What’s the point of running barefoot?

 

There are two topics I would like to bring into conversation and invite you to debate. The first one is about running shoes and the second one is about foot strike. Both topics I believe represents a matter of interest for every runner.

 

I’ve taken part of endless conversation about running shoes and I must admit I have a thing with minimalistic shoes since I was little. In terms of sports and training I rely on science. After some research and testing shoes by my own I’ve seen how much debate is between the sports (fashion) industry and the guys from the lab. Scientists claim there is no scientific proof of the benefits of wearing shoes. They claim exactly the opposite, the fact that we wear shoes and we don’t walk barefoot anymore leads to poor posture and injuries.

 

I know, this is a very sensitive topic. But judging by the evolution of Homo and other several criteria, humans perform remarkably well at endurance running, thanks to a diverse array of features, many of which leave traces in the skeleton.

 

“Endurance running is a derived capability of the genus Homo, originating about 2 million years ago, and may have been instrumental in the evolution of the human body form. […] However, although humans are comparatively poor sprinters, they also engage in a different type of running, endurance running (ER), defined as running many kilometres over extended time periods using aerobic metabolism.”

 

 

Very often I was running barefoot but this year I decided to buy myself a pair of Luna sandals and go off road. I feel responsible of tell you that there are books explaining the transition from running shoes to barefoot or minimalistic shoes. There are tests which you can take to check the mobility and stability of your foot. It might take up to a year to be able to run long distances barefoot or using running sandals.

 

Why does it take so long? Well, you’ll find the answer if you study posture, how your skeleton has developed over time and the movement habits you’ve developed because you’re wearing shoes. For most of us, this means that we develop dysfunctional movements and compensatory movement patterns which in time, with volume and high intensity trainings, leads to inflammation and injuries. For in depth understanding of the topic, one of the books I recommend you besides scientific articles, is Becoming a supple leopard by Kelly Starrett.

 

Another debate runners have is on the foot strike, many being convinced by the forefoot strike. If I ask you to run 1km using high drop running shoes and then take your shoes off and run barefoot you’ll notice a huge difference in your strike.

 

Harvard University has a Skeletal Biological Lab  where they conduct research on the biomechanics of foot strikes. This is an explanatory video from they research which shows the barefoot strike of a Kenyan runner.

 

 

Another guy you should follow on the debate of the best running strike is Christopher McDougall and Prof. Daniel E. Lieberman. I believe for a profound and solid understanding of running mechanics is to review the scientific article Endurance running and the evolution of Homo.

 

Another tip I can share with you is to look behind the curtains of what the project Sub2 sponsored by Nike meant for elite runners like Eliud Kipchoge. One of the key factors that helped him write history is his running mechanics and the foot strike he kept during the entire marathon.

 

I cannot close this article without making any reference to developing countries including a worth mentioning place in Mexico where Raramuri (also known as Tarahumara) are the living example of endurance running and the best barefoot runners from whom, us, the modern people, need to learn from.

 

 

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