Monday, September 20, 2010

Barefoot running - the debate continues

Over the last 12 months or so, there has been a huge amount of conversation and debate in the world of running about barefoot running and the pros and cons associated with it.

I have read a number of articles, blog posts and watched a few videos on the subject and
as is always the case, there are 2 sides to every story.The only way to draw a conclusion is to hear both sides, gather all the information and then make an educated decision.

Lets have a look at some of the benefits associated with barefoot running:
  1. Barefoot running is an effective way to improve your running economy.
  2. Research has show barefoot running to be less energy consuming than running with shoes on.
  3. Running without shoes enhances an individuals proprioception and as a result reduces impact forces thanks to increased sensory feedback.
  4. Studies on other sports that are barefoot, such as martial arts and beach volleyball all had lower incidences of lower limb injuries when compared to running.
  5. Increased lower leg strength of the musculo-skeletal system.
Some drawbacks of running barefoot include:
  1. Increased risk of injury from running on rough surfaces, glass and other objects commonly found on the ground. Solution to this is to wear the lightweight "foot wear", such as
    Vibram 5 finge
    rs or the Nike Free.
  2. Increased risk of soft tissue injury from the resulting of change in your gait mechanics as a result of running barefoot.
  3. Obviously climatic conditions will have a big impact on your ability to run without shoes.
  4. Diabetics should not incorporate barefoot running into their routines because peripheral neuropathy reduces the protective feedback provided to the brain from the feet.
  5. Training indoors, at most gyms and indoor training facilities, might not be allowed.
As the debate over "with or without shoes" continues, I have noticed a few more runners out and about testing the shoe-less approach.

One of the guys who trains with us has been wearing his Vibram 5 Fingers to all of his strength training sessions at Innovative Fitness over the last 3 months and he wears them while doing his intervals on the treadmill.

The feedback he has given me is that he has noticed a definite improvement in his running performance and lower body strength.

Just last weekend he ran a PR over the half marathon distance and swears the shoeless training helped him achieve this milestone.

In the April issue of the IDEA Fitness Journal Coaches and Trainers were provided with 10 steps to developing a safe and effective barefoot training program.

This is what was recommended:

Step 1: Start the progression by doing various activities of daily life without shoes eg houswork, gardening etc.
Step 2: Introduce some movements without shoes, on an even, grass or indoor surface. Activities such easy running, other games and even Calisthenics.
Step 3: Progressive overload - run for 5 - 10 minutes at the start of a training session and then at then end of the session for a week or 2.
Step 4: Week 1 & 2 - No more than 30 minutes barefoot running per session.
Step 5: Gradually increase time (remember the 10% rule?) or combine 3 short sessions into a longer session.
Step 6: Variety is the spice of life: run indoors, outdoors, grassy and sand etc
Step 7: Slowly progress onto harder surfaces, starting with walking and then walk - run and then run. Watch out for glass, stones and other items that might cause injury.
Step 8: Use indoor facilities during the colder seasons of the year.
Step 9: If injuries start to arise - stop the progression immediately and work on rehabilitating the injury.
Step 10: Provide customers with information about products that are available which simulate barefoot running.

I agree with these recommendations wholeheartedly, and am confident that if followed, these steps will enable you to incorporate barefoot running into your running program.

Would I run barefoot? The answer is "yes".

I am extremely interested to see how the incorporation of barefoot running into my own training program will benefit me.

The key take away here is that barefoot running can play a positive part in helping you improve your running and your fitness. It should not, however, be seen as a replacement to the traditional running practices, but rather, as an additional training tool program.

1 comment:

Jessica Johnson said...

I do walk on pebbles or beach rocks cause I love foot reflexology. The pressure I get on my feet reflexes really relaxes me. But with barefoot running, it just doesn't work for me. I tried it once and it didn't feel good. It's hard to stay focused because you have to be careful where you place your feet. However, I’ve been wearing the Minimus Zero shoe from New Balance for a couple months. It’s a great compromise.