An article for you

I just read a really great synopsis of the science that exists (and doesn’t exist) supporting barefoot running.  It’s the most concise and well-balanced piece I’ve come across, so I thought I’d go ahead and pass it along.  (Perhaps you’re also asked your thoughts on barefoot running by any person who finds out you like to run these days?)  The piece is on the Science of Sport website, which is written by two fellows with their PhD’s in Exercise Physiology.  Both are also coaches.  It’s called “The barefoot running debate: Born to run, shoes & injury: the latest thinking” and was written by Ross Tucker.  It concludes that barefoot running may, or may not be for you.  😉  It’s not a panacea for everyone, (What? One size doesn’t fit all?!?) but it can certainly be a very useful training tool.  I like the author’s emphasis on making slow changes.  Here are Tucker’s recommendations for making a decision about trying out barefoot running.

  • If you are injured, or struggle with chronic injury problems, then give barefoot running a try.  It may be especially helpful if you have knee problems, or any anterior injuries (anterior shin pain, for example), because going barefoot will switch the load.  The benefit (in a backward kind of way) of starting injured is that you’re pretty much compelled to go back to beginner level and build up, so your chances of staying beneath that “injury risk line” are better!
  • If you are not injured, but fancy trying it, then by all means, go for it, butbe very careful.  I would suggest the best way to approach it is to think of barefoot running as a training modality.  Just like you’d go to Pilates to improve core strength, or spend time in the gym on upper body or leg, think of barefoot running as a session.  There is some evidence for this, incidentally.  Pieter Bruggemann (of Oscar Pistorius testing fame) actually did a study on the Nike Frees, and found that just using them in the warm-up improved lower leg strength, balance and agility within five months.  So this points out one way to do it – do warm-ups either barefoot or in minimalist shoes.  Or do five minutes at a time, building very, very slowly, so that you don’t affect your other training but gradually develop the strength.  If you find that you enjoy it and don’t seem likely to be injured, then push on.
  • If you are a high-mileage runner, then think carefully about tinkering with barefoot running, or about changing your technique to land on the forefoot.  For one thing, if you are a competitive runner, or even aspiring runner (going for PBs, that is), then you’re the person most likely to overdo it!  It’s part of what makes you competitive!  So again, I’d advise that you consider incorporating barefoot running into the programme as a training aid, because it will help your feet, calves and ankles.  But as with any training aid, phase it in very slowly.
  • If you are constantly battling calf, hamstring, foot or ankle problems, then consider barefoot as treatment, but take the most conservative guideline you can think of and halve it – do 50% less than what that says.  The rationale is that someone with a hamstring injury can’t just avoid strengthening the muscle – it’s part of the rehab.  So for chronic calf and ankle/achilles problems, running barefoot may be exactly what you need.  But you are the kind of runner who has to start with five minutes of walking, not running, and hold back massively.  If you can succeed, then hopefully this will help your return to running in shoes, and maybe, eventually, minimalist shoes.
The full article is definitely worth the read.  Everything in moderation is my mantra.  Except running.  Definitely run immoderately if it makes you happy.  Don’t run with scissors regardless.  
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26 Responses to An article for you

  1. olga says:

    This seem like a good advice.
    On another hand, I may have to come visit your Y and G-machine.After I get Xray done.

    • lizahoward says:

      What?! I will keep my fingers crossed that we don’t have to meet up at the Alter G — as much as I’d like to catch up and all. And congratulations to you at Old Dominion!!

      • olga says:

        Well, I am in a nice light color boot, ha. It’s horrible, I think it makes me even slower and more painful.

      • lizahoward says:

        Oh no! Well, my house is your house if you want to come for an Alter G visit. And I promise not to let Asa bend you ear about Legos for too long. Though surely Austin has Alter G’s on every street corner?

      • Catherine Berdy says:

        Mike’s into semi barefoot running – he wears thin shoes and runs tow pad first. He loves it. Says he never felt better. Are you wearing those toe shoes?

      • lizahoward says:

        I want a picture of Mike in Vibrams! I’m glad he’s feeling good. Tell him I’ll expect him to shoulder some brother in-law pacing duties when he gets back. 😉
        I wear New Balance’s Minimus (until you know what comes out!), which are very light and do a good job on the rocky rocky trails here.

      • Catherine Berdy says:

        We’re so used to flip flops “slippahs” over here that any other shoe feels constraining and hard to walk in. My kids feet literally reject sneakers. We’re promoting the ghetto barefoot movement by doing all activities, exercise or not in flip flops.

      • lizahoward says:

        Sure, rub it in Hawaii girl. Watch out or we’ll come visit again for weeks at a time.

  2. footfeathers says:

    I like shoes. When a barefoot runner passes me in a 50 or 100 miler, then I’ll think about it. Plus, due to the fact that you have to change your name by adding “Barefoot” to your first name, I’m hesitant to be “Barefoot Footfeathers”.

  3. Andy says:

    I have a pair of Merell’s oxymoronically catagorized “barefoot shoes” that I wear for my little, early morning, pre-work, neighbourhood runs (…perhaps I should re-name myself “Oxymoron Andy”). I like them and I like what running in them seems to do for my form in other running endeavours. I am enjoying witnessing the barefoot craze, it’s like the hula hoop of our times.

    • lizahoward says:

      That would be a pretty sweet moniker. I ran barefoot on the grass when I was visiting my sister in Hawaii over Christmas and it was pretty darn delightful. Light trail shoes (NB Minimus) are as barefoot as I’m willing to go on the rocky trails here. Fingers crossed the hula hoop makes some sort of appearance again soon.

  4. Domingo says:

    I don’t run barefoot but do run in huaraches full time. I started due to injury. Have been for 4 years now. Actually started before barefoot craze. Ironically I am injured right now. Have ball of foot pain. Resting till pain goes away. As far as naming I don’t think I would call myself “huarache Domingo “. Does not sound right.

    • lizahoward says:

      I am so very glad you won’t be asking us to call you Huarache Domingo. 😉
      I hope that foot pain goes away quickly. Seems like our group is cursed right now.

  5. Tim Smith says:

    I can attest to barefoot running helping one recover from knee pain/injuries. When I dived into marathon training almost a year ago exactly, I had terrible knee pains, even at low mileage (3-4 miles). I suffered through it until the Rock and Roll Marathon, where upon completion I realized the pain was just too much.

    The next week I went barefoot (Vibrams) and my form, foot and calf strength improved significantly. After about 3 months of barefoot running I could transition back into minimal shoes with no pain. Even my bulkier trail shoes give me no issues at high weekly mileage now.

  6. Tony Maldonado says:

    I was recently called a “Purist” for my thoughts on running!
    Purist Tony! Naw..
    I love barefoot running on grass. It can’t be beat. I really do believe it helps with form and injury prevention.
    My latest shoes are the New Balance 101’s. I love them on the trails.


  7. Pommers says:

    Are you tempted Liza?
    An interesting update on the facts surrounding the debate. I’ve been tinkering with barefoot running since last March (2010) – obviously not recently 🙂 and no, I wasn’t wearing Vibrams at Leadville last year 😉
    The logic in Lieberman’s argument is compelling though and Chris McDougall definitely brought it into the mainstream.
    However, as every cloud has a silver lining, I count myself in the ‘Back to basics through injury’ camp.

    • lizahoward says:

      I’d do a bunch more barefoot running if all the grass around here wasn’t invested with what Eliot grew up calling “goat heads.” I really would like to incorporate it at the end of runs (seems smart), but I’ll stay shod for the long, rocky miles — especially since my foot injury doesn’t seem shoe or gait related, but, rather, lack of lard related.
      I did see someone at Leadville in Vibrams last year.

  8. Greg L says:

    My favorite is Barefoot Rick, barefoot running for Jesus.( I’m also entertained by the site Barefoot Running Is Bad. “Where are the studies that show (fill in the blank). There are none!” The debate is better than politics. Haha! I’m trying to get over a bad case of PF and bought the Merrell Trail Glove. When I get better, I plan to incorporate more minimal/barefoot walking and some “minimalist” running. Barefoot makes sense to me. Thanks for sharing. (BTW, since I have been hurt, I have read every website and article on barefoot vs. shod more than once.)

    • lizahoward says:

      Wow. Thanks for those links. My favorite was “Winter Barefoot Running — Is it for you?” on Barefoot Rick’s site. Have you seen this minimalism article yet?
      And at the risk of sounding like one of the PF product proselytizers, have you tried using a LaCrosse ball to roll on? Worked better for me than the tennis ball or golf ball. There needs to be some patron saint of PF to make offerings to. Hoping you’re running soon.

      • Greg L says:

        Thanks for the article. I missed that one in all my non-running time. I’m using a racquet ball to roll on and stretching, stretching, stretching….Let me know when you find the alter to leave the offerings. Hope you recover soon.

      • lizahoward says:

        Greg, I think you’ve given me my million dollar idea. Sell small Patron Saint of PF statues to runners. It’s on par with the upside down ketchup bottle and tuna packets. Gotta start doing some research. 🙂

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