The following is a post by Jesse Schwartzman. He holds a Masters degree in Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. He’s also a Tier 4 personal trainer at Equinox, an Advisor to Earndit and an all-around great guy!
According to a 2011 article by Dr. Daniel Lieberman entitled “What We Can Learn About Running from Barefoot Running: An Evolutionary Medical Perspective”, 30-70% of runners have a running-related stress injury each year; and despite tireless efforts from biomechanics researchers and shoe developers over the past 40 years, the injury rate has remained constant. The question therefore becomes: are modern running shoes helping to prevent injury? Or even worse, are the supportive technologically advanced shoes doing more harm than good? It stands to reason that since we have been running in minimal shoes for about 45,000 years and have only been in supportive shoes since the 1970’s, our musculoskeletal tissue has better adapted to running with minimal support.
Dr. Lieberman states: “How one runs probably is more important than what is on one’s feet, but what is on one’s feet may affect how one runs.” There has been much written on the subject of forefoot vs. heel strikers. The idea is that heel striking puts much more strain on the hip and knee as the leg is in a more extended position when it strikes the ground.
It is important to the function of the foot, ankle and hip that some pronation (the medial arch of the foot collapsing) be allowed for impact absorption and proper muscle firing of the hip. Supportive running shoes allow for heel striking that severely limits pronation. Remember the foot is meant to pronate! I am tired of shoe companies putting people on treadmills in the store and showing how the ankle should not be rolling in. The ankle has been rolling in for thousands and thousands of years. Pronation is a GOOD thing and is meant to absorb impact through the body.
The problem comes not when the foot arch collapses upon impact but when the foot does not RETURN the arch between ground strikes. This is called flat feet and can be genetic, or in many cases a result of wearing shoes with too much arch support so that the foot weakens over time, atrophies and eventually collapses. If you have flat feet, these two exercises should help but need to be done consistently on your recovery days.
As of now research is limited and there is no proof that forefoot running has an economical advantage or that barefoot running mitigates injury. In the end people can run however they would like. In fact some people can go a lifetime running with supportive shoes with no problem. However, in Dr. Lieberman’s opinion and in my own there is nothing unnatural, faddish, or controversial about barefoot/minimal shoe running. I would encourage you all to try running on a smooth surface like a road with a minimal shoe (Vibram, New Balance Minimus, Nike Free, etc) to understand how your gait changes and how it feels.
Humans evolved to run long distances and run barefoot so give it a try! However, if you have been running in motion controlled shoes I advise you to start slowly, and build up your calf and arch strength with the aforementioned exercises. Make sure to listen to your foot fall and cadence as it will feel markedly different with more of a forefoot strike – just as our bodies are intended.