
If you are into Vibram FiveFingers or any of the new minimalist shoes, you owe it to yourself to check out the website BirthdayShoes.com.
I consider BirthdayShoes to be the best informational website on the subject. It is very up-to-date as new shoes are released. In the month of March alone, they reviewed the:
- Nike Zoom Waffle Racer IV
- Merrell BarefootTrail Glove
- Vibram FiveFingers TrekSport
- New Balance NB Minimus
- Fila Skele-Toes Four Toed Shoes
While the main focus is on FiveFingers, they are fair in their reviews. The “Guides” section offers a wealth of information on resources, reviews, how to’s, frequently asked questions, and modifications and repairs.
If you wear FiveFingers, are thinking about getting a pair, or are interested in minimalist shoes, BirthdayShoes.com is a website to bookmark.
The Vibram FiveFingers are so popular they I guess it had to happen. Fake ones are being sold. Here is an email I received from BarefootRunningShoes.org.
“If you were considering buying Vibram FiveFinger shoes and haven’t yet done so we just wanted to let you know that quite a few copycat/counterfeit FiveFinger shoe manufacturer’s have popped up selling their own versions of the popular line of barefoot shoes. While these fake versions might be cheaper often they are not made with the same materials and hence the quality is not as good (meaning they’ll probably fall apart soon after you purchase and use them). The other risk when buying these FakeFinger shoes is that you might end up giving your credit card information to less upstanding citizens.”
Here’s the link to learn more about their recent blog post about Fake Vibram FiveFinger Shoes. On the site, I read the following, “Not only are other companies copying their trademarked style, but many of these companies (which happen to be Chinese in origin) are just outright pretending to be the Vibram! They are making their own fake versions; putting Vibram’s logos on them, using the same shoe names, and flooding the market with their Vibram FakeFinger shoes.” They even list 25 websites where the fakes are sold.
If you decide to buy a pair of shoes online, shop carefully.
BarefootRunningShoes.org offers regular emails on a variety of minimalist shoes including reviews, how to make modifications, tops, and more. Check them out.
These Vibram FiveFingers changed my life!
This simple statement caught my attention last weekend while spending six days at a writers’ conference near Santa Crux, California. The lady showing me her footwear discovery was about 70 years old. She told me how as a child she injured both heels and had struggled with bad footwear and could not run – even walking hurt.
Then she found Vibram FiveFingers. Now she runs and recently finished a 5KM race. She showed me how she runs on the balls of her feet. A conferee had asked me a question about her feet and I told her she needed to talk to the lady with the FiveFingers. They talked quite a while and she came away eager to check out her running store when she got home – our Internet search shows they carry the FiveFinger.
I read an email from a member of a listserv. He said, “My calves and glutes hurt like hell, but that’ll pass. My gait has also changed; fore- or mid-foot strike instead of heel strike.”
While Vibram FiveFingers are not for everyone, they are working for a huge number of athletes.
Have you tried them yet?
When I posted the piece the other day about going barefoot I remembered a great new footwear that was important to tell readers about. I saw these last summer at the Outdoors Show in Salt Lake City and I almost missed them because they seemed strange. But, they are the right footwear for those wanting a barefoot experience but also wanting to protect their feet.
FiveFingers is the first and only footwear to offer the exhilarating freedom of going barefoot—with the protection and surefooted grip of a Vibram sole. These are great for those wanting the feeling of going barefoot—with protection. Toss them in your backpack for walking around camp after a day of hiking. Use them for walking, running, hiking, boating, kayaking, canoeing, canyoneering, coastal approach, and after-sport recovery.
FiveFinger gives you a gecko-like grip on slippery surfaces. They protect your tender feet from scorching sand and sharp rocks. They allow you to go barefoot—without leaving yourself exposed.
The Fivefingers Web site says, You were born barefoot and FiveFingers encourages you to walk that way. With little to them, they enhance your natural walking motion, gently spreading your toes to strengthen foot muscles, increase your range of motion, and improve general foot health. The muscles in the feet and lower legs are stimulated for greater balance, agility and strength. Because you are more aware of how you walk and your stride, they help straighten your spine, improves posture, and reduces lower back pain.
If you have any doubts about how durable they are, check out the Web site of Barefoot Ted. He typically runs marathons barefoot. Lately, he has used Fivefingers for the LA and Boston marathons. Here is his Boston photo. For those who don’t know the distance, that’s 26.2 miles of asphalt in Fivefingers. If they can hold up to that, they will work for whatever you toss at them. He gives a good report on how Fivefingers worked for him.
I plan on picking up a pair this summer. They look like fun. On the Fivefingers Web site the price is $70.00 and they are available in a variety of colors. Still not convinced? Here are to more Web sites with reviews. The first is Meraner Land and the second is from a site called I.D.
FiveFingers footwear was the brainchild of industrial designer Robert Fliri. He proposed the idea to Marco Bramani, grandson of Vibram founder Vitale Bramani, who invented the first rubber soles used on mountaineering boots in 1936.