Run Barefoot: Understanding the Benefits

Why not you?
Why not you? | Source

Why not?

If you are at all a runner, have recently run or spectated a race, or just listened to enough runners gab for awhile, then you've probably heard or seen something about the growing popularity of barefoot and minimalist running. This contingent of runners has returned to a very primal form of running, a much shorter gait, with a lighter touch and a completely or almost bare foot. There have been a host of shoe products released to imitate the sensation and feel of barefoot running, such as Vibram's Fivefingers. So amidst all of the hype and seeming 'hip'-ness of barefoot running, its hard to find some straight answers about this style of running and its health affects. So if you're at all curious about barefoot running and its benefits, or have passionately stated that you'll never give up your running shoes, I invite you to read on.

Disclaimer

Here's my disclaimer #1: Nothing is for everyone. No matter how bad I would like it to be, not everyone is going to be able to pick up barefoot running due to a variety of medical impairments. That said, I'm willing to bet that 98% of the rest of population could find it beneficial.

Disclaimer #2: While some would like to discuss the benefits of barefoot and minimalist running as scientific fact, there has actually been very limited scientific research into the matter, and as of right now there is no conclusive scientific evidence in favor or against minimalist running.

Foot Science

That said, there is a very insightful video on barefoot running done by Dr. Daniel Lieberman, a professor at Harvard, who has begun experimenting with barefoot running. If you interested you can watch it here. What Dr. Lieberman goes on to show and discuss is the concept of the forefoot strike (landing on the fleshy outside, front edge of your foot) versus the heel strike, which is typical of most shod runners. The reason shoes cause you to strike with your heel is simply because the thick sole of a running shoes cushions the blow, exerting large amounts of concentrated force on your joints. Try running without shoes on pavement or even grass, and you will quickly realize how much it hurts; in fact, your feet are so sensitive that you will nearly have to force yourself to run heels first. To be short, running heel to toe is simply not natural. An estimated 65% of runners each year suffer injury, and no amount of orthotics (shoe inserts), stretching and specialized shoes has decreased that number. Could our shoes be secretly working against us?

Power of the Arch

The Arch. One of the strongest structural formations known to man. The way an arch works is the combined force of each piece of the arch, combined with the downward force on the top of the arch, creates outward thrust which compresses the arch together. Slightly less scientifically put, the more stress you put on an arch, the stronger it is. Now, think back for a moment (or Google images of arches), and see if you can recall a time where you have seen an arch with objects supporting it from underneath. Unless you've seen a collapsing building, chances are you haven't seen any such arch. It isn't any different with your feet. The arches in your feet are some of the most complex anatomical portions of your body. By supporting your arches with shoe soles, chances are you're weakening your natural shock absorbers which in turn is significantly raising your risk for injuries. So are shoes more harmful than help? You can decide for yourself, but what I would encourage you to do is this-Try it. Run around on grass and dirt for a week. Not huge distances, just enough to enjoy yourself and get a feel for it. If you're completely unconvinced that minimalist running has any benefit for you, you're shoes will always be waiting. However, hopefully you discover something amazing, a new feeling of freedom that you had not encountered before. If you want to read more about the barefoot running experience, check here. If you want to know how to find some minimalist footwear and get started click here.

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