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Barefoot Running Research, Run Faster, and Free Shoes!

Posted Feb 16 2011 9:18pm
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The barefoot running research continues to pile up. More and more studies, anecdotes, and experts are confirming what the minimalist camp has been preaching for years: barefoot running isn’t dangerous, it can make you faster, and it can prevent injuries.

When it comes to barefoot running for those training for a race, should you kick off your shoes permanently? Absolutely not! Despite the overwhelming research that running barefoot can help you tremendously, I still very much believe that it has to be used wisely. Like I’ve mentioned before, barefoot running is a tool.

I’m going to continue to compile some of the latest barefoot running research articles, discussions, and thoughts here periodically to keep up with the trends. These resources will help you understand how minimalism can make you a better runner, when to call BS on new fad products, and when to dig deeper into the science of barefoot running.

On the opposite end of the footwear spectrum from being barefoot, you have toning shoes. As soon as they debuted about a year ago, I knew they were bogus and whatever studies used to support their claims were probably not the full picture. Turns out I was right.

The shoes claim that you’ll “burn more calories,” “improve your posture,” and “tone your butt 28% more than walking in regular sneakers.” Here’s new research showing that toning shoes like the Sketchers Shape-Ups and Reebok EasyTones don’t fulfill any of their promises. Plus, they’re hideous.

Have you gone to a running shoe store and had the salesperson watch you run or walk, then are guided to a specific type of shoe? If you have been advised to get a stability, motion control, or neutral trainer, then it looks like the recommendation doesn’t matter. Running shoe categories are meaningless.

Instead of the study, I’m linking to Peter Larson’s discussion on Runblogger. Aside from being even more obsessed with running shoes than I am, Peter knows his stuff about most of the minimalist shoes on the market today. If you’re a shoe geek, you need to know him.

Podiatrist Tracy Byrne is crusading against shoes for children, and not just so their feet can properly develop. According to Byrne, wearing shoes not only affects the development of a child’s foot, but it hampers cerebral development and posture. Playtime sans shoes is not only more enjoyable for a child, but it can prevent footwear-related damage when the feet are at their most vulnerable.

Many in the minimalist camp know that running barefoot has a host of benefits and are trying to spread the word. But who is talking about foot strength in a 2 year old? I hope this can start the discussion about children developing the correct foot musculature, posture, balance, and leg strength from avoiding shoes.

Daniel Lieberman published a barefoot running study in Nature that claims the impact forces from running barefoot are less than when running in shoes. This study isn’t new (it’s been quoted all over the internet, many times by Vibram USA, makers of FiveFingers), but rarely do we take a look at the actual study. It has a great list of references that the nerdiest among us will enjoy.

The benefits of barefoot running include a softer landing and reduced impact forces. Specifically, impact forces on the knee and hip are reduced which is proved in Lieberman’s study published in Nature. Another study found that these same benefits can be realized just by shortening your stride, so it’s not necessary to take off your shoes.

If you’re looking for increased lower leg strength, proprioception, and a helluva good time, I’d still take the shoes off.

BAREFOOT BONUS! Just for some humor, this is the dumbest site I’ve seen in a long time.

If you are really interested in achieving your best, learn from elite coach Brad Hudson. His book Run Faster is hands-down, the best training book I’ve ever read. It’s not too technical (like Daniels’ Running Formula) and will teach you how to get faster and train in a really well-rounded way.

This book resonated with me; it’s an overall training strategy that you can use for the 5k or the marathon and the principles remain the same. In other words, it’s comprehensive, unified, and consistent. It just makes sense from an intuitive and a scientific perspective.

A few of the “Adaptive Running” techniques that Hudson explains have made dramatic changes in my running (and may explain how I’ve run for a year and a half now with no injuries). My favorites are:

Hill Sprints: They’re damn fun and even more effective. They recruit an enormous amount of muscles fibers that make you run more efficiently and protect you from injury.

Focus on Aerobic Base: It’s easy to think that grueling intervals on the track will make you a faster runner. Well, they’re a recipe for injury and should only be used sparingly. The greatest limiting factor for most runners is their aerobic base, so train to increase that instead.

Variety! Stop running the same distance along the same route in the same shoes at the same pace at the same time every day. You are not growing as a runner if you’re doing this. Hudson outlines how to use variety to shake up your training, run faster, and prevent injuries.

Those are just three of my favorites. I constantly find myself opening up the book to look up a unique training principle, only to find myself rereading entire chapters. Run Faster has literally changed my outlook on running for the better. Seriously recommended if you are interested in staying healthy, running faster, and preventing injury.

This is going to be incredibly ironic in a barefoot running post, but I recently won a pair of red Spira men’s Stinger Competition racing flats. It turns out that they’re too big and not really my style, so I want to give them away to one of my newsletter readers. Here’s the catch: they are size 10.5 . They have these weird discs in the sole that I don’t like. There are tiny pieces of plastic in the sole that look broken but probably won’t affect them whatsoever.

So if you’re interested, first subscribe to the Strength Running newsletter (no spam, seriously) on the right. Then forward me the confirmation email with your address. If you’re already a newsletter subscriber, just email me your address. I’ll pay for shipping.

** Note: a winner has been chosen! Thanks for the participation everyone!**

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