Ask any runner the number one thing they’d like to change about how they feel– they’ll tell you they want less injuries.
There’s been a lot of hype recently about “barefooting”, or running with so-called shoeless shoes like Vibram Five Fingers.
Is barefoot running the answer to runners’ quest for less injuries?
All signs point to ‘yes’ and here’s why:
As profiled in recent stories on NPR, Harvard anthropologist Dan Lieberman concludes from studying our ancestors that humans, after we came down from the trees, needed to run well to get away from big animals, and to catch small ones for food. We developed a specialty that gave us an advantage over much faster four-legged animals– a penchant for endurance.
You can run without injury. Start slow sans shoes, stay with it, and the sky’s the limit
Over time, we grew longer legs and lighter feet. To absorb impact, our joints in our legs and pelvis got bigger, as did our butt muscle.
But how could we run very long distances using just our bare feet? Most runners today wouldn’t be able to walk the next day if they went for their normal run sans shoes.
It turns out that biomechanically, we run very differently without shoes, if we’re used to doing it. Modern running shoes, in broad use only since about the 1970s, have trained us to land comfortably on our heels, creating a “sudden impluse” or “sharp strike of force” when we land. This force can be 1 and 1/2, or up to 3 times our body weight. But if we’re used to running barefoot, we land much farther forward, either on the ball of the foot or somewhere in the middle.
And even if you’re not trained to run this way, you will start to do so the more you run barefoot. It has to do with pain avoidance.
The benefit of running this way? More spring in your step. The ligaments in the human arch, working together with the calf muscles are more energy efficient when we land on the balls of our feet. We capitalize on the structure of the arch and literally get more of a spring with each footfall.
But, we have to work up to this kind of running. Here’s more about the biomechanics of barefoot running, and how to introduce it: