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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

MORE words on barefoot running...

This URL is brief & says plenty; check it out: watch the video; Very clear

Yes there is less pressure on the knees of people who run on their fore foot, or at least strike there 1st. The problem arises for most runners however if they do not follow this with the heel at least lightly “kissing” the surface as the great 800m runner, Sebastian Coe puts it.Remember that a number of elite athletes do run on their forefeet, in shoes, as they were born to run. I am a plodder & run on my forefeet for heaven’s sake. A highly supportive shoe kills me, but even though I teach biomechanical drills, can demonstrate most forms of running, spend my entire childhood & much of my adult life barefoot, I cannot & would not run barefoot on asphalt – I never run on concrete; I rather run through shrubbery! And my goodness, how unnatural, I wear gloves, as this wussy South African could never finish a 30 minute session in a Boulder winter without them! My genetically given foot structure is that of a high arch with zero ability to pronate (natures natural shock absorber & foot spring). I need protection & some cushioning.Not all heel strikers are equal either – remember the heel is far closer to the body’s dynamic center of mass than the forefoot & therefore promotes a partial passing strike of the surface, allowing the body to be somewhat more upright. This landing under the body, instead of ahead of it, is a very good thing & leads to a rolling, efficient way to run. This is also a rotational force & deflects & loads quite effectively. The foot serves as a partial wheel & rolls smoothly from heel to toe. Poor heel striking, with the shin angled backward & the heel striking the ground way ahead of the center of mass, with the toe up high & the shin working like the dickens to decelerate the inevitable slap down & inward that is to follow is a sure way to entice every running injury in the book. This happens because these runners are truly mimicking walking (& how most everyday runners learned to run) – they are simply launching & dropping onto the ground in a display of aerial power walking. This comes from a lack of background in running & these individuals (the majority) have progressed their natural walk to a launched version & call it running. Of course it is unnatural, has damaging peak forces & without highly protective footwear will injure them. Again, I am all for education & returning our nutrition, etc to a simpler way, but at the rate at which safe healthy information gets to the majority of the community that requires it, we will create more problems than we solve if we allow every runner & prospective runner to hurl themselves into BFR. A well designed study done at the University of Cape Town Sports Science Institute, under the auspices of the world renowned scientist & author of what is commonly acknowledged greatest running book ever written, Dr. Tim Noakes produced interesting results. The instigator was a Dr. Nicolas Romanov, he of the POSE method fame or infamy, depending where you seat yourself. He says also that we should ALL run on our forefoot. Now similar to these other studies done on BFR, this study found decreased pressure in the knee joint & supported Dr. Romanov’s notions. Anecdotally however almost every individual in the study developed achilles tendon problems soon after the study completion. Dr. Romanov says the transition may have been too rapid. Add to this of course that there was no footwear intervention either, but I surmise that this is the biggest issue that will arise if we have a mass exodus of runners over to being savannah plains runners on the paved & cobbled streets of the world – a huge increase in achilles tendon & similar injuries.I believe I have 2 more of these (BFR blogs) in me: One on footwear that might meet the biomechanical requirements of BFR & no, not minimalist in the least, & how to transition from shod to some BFR without irreparably dinging yourself.Till then, take care, be your swiftest & have a blast.
Bobby McGee


  1. "Aerial power walking"! I like it!

    Thanks for the BFR series. Couple of points: the Pose/Romanov/Noakes study you mention also found there was NO improvement in running economy.

    I believe what most of us after is not only a reduction in/disappearance of injuries, but also improved performance: we want to run faster. So I'm glad you mentioned that the speed factor is missing from the barefoot argument. Fact: the great Abebe ran faster in shoes.

    It's really funny that McDougall's book has stimulated interest in "running the Tarahumara way". It seems that a lot of runners now believe that if they start wearing huaraches and eating chia they are going to be magically transformed into antelopes (springboks?)...bypassing all the troublesome "if..then maybes" you identified.

    (I share your admiration for his book, by the way). So we can now add McDougall to the roll call of runners like Zola who have developed serious injuries despite (because of?) running barefoot.

    The thing with shoes. It's not that stores and companies are deliberately setting out to injure people. But there's no getting away from the fact that they have a vested interest in selling shoes, and more shoes. I wish I could believe, like you, that shoe companies introduce new models as a process of continually refining what's best for runners. There is some development going on, but not a lot. Most (I would estimate 80-90%) "new" shoes have no significant improvement for the runner, but are just cosmetically tweaked to give the running magazines something "new" to write about and get revenue from ads.

    We've all suffered when just as you find a shoe that works for you, the company deletes it and brings out a new "improved" model that doesn't work as well. How many serious runners do you know who are forced to buy their shoes in lots of half-a-dozen pairs when they find one that suits them, because they know it will disappear from production for no good reason?

    The average overweight, barely-in-shape heel striker might be worse off in minimalistic shoes, but the problem is that while they continue to use "protective" shoes and continue to buy the idea promulgated by stores (NOT by centres of excellence like Boulder Running Company and Fleet Feet Boulder) that the answer to running injuries is more and more control and "protection", then the shoes they are wearing will actively stop them developing the strength, range of motion, and the proper gait and form they need to run efficiently and injury-free (Catch 22).

    So ideally, wear the most minimal shoe you can get away with given your weight, flexibility/lack of, strength/lack of and biomechanics.

    Runners need to be doing strength and conditioning exercises to help them transition to an efficient gait and to gradually experiment with more minimalistic shoes...and yes, short periods of barefoot running would help them. Do you know of a single running store or running shoe company that promotes that kind of programme?

    I have NEVER been sold a pair of running shoes and been given a set of exercises to go along with them. Nor is there a single running shoe company in the world that has a range of shoes designed to help a runner transition from "protection" and control through a range of increasing minimalism, supported by advice on strengthening and conditioning of the feet and lower legs.

    The nearest you'll get is companies like Nike playing around with different weight inserts for the Frees, and K-Swiss giving different inserts for racing and training and so on.

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