Running against the grainNovember 14, 2011
Noticed joggers sporting strange reptile-like wetsuit gloves on their feet? If you haven’t yet, brace yourself – this wacky footwear apparel is the response to a growing movement towards barefoot running.
Undoubtedly the hottest topic in the world of sports medicine right now, the barefoot running movement is being championed by Dr Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and leading researcher of running biomechanics.
I was lucky enough to hear Dr Lieberman speak at the Australian Physiotherapists’ Conference last month.
Lieberman may tout barefoot running “as natural as breastfeeding” but he’s not exactly encouraging runners to bare all – instead he’s promoting running with a forefoot strike, a tactic which he believes dates back to the evolution of man.
According to Lieberman, early African tribesmen were forefoot strikers and even now, the supreme Kenyan athletes, who dominate international marathon and middle distance running, continue to adopt a forefoot strike approach.
Supporting the instinctive practises of early mankind, ‘pressure force’ studies show that forefoot strike running incurs three times less force than a heel strike approach. So why has the industry been preoccupied by over-engineered running shoes for so long and how do we break the cycle?
Lieberman notes that heel strike running has gained prevalence since the 70s and 80s, predominately with the advent of specialised running shoes. The raised heel and masses of cushioning built into the modern day running shoe effectively means your muscles aren’t required to work as hard. Sounds appealing in theory but in reality, decades of running in such shoes leads to weakened arch, calf and hamstring muscles.
Running barefoot or in barefoot sports shoes, like Vibram Fivefingers or Nike Free, promotes muscle strength and minimises impact collision. But before seasoned runners do away with their cushy running shoes and start pounding the pavement with a bare forefoot strike, it’s crucial they plan a gradual transition. A sudden switch can overload your musculotendon chains and cause calf tears and other injuries so be sure to consult a specialist.
If you are considering baring all on your next run please consult one of Proactive Physio practitioners so they can guide you through the transition.