Five months ago, I bought minimal running shoes, which main purpose is to simulate barefoot running. After using them almost everyday and reading several studies, I am able to broaden your vision of their potential effects on your health.
We can distinguish the modern runners from the barefoot runners by their strike. Runners shod with heel cushioned shoes heel foot strike (HFS), meaning their heel enters in contact with the ground first, in opposition to barefoot or minimal shoes runners that tend to forefoot strike (FFS). (1.)
The impact on the entire body is extremely different from HFS to FFS. Running on the heels increases impact by transmitting energy through the body and decreases efficiency, while running on the forefoot decreases impact by storing energy in the calves and achille’s talon muscles and increases efficiency. (1.)
Moreover, barefoot and minimal shoes runners suffer no greater impact when landing on hard surfaces rather than soft surfaces, because running on the forefoot lowers their center of gravity and thus, reduces the impact. (1.)
Regarding running related injuries, HFS can cause plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the plantar fascia, the connective tissue or ligament on the sole of the foot), shin splints (pain in the connective muscle tissue surrounding the tibia), iliotibial band syndrome (pain in the iliotibial band which is a thick band of fascia on the lateral aspect of the knee, extending from the outside of the pelvis, over the hip and knee, and inserting just below the knee) and perapatellar pain (pain originating from the contact of the posterior surface of the patella (back of the kneecap) with the femur due to excessive pronation or supination and shock loading of the limbs). On the other hand, FFS compensates the lack of cushioning by plantar-flexing the foot at contact. Furthermore, the forces acting on hip joints are lowered during barefoot or minimal shoes jogging.
Aside from decreasing the risk of injury, FFS allows for better balance, better impact and efficiency in performance and lowers the runner’s center of gravity. (2.)
It is only since the 70’s that everyone, including athletes, runs with modern running shoes with cushioned heels, arch support and stiffened sole. Anthropologically we are not evolutionary made to run HFS. (3.)
During the 1960 Olympic Games in Roma, Abebe Bikila, an ethiopian marathon runner, won the gold medal and established a world record completely barefoot. This anectode leads me to the introduction of the minimal shoes brand : Vibram, which paid tribute to Bikila by naming one of their Fivefingers model after him.
A study comparing three running fashions (running barefoot, with Fivefingers, and with standard running shoes) demonstrated that Fivefingers emulate barefoot running conditions effectively while providing a small amount of protection and cushioning (4).
I wore Fivefingers mainly outdoors, when I was staying in Florida where the weather is favorable for wearing this kind of shoes.
During this period my bicycle was the only mean of transportation that I had. Since I have long limbs and especially longer legs than arms, (a little bit like a T-REX…), in order for me to be able to hold the handlebar but still have enough room for my legs, having shoes with almost no soles proved a big help for overall riding comfort. So minimal shoes are ideal for active people who also like shoes with thin soles.
Running is not the cardiovascular activity I prefer, but I enjoy sprinting and running short races as part of circuit training and these shoes are perfect for these activities. Fivefingers are also well adapted for powerlifting movements like deadlifts or squats. I used to train in crossfit and beside the olympic lifts for which you need specific hard heeled shoes, the Vibram are ideal for the gymnastic, body weight exercises, and monostructural metabolic conditioning (cardiovascular activity) which are the main part of a WOD (workout of the day).
From the moment you understand the concept of FFS, it is an amazing and efficient way to train your calves. However, be careful and begin progressively : If you are not used to FFS you could wake up the next morning with serious calf soreness.
During my first days of barefoot activity, I was afraid to twist my ankles by running FFS, but in fact, the lower leg and foot are more engaged in order to stabilize and strengthen the ankle, making it perfectly safe.
I could not consider running without minimal shoes anymore.
1. A Review of Dr. Daniel E. Lieberman’s study, “Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners”
2. http://www.sportsci.org : Review Training & Performance : Barefoot Running by Michael Warburton, 2001.
3. What We Can Learn About Running from Barefoot Running: An Evolutionary Medical Perspective by Daniel E. Lieberman, Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge MA, 2012.
4. Biomechanical and physiological comparison of barefoot and two shod conditions in experienced barefoot runners by Squandrone R. and Gallozzi C. Institute of sport medicine and sport science, Italian Olympic National Committee, Rome, Italy. March 2009.
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