Barefoot running: Is this new trend healthy?
Over the weekend, I attended a talk/workshop on barefoot running with Barefoot Ken Bob of http://thebarefootrunning.com
About 10 years ago, when I started reading Dr. Phil Maffetone’s books on fitness and nutrition, one of his chapters on running shoes really intrigued me. He made the point that we have been conditioned to believe that we need shoes with lots of extra padding, as the shoe companies (and running community in general) would have us believe. He pointed out that the Kenyans had very few running injuries, until shoe companies began to pay them to wear their shoes and compete at the elite level.
Maffetone recommended ditching your $125 Nike’s for a pair of cheap Keds shoes that have no padding. He stated that ideally, we should all run barefoot, but that it’s just not practical.
After accepting Maffetone’s ideas I initially started buying running shoes that had minimal padding. But I slowly drifted back into believing the mainstream viewpoint that we need more cushion and we need to spend the money on shoes (and replace them every 6 months!).
A brand new Harvard study shoes that running with shoes changes our gait, and we end up running more heel-to-toe. This causes various problems such as shin splints that the barefoot runners, by landing more on their mid-foot, do not experience. While there is no study that proves running shoes cause injuries, there is also no study that proves running shoes actually prevent injuries!
At the clinic, I asked Ken Bob about switching from running shoes to the Vibram’s 5-Fingers as a transition to barefoot running. He said I have it backwards. First, experience barefoot running and allow your feet to get used to actually touching the ground and conforming with various surfaces. Then, if you want to go to back to a little protection, feel free to wear the Vibrams shoes. That makes sense to me, as we do have a lot of nerve endings at the end of our feet that don’t get ground exposure very often!
So my plan is to ease into barefoot running. I’m going to do some short weekly runs on the beach on the harder packed sand with bare feet. My longer runs (4-5 miles) I will continue to use my running shoes until I feel I have built up my feet a few times in the sand. Then I will start with a couple of miles running barefoot on harder surfaces, and go from there.
I can’t wait to get back to basics with my running and cut down or eliminate injuries!
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