The barefoot running debate

Eaves dropping on conversations at our training sessions is proving to be a great way to find topics for the blog. Barefoot running popped up in conversation just as we were about to head out for a soaking wet cold run this morning. I am afraid I fit the stereotype of a NZer. I grew up in NZ running around barefoot. I used to race my twin brother up and down our gravel driveway barefoot. In fact I competed in athletics barefoot until my teens. Did it do me any good? That is an interesting thought. I stubbed my toes a fair few times!

Like all things new and shiny triathletes have latched on to the idea of barefoot running and wearing shoes designed for forefoot or midfoot running more so than runners themselves. But is all the hype justified? I asked a colleague, Ian Griffiths Sports Podiatrist, to pass on his thoughts. I would trust Ian with my feet (and yours) and if barefoot running was better for me I know Ian would tell me just that. Podiatrists have just as much to gain from understanding the biomechanics of barefoot versus shod (wearing shoes) running and the potential benefits and/or risks.

Ian could talk for hours on the topic but I have chosen to give you the abridged version. If you want to read more on the topic have a look at Ian’s blog. Here is what he had to say…

“In summary, what are the actual facts currently known about barefoot and shod running?

  1. Running barefoot/minimalist strengthens the intrinsic or postural muscles in the feet and lower leg…. probably, but not absolutely established.. seems sensible though.
  2. Running barefoot/minimalist increases proprioceptive awareness and balance.
  3. Running barefoot/minimalist forces a change in mechanics to adapt to the forces on the feet.
  4. There are no clinical trials that show an effect of barefoot/minimalist running for a prolonged period of time.
  5. There are no research studies that prove that wearing traditional running shoes increases injuries or that barefoot/minimalist running reduces injuries.

So there you have it… the answer is that with respect to running barefoot and running shod, we don’t actually know which is better for you, or which puts you at greatest risk of certain injuries. What we do know is that certain groups within the barefoot community (usually with their own agenda or sometimes financial interest) continue to promote their beliefs with poor information. Whether they don’t bother reading the research themselves, or whether they do read it but through their own ‘lens’ who knows.” Ian Griffiths, Sports Podiatrist.

The piece of research making all the news at the moment by Daniel Lieberman et al was funded in part by Vibram USA® makers of barefoot running shoes, Vibram FiveFingers®. The authors of the paper say on their website “Please note that we present no data or opinions on how people should run, whether shoes cause some injuries, or whether barefoot running causes other kinds of injuries. We believe there is a strong need for controlled, prospective studies on these problems”.

Now I am not saying don’t give it a go. But before you jump on the barefoot bandwagon look beyond the media hype. There has been some misinterpretation of the results of the study mentioned above by the media. There may be some benefits as Ian mentioned above. I will perform a lot of my strength and balance exercises barefoot and I will perform running drills barefoot when the weather warms up a bit for those reasons. But if you are going to make the transition to barefoot running or a mid/forefoot strike pattern from a heel strike pattern you must go about it the right way by giving your body time to adapt to the changes.

Interesting huh? Tim (LFTC Coach)

One response to “The barefoot running debate

  1. hmm, a podiatrist not selling barefoot running. who’d have thought. these guys make money by selling more product and more therapy to you rather than less. if the solution was for everyone to run barefoot then they’d be out of work.

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