Barefoot VS Trainers
Our quest for ultimate human health continues. This week we’re looking at whether its actually more beneficial to be running and training, where possible, without our beloved trainers? What are the pros and cons? Has the science come full circle?
Well, there has certainly been a rise in the sales of “toe shoes” as they’re commonly known. Adidas, Nike, Vibram have all seen demand surge in the last 5 years.
The main focus of much of the attention around barefoot vs running shoes is of course the area with which we strike the ground. Due to the excessive padding and cushioning of most running shoes, we have all become accustom to striking the ground with our heels first. This is a key factor when talking about performance and human health. Virtually all of the elite and best runners in the world strike the ground with their mid sole, which, in turn, promotes more forward momentum and keeps their stride smooth and fluid. Sprinters, as we all know, only contact the ground with their forefoot towards the front of their feet as to prevent any unnecessary deceleration during racing.
All studies have shown three important differences,
- Ground contact time – Being significantly less when running barefoot. Contacting the ground mid sole rather than from the heel first equals less contact time.
- Stride length – Was significantly lower when running barefoot. Naturally striking the ground with less force equals decreased stride length.
- Stride frequency – Was significantly higher when running barefoot. As a result of the differences with factors 1 and 2, this, in turn, equalled a quicker step time.
These differences are hugely important when we think of our bodies, our longevity and our health in general. Impact related injuries are the main causes of loss of form and thus the ability to continue. Especially with the amateur runner. We can all relate to joint stiffness and muscle pain when we run. As our muscles begin to adapt to our running schedule and joint stability increases, so does our body’s ability to let us know its not enjoying this. Its only our brain and our mental health rewards that keep us going and in the game. The release of positive endorphins is such that all physical pains are forgotten.
But does it have to be that way? Are we ignoring the science and falling victim again to amazing marketing?
Researchers at the University of Newcastle found there is no scientific evidence to support claims that specially designed running shoes help prevent injuries. They found there was no published research that showed 1) running shoes controlled how much the foot rolled in, and 2) elevated cushioned heels helped prevent injuries. In fact, some shoes are specially designed to make a person land on the heel, which is unnatural, and may impair balance and makes one prone to ankle strains, so acute injuries are also relevant.
After all, our arches are perfectly designed to be the natural “shock absorbers” of the body. Heel strikes negate their ability to absorb impact from the ground into the ankle joint.
Lets quickly look at the pros of running and performing barefoot.
- May strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the foot and allow one to develop a more natural gait.
- By removing the heel lift in most shoes, it will help stretch and strengthen the Achilles tendon and calf muscle which may reduce injuries, such as calf strains or Achilles tendinitis.
- Runners will learn to land on the forefoot rather then the heel. The heel strike during running was developed due to the excessive padding of running shoes, but research shows this isn't the most effective natural running stride. Landing on the heel causes unnecessary braking on every stride. The most efficient runners land on the mid-foot and keep their strides smooth and fluid. Landing on the forefoot also allows your arches to act as natural shock absorbers.
- It may improve balance and proprioception. Going barefoot activates the smaller muscles in the feet, ankles, legs, and hips that are responsible for better balance and coordination.
- Running barefoot helps one improve balance, but it also helps them stay grounded and connected with your environment. A person can learn to spread their toes and expand the foot while it becomes a more solid and connected base that supports all movements.
The cons can be quickly summarised in a few points.
- Time taken for the body to adapt to barefoot can be dramatically underestimated, therefore again, leading to injuries.
- Soles of the feet are usually soft. Continuous exercise leads to necessary callus build up which can appear unsightly or unappealing to some.
- Ground surfaces. Debris and other sharp objects can injure the feet so environment is key.
So to conclude, we at GymPro are definitely for running and performing barefoot. If you’re going to start we advise starting with at least minimal protection first. Toe trainers and short bouts of exercise to begin with to allow your body to make the proper micro adjustments. Trust and listen to your body and make the transition into barefoot training when the time is right.
Better posture, healthier joints, better balance are just some of the many benefits to be gained from making the change. So what’s the trade for this weeks healthier body tip? Maybe dirtier slightly uglier feet! Any excuse for a spa day we say!
For more information on barefoot running and making the transition see some useful links below.