15 Dec Barefoot Running – The Ins and Outs
Charlotta Binder (Chiropractor)
Minimalistic vs Standard shoe running –which should I choose?
As with most things we have to choose between in life, this decision unfortunately isn’t black and white. The minimalistic shoe trend reached its peak in the early 2000 but has lost a lot of its popularity since then however it still splits the public’s opinion widely. Why is this? Surely minimalistic shoes should be the smarter option as following 2 million years of evolution we were designed to move on two feet without shoes right? In an ideal world, this would be correct. However, with time not only our environment has changed but the way in which our body functions, changes dependent on what we have or have not been doing during our lifetime.
We wear foot protection (shoes) from a very early age nearly every day, this causes a number of changes to our normal function; least of all a decrease in the proprioception or movement feedback from the sole of our foot – something vital for balance and co-ordination. Our consistent use of well heeled shoes from an early age also changes the way in which we move. When we wear cushioned shoes during a run for example, we are more likely to first contact the ground with our heel– a loud ‘heel strike’ gait. The impact from striking the heel on the ground first puts a significant amount of stress onto the knee, hip and further up the spine.
The moment someone takes off their shoes and is asked to run, the increased perception of the impact with the floor leads our instinct to protect our joints and absorb shock –the first contact is no longer the heel but the forefoot or toes – exerting much less stress on the knees hips and spine – A quiet ‘toe strike’ gait or ‘toe runner’.
If you decide to challenge yourself with a change to barefoot style or are simply looking to try a new approach to running, a change to minimalistic shoe running should be done gradually and with precaution. Suddenly changing your stride from a heel strike to toe strike will cause a huge increase in load on your unprepared calf muscles and Achilles. If your long term aim is to use minimalistic shoes instead of regular running shoes, it’s advisable to take your time building up calf strength and ankle function before going for a 20 mile run!
Using spikey massage balls on the foot sole to stimulate the nerve endings, removing your shoes when walking at home or on the beach, improving your balance in the gym and having your running technique analysed are all things to consider prior to making the transition to minimalistic shoes for running. Beginning by wearing minimalistic shoes for just a few hours a day when at home or out walking is also advised in preparation for use whilst running.
The mechanics of minimalistic shoe running do make sense, adhering as closely as possible to the natural form and function of the foot appears to reduce impact stresses on the major joints of the body and improve running efficiency. However the application is not so straight forward. Being aware of your current state of fitness, flexibility and running style is important before making the transition. Evidence on injury is variable, one study by Allison Altman showed runners using regular shoes tend to report a higher rates of Plantar fasciitis while minimalistic runners appear to have more problems with the Achilles tendon. (link here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26130697).
One thing that we can say is that pounding hard concrete pavements day in day out, with a heel strike gate an no other exercise routine will increase your risk of joint related problems including knee, hip and lower spinal complaints. Changing the type of exercise you do during the week so you include some; strength, flexibility, stability/balance and endurance is the best way to protect yourself from injury and ensure future health. Mix classes, body weight exercises, short sprints, long runs and stretching……..the message here… variation is key!
If your interesting in whats involved in a Running Assessment take a look here
P.S. If your interesting in wearing everyday and sporting shoes that allow for normal bio-mechanical function check out Vivobarefoot.