Barefoot Running: The Bare Truth!
So I’ve been wanting to write a post on the barefoot running craze for some time now, but this Running Barefoot article in the Huffington Post really sparked my keystrokes. Dr. Neil Blitz, Chief of Foot Surgery and Chairman of Orthopaedics at Bronx Lebanon Hospital in New York wrote the article and of course the Angry Trainer just had to comment.
Yes, it’s no secret that I’m not a fan a distance running, and have written numerous posts on what I feel are the negative effects this form of exercise can have on your body. And there’s scientific evidence, as well as real world statistics to back up my points. Check out Why Marathon’s May Not Make You Healthy for more of my thoughts. But regardless of whether I’m right or wrong, people will still run. Now it seems as though the key question being asked is whether or not runners should be wearing sneakers, with a new “natural running” movement starting to gather steam. Yep, barefoot running is the latest fitness craze!
To which I say – Seriously?
The barefoot groupies will tell you that this trend retrains your foot muscles, changes how you run, and connects you more with the earth. They’ll say wearing shoes weakens your feet and increases your risk for injury. And some even argue that traditional shoes and sneakers will soon be a thing of the past. Well, I’m afraid I’m in total disagreement. I left comments on the article and received a barrage of insults on how I look, along with comments telling me to “free my feet”. Uh okay?
To me it’s common sense to wear sneakers while running, and shoes during everyday life. The “get back to nature” part of this idea doesn’t sit well with me. Our sophisticated brain has allowed us to develop shelter, clothing, technology, agriculture and many other inventions that have extended our life span, as well as improve it. Shoes, sneakers and footwear in general were created for a reason – to protect and support our feet.
Generally, 40 – 60 % of your weight is placed on each joint during normal activity, but when running, this number can increase three fold. That’s a tremendous amount of pressure being placed on each toe, foot, ankle, knee, hip, and let’s not forget the disks between the vertebrae in your spine – yes they act as a buffer also. As a trainer, I already see numerous foot injuries, ankle sprains, nagging knee and hip issues and heel spurs from people than run with sneakers. How much more would I see if everyone was barefoot? Don’t even try to tell me they were injured because they had sneakers on – that’s ludicrous.
It seems counter intuitive to me that running barefoot is actually better for you. How can it be when it provides less cushion, absorption, stability and comfort. I can tell you in my conversations with various foot doctors throughout the years one theme is common – the foot needs support. Even without running, the human foot will deteriorate over time; the arch will collapse, and the foot will flatten out. This is totally normal and part of the aging process. Now in my mind, running barefoot would only make these conditions worse, and may potentially end up causing serious, possibly permanent damage.
Some proponents will recommend minimalistic footwear like Vibram Five Fingers and other odd looking shoes that look like gloves for your feet. I can tell you that for years I wore nothing but the original Converse Chuck Taylors. You know the ones that are just canvas, no insole, not support, no nothing? You can’t get much more Spartan than those. I did everything in them; workouts, martial arts, even running 8 miles or sprinting. Guess what happened? I wrecked my feet. I suffered such terrible pain in my feet that I had to walk sideways down stairs and every step was painful. I gave in and finally got myself a great pair of running shoes and almost overnight the pain went away. I’ve never looked back and my feet feel terrific.
Sure, the wrong shoe, or one that doesn’t fit properly can cause damage to your feet. Each person’s feet are unique, and truthfully the sneakers you wear should be carefully chosen depending on what your specific needs are. I think it’s something that is sorely overlooked with most people buying brands and styles based on name and color, not necessarily for the right support. But even so, I believe that those who choose to run barefoot will ultimately suffer in the long run (pardon the pun). I just can’t see how they won’t.
*Edit 4/27/11 – I’ve had a lot of feedback regarding my remarks on the Vibram Five Fingers, and many of you are saying the same thing; that they’re great! So, as my interest has always been to provide you with the truth, I’m going to try a pair of these glove-like footwear myself, and give you my own personal account. I’m really excited actually as I love learning things that teach me sometihing new and change my view on a particular subject. But don’t get too excited, nothing will change my mind about barefoot running!
But what do you think? Do you run barefoot? Have you been injured while doing so, or do you love it? Start sending your thoughts!
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