Barefoot Running: The Basics

This blog is bound to go in multiple directions with entries made in regards to Athletic Training and to my training and racing triathlons and running. This is where the name of the page comes from, thus covering both areas.

I figure a great way to start off is writing about a topic that applies to both, barefoot running. Over the last few years I’ve heard a lot about this growing trend and this summer I finally started to take notice of it and do a little research. What I found surprised me, more so, because it didn’t surprise me. Confusing, I know, but then so is this whole topic and the lack of documented research proving either side of the argument. Despite all the supposed research into developing new running shoes, there is no proof that they actually do what they claim. Here is an article that came out in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that came to conclusion that there is no evidence to back up the prescribing of our current high tech running shoes.

Humans have been running for centuries and in the grand scheme of things, shoes have only been around for a very short period of time. It’s been an even shorter period of time that shoes were anything more than a thin protection from the ground. The modern running shoe made its appearance back in the ’70’s with Bill Bowerman’s creation of the waffle soled running shoe. Since then the company Bowerman co-founded, Nike, and many others have taken off with the idea and brought science to our footwear. These high-tech shoes provide cushioning and support and come in so many types that they accommodate just about everyone’s individual needs.

As a result of the development of a modern running shoe, runners switched from a forefoot/midfoot running style to a heel strike form of running and a new era dawned. Unfortunately, from what I’ve read so far, a new era of running related injuries developed as well. Injuries that were basically unheard of in running were now becoming very common. As a result, shoes were designed to take care of these problems, and redesigned and redesigned and…

Nothing I’ve read convinced me 100% either way, but what has swayed me is the thoughts back to my history as a runner and the experiences that I have had. The more I read, the more I remembered and the more I’ve come to believe that forefoot/midfoot running is probably the correct way to go. I don’t know what my original running style was, but I do remember very fondly my first pair of running shoes. They were made by converse and I remember that the heel wasn’t noticeably thicker than the forefoot. I ran in that same pair of shoes for two years in middle school and never had an injury. I was sad when I finally wore out the sole on them, because I knew that converse no longer made that shoe.
My next pair of shoes were the Nike Daybreak’s. It was a tan shoe with an orange swoosh. I remember being amazed at how cushiony they were and I quickly forgot about my old converse shoes. I also remember my freshman year in high school wearing the shoes and our coach (cross country and track) emphasizing that I lengthen my stride and get a good heel strike. By the start of track season my sophomore year I suffered my first running injury, a stress fracture in my right tibia. There is no proof or certainty that the change in my running form caused the injury, but it is an interesting chain of events that has helped lead me to reconsider how I run and the recommendations I make to others.
In addition to my experience as a runner I also have some of the things that I do as an athletic trainer that also lend to my new way of thought. Quite a bit of the rehab I have my athletes do for foot, ankle, lower leg injuries involves them exercising while up on their forefoot in attempt to strengthen the body part and restore proper balance. I do this because I’ve found it to be much more successful than if they do same exercises on more of a flat foot stance.

In my next entry I will start to document my journey to become a “barefoot” runner.

Additional links:
recent article in Baltimore Sun.
article in NYTimes about barefoot running.
video showing difference between forefoot/heel strike running.                                                proprioception and barefoot workouts.

more info on barefoot running.
info on minimalist shoes.

home page for Vibram Five Fingers.

(originally published September ’09)


About Douglas Sawyer, MS, ATC

I am an athletic trainer who is also a very avid athlete. My first love is running, but I also love cycling and triathlons and many other activities. I'm not a swimmer though, I just don't drown for 2.4 miles... As a athletic trainer I work with sports injuries. I currently work at a school with athletes in 7th-12th grade in a wide variety of sports. I can be found on twitter at two different names: @IronmanLongRunr - where I tweet about run, bike, tri, & more @Longrunr - where I tweet about athletic training
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One Response to Barefoot Running: The Basics

  1. Glad to have been of help.

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