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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Running shoes Part III

Running shoes, barefoot running and muscle tuning: The intelligent biomachine and implications for running

Well, it's been a week and a half, and an interruption of our series on Running Shoes thanks to Gebrselassie's announcements, but I have finally managed to get back to the topic that had caused so much debate and discussion: What is the value of running shoes? Do they cause more problems than they fix, and what is the future of the running shoe industry?

One argument that has been put forward a great deal is that barefoot running is the way to go. Apart from the obvious practical concerns - glass, stones and other objects not meant to be run on by 'soft' feet - I'm not 100% convinced that the knee-jerk reaction in the opposite direction is the way to go either. I know podiatrists who are of the opinion that the sole function of the shoe should be to protect the sole of the foot, which is in line with what we've been discussing, but a more extreme argument.

I'm sure there's merit in that argument, but I wouldn't dare suggest that any reader of this post suddenly switch to barefoot running, or even to lightweight trainers if they've always worn more supportive motion-control shoes - remember, the key to successful training is managing change, and physiologically, you'll pay a hefty price if you make a drastic change like this. Instead, the objective should be to manage the change, aiming to gradually move away from the bulky shoes and into the well-cushioned one. This requires changes in training, possibly strengthening exercises to correct weaknesses and imbalances that predispose to injury, and then the new shoe should work.

However, the debate between barefoot and shoes is nevertheless interesting, so a few interesting discussion points that arise are considered below.

Biomechanics of shoes vs. barefoot

You have no doubt heard, read or experienced that one of the main differences between running in shoes and running barefoot is that when you run barefoot, you tend to land more on the front part of the foot. In contrast, pull on a pair of shoes and you'll land more on the heel. There are of course other differences - barefoot running tends to have a shorter contact time, a shorter flight time, lower impact forces and higher muscle activation in the calf muscles just before landing. You also land with your ankle more "pointed" (called plantar flexion) as opposed to dorsiflexed, or pulled back towards you. But the argument around landing on the heel vs. ball for shoes and barefoot running is one of the more common ones, and certainly less technical!

The "heel-strike" observation forms the basis of many people's arguments for why a forefoot landing is better than a heel-strike. The problem is, people often get trapped by their own logic when discussing this concept. The thought process when it comes to barefoot vs. shoes is often the following:

  1. Barefoot running is natural
  2. When you run barefoot, you tend to land on the ball of the foot, whereas in shoes, you land on the heel
  3. Therefore, landing on the forefoot is "natural" and good, but landing on the heel is unnatural and thus bad.
Apart from the assumptions of what is "good" and "bad" in all this, there is a hidden question that must be answered first:

Why does the body allow the landing to change simply by pulling on a pair of shoes? Or, looked at differently, if you take off your shoes, why do you suddenly land on the ball of the foot?

An intelligent system - changes in mechanics serve a purpose

The answer to this question must be that when you take your shoes off, your body is "intelligent" enough to adjust your landing in order to reduce the loading force and rate. The change in biomechanics thus serves a useful purpose! This is a conclusion made in many studies. For example: "...barefoot running leads to a reduction of impact peak in order to reduce the high mechanical stress occurring during repetitive steps" (Divert et al. Int J Sports Med 2005). This reduction is achieved in part by changing muscle activation (which we'll come back to), as well as altering the biomechanics slightly as described above - lower flight, different ankle position on landing and so forth. The end result is that you land more on the ball of the foot.

Of course, what people often forget is that if it works this way - taking shoes off - then surely it must work the other way, when you put the shoes on? In other words, when you run in shoes, your body is "intelligent" enough to recognize the added cushioning, and so it allows you to land on the heel. There's no reason to suggest this is bad, but applying the same logic used above, it might actually be a beneficial, positive response to wearing shoes - perhaps landing on the heel is the protective, optimized adjustment to running in shoes?

It's never made a great deal of sense to me, but the key is, the body seems quite capable of changing mechanics and even muscle activation in order to reduce impact forces - and this introduces the concept of "muscle tuning".

Muscle tuning - adjusting for impact

The concept of muscle tuning, proposed by Benno Nigg in Calgary, is both new and quite complex. And I'm certainly not a biomechanist, and so the detail and technical explanations are best left out of this discussion! But the concept has some quite important implications, which we'll get to.

First of all though, muscle tuning is the adjustment of muscle activity in response to impact forces, and it ends up minimizing soft-tissue vibrations and joint-loading. Let's step back a little - when you are running, the muscle is activated BEFORE you land in order to prepare the joints and supporting structures for the impact. This muscle activity is called pre-activation and there's actually a good deal of evidence that suggests that performance is influenced by this pre-activation, since it helps to store up elastic energy and make running more efficient. The muscle is then active during the entire stride, after ground contact, to continue to support and control movement of joints.

What Nigg found is that when you run in shoes with a softer or harder midsole, or run at different speeds, you change the impact forces, but the muscle activation simply compensates and you end up experiencing similar soft-tissue vibration. In other words, your body is "intelligent" enough to adjust muscle at different levels to ensure that you don't have excessive joint loading and tissue vibration.

Where this becomes especially relevant is in the application of the theory to orthotics, running shoes, and other shoe inserts. Because this theory is saying that the muscle activity during running will increase as soon as the "preferred" movement is affected. The use of running shoes, for example, which may well alter the movement of joints during running (think anti-pronation shoes here), will then simply produce an increase in muscle activation which now stands to affect the body's "natural" mechanism to regulate joint-loading.

So in effect, the problem with shoes, orthotics and inserts might actually be that they promote an increase in muscle activation, which prevents this "intelligence" from regulating the normal soft-tissue vibration. Nigg suggests that things like orthotics and shoes should reduce the muscle activation in order to be optimal, rather than increasing it by preventing normal movement. Quite how one establishes this outside of a specialized biomechanics lab is a tricky problem, but that's another matter.

How much do all our interventions (and inventions) actually achieve?

The point for the running shoe industry is to recognize that the best efforts of researchers, product developers and (we have to point out) marketing experts, may in fact be trivial by comparison with the remarkable ability of the human body to adapt and respond to "stress", whether that stress is changing running shoes or long term training.

Of course, problems do develop and injuries do happen, and when they do, it's fascinating to wonder whether in fact the cause might be the change that we try to introduce to fix the problem! Is it possible that clever product development, based on theories and concepts, have actually forced the body into a "wrong" response that has increased injury risk in the long term? And is there a chance that if we just left physiology to its own devices, and managed every case individually, we'd be better off?

So to continue the theme of the running shoe, the shift in the industry has without doubt been towards a more "natural" shoe. Of course, they can't sell "barefoot" (that's free!), so the next best thing is to be barefoot in shoes, which is where it's going. Practically, however, the challenge for everyone is to manage that, and not simply leap from one extreme to the next, as mentioned above.

That's it for shoes for a while, we'll no doubt come back to the topic in the future. But next on the agenda is a series on performance, the brain and pacing, which throws up some fascinating questions and hopefully discussion. So join us then!



ultra-aussie said...

Hey guys:
I am a (recreational) marathon and ultra runner and long-course (IM) tri-guy. I have raced in motion control shoes with orthotics, Nike Frees, and now am using the new Newton shoes. I also do some barefoot train once a week. One thing that I think should be considered is the basic physics - you are adding weight to the object in motion (the foot) and causing a change in weight distribution on your feet when you put on a pair of running shoes (or as Gordon Pirie would call them, "orthotic boots"). They are heavily weighted towards the heel. It is very hard to forefoot run when you are wearing the average stability or motion control running shoes because they are so weighted back at the heel and drag the heel down. They force you to heel strike and then don't punish you for it due to the cushioning. What are your thoughts?

Mike Day said...

The longer I run, the less shoe I run in. I'm at the point now where I train and race in the most minimal shoe I can get, essentially flats. I'm in my late 40s and run marathons and longer distances. For years my knees were sore until I realized that striking heel-first transferred impact to my knees. Running in minimal shoes forces one to absorb impact over the entire sole of the foot, concentrating on the forefoot first which is the most elastic part of the foot. I used to think that only "neutral" runners should train in flats, but I think everyone should.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Ultra-aussie

Possibly, the only way to prove it would be to design a shoe that has good cushioning in the heel but without any additional weight.

I must say I'm not 100% convinced that weight in the heel will make much difference, mostly because it's so close to the so-called axis of rotation. All the studies have found that when you run with shoes, your ankle is more dorsiflexed, which suggests more than the adjustment is "active" and not just due to extra weight. In order for the foot to effectively be "rotated" into that position, I suspect the weight would have to be further towards the toes, and so I think it more likely that the body simply recognizes the presence of cushioning and allows the landing because that "MIGHT" be optimal for a shoe-wearing state. The other thing is that the additional weight would also pull the heel down, shortening the stride, which is actually the opposite of what happens - your stride is shorter in barefoot running.

But I'm not sure of the merits of either argument - it's quite possible. I think that the two biggest issue with shoes are that as you're about to land, you don't activate muscle as much (which is why you hit the ground so much harder), and then once you land, the inhibited movement of the foot causes problems.


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Ncultra

Good for you - I agree with you in theory, but the point I made in the post, which is relevant here, is that I don't think that people reading this should be saying "if it worked for him, I should be in racing flats too". Because the "roll-out" period, and the time to adjust to the change in shoe is conveniently forgotten and I suspect many injuries would occur as a result.

I also really do believe that the problem with shoes is NOT heel-striking, it's muscle activation and consequent loading of joints that is altered. I think a lot of people tend to blame the heel-strike for the injuries, when I think that is merely a symptom of what the body is trying to do to adapt to the presence of this enhanced cushioning in the heel. As I said, i suspect that the heel-strike may even be the MOST EFFICIENT landing type when running in shoes, thanks to this "intelligence".

However, where it fails is that the change in muscle activation allows loading of joints. Obviously, this is nitpicking, but I don't think simply heel striking is to blame for problems, but rather the associated changes in muscle activity and joint loading.

But I think where you are now, is probably where people should aspirt to get to - even the shoe companies are going that way, as we've said!


Andrew said...

Ha, that same comment spammer hit my blog, too!

Some questions from a less informed but very intrigued runner:

1) You said the altered muscle activation is due to the cushioning, but could it also be due to the sole geometry? One thing I struggle with is that the sole is much thicker at the heel than the toe, which gives shoes a clunky feel because my heel impacts sooner than it should. Even the supposedly "barefoot" Nike Frees have massive heel pads.

2) I agree that a minimal yet protective sole seems ideal, but how can that be accomplished? A foot in a shoe is free to slide around and thus requires restraint to a sole that can't be too flexible or else it's too soft to protect or last long. Maybe a few layers of duct tape on the bottom of the foot is the answer?

3) What type of surface are human feet designed to run on? One theory I read (sorry, can't remember where) is that humans evolved as semi-aquatic beach-dwellers and that our feet were meant to run on sand. I could certainly buy that; after all, there's no shoe that makes you faster on sand than a bare foot!

Thanks again for another awesome article!

Christos Dimitrakakis said...

One of the reasons for heel-landing when wearing shoes is the fact that the heel height is greater than the forefoot height, by at least one cm. This is a great factor when running on very smooth surfaces. However I noticed that when I run on very rough surfaces I land less on the heel, even with more high-heeled shoes.

ultra-aussie said...

As a follow-up, anyone interested in Gordon Pirie's writings on running shoes should check out his book called "Running Fast and Injury Free" and especially Chapter Three on "Injuries, Technique and Shoes" (available free online) at http://www.gordonpirie.com/. Well worth the read.

Barefoot Ted said...

As a barefoot runner (marathons and ultramarathons), I have definitely benefited from running barefoot.

For protection in situations where protection is necessary, I wear Vibram FiveFinger barefoot shoes which fit the foot like a glove. I am also fascinated by indigenous footwear designs.

I believe the it is important for the toes to flex on separate planes.

Barefooters run more elegantly and lighter it seems. This in-and-of itself is a good thing.

Like all things, start slow and build up slowly. For most people, moving in the direction of minimal or no shoes is a new thing, so don't force it.

Best Regards, Barefoot Ted

The Sentient Runner said...

I believe the typical running shoe forces heel striking in two ways: 1) The shoe immobilizes the foot so it cannot flex properly, i.e. the shoe locks the foot into a position where the heel is encouraged to touch down first. 2) The depth of padding on the heel means the heel is going to touch down first, i.e. the extra heel depth gets "in the way". Attempting to run with a ball-heel action while wearing typical running shoes requires extra effort to force the front of foot down even further than natural to get past the "lump" under the heel, and that unnatural strain invites injury.

So-called minimalist shoes usually address these two "problems" by having more flexible soles and less heel depth.

I am a barefoot runner. I remember back in my shod days that I always laced my shoes so there was little to no strings crossing over the top of my arch. In retrospect, I did this because it allowed the shoe to bend so I could run more on the balls of my feet. Eventually the simplest solution for me was to chuck the shoes entirely (four years ago.)

Vancouver, WA

Anonymous said...

Hi, I need some help:
I have restarted running after a good long break... and now am confused by all this pose/chi/etc... issues.
I picked up some quite lightweight trainers and began running/walking on my forefoot for the last 3 months...it felt good and fast.
So I began to look to treat myself to a decent pair of training shoes, and while in Barcelona, Spain dropped into 2 separate running specialist shops to get a gait analysis and some shoes.
First off the specialist staff, (also dedicated runners), staff in both shops were surprised i had been running in such "un-cushioned" shoes.... I tried many pairs, and finally after being conviced i needed a stable shoe for neutral gait(i am also moderately flat footed)I bought a pair recommended. I went running later that day(on forefoot) and suffered extreme calf cramping that persisted until the next day.
Two days later I went to another specialist shop and was told I was crazy to even consider running on forefoot, that I would ruin my calves an achilles tendons like Gabriel Selasse!!! So i was again convinced and bought a more flexible cushioned pair of shoes...
I have been on one run in them using Heel and midfoot striking.

Both staff in these specialñist shops had not heard of POSE..? And they were analysing gait and selling shoes...
Is forefoot stiking in such a minority group?
Anybody HELP? I feel a bit lost now and unsure how to run, as I could drop back into heel stiking or go the other way.....It was obvious that running on forefoot with shoes designed to heel strike HURTS.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

HI Thorazine

THanks for the mail. I think you have a little bit of a pre-occupation with how your feet are landing. The industry, the Pose advocates, have no doubt told you that you should be landing fore or midfoot, but the reality is that very, very few athletes do this. A recent study showed that as little as 1% of a group of ELITE runners land on the forefoot. 75% are heel strikers.

So my advice is to forget this nonsense about "have to" land anywhere. If you land on the heel, fine. If you land on the forefoot, that's fine too. But the last thing you can worry about is how your foot is landing.

You might want to read these posts:

Pose Running

And then it is a co-incidence that you should have this question now - I am planning to do a full post on heel vs. mid vs. forefoot striking later this week. Depending on my work, it will be on Wednesday or Thursday. So do check in then, I'll analyse the merits and give some advice.


Anonymous said...

Many thanks Ross,
Will look out for future discussions....must say am pleased to find your site and will be returning often. X

Adam said...

I've been running for a little over a year and recently stumbled over this issue of barefoot running. I've been wearing orthodics for about 8 years because I have very flat feet and would get excruciating pain in my legs while playing sports. So now that I'm a runner I wear motion control shoes with my orthodics inside. My question is; are there people who are severely flat footed who have converted to barefoot running? Not that I'm ready to throw out my shoes and orthodics and start running barefoot, but I would really like to reduce my dependency on orthodics and motion control shoes. I can't even walk around my house bareefoot without my calves getting tight. I would just like to know if there are any severely flat footed individuals who have reduced their dependency on orthodics and such...

Anonymous said...

Hullo everyone,

first of all: thanks for a great series of articles! Here are my 2 cents worth ... and a question.

I am recreational runner and have been training systematically for the last two years, competing in longer events (10 km+). I have been told that I have "functional" flat feet, i.e. my feet arch nicely while simply standing, but "squash" to a flat position when I am walking/running. I am sure you have already guessed the solution: custom orthotics. While preparing for my first marathon in the first year, everything went fine with the orthotics (and high-tech anti-pronation shoes). However, after running the marathon I experienced more then the usual post-42.2 k soreness in my feet. I got my feet and orthotics re-examined by an sport-podriatist who was simply amazed that I had not developed pains before: the orthotics I used where way to stiff for running (although I had gotten them for this exact purpose). Following his recommendation, I changed to running in two different pairs of shoes: one "light" pair, which is neutral in correction and a "heavier" pair whith motion control etc. plus a new pair of orthotics (which are very pliable but give a little support under the arch of the foot). Using the light ones for speedwork and the heavy ones for longer runs, I haven´t had my problem re-occur.

Here is the interesting part. I got videoanalyzed while treadmill-running in different models of "light" and "heavy" shoes. With the two pairs I settled for, very little difference in pronation and support appeared on the video - eventhough one pair was simply a light shoe and the other was fitted with the custom orthotics, thick heels and other features for support. Obviously this doesn´t mean anything biomechanically or in terms of other evidence. As a "functional-flatfoot", I do remember being quite amazed that running was possible in such neutral shoes without negative consequences.

In response to Adam, I guess one possible way of approaching the issues is to see how light (i.e. neutral/unsupported/thin) a shoe you can go for without negatively affecting your running performance/strike. In my case, seeing the slow-motion video of my feet hitting the treadmill helped to show whether my feet where landing in a neutral angle.
Once you have your new shoes, I would recommend to introduce wearing them step by step, rather then switching from one pair to another abruptely - "manage change" to paraphrase Ross.

In your case, I would also get a trainer/physiotherapist experienced in working with runners(!) to assess which other training components you might work one - your individual flexibility, muscle strengh and imbalances of muscle groups being three possible candidates.

Now for my question:

Having been training for about 3-4 times a week for the last 2 years, I can now feel a difference in the way I run (well, thank god :-)). I have the feeling that I have more functional strenght (for lack of a better word) in my feet. The faster I go (i.e. speedwork on the track), the more I seem to have a tendency to run using the front of my foot, with little or no contact of my heel. When I began training systematically, I did not notice this difference in "footwork" according to speed. I guess this might be a total noob-observation and question, but what is the current opinion in science on that observation? I seem to recall that some authors state that "the longer the distance, the more of full-foot-strike is used" (i.e. change in distance, change in strike). If I understand correctly, others claim that "a majority of elite sprinters use a full-foot strike" (i.e. change in distance, but strike stays the same). Any thoughts on that? Anybody else had similar experiences in training?

Plus, I am thinking of maybe incorporating this in my training, i.e. aiming to run more on the front of my foot. I have the feeling that doing so increases my reactivity ("spring"), minimizes contact to the ground and improves my form (i.e. knees go up higher, motion is less sloppy). Any thoughts on this idea?

Thanks and keep up the good work with blog - its a great read!



katie b said...

this might be of interest to you:

i have been told by my doctor to start at only 10 minutes of running in these every other day (can be less, but def not more) and the chi running and correct form will come. he swears by them and says since using them (he does all races in normal trainers or flats) has never gotten an injury. he used to have injuries all the time prior so really advocates these to learn proper biomechanics. just something to look into.

LandSurfingPro said...

I run just about everywere I go except for when I need to go somewhere with my wife and kids.
I came from the sport of bicycle road racing and logged over 750,000 miles in that season of my life. I'm 16 mo and 3800 barefoot miles into getting in shape for becoming the first to run 100 miles barefoot. I am going to cross that boundry this year. I've run up to 52 miles in a day and logged several weeks of 125 mpw last fall.
I'm gearing up to cross the 100 mile in a day threshold barefoot for 09.

willvis said...

I am just beginning to run barefoot, and I am loving it. I will probably spring for a pair of Vibram Five Fingers this week, and my neighborhood is mostly running on sidewalk and street, with some nice stretches of grass. I am worried that there will be some glass hiding there in the urban grass. I ran competitively, year-round from age 8 to 18, from about 1972 to 1982, and it was not until I started wearing motion control shoes with a heavily cushioned heel that I began having achilles tendonitis. My last straw with these kinds of shoes came about six months ago when I spent a small fortune on some shoes that my local running shop assured me would help. My achilles tendon got worse and worse. I finally wised up and took a couple of weeks off, icing the area as often as possible and gobbling ibuprofen.

I'm hoping that my short and gentle runs with alternating walks barefoot will help.

I have to say this: it feels great to run and walk barefoot, even on concrete sidewalks. My knees don't seem to feel any difference between barefoot and heavily padded, motion control high ticket Asics shoes.

And yes, I have read Christopher McDougal's "Born To Run" and yes, it has been an inspiration.

Gary Gurney said...

I appreciate your take on the body being "intelligent" enough to adapt to running shoes. Indeed it does. But that does not mean a body is better off with shoes simply because it adapts. Our bodies adapt to staring at screens and typing all day and the health effects have been as devastating as any hard labor on an assembly line. The injuries may be less spectacular, but they are no less debilitating to the body or economically destructive.

My understanding is that padding under the feet creates more stress on the feet and joints because the body will seek stability indstinctively and try to "ground" and so end up pounding hard to compensate for the cushion, thus eliminating any softening.

It seems counter-intuitive, but I think of the study of gymnasts and mat thickness. The thicker the mat, the harder the gymnast would stick his landing, instinctively. Thin mats created softer landings.
This is compelling when we consider that soft shoes create more stress on the joints: hip, knee and ankles. I believe Nike discovered this almost ten years ago and then developed the Free (an utter failure at "barefoot" in my opinion).

It's astonishing to me that human beings continually think we can outsmart nature. How could it be that in less than forty years shoe manufacturers could come up with an improvement on a foot (really a human system) that has been going strong for nearly 2million years?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Gary

Thanks for the comment. You make some good points.

I'll tell you where my thinking has moved onto since this post, which is now pretty old.

I believe that the advantage of running barefoot is sensation from the ground, which in turn allows better activation of muscles in the lower leg. I don't think it has too much to do with impact anymore, but rather to sensing, which is pretty much your point, Gary. So I agree with you.

One thing I do think has happened is that people have become hung up on this whole mid-foot landing thing, as if by landing on the mid-foot, you can reduce the impact and forces. This is not true - all you do is redistribute them. So I don't think the mid-foot movement is right, but I do believe that the drive towards lighter, less bulky shoes is a good one.

So I think it's not a case of shoes creating more stress on the joints. Rather, it's that being barefoot allows the body to handle the stress better, through activation of different muscles in better patterns!


Anonymous said...

I don't know about the intelligent body adjusting for shoes. When I used to have horses, horse shoes are modified to correct gait problems. The idea is fly to weight and land to height. Maybe that's what happens when people put shoes on.

andypalmer said...

From what litle I know heres my view on things. I'm in my 40's and have been competitively and recreationaly running since my late teens (used to run approx. 20 miles /day & have remain injury free), I always used to fore foot strike (whatever shoes I was wearing) and then about 20yrs ago someone told me that i should always run 'heel to toe' for maximum impact absorbtion especially down hill, fortunately for me I never did as I was told and from what I have learnt about biomechanics and functional therapy since then as demonstrated as nearly always is that if something feels right then it generally is right.

Running with a heel strike transfers the energy through the skeletal frame & joints whereas forefoot strikers transfer the load through the muscles thereby minimising the risk of joint damage.

As for switching muscles on before they hit the ground, I have great difficulty grasping this notion as I thought proprioceptors in muscles are switched on by movement and there is no movement (minimal) in the sole prior to impact. Muscle aren't intelligent and therefore react to forces / loadings applied i.e. ground reaction (I understand the notion of going to lift a heavy box only to find it is empty and recruiting more motor neurons than neccessary, but thats a different concept).

I believe running bare foot is certainly better for you (avoiding obvious harsh surfaces) as it not only improves the range of movement in the foot joints and the stability of the ankle joint (by greater activation of muscles, tendon and ligament proprioceptors - they all get stronger when stressed). It also allows the correct function of the foot to occur i.e. the arch to collapse as the foot strikes and pronates - providing natural shock absorbtion & muscle activation. NB: If you are have to wear orthodics in your shoes they need to be soft enough to replicate the arch collapsing or you will end up with problems further up your legs!

Unknown said...

yea i really enjoy wearing the barefoot vibram five fingers shoes which I first learned from one of your commentors above barefoot ted. There's more information on the shoes on this site:


by the way, I usually just run 5-10 miles at a time so im not sure how they fare in marathons.

username said...

First of all, let me say nice blog! I have really enjoyed reading all of the insightful comments this morning, prior to my first 5-mile run. It is October 4 2009, and I am a newbie to running since I started four months ago in Austin Texas heat (105).

I am 29, 205lbs, and 5'8" male, with a background in weightlifting. I started running, because weightlifting was no longer appealing to me, as I tried to maintain my muscle mass, one day I asked myself.."what's the point?" So I stopped lifting, my muscle mass began to shrink and my appetite began to increase. I then began to notice that runners were always so cool. These tan, thin, thick hair, confident people must have figured something out that I had yet to learn.

So I laced up my 3 year old academy shoes and figured I would hit the road. I don't need to tell you what happened over the next few months..okay..pain and agony. However, besides all the basics, stretching, warm-up routines, working on reducing my heart rate and increasing my speed, there was one constant--the tops of my feet were in pain after every run. Almost to the point that I could barely walk the following morning. My father has neuropathy (non-diabetic) in his feet, so a month ago I figured that one of the possible causes for the top of my feet hurting might be tight laces. I began to hunt around for a shoe without laces, which was impossible until I came across the barefoot vs. shoe argument.

I have have been running (4x/week) in vibram five finger shoes for the last month, and I am now up to a 12-mile run at 9min/mile without any pain!! In addition, the cool weather has come in, and I have only recently been running in temps of 70-80 degrees. I think I am starting to figure out what the cool runners already know, but I could not have made this far without transitioning to "barefoot" type running.

It's possible that shoes vs. barefoot is just a personal preference based on your body type. However, for the new runners, I say start barefoot, I wish I would have back in June.

Thanks again for the great blog! Now it's time to get ready for my run.


ZĂ© said...

As PhD candidate in biomechanics, I appreciate your blog as providing real thought and understanding giving simple answers isn't realistic.

A comment on the impact / vibration concept. In my opinion the issue isn't as clear as Dr. Nigg suggests in his articles. In lower impact settings (softer surface, shoe, etc...), less impact means less required joint torques to resist the impact. Less joint torques means less muscle forces.

Less impact but also less muscle force may keep the vibrational frequency relatively constant. But this doesn't mean the muscle is 'tuned' for vibration. It's simply tuned to needed torque demand.

Anonymous said...

I recently added some barefoot running each week (until it got too cold). Contrary to the way it is described, I heel strike barefoot just like I do shod. The only time I found myself midfoot was on a particularly rough stretch of road, where the heel was more sensitive than the ball of the foot to those pointy little rocks.

Unknown said...

Hello guys!

I've read your blog a couple of times before and came across it again whilst searching for some advice.

I'm 23 years old and have had a 2.5 year lay-off from running whilst I had both hips reconstructed due to femoro-acetabular impingement syndrome of the hip.
I had been running regularly before the operations and had noticed that my left foot was a neutral-striker and the right foot was an overpronator. During my assessment and subsequent operations I assumed this was because the impingement syndrome was worse in the right leg (as shown by the x-ray, CT and MRI scans) and that the surgery would correct this problem and that both feet would become neutral strikers (or at least both strike the same way).
However, I'm just getting back into running and this has not been the case. Both feet are striking as they were before i.e. left neutral, right overpronation.
This is really frustrating me and hindering my return to distance running - i just want both feet to strike as near-normal as possible.
I'm not searching for medical advice, I just want to know how it would be best to address this issue. It is a really odd sensation having an asymmetric gait as both legs work so differently and I'm conscious of it all the time.
P.S. I don't have a leg-length discrepancy, they've been checked by an orthopod.

Any help/advice would be greatly appreciated.