Barefoot Running Is Not about Running Barefoot

by Owen Marcus on July 6, 2010

University of Delaware

Image via Wikipedia

Barefoot running is taking off. It started as a weird thing that a few runners did. Now non-running magazines are writing about it. The July issue of Men’s Health has an article on Barefoot running.

The article nails it.

The wrong debate has been promulgated by journalists,” says Daniel Lieberman, a professor in human evolutionary biologist a t Harvard whose January study in Nature sheds a different light on the potential benefits of barefooting. “It’s not about barefoot versus shoe running – that’s a lifestyle debate, It’s really a debate about stride techniques.

Running barefoot forces you to develop a better stride, a stride that is in alignment with gravity. The immediate negative or positive feedback of not having a buffer between you and the ground changes your stride. If, like other runners, you lean back and heel strike, not only will your heel experience that shock of impact, your entire body will also.

The 40 to 80 percent of injured runners per year is an indication that something is unnatural about a natural activity. If our ancestors had that injury rate, we wouldn’t be here today.

Bill Gifford, author of the article, said his friendship with Christopher McDougall, the author of Born to Run, was his inspiration to try running barefoot. As many of us men, he experienced the “little is good, more must be better” phenomenon. Gifford over did it. He recites what Irene Davis, a biomechanics professor at University of Delaware, said to him: “Three miles is too much. You should start with no more than a quarter of a mile.”

All the runners I have seen over the years are a lot tighter than they realize. After a few decades of an unnatural form, your soft tissue (muscles and fascia) harden and shorten. To demand too much of them will surely create injuries. Leaning back with a forward stride shortens the backs of your legs—your calves and hamstrings. To suddenly lean forward with legs that have shoe leather for soft tissue will injure the weak points of your legs.

The article mentions how McDougall’s heel strike was the cause of his pronation. When the foot lands improperly, its three arches and structural integrity is unavailable to support the body. We are smart enough to know not to jump out of a tree and land on our ass. We know our legs are better shock absorbers. So why don’t we use some common sense to figure out leaning forward is a better way to absorb shock when running?

After decades of modeling bad runners, and being told by experts what good running form is, we have increasing running injuries. These experts see body as a machine that can be disassembled into understandable parts – while the running shoe industry sold us on needing technology to run, we de-evolved. We learned to run leaning back, opposite of where gravity pulls us.

To cheat the barefoot running change, runners are getting Rolfed. When a Rolfer understands what running naturally is about, he or she can greatly facilitate your body in erasing the effects of bad from. When your soft tissue is no longer short and misaligned, your body will want to run naturally—barefoot or with shoes.

The  Men’s Health article gives you a review of barefoot running shoes. I know that is an oxymoron, but we all know that in marketing logic is not relevant.

Bonus: to read an excerpt from Born to Run, go to this link for a long article in Men’s Health.

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