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With Running Shoes, Less Really is More

Posted on the 15 September 2011 by Nerdywerds @NerdyWerds
In our first show down, it's Tablets vs. E-readers

Last year, around this time, I was getting into running and my dad told me about a book that had really inspired him. Intrigued, and in need of motivation, I asked him if I could borrow it. The book was "Born To Run" and it is incredible. Without giving a full review, the book is about a legendary tribe of indigenous people in central Mexico that are renowned for their mythical running prowess. For anyone interested in doing a bit more research, the tribe is the Tarahumara. The Tarahumara are lauded for their incredible, almost superhuman, stamina and speed. The best part about the whole book, for me at least, was reading about their footwear. They're called huaraches, and they are basically sandals. The Tarahumara take a strap of leather and wrapped it around their feet; that's their shoe. But how can anyone run without an inch of custom, scientifically optimized, cushioning and breathable mesh?

Turns out, new science is implying that the very advancements we pay so much to put on our feet are hindering us more than helping us. Don't go discrediting science and footwear innovation just yet. They have been designed to make your foot more comfortable, and they do work in that regard. I have an old pair of Reebok's that are basically like putting my foot on a pillow. Which is nice at times. But it turns out this isn't ideal for running or walking. I've come to learn that this comfort actually teaches you poor form. Point in case; have you ever heard to run "heel to toe"? Sure you have, it makes sense right? The heel of your shoe is so cushioned for this very reason. Well it turns out that landing on your heel can be quite damaging to your body. The American Academy of Physical Medicine published a study on the subject, finding that;
"Increased joint torques at the hip, knee, and ankle were observed with running shoes compared with running barefoot. Disproportionately large increases were observed in the hip internal rotation torque and in the knee flexion and knee varus torques. An average 54% increase in the hip internal rotation torque, a 36% increase in knee flexion torque, and a 38% increase in knee varus torque were measured when running in running shoes compared with barefoot."

As a brief explanation, barefoot in this sense refers to any "minimalist" designed running shoe, or actually barefoot. These shoes have much thinner cushioning and are typically much more lightweight.

I'm no doctor or scientist, but I do know enough that extra torque(rotational, twisting, force) is not a desirable thing. Scientific American wrote about a study comparing three three groups; lifelong barefooters, lifelong sneaker wearers and people that had recently converted to barefoot. The study found that the group wearing running shoes landed on their heel first at about a 75-80 percent rate. They also found that "without shoes, landing on the heel is painful and can translate into a collision force some 1.5 to 3 times body weight." People who run barefoot tend to land towards the middle or front of the foot, the way we as humans have evolved to do. This way, you essentially turn your leg into a spring; land on the front of your foot and your legs can load up tension and use that to propel the next step. This way, you also greatly deaden the impact to your joints because they're not absorbing the shock, your calves and quads are. Your muscles and tendons have the ability to withstand tension and shock. Let them do their jobs.

Before you trash your current running shoes in favor of a more "naturale" flavor of running, there are some concerns to take into account. First off, barefoot running requires more developed muscles in the foot and lower leg. Your old running shoes have coddled your foot and taken away a lot of it's strength and flexibility. Your foot is truly a marvelous of engineering and is quite ably equipped to handle any terrain. But wearing shoes as long as we have has diminished it's ability to handle terrain and flex like it needs to to achieve this. As I said earlier, your lower leg will absorb and deal with the shock and impact of running barefoot, but if you've been a heel runner, it hasn't been getting the work it needs. So a sudden switch to making it handle all of the shock can and probably will lead to injury. A final thing to bare in mind when you start going barefoot is that your feet are going to need to toughen up a bit. All of these things will come with time, and that's the good news. The best way to prepare for barefoot running is to run and walk barefoot. Do it in moderation. You need to break your dogs in; they need some training. So maybe try taking a 5 minute warm up barefoot and then your normal training with shoes. steadily increase your barefoot time and decrease your shoe wearing time. The transition took me about a month to be fully ready for barefoot running an entire distance.

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