I have a real problem with so-called ‘experts’ who use their standing in the Academic and Health Communities to shoot down emerging concepts and practices in their field of expertise. Dismissive attitudes towards barefoot running, labelling it as a mere fad is an insult to their contemporaries and advertises either a closed-mindedness or sheer ignorance on their own behalf. (more…)
If you have even the slightest passing interest in running, you would have read something about barefoot running recently. It is very topical at present. Media exposure has been given largely to those who fall in one of two categories; those who advocate barefoot running and those that oppose it.
I believe the biggest issue relating to barefoot running is exactly those two groups of people; those that swing vehemently to one side or the other. I like to think I have a rather balanced perspective on barefoot running, so in the spirit of balance over the next couple of blogs I will hang some trash on both the zealots and the cynics!
So first up, we have the barefoot running evangelists:
It would seem that supporters of barefoot running would have you believe that it is your shoes, and the evil multi-national companies that make them, that are at fault for all the niggles, pain and injuries that you have had in your running life. Barefoot running is the panacea, the magic bullet, the one simple change that if you apply, shall cure all and you will become the ultra-marathoning God that has always resided within.
At last search, there is not a single published, peer-reviewed study that has proven that barefoot running reduces the likelihood of injury.
That is not to say there is not ‘evidence’. Their are case studies, and case studies are a (pretty poor) form of evidence! I have read a few of these case studies and they are compelling. Typically they go something like this:
Mr/Ms Runner, after years of toiling with running injuries, and thousands spent of physio and podiatry, orthotics and supportive, expensive shoes, in desperation, took up barefoot running and hey presto, problems solved.
That is a summary of the first paragraph and often that is all that is absorbed by the reader. If you read these case studies in more detail however, they almost always describe a concurrent ‘barefoot conditioning’ program including some stretches, mobility drills, self-directed massage, strengthening exercises and usually a dramatic reduction in kms before a slow and steady re-build.
As far as scientific quality goes that is not ticking many boxes. Barefoot running wasn’t the only change made, it wasn’t the only variable. Many changes were made to the program, yet alone the likely changes to running form typcial of barefoot running such as a decrease in stride length/increse in cadence and a probable shift of foot-strike from the rear toward the front.
The question I would ask is this: If Mr/Ms Runner made all of those supplementary changes and kept their shoes on, would their experience have improved also? That is unknown.
A published case study does exist, in which two otherwise healthy runners made only one change- from supportive, cushioned shoes into barefoot mimicking shoes and both ended up with stress fractures in their feet (Giuliani et al, 2011).
In fairness to almost all barefoot-advocates that I have read and spoken to, a progressive preparation phase to acclimatise to barefoot running is seen as essential to minimise injury risk. It may then be the fault of the media that this message is deduced down to such a simplistic cause-and-effect mentality- that barefoot running cures running injuries.
Our society craves simple solutions to complex problems- the weight loss industry is built on that! And the media’s purpose is to grab our attention so I understand their motivation to be controversial and appeal to our wants. But let it be known- barefoot running, in isolation is not THE cure for running injuries. If you are getting injured from running it is probably because: you are physically incapable of running well; don’t know how to run well; you aren’t managing your body well; or a combination of some or all of the above.
In my next blog I will discuss the role barefoot running can play in improving your running style and how being a closed-minded cynic is to your detriment.
A recent inquiry by the Gallup World Poll aimed to discover which is the happiest country in the world. If you want to maintain the suspense of not knowing, look away now.
IT WAS DENMARK!
Reason: The Danes trust each other!
In a summary of findings, it was noted that the happiest countries correlated with lower levels of competition. And with strong links between happiness and health, I’ve drawn a few social parallels on Australia’s exercise participation rates: (more…)