A growing trend in the world of running is going at it barefoot or sporting minimalist footwear. The reason — some think traditional running shoes make running harder, slower, and more injurious.
According to Active.com, there are numerous shoe styles that inhibit natural foot movement. Minimalist footwear proponents assert landing on the ball of the foot is more natural than “heel striking,” which has been linked to the use of heavily padded shoes, along with calf, leg, and knee injuries.
While this may be true in some cases, a handful of new studies are suggesting high quality running shoes may be more beneficial over the long run.
A recent study published by the Journal of Applied Physiology discovered there is minimal data to prove that either front or heel striking reduces the number or types of injuries. Both groups (front and heel strikers) reported pains within the shin and calf. However, it was learned that low-drop/low-heel height footwear is beneficial — more so than retraining one’s foot strike methodology.
A perfect example of a low-heel running shoe is the Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra. High-quality low-heel shoes have been proven more effective than those with large amounts of heel padding.
In another study, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that heel-striking is most efficient, as heal strikers tend to utilize less oxygen and can run at the same pace as forefoot strikers. Additionally, those that struck with their heels first tended to use fats and other fuel sources and spared limited stores of carbohydrates.
According to Dr. Allison Gruber, when runners deplete carbohydrates they “hit the wall” and become fatigued. “These results tell us that people will hit the wall faster if they are running with a forefoot pattern versus a rear-foot pattern.”
At the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Indianapolis, there were five different studies that discovered minimalist and barefoot-style footwear doesn’t provide significant benefits to runners.
– A group of 566 runners were asked if they had experimented with minimalist shoes. One-third of the group admitted to trying them, and nearly 32 percent of experimenters said they suffered related injuries. This prompted the majority of them to switch to their old running shoes.
– Brigham Young University failed to find evidence that minimalist footwear or running barefoot toughens foot muscles and lessens the chance for injury.
– “There are lots of individual instances where people report that change from one type of running shoes or running form to another was good for them,” said Roger Kram, professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder. “There are also lots of cases of people switching or trying to switch who got hurt.”
– There is no one-size-fits-all solution for all runners. Kram suggests that “biomechanics of running are not simple… generic proclamations are surely incorrect.”
In other words, it is important for all runners to discover what works best for their own bodies.
“I always recommend that runners run the way that is most natural and comfortable for them,” said Dr. Gruber. “Each runner runs a certain way for a reason, likely because of the way they were physically built. Unless there is some indication that you should change things, such as repeated injury, do not mess with that plan.”
Want to dig deeper into the debate? The following discussion on barefoot running is quite interesting: