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Friday, March 19, 2010

Barefoot running and shoes Part 5

Barefoot running and shoes - the Q & A Part 5

This is the final installment of the Q & A on barefoot running vs shoes.  I'm sure next week will bring further discussion and probably a post or two on unanswered questions, but the interview done earlier this year with Run2Day is at an end.  A short post today, and some practical applications, which are my suggestion for how barefoot running would be introduced into running to avoid the very likely overload on the calves and Achilles tendons early on.

What's struck me most in this discussion, apart from that it's so passionately debated (which we knew before the series began) is how large the range of approaches to the subject is.  There are biomechanical angles, historical angles (the Roman army features as protagonists), anthropological angles, economic perspectives, evolutionary arguments, and so on.  Many of which support running barefoot, many which do not.  So thank you for educating me on those topics.

I think it's safe to say that there is no obvious answer, as is the case for many questions.  But it's an intriguing debate, and it will be interesting to track how the 'movement' progresses in the next few years.  What would be really cool, for example, would be to track the sale of Vibrams across the US to see how the consumer responds to all this information, because the surest test  of whether it works will be resale of Vibrams - if people buy the third and fourth pair, then they've converted.

Anyway, here goes with the final few questions.

14. Do you have any news on innovations or research related to this subject which you’d like to share with us?

Not so much an innovation, but a concept that I think is also important for understanding why running barefoot might reduce injury risk. We have heard so often in this series, and elsewhere, that people who switch to barefoot running find that they can run injury free. We look at biomechanics as the explanation for this, when in fact the more simple answer is right in front of us.

That is, if you run barefoot, your training volume is limited by what your feet allow you to do. For example, if you take two runners, equally untrained and with equal risk of injury, and you give one of them a pair of shoes and the other runs barefoot, I guarantee you that the barefoot runner will do LESS training in the first month than the runner in shoes. Why? Because his feet will hurt, his calves will be much stiffer, his ankles will hurt, and his distances, which he can select for himself, will be cut down substantially.

The runner in shoes, on the other hand, has only a stiffness barrier to overcome. He is stiff for a day or two after this first run, but that soon disappears, and then he can increase the distance without restraint. Pretty soon, he’s doing 4 or 5 runs a week, total of 50 km a week, which may be too much, too soon. His barefoot companion, however, has been forced to increase much more gradually. He also gravitates towards softer surfaces, offering more variety in landing type.

The guy likely to get injured in the above scenario is the shod runner. And so when you read testimonies from people who have thrown away their shoes and run barefoot and they proclaim that being barefoot has cured all their injury concerns, you need to ask very seriously – was it being barefoot that sorted out their injury, or did being barefoot alter their training, which sorted out their injuries?

This is why the only “perfect” study that will prove (to me, anyway), the benefit of running barefoot, is a study that forms three groups. All runners must have identical histories, demographics, injury risks (there goes the study right away, of course. But within reason, this is doable). Group 1 gets shoes and chooses their own training volumes. Group 2 runs barefoot and chooses their own training based on feedback and their perceptions around pain and recovery. Group 3 is in shoes, but they run according to a very conservative programme, which increases their distance by about the same amount as the barefoot group would select by themselves. This controls for self-selected increases in workrate.

In the short term, the rates will not be different. Yes, there is a long-term consideration and that is why this study would have to continue for at least a year, probably more. I honestly don’t know what would be found if this is done. But to address the common perception that being barefoot is a ‘cure’ for injuries, you have to question whether it’s a consequence of the impact on training volume.

I cannot stress enough that the reason for injury is training, which brings us full circle and back to the study of van Gent. Shoes, running technique and so forth are factors, yes, but the only factor that is KNOWN to cause injury is training too long, too hard, too soon (or combinations of the three). And so when you approach this debate on shoes vs barefoot and injuries, it’s vital to bear this in mind – training is key and any runner who trains at the right level for their history and circumstances (this is where strength, flexibility, stability come into it), will not get injured.

15. With all research in mind, what would you opt for: choosing either barefoot or padded running (for maximum adaptation to one style) or choosing a mixed training (to keep the body alert to changes and train different groups of muscles)?

Mixed training, without a doubt. Again, hypothetically speaking, if you took a group of runners and you attempted to put them all on a barefoot programme, I would put forward that a third of them will pick up a limiting injury within 3 weeks. A calf or Achilles injury, most probably. They’ve probably overdone the limit and trained too much, of course, but their failure is a training one, and it’s for this reason that Daniel Lieberman, and others are trying so hard to advocate a prudent approach to training.

The irony is that even podiatrists are not against the idea of barefoot running. At least, not the ones I know of. But they’re just adopting a cautious approach, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, and they recognize that one approach does not fit all.

However, if the return to barefoot is managed very carefully, with short distances, and infrequent runs, then it would be possible to see positive outcomes. And I’d even say this is desirable. Barefoot running does affect running mechanics, and I believe it affects them positively. It’s also a lot of fun – I’ve got two pairs of Vibrams and I run in them once a week and it’s really very enjoyable, a different feeling and a stimulating way to train. Having started out with slow, and very short running, I’ve been able to build the distance to the point where I can finish normal sessions. But it’s been 6 months and my soleus muscle still hurts the day or two afterwards, and I can’t imagine being more conservative with how I’ve increased the volume of training. Therefore, I view barefoot running as a training tool, with mechanical and muscular benefits, but I can’t, at this stage, see the feasibility of going all the way to half marathons in Vibrams. Lightweight shoes, yes, but not all the way. And that’s fine, just as it is for a few other runners who I’ve advised on the same thing.

In terms of applying this to training, conservative is key. My advice would be that if you’re keen on barefoot running, you limit it to once a week at first, and you limit the length of each run to 50% of your normal distance, and you break it up into intervals of about 5% with walking between.

For example, if your average run is 60 minutes, then my advice is that you head out for 30 minutes, but that you run for 2 minutes, walk for 1 minute, 10 times. At least for the first few week or two, and then gradually increase the running from there, if you feel your feet, ankle and calves are up to it.

16. Conclusion: Barefoot running/Natural Running: Religion or Ratio?   

Ratio, given those two options. The neutral view is likely the best and most accurate one in this particular debate. The shoe industry made the error of positioning itself as the “solve-all” for runners when it said that it would reduce injury risk. I wasn’t around at the time, but I’d be willing to be that in the 1990s, if you didn’t have the latest gadget or gizmo on your shoe, along with rather large cushioning, your running was doomed to failure…We’ve looked at evidence to the contrary in the last few posts. So I think it’s important not make the same error now and dismiss out of hand what many runners have succeeded with.

It’s very easy to point to high injury risks of runners (60 to 70%) and say that shoes don’t help these runners. But there’s no control group, and one might equally argue that it’s incredible that the injury rate is not higher than 70%. As I said yesterday, we are a desk-bound society, which is inactive as children and which takes to a 60 minute a day run on unforgiving surfaces as though we expect our bodies to handle it. We carry with us years of “neglect” and weakness is stabilizing muscle groups, and we pay little attention to training strength. We also recklessly increase training volume, and yet are surprised when we pick up injuries (I myself am just as guilty of this!). And then we find the culprit – the shoe!

Balance is key. There are people who may not be able to run barefoot, however slowly they increase their volumes. There are people who find that they can. Perhaps some day everyone will be running barefoot or in lightweight shoes, who knows? But right now, with the sum of the available evidence, I’m happy to say that barefoot running is a great way to train, it’s different and stimulating and offers many mechanical benefits, but like most things, generalizing will wrongly influence too many people for it to be dogma.

Looking ahead

As I said, next week will probably see some more discussion on the topic.  I'm in Hong Kong for the next Sevens tournament, maybe it's time to do a little bit of rugby science posting to pass the last week of the tour.  And the marathon season is slowly approaching, which promises to provide a lot of discussion and interesting analysis, so that's something to look forward to!

Ross

39 Comments:

Tuck said...

Vibram sales:

"Sales of minimalist shoes, while still tiny, are growing at a rapid clip. Mr. Clark figures that he will sell 70,000 pairs of minimal shoes this year, double last year’s volume. The shoes have sold mostly online and through 10 Terra Plana stores worldwide.

"Vibram says sales of its FiveFingers have tripled every year since they were introduced in 2006, and Mr. Post said he expects revenue of $10 million this year in North America alone."

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/30/business/30shoe.html?pagewanted=all

Tuck said...

"And so when you approach this debate on shoes vs barefoot and injuries, it’s vital to bear this in mind – training is key and any runner who trains at the right level for their history and circumstances (this is where strength, flexibility, stability come into it), will not get injured."

Hah, too funny. Unfortunately, no--one knows what the right level for a given runner is. Ask two professionals and you'll get two different answers.

Thanks for doing this series, it was very informative and obviously sparked a lively debate.

I will note that if you're still getting sore in the soleus muscles you're likely keeping your weight too much on your forefoot. You need to relax your feet and let the heel kiss the ground. This will take the load off the muscles that you're finding are sore, and allow you to run more comfortably. Relaxing your feet will also allow you to run over rougher surfaces more easily. This is one of the most common issues barefoot-style runners confront.

I've been running in Vibrams and other minimalist shoes since last June. What I find the most surprising about it is that I am able to do long runs and, at the end, feel like I could go do another run. Picking up the speed will give me sore calves, but other than that, what's remarkable about most of my training runs is that I just feel great afterward. No soreness, no more shin splints, no more achey joints.

It's really been wonderful. Now that winter is over on this side of the globe I'm looking forward to adding in barefoot miles as well.

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

So what is the injury rate in 3rd world barefoot countries?

Bad hips?
Bad Knees?
Arthritis?
Plantar Fasciitis?

Thanks for looking into a question
that is very complex to say the least.

Lots of interesting comments.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Tuck

Thanks for the info on the Vibrams. I expect that this big increase in sales will continue for a little longer, but it's always dangerous to look at percentage increases in new business. A doubling in sales could mean going from 10 shoes to 20!

I certainly do see big growth there - in fact, I enquired about importing the Vibrams to South Africa, because it's pretty obvious that the sector will grow. The acid test will be whether it's growing in 2014, and its market share among runners.

That will tell whether people are returning to them. I think first-time sales are often curiosity, the key is re-uptake and "loyalty". Then the next step will be to cut into the Nike/Adidas/NB market - if a runner (who is notoriously loyal to shoes) switches, then it's entrenched.

This will be intriguing to track.

Ross

Tim Butterfield said...

If done gently enough, the 'perfect' study may need to have an extensive duration to show the actual results. The Lieberman study shows additional impact stresses for shod runners. But, a healthy person may be able to withstand that additional stress for an extended period of time. Therefore, not being injured during a shod study would not necessarily indicate a non-negative result. The resulting stresses incurred from running shod may not become apparent for years. If this is possible, fore/mid-foot vs heel strike and shod vs minimal/barefoot becomes risk management, reducing the impacts now that may be felt in later years. How would such a study measure cumulative effects that are not readily apparent?

Ben Nephew said...

Although I actually run for Inov-8, which is a big proponent of minimalist shoes, this discussion is almost totally irrelevant to me. I run most of my miles on New England singletrack trails, and running barefoot is really not an option. Yes I've seen videos of guys running downhill on trails. The guys I race with go downhill much faster, and the shoes help. I am interested in minimalist shoes, but the focus there is on finding the best trail shoe. Lightest is definitely not always best on very rugged trails. I've seen people try to descend rocky trails in Nike Zoom XC shoes. It looks like they have broken feet. Too much proprioception on trails can definitely slow you down. You can't totally ignore pain messages firing from the bottom of your feet, and those messages will result in a loss of speed compared to running the same trail in shoes with more protection. My personal opinion is that low, somewhat firm shoes work best on technical trails. It is hard to get consistent, stable foot plants with soft flexible shoes.

My second comment is that overuse tends to be a major issue with most running injuries. I don't know if an increase in barefoot running is going to affect overuse injuries if everyone keeps training on hard, uniform surfaces. I think it would be more beneficial to increase the amount of trail running people do. It's amazing to look back at my logs and see the differences in recovery times following road races vs. trail races, not to mention that my minor issues with IT band tendonitis or soleus tendonitis only flare up with lots of road or indoor track running.

I also would like to make a request for a discussion of the role of hemolysis in barefoot running. Isn't hemolysis on the bottoms of the feet a major factor in anemia? I guess if barefoot training really limits mileage, then this may not be an issue. However, I wonder if people who run high mileage in minimalist shoes are more likely to have issues with anemia?

Gene said...

Ben, I'm not sure if it was here or elsewhere, but someone was mentioning Hubbles, which were apparently designed for rough trail & mountain running: http://www.hokaoneone.com/.

Ross, Thoughtful series. Not being primarily a runner due to a bad knee, I'm not familiar with how or to what degree serious runners use orthotics. When I ran barefoot years ago, it was on the beach (from 13 to 19 I walked and hitchhiked to the beach barefoot 7 miles almost every day during the summer). Taking it a step further, how does barefoot running - true or thin soled - mix with the biomechanical/anatomical need for orothotics?

Ben Greenfield said...

You ever hear of "Tellman Knudson"? He tried to run across the entire USA barefoot.

http://www.tinyurl.com/howtorunbarefoot

aluchko said...

Gene,

As someone with extremely flat feet I'm interested in the same question.

So far I've only been barefooting for about 3 weeks, and for < 5 k at a time. Thus my anecdote is worth even less than usual but I've had no issues so far.

Anonymous said...

Spam warning re Ben's URL for Tellman Knudson's site: do a google search on his name first.

Barefoot Leonardo said...

I agree that barefoot running isn't for everyone. I'm only a recreational runner but, for me, in shoes "too long, too hard, too soon" meant 5 miles/week, barefoot it means 50 miles/week. Barefoot I can do marathons:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fn8Qt-Wuj5Y , in shoes I was struggling with 10Ks.

Anonymous said...

Ben Greenfield: "Tellman Knudson" is a marketing clown / internet scammer and selfmade millionaire. (Also right or wrongfully ? chased by the IRS)

Foremost I'd say he is someone who give the barefoot running community a bad reputation.

I would not pay i dime for his "howtorunbarefoot" course, why? Well first and foremost because he doesn't even know how to run barefoot!

If you watch one of his online video blogs you can see he has terrible form. He lands as if he was wearing shoes, except that his stride is shortened. I'd say he looks typical for how shoed runners looks before they've made a succesful transition to minimalist / barefoot running. An experienced barefoot runner can instantly tell he has _not_ figured out barefoot running.

That he abandoned his own coast-to-coast because of injuries is not at all surprising considering his form.

As always, when there's a new trend there's people trying to make a profit out of it. It unfortunate that mr.Tellman is a clever internet marketing guru who know how to get good search engine hits. His site comes up as no. 3 on google when you search "How to run barefoot"! which I think is very sad because he makes a disservice to a lot of people.

http://www.rutlandherald.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090831/NEWS04/908300390/

http://www.rutlandherald.com/article/BT/20100131/NEWS01/1310350/0/WW2

MichaelMc said...

How many 3rd world recreational runners are there? Exercising for FUN is not a popular passtime in most of those places. Furthermore the most recent study I say suggested runners have a LOWER incidence of bad hips, bad knees and osteoarthritis than non-runners.

On the popularity of barefoot/vibrams, well I own and use some VFF but I don't race in them. I have also failed to see a big surge in other runners racing in them. I see the odd one, but if they are a speed advantage I'd think I'd be seeing some by now. Bare feet/VFF have the clear advantage of being light.

Good points, Ben Nephew. At some point reduction in impact might take away from efficiency, so this could present a limiting factor.

Excellent series, guys!

Dr. Joseph Froncioni said...

Jonathan & Ross, thank you so much for the wonderful series of articles on barefoot vs the shoe. I admire your very objective approach and I look forward to your inevitable continued attention to this hot topic. You may remember the article I published on this ( http://www.quickswood.com/my_weblog/2006/08/athletic_footwe.html#more ) now some 13 years ago. The article was met with scorn and ridicule in both running and professional circles. Somehow, I have the feeling I might get the last laugh. I would also encourage readers to visit Dr. Steven Robbins' site ( http://www.stevenrobbinsmd.com/ ) as he has been publishing pioneering work on this since 1987! All of his publications as well as much of Marti's work can be found here as pdfs.
Once again, great work guys!

Clyde said...

In case it hasn't been mentioned yet, the Tarahumara who won the Copper Canyon Ultra this year did so wearing shoes. In the previous 2 years, he came in 14th place while wearing sandals.

http://www.eldiariodechihuahua.com.mx/notas.php?IDNOTA=187729

Clyde said...

Also here's a new study showing higher impact forces with less cushioning in shoes.

http://www.jssm.org/vol9/n1/21/v9n1-21text.php

lmagee said...

Thanks for a great series of articles on a fascinating area. From personal trial-and-error, I'd like to add several further anecdotal comments.

Ross has rightly suggested gradual and careful introduction of barefoot running into an existing training regime. Once accustomed to regular barefoot running, I've found it very helpful within a competitive running program in the following specific cases:

(a) transitional injury recovery (where of course the injury is not *caused* by barefoot running) - somewhere between normal shod running and water running;
(b) calibrated interval training, when intense running on a track is proving too physically stressful;
(c) alternate/recovery sessions when training twice a day;
(d) offsetting potential repetitive stress injury build-up; and
(e) as part of a gentle warm-down routine

For someone training heavily – 100 miles a week – I like to have around 15-20% composed of bare foot running. Since I've been able to incorporate it into a training program – quite gradually – I've found it helps to reduce particular kinds of injuries, and also to speed up recovery into a full training load (perhaps its major benefit, from my point of view).

As others have noted, the change in surface (I only run on grass) and technique (shorter strides, seemingly less impact) goes some way towards explaining how barefoot running can both strengthen various muscle groups and reduce certain kinds of niggles or “proto-injuries” - by allowing just enough variation from a typical gait to promote recovery. I've also found barefoot running a useful environment to experiment with mild stylistic changes – trying increased mid- or front-foot impact for example.

Against wholesale adoption of barefoot running, though – I would agree that factors like weight, flexibility, existing conditioning, stride patterns, availability of suitable surfaces and even psychological motivation are very important to consider. As with any change to a training program, it ought to be gradual – the maxim of no more than 10% increased loading per week would seem to apply here too.

As a methodological aside: it strikes me that rigorous longitudinal testing of barefoot running vs. non-barefoot running will be incredibly difficult to achieve – far too many confounding variables are likely to intrude on any small sample, and I can't imagine who would fund a very large sample. Surely not a shoe company! So I would expect these sorts of questions to provoke further articles, comment and mild religious fervour for some considerable time to come...

Thanks again for an excellent and thought-provoking series.

southofthecliff said...

When I started running barefoot last July, all the debate was very important to me. Now, not so much. I had one very avoidable but bad blister injury that sidelined me for about a month and a half (fortunately during crappy weather) - got it running a half as fast as I could in cold, wet weather. In shoes, the marathon distance seemed like torture. Barefoot, I'm considering ultras.

Maybe I'm not as fast as I could be (although I've smashed all my shod PRs), but I don't care. It feels great, and my feet don't get all sweaty.

Vibram's are shoes. The difference between barefoot and vibram's is greater than the difference between regular shoes and vibram's.

Enjoy,
barefootjosh.com

Howard Gray said...

Really enjoyed the series of posts and think you have held an excellent standpoint with this topic.
I have posted links to these posts on my blog and I hope my readers can benefit from them as much as I have.
Thanks,
Howard
http://pursuitofperformance.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that this blog has been so helpful. I have been on the fence about the whole barefoot running thing for a long while and today bought my first pair of Vibrams. I am very much looking forward to slowly but surely getting into this!! Thanks!

Joe Warne said...

I think its clear that more research is needed in this area, one of the problems with a lot of the information today regarding injury ratings of people in running shoes is that 99% of the world population are currently wearing them.
I.e of-course figures on injuries are going to be up, hopefully as more people over the next few years begin to sample barefoot running we might see some real quantitative data.

But take a look at any evolution theories "Endurance running and the evolution of Homo" Dennis M. Bramble & Daniel E. Lieberman, for example.
We evolved to run for long periods of time in order to survive, we didnt have shoes then but ran for 100's of miles barefoot.
This leads me to suggest that if we do indeed now need shoes to run long distances, there are two reasons 1) our feet have become soft and atrophied, and 2) there is too much tarmac is this world.

Anonymous said...

Joe Warne,
Humans were using sandals and shoes as everyday wear thousands of years before tarmac.

Anonymous said...

Ross, I posted to the Facebook page last year around early summer I believe about this topic. My experience with Vibrams is a very positive one. While i could not tolerate long runs in them, they did contribute to my overall training. I ran 1/4 to 1/2 mile as part of my cool down either barefoot or in Vibrams, I also wore them as regular shoes to go out, "passively strengthening" my feet. I have noticed a distinct difference in my occurrence of shin splints and ankle problems. I did subsidize my training with strengthening exercises, but I believe barefoot running/ training has helped me where noone else could. I am looking forward to the warmer weather where I can wear my Vibrams on a more regular basis.

Joe Warne said...

Ananymous,

Sure, but I dont think over a centimeter of foam, air, or rubber was included in those sandals.
Sandals would have stopped abrasive skin contact but not changed the way the foot moved.

Gene said...

It seems that my comments in an earlier part of this series about how long humans have been using footware was quite understated: at least 40,000 years, not 3500! And, contrary to those who replied that physical evolution hasn't had time to kick in re footware, at least one prominent paleoanthropologist disagrees:

"Earlier evidence for shoe use is based on anatomical changes that may have been created by wearing shoes. Erik Trinkaus has argued that wearing footwear produces physical changes in the toes, and this change is reflected in human feet beginning in the Middle Paleolithic period. Basically, Trinkaus argues that narrow, gracile middle proximal phalanges (toes) compared with fairly robust lower limbs implies "localized mechanical insulation from ground reaction forces during heel-off and toe-off."

He proposes that footwear was used occasionally by archaic Neanderthal and early modern humans in the Middle Paleolithic, and consistently by early modern humans by the middle Upper Paleolithic.

The earliest evidence of this toe morphology noted to date is at the Tianyuan 1 cave site in Fangshan County, China, about 40,000 years ago."

- http://archaeology.about.com/od/fterms/qt/footwear_histor.htm
- Eric Trinkhaus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_Trinkaus
- some graphics (later?):
http://www.shoeinfonet.com/about%20shoes/history/history%20your%20shoes/history%20your%20shoes.htm

Joe Warne, Your argument is an example of Ross' point about how belief in barefoot running becomes ideology: Do you really think early humans traveling or settled in cold, snowy regions walked around in thin-soled sandals?

Tuck said...

"Joe Warne, Your argument is an example of Ross' point about how belief in barefoot running becomes ideology: Do you really think early humans traveling or settled in cold, snowy regions walked around in thin-soled sandals?"

No, they wore thin-soled mukluks. See the eskimos or Otzi the Iceman.

"He wore a bear-skin cap, outer cape and coat made of woven grass and moccasin-type shoes made from deer and bear leather. He stuffed those shoes with moss and grasses, no doubt for insulation and comfort."

http://archaeology.about.com/od/iterms/qt/iceman.htm

The notion that the modern shoe is in any way normal in human history is an example of blind ideology. There's no evidence to support such a belief.

Gene said...

Tuck,
Go back and read the linked article you posted:

"Otzi's clothing included... moccasin-type shoes made from deer and bear leather. He stuffed those shoes with moss and grasses, no doubt for insulation and comfort.

Stuffed. One-haf or 1cm or whatever thickness, I don't know, but a reasonable guess is that it was done for economy of mobility, i.e., the ability to use one pair for multiple conditions. At the same time, weight probably played a factor, since two or more thicknesses of hide start making for heavy feet (and probably wouldn't be the best insulation). The modern shoe argument is a red herring, tho by 3500 years ago I do get the sense that some societies used thicker soles (perhaps the rich?).

Your reply also doesn't speak to the evolutionary point, which appears to render a lot of the barefoot-as-natural argument to be back-to-nature romanticism.

Tuck said...

@Gene, walking around on a bit of grass isn't going to provide much cushioning, it would get tamped down. A leather mocassin is also not going to provide ANY support. I know a number of barefoot runners who do run in them in winter, because they provide a feeling equivalent to barefoot, while protecting the feet from the cold.

I didn't address your "evolutionary" argument because you misinterpreted the study you quote, and I didn't feel like correcting you. The evidence of shoe wearing is from the feet being deformed by the shoes, not from evidence of an evolutionary adaptation to wearing shoes. There's plenty of evidence that shoes deform feet, and plenty of evidence that if you stop wearing shoes, or wear barefoot-style shoes, your feet will go back to a more normal configuration. But some changes to the bone during growth cannot be undone, and this is what the archeologists can see in the record.

This is not "evolution" this is "damage." Archeologists can also tell if you broke a bone, but that doesn't mean that that broken bone scar will be passed on to your children.

Tuck said...

Another update on Vibram sales:

"As we close the first quarter of 2010, we will have shipped 6X as much product as we did last year at this time (which, by the way, was 3X more than the year before). For Q2 we are set up to receive and ship nearly 10X as much product as we did last year. We realize we have a long way to go to satisfy the growing demand, but we want you to know we are doing all that we can (adding staff, adding factories, flying product, and limiting brand expansion) to serve you better, while not sacrificing quality or workmanship."

From their Facebook page.

Mark Boen said...

Perhaps our sock and shoe wearing has deformed our feet from decades of use. If so, shoe deformed feet are now shoe-specialized and perform best wearing shoes. Personally, my feet aren't deformed, they're modified and shoe-specialized.

Philip said...

Hi,

I think this link will be good for you following several wins by Kenyan athletes who were running barefoot.


http://www.nation.co.ke/News/Running%20barefoot%20is%20the%20way%20to%20go%20for%20that%20gold%20/-/1056/889718/-/ps27ysz/-/index.html

Mark said...

Hi Ross,

The barefoot / shoes debate has been interesting and entertaining – thanks for initiating it. Apologies, I have had to split my post in two because I have a fair bit to say on the topic.

I can see at least five misconceptions that seem to add to the fervour and muddy the water as far as the arguments go. The first misconception is the romantic yet patently false notion that man was ‘born to run’. One editor of a local running magazine even went as far as saying that more and more evidence is suggesting that humans are better designed to run than any other living thing on the planet! Nothing could be further from the truth. A cheetah is capable of accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h in three seconds. A pronghorn can run 11 km in 10 minutes at about three quarters of its maximum speed. That is born to run! That is the ultimate running design. Our efforts to run are nothing short of pathetic in comparison (sorry, even you Mr. Bolt and Mr. Tadese). Even if we leave the world champions of the animal world out of the equation, there are very few animals in our national parks that we could outrun. And so it should be, because these animals have evolved into running marvels because their lives depend on it daily. Humans on the other hand have been land animals for the last 400 million years but have only been walking on their hind legs for about the last 1 per cent of this (Richard Dawkins – The Greatest Show on Earth). The evolutionary changes that we have had to undergo to maintain this upright stance have meant that we are still very much a work in progress as far as mobility is concerned. As Richard Dawkins says, after moving around with backbones more-or-less horizontal for hundreds of millions of years, our backs are not taking too kindly to the readjustment forced on them by the last few million. The point is that the ‘natural’ human body is not the perfectly designed running machine some hold it to be. In fact, current design (running upright) is actually what predisposes us to injury, not the fact that we are barefoot or not.

The second misconception is related to the first and is again some Hollywood type notion that the majority of our early ancestors were lean, mean, running machines. The feeling seems to be that if we run barefoot, we can tap into this natural athleticism and run as evolution always meant us to. However, as you pointed out, there were probably only handfuls in each social group who were fast enough and had enough stamina to do the hunting. More tellingly, even those who hunted were not anything that special as runners. In our part of the world, the Bushmen are always portrayed as the epitome of running stamina. However, their prowess in hunting down prey had more to do with their guile, their tracking ability and the fact that they could carry food and water than it had to do with their running. Sure they needed stamina and persistence, but their modus operandi was to wound an animal with a poison tipped spear or arrow, and then track the animal until it basically gave up due to exhaustion, loss of blood and lack of water.

The third misconception is that our current lifestyles and all the advantages of modern urban living (which include shoes) have taken us backwards in terms of running ability. In Part 4 of your series, you mentioned that we were possibly comparing early hunters, the elite of their communities, to our struggling runners and should maybe be comparing them to our elite runners. I don’t think we have to do that. Our struggling runners are pretty much equal to the comparison! The type of running and moving about that these hunters did was not the flat out running required to win a modern marathon - there was resting, walking and crawling involved. In fact pretty much what you see at the Comrades Marathon (crawling included!) where all sorts of ages, shapes and sizes waddle along quite happily for up to twelve hours on only five or six months of a few hours training a week.!

Mark said...

The fourth misconception that many hold with an almost religious conviction is that we, as the human race, can’t come up with a better running design for the human body than nature has come up with over the last few million years. In fact, we can do better than nature, and we already have. Oscar Pistorius has proved this in spectacular fashion. The answer to all our running problems is to amputate both legs below the knee as a child and rather fit artificial limbs as used by those in the disabled Olympics. The gains are immense and the whole shoe debate goes out the window. You get rid of the weak, inefficient and dead-weight calf muscle and Achilles tendon into the bargain! This was obviously said tongue in cheek, but it does illustrate the fact that even given our incomplete knowledge in physics, medicine, biomechanics, physiology and related fields, we can improve on nature.

The fifth misconception goes beyond mere semantics and probably has a more fundamental bearing on the debate than the first four misconceptions do. It is the misconception that shoes cause injuries. We’ve all heard the saying that guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Similarly, a shoe doesn’t cause injuries. People injure themselves, with or without shoes. The shoe is no more than a tool. As with any other tool, it can either be used or abused. It can be very useful or it can cause more problems than it is designed to solve. This all harks back to what you have been promoting for a long time now – look at your training! Runners get injured because they do more than what their bodies are prepared for, not because their bodies have been fooled by something as basic and inert as a shoe. Although the body is not an optimal running machine, there is no doubt that it is exquisitely and unfathomably good at survival, self-protection and adaptability. It is perfectly evolved for this purpose. A simple piece of rubber and fabric is not going to fool it into injuring itself. The only fool in this equation is the runner.

Human runners can be fooled in many ways. They can be fooled into thinking that 8 hours behind a desk, 4 hours in front of the telly and one hour of exercise is a balanced lifestyle; they can be fooled into strengthening some parts of the body and not others; they can be fooled into training too little or training too much; they can be fooled into trying to run too fast for their current conditioning; they can be fooled into thinking completing an event or a series of events is more valuable than overall and long term health; they can fool themselves that being overweight is not a problem if they can still complete marathons or ultras; they can be fooled into the “no pain, no gain” pop-psychology; they can be fooled into thinking that somebody even cares about what they have done or how fast they have done it.

The most telling casualty of our human foolishness is balance. One thing nature can teach us a lot about is balance. Animals need to run pretty far and pretty fast just to stay alive, but even so, they only run as far and as fast as they need to. And this is why you don’t see queues of cheetah and pronghorn at the physiotherapy tables. They can’t afford to waste extra energy or take foolhardy risks that may cause injury because their lives depend on being fit and healthy every day. Humans on the other hand can be extravagant with energy and take risks with their bodies because they have a roof over their heads and food in the refrigerator. So we make it a pastime to try to see where our limits are and to push ourselves to those limits and beyond. The inevitable injury is then the victim of another strictly human characteristic. Blame. Shoes are going to get blamed more often than not because the alternative is to blame yourself or your training and that just won’t do. After all, we are all born runners and our ancestors were all potential Olympic athletes so the problem can’t possibly be with ourselves. It must be the equipment!

aluchko said...

Mark,

Actually I think you have a few misconceptions,

"Perhaps our sock and shoe wearing has deformed our feet from decades of use. If so, shoe deformed feet are now shoe-specialized and perform best wearing shoes."

I don't think feet being deformed is due to the body adapting (like bigger muscles from weight training). Thus it's not necessarily true that there's any shoe specific benefit from the adaption. We may still perform better barefoot, it's even possible undeformed barefoot runner feet do better in shoes than shod runner feet.

"The first misconception is the romantic yet patently false notion that man was ‘born to run’."

You misunderstand the argument. We are very well adapted to run, but though over long distances (we suck at sprinting). The upright design is also great for cooling in Africa where we really can outrun almost anything else on the continent because the 4-leggers overheat.

"The second misconception is related to the first and is again some Hollywood type notion that the majority of our early ancestors were lean, mean, running machines."

Certainly not all but there had to be some barefoot running genes in the pool to keep producing the hunters.

"The third misconception is that our current lifestyles and all the advantages of modern urban living (which include shoes) have taken us backwards in terms of running ability."

Well modern office-dwellers, even with a little running, are still much less active than previous populations.

"The fourth misconception that many hold with an almost religious conviction is that we, as the human race, can’t come up with a better running design for the human body than nature has come up with over the last few million years."

That we can get a better design doesn't mean that current shoes are better for all aspects of running.

"The fifth misconception goes beyond mere semantics and probably has a more fundamental bearing on the debate than the first four misconceptions do. It is the misconception that shoes cause injuries."

I think that Ross has been pretty good at approaching this question with the appropriate scepticism.

Mark Boen said...

For Aaron Luchko:

Aaron, not are Mark's are the same. Please don't lump us all together and respond. It doesn't make you look too smart.

As for your remark to me, you said, "We may still perform better barefoot." I say how??? In a 100m race? In a marathon? Are you referring to speed or some other measure of performance? I believe that after decades of wearing shoes, our feet have been slightly altered, or modified if you will. I also believe that 99% of the time, a shoe wearing runner will break the tape first.

aluchko said...

Mark Boen,

Sorry, I didn't notice the lack of last name.

Note I'm not talking about any specific performance metric, just the effect of how our feet changed in general.

There are three types of ways our feet may have changed

1) Evolution: I think it's been pretty well established that whatever changes have occurred since we started putting things on our feet, our feet have not evolved towards modern running shoes.

2) Adaptation: You lift things all day your muscles get stronger, so you're better at lifting things. Wearing running shoes all day the associated muscles will get stronger, how big an effect this is I don't know. (Note that bones can even grow stronger depending on usage.)

3) Deformation: Wearing shoes all day causes your feet to deform, possibly ligaments but my guess is the bone structure itself from wearing shoes as a child. The clearest example would be the shoes Chinese women used to wear to get small feet.

The changes from 1 & 2 are both beneficial, evolution is generally beneficial from natural section, and adaptation is beneficial as it's a specific mechanism designed by evolution.

But deformation isn't necessarily beneficial. It might help, but it can also hurt.

In the case of our feet being changed by shoes I think deformation is the culprit, there's probably some adaptation with the muscles and ligaments, but I think it's mostly deformation. And I don't see any reason to assume that deformation is positive in the context of shoes, it could be negative as well.

DoctorOfLove said...

Two observations on a very interesting series of articles and comments

1. The issue re running injuries isn't barefoot versus shod. The real cause of running injuries is that other bane of modern existence: the watch.

To illustrate:

"The first misconception is the romantic yet patently false notion that man was ‘born to run’.

Actually, it appears we are the earth's best long distance runners, especially in daylight and hot weather. We can sweat. Our furry friends cannot.

"A cheetah is capable of accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h in three seconds. A pronghorn can run 11 km in 10 minutes at about three quarters of its maximum speed. That is born to run! That is the ultimate running design. Our efforts to run are nothing short of pathetic in comparison"

The cheetah would be killed by a human with a spear within 30 minutes every time, so long as it was noon and hot. The cheetah would run 100 yards, overheat, lie down panting. The human would jog up. Lather rinse repeat a few times and the cheetah would stroke out. If the cheetah hasn't stoked out yet but refuses to get up, prod it with the spear. In very short order, cheetah burgers. The pronghorn would take a day before stoking out. Animals with fur and panting as a heat removal process have no chance against humans in a foot race, if it is a race to the death in daylight and heat.

Even horses, which do have sweat glands over their bodies, are not faster than humans over long distances: read up on the horse/human marathon held each year in wales - humans have on occasion won it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_versus_Horse_Marathon

What humans cannot do is run fast. What padded shoes do is make it feel like we can run fast. And what watches do is make us want to run fast.

To stop your running injuries, get rid of your watch, and replace it with a pedometer (that has no timer). After you wean yourself off the watch induced pressure hangover for a month or two, you will also notice your injuries disappear. Stop telling people what your times are, and instead tell them how far you went. Switch from timed 10k to untimed 100k.

Timed competition is almost as recent as running shoes (100 years versus 40?). We can debate whether and for how long our ancestors wore shoes, but there is no debate about whether they wore watches. The greeks and the romans did hold competitive foot races (although as a spectacle, not as a daily part of life) but even then, all you knew at the end was whether you were faster than the runners you started with. There were no world records or personal bests.

So ditch the watch.

Can shod runners run faster than barefoot runners? It's similar to the cheetah question, but on a longer time scale. Think 20 years rather than 300 yards. The folks running in padded shoes can run faster, and even for some years, but eventually their knees will go, maybe their hips, whereupon they will see the barefoot runners gaining all that lost ground fast (with spears in their hands). Padded shoe burgers.

2. Barefootish (the duct tape over socks crowd) versus Extreme barefootish (the glass, tetanus, ringworm, hookworm crowd).

I like getting dangerous diseases that are easily avoided by wearing shoes as much as the next guy (and I'm sure our ancestors did too), but still.

There are two differences between pure barefoot running and extremely thin sole shoe running:

- scuffing. You can scuff your feet along the ground with a thin shoe on, and you can't scuff your feet barefoot, or your will soon be bleeding.

Solution? Don't scuff.

- splaying. With no shoes on, your feet splay out completely. With any sort of shoe on, they don't.

Solution? Not perfect, but make sure you shoes (or duct tape) are on as loosely as possible.

Seems a reasonable trade off in exchange for saving all that money on glass removing tweezers and tetanus shots.

dbrandt4 said...

I have run barefoot for over 4 years now. Like most who transition from shod to barefoot running, I did so too quickly, as shown by the blood and water blisters I ran with the first 3 months. The short term solution was to drain the blisters (this kept the outer skin intact), keep the runs short, and press on. It would have been better to have transitioned more slowly, but hindsight, as they say, is 20-20.

Here is a list of my thoughts:

1. The freedom and delight of running barefoot is what keeps me running.

2. The main issue is getting your feet to a place that you can run barefoot. The grass infield of tracks and rubberized track surfaces are a good place to start.

3. Even after 4 years my feet, including soles and muscles, are getting stronger and more capable of running on every surface.

4. I don't run in minimalist shoes because I have noted that my form gets a bit more sloppy when I use them. I did run in the classic FiveFingers briefly as I transitioned to barefoot running and also did a half marathon in them (ouch Achilles!). But I have not run in any form of shoe for nearly 4 years.

5. Everyone mentioned rocks and broken glass and yes, rocks are an annoyance; but fear of broken glass is highly overrated. I generally run on roads, and their surfaces are cleaned by wind, rain, and cars. On any surface, issues are avoided by good eye foot coordination (and running barefoot makes you much more aware of the surface on which you run). But if I know the route, I will even run it at night.

6. In 4 years of running barefoot, the only injury that has prevented me from running for a day or more was a pulled hamstring in 2008.

I'd be happy to discuss barefoot running more with anyone.

Doug Brandt
"Dayton Barefoot Runner" on Facebook

Gene said...

Tuck,
Go back and read the linked article you posted:

"Otzi's clothing included... moccasin-type shoes made from deer and bear leather. He stuffed those shoes with moss and grasses, no doubt for insulation and comfort.

Stuffed. One-haf or 1cm or whatever thickness, I don't know, but a reasonable guess is that it was done for economy of mobility, i.e., the ability to use one pair for multiple conditions. At the same time, weight probably played a factor, since two or more thicknesses of hide start making for heavy feet (and probably wouldn't be the best insulation). The modern shoe argument is a red herring, tho by 3500 years ago I do get the sense that some societies used thicker soles (perhaps the rich?).

Your reply also doesn't speak to the evolutionary point, which appears to render a lot of the barefoot-as-natural argument to be back-to-nature romanticism.