Friday, January 29, 2010

Going Minimal or Not

I have a confession to make, I'm a data geek, especially when it comes to physiology.  That's how I came to the conclusion that simple excess was the reason for my recent injury, or was it?  Earlier this week I ran across this Running Barefoot or In Minimal Footwear site, based on research published in the journal Nature.  The title of the paper is "Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners".  Disclosure, the research was partially funded by Vibram, makers of the popular Five Fingers minimal foot covers.

Cool I thought, an actual scientific study and data on the differences between habitually barefoot runners and those that run with cushion in their heels.  As we all know many running injuries are caused by impact, or too much of it.  My knee is one such injury.  I'll skip some of the gory details and give you one guess which runner lands with less impact.  Yep, the barefooters.  Hmmm, now instead of reading about how the Tarahumara can do it and I can too, there's actual data to back it up.  I read through the site, watched some of the videos and by the end I was convinced I needed to go minimal or at least work it in to my routine a few times a week.  Then I read this post on the Science of Sport blog.  Definitely worth a read if you're considering going minimal.

The Science of Sport PhD's don't refute the findings of the research but simply point out that the barefoot runners used in the study have always run barefoot.  Therefore they can handle the additional stress of landing on the forefoot and reducing impact.  They also point out that in a study done where shod runners (shoe wearers) started running barefoot they experienced less impact after two weeks.  Another two weeks down the road and 19 out 20 were out with ankle, calf, and achilles injuries.

My conclusion is this; working in some barefoot running slowly could help lessen impact in the long run.  If I can become a more consistent mid to forefoot striker then my knee and I might live happily ever after.  Anyone out there experience success with this?  If so, did you have a persistent injury before you started?

Edit: Peter sent me an email along with the following:
I was going to post a comment about the "Going Minimal or Not", but had trouble hyper-linking in the comment page.  In any case,  I stumbled across an interesting post:  Do Running Shoes Cause Running Injuries? A Few Insights on a Dismal Science, which was a really nice discussion on the fact that we don't know much.  Personally, I think the minimalist/barefoot running fad has some merit, but as a cross training aid.  I also suspect that injuries are more likely to occur at high mileage because the biomechanical form breaks down as we fatigue.  Do shoes allow us to have bad form when we are tired?  Perhaps.  Does learning different form (gait) through running in a minimalist shoe or barefoot help protect from injury?  Maybe.

Also, Jared sent the following link:
An NPR article on the research paper noted above.


Karl said...

Before I started running as often as possible in VFFs I had painful bunions on both sides of both feet that are all subsiding now. It used to be that I couldn't go on a single run without my orthotics or my arches would hurt like crazy. Now I never run with orthotics. I think I have better form but I'm definitely not ready for more than 25mi/week in VFFs, even after 2 months of running in them at least 3x/week.

Lloyd said...

There sure is a lot out there in cyberspace about this since the report came out. I'm convinced that working some "barefoot" walking (and I would walk at first) and some minimal running is helpful, but ought to be approached very cautiously. I ran in the Nike Free and then the VFFs at different times over the past year, and even barefoot on an indoor track. I think it did help some, but I found that wearing the VFFs quite a bit over time was a problem as I developed a neuroma on the ball of my foot. Went back to cushioned shoes and it went away.

Found this comment by very respected running coach, Bobby McGee:

Chuck said...

10-14 years ago our cross country coach taught us to run on the balls of our feet so we could gain some of the benefits of the spring. He told us to run barefoot on a soft surface to get the feel of it, or up steep hills with shoes on. We then trained to keep this form all the time (when running)

Brian Beckstead said...

Every since Squaw Peak last year I have implemented some barefoot running into my schedule and am running heathier and happier then ever.

The real secret is Zeroing your shoes aka cutting off the heel. It's the best running experience you'll ever have. Minimal is totally the way to go! The Lieberman study is legit unlike some of the other studies. See you on the trails.

Jason, Jen and the gang said...

While I have not worked in any barefoot running into my schedule I have been running very regularly in the New Balance MT100. A very minimal shoe, more like a racing flat for the trail. I like them a lot.