Are we running the way we were meant to? Running is a wonderful form of exercise. It burns lots of calories, strengthens bones, gets people into the fresh air and leads to a fantastic endorphin rush. Unfortunately, running can also lead to injuries. In fact, approximately 90 percent of habitual and long distance runners sustain some sort of injury from their running. One potential source of injury is joint strain due, in part, to our high tech expensive running shoes. At first, this seems absurd.
Sports companies and experts have been saying for years that proper shoes and/or orthotics help runners avoid injury.
The truth is that while proper shoes are better than poorly fitting shoes, running in bare feet may actually be better for most runners.
Why Is Running In Bare Feet Better?
While some look at running barefoot as a fad, it is actually an activity whose growing popularity is based on sound scientific data.
In fact, a 2009 study published in AAPM&R, the journal of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, found that running in cushioned shoes puts significantly more stress on the joints than running barefoot or walking in high heels.
A 2010 article, from the prestigious journal Nature, titled “Foot Strike Patterns and Collision Forces in Habitually Barefoot versus Shod Runners” lends further credence to the notion that barefoot running is superior.
The authors of the piece use evolutionary and kinematic studies to demonstrate that running in bare feet is healthier and more biomechanically sound than running in shoes.
Running in traditional cushioned shoes encourages the runner to land with a heel-strike (heel first). This means that a relatively small surface area strikes the ground, putting the stress of roughly three times the runner’s body weight on the joints.
By contrast, running barefoot usually causes the runner to land on the ball of the foot and then flatten out along the entire foot.
Landing on this larger surface area and using the foots natural shock absorbing properties means that forces are distributed more evenly and smoothly, sparing the joints and ligaments from the repetitive pounding.
This kind of distribution of force is what our feet have been designed for.
In addition, the cushioning and support of traditional running shoes allow some muscles of the foot and lower leg to do less work, so muscles develop unevenly.
Without shoes, runners develop balanced foot musculature. This makes barefoot runners less injury prone than shod runners.
What Are The Running Barefoot Benefits
Recently, many experts have come out in favor of barefoot running. They point out that running in bare feet leads to better foot mechanics than running in shoes.
Running in bare feet allows the foot to flex naturally and all muscles to work in proper balance.
Improved mechanics cause less strain on the joints. Because of this decreased strain, running barefoot actually reduces the likelihood of overuse injuries to the knees, back, hips and ankles.
Because running barefoot leads to fewer injuries, runners tend to run more often and get more enjoyment out of running barefoot than running in shoes.
This makes running barefoot not only safer and far more pleasurable, but also a more effective form of exercise.
After all, running more often with less time off for injuries means better cardio fitness, more calories burned and, more training accomplished.
Should I Just Throw Away My Shoes And Run Barefoot?
No, not necessarily. Running shoes do have their place in running. Barefoot running is not for everyone.
Some people are justifiably squeamish (including me) about running down our roads, sidewalks and paths in nothing but bare feet. Humans drop food and spit and dogs poop and pee a lot. You get the picture…
Shoes are great short term solutions for correcting problems and resting muscles, but long term use encourages poor mechanics and stunts muscle development.
If you’re uncomfortable running barefoot, consider a minimalist shoe. You still get the benefit of barefoot running while still having a thinner minimalist sole between your feet and the ground.
If you’re determined to keep your high tech runners, seriously consider altering your mechanics from a heel-strike to a fore-foot or mid-foot strike.
Used improperly, overly supportive shoes become crutches, and we, as runners becomes dependent and injury prone.
Tired Of Injuries, But Still Love Running?
With stress related injuries on the rise and new data questioning the value of running shoes, it is no surprise that more and more people are taking up barefoot or minimalist running.
In fact, many runners who had given up the sport due to injury have been able to start running again after giving up their running shoes.
There are many accounts of improved almost effortless, zen-like running after taking off the conventional shoes. If you’re tired of the pain and injuries and still love running – it’s worth a try.
Do You Have A Barefoot Running Story?
What are your thoughts on running in bare feet?. Are you for it or completely against it and why? We’d love to hear from you…
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