Monday, April 16, 2012

Cybex: Truth on Fitness: Insights on the barefoot running trend

Insights on the barefoot running trend from the Cybex Research Institute...

Barefoot running is becoming an increasingly popular trend as of late. Minimal or near-barefoot style shoes (e.g.,
Nike Free, Vibram Five Fingers) have significantly increased sales while barefoot-like running techniques (e.g., Pose, Chi) are commonly touted as the correct or ‘natural’ way to run. Many proponents of barefoot running claim we were ‘born to run’ and that modern day running shoes are the main cause of the high injury rates experienced by runners (McDougall 2009). Are shoes to blame for all running injuries?

This issue at hand is much more complicated than simply running with shoes (shod) or without. This is because one typically adapts a different running style to adjust to the different demands imposed upon the body when running barefoot. Lieberman et al. (2010) found that barefoot runners tend to land in the middle (mid foot strike) or front (forefoot strike) of their foot when colliding with the ground opposed to shod runners, who land predominantly on the heel (rear foot strike). Although peak vertical ground reaction forces are similar during all  three strike patterns, rear foot strikers tend to exhibit a rapid spike at ground contact referred to as a heel-strike transient. Mid foot and forefoot strikers typically do not exhibit this same impact peak (Cavanagh and LaFortune  1980). Other studies have shown that barefoot runners also tend to increase stride rate and decrease stride  length compared to shod runners (de Wit et al. 2000). Barefoot running clearly changes many different  bio mechanical variables, all of which could potentially contribute to changes in athletic performance or injury rates. 

Most barefoot running enthusiasts claim that the human foot has evolved to run barefoot, and that we are  doing harm by covering it in  shoes. Those who hold these views typically support it with the Endurance Running Hypothesis. Tens of thousands of years ago, man was forced to hunt for food. Humans are not particularly fast compared to other animals, but we are great at running long distances (Bramble and Lieberman 2004). We are not covered in fur and have the ability to sweat, which is important for not overheating during long periods of exercise. Many predict that humans have developed these traits to be able to hunt down prey into heat exhaustion. We may not be able to run faster than many animals, but over a long period of time we can chase the prey while maintaining a steady pace and keeping relatively cool. Since many animals cannot thermonuclear nearly as well as humans, the prey will overheat and becomes dinner.
However, there are many issues with using this hypothesis to claim that we should be running barefoot. The earliest
ancestors of man were significantly lighter than modern day humans, and ran on the soft grassy savannah — read more...

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