Barefoot Running or Natural Running
Is barefoot running just a new trend? Or are we just trying to get back to our roots. Initially when I heard about barefoot running I was a bit sceptical, but then soon enough I got hooked too. After doing extensive research over the past nine months and having attended a few courses by experts in the field, I have too taken to barefoot or minimalist running to see if it will change my running and prevent me from getting injured, such as my ongoing issues with shin splints, plantar fasciitis and compartment syndrome.
Did you know that up to 80% of runners are injured every year?
It is particularly interesting to note that rates of injury are higher amongst runners in modern cities like Melbourne (where use of modern running shoes is the norm) than in developing countries where specialised footwear is less readily available.
Despite widespread use of the modern running shoe over the last 40 or so years, with its’ emphasis on safety and injury prevention, a concomitant decrease in the rate at which runners become injured has sadly not been observed, despite convincing advertisements to the contrary. Instead the rate of injury among runners appears to have increased, with several more recent papers showing that use of modern footwear (with design features specific to the runners foot type) appears to contribute to increased rates of injury when compared to runners who were placed in generic footwear (ie. not specific to their foot type).
One of the defining characteristics of the modern running shoe the addition of cushioning and support, which encourages runners to develop a heel strike pattern of running. When you heel strike, your foot lands in front of your body causing a large braking force. This not only puts a huge amount of stress on the body, but is also felt to be less efficient as some of the kinetic energy or forward movement is lost during the process.
When we land with the forefoot or mid-foot during running, we make contact with the ground closer to our centre of gravity, have less contact time and consequently run with a shorter, but more efficient running stride. This is because our muscles, tendons and fascia are able to store energy, in a similar manner to a spring or elastic band. By staying off your heels, you are utilising this stored energy in structures like your achilles tendon and your plantar fascia, allowing your foot and ankle to act as a natural spring. By running barefoot, we not only have a more natural and efficient running style, we tend to tread lighter, as our feet can be sensitive to a harder impact. This, in turn, also reduces the amount of stress we place on our bodies and therefore the risk of injury that we expose ourselves to.
Blaise Dubois a physiotherapist from The Running Clinic in Canada, who is a strong advocate of minimalist running, believes in correcting ones form to prevent injuries and the best way to do that is to run barefoot. Dubois reports that within a few hundred metres of running barefoot the runner will soon learn not to land on their heels as it is just simply too painful. The advantage conveyed adopting a more minimalist approach to running is echoed by a number of the worlds leading researchers and clinicians:
Daniel Lieberman, a leading academic from Harvard University describes ‘A barefoot style is a natural style, that the human body has adapted, through natural selection, over millions of years’. Please see video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jrnj-7YKZE
Osteopath, acupuncturist and researcher, Philip Beach (NZ), believes very much in the concept of looking to our distant ancestors to more fully appreciate how our bodies were actually designed to move. He points out that we aren’t designed to spend our days constrained by regularly shaped objects (like chairs for instance) and therefore would benefit by adapting ourselves to spending time in natural resting positions (which don’t require chairs). These resting position are not only great for our flexibility, but also excellent for our posture and strength. They require you to get up and down from the floor up to 30 times a day. Beach is also a big believer of barefoot walking, especially on irregular hard surfaces. He has even gone to extreme of putting down a bed of rocks on his kitchen floor. A big part of his believes is the sensory feedback that we get from the ground and how this directly correlates with the proprioception of all the joints and muscles of our legs and lower back. Beach often prescribes barefoot walking to help with someone with low back pain, as he often describes shoes as ‘sensory deprivation chambers’.
In today’s modern world, shoes do provide protection for the feet from hazards like broken glass, and they do also act as a fashion statement. This post is not about ditching your shoes for good, but for those looking to improve their running.
Looking to Run Barefoot?
If you are looking to do a bit of barefoot running to improve your form and efficiency, make sure to listen to your body and allow it to adapt slowly, as this is something you do not normally do. Start out with small amounts, as too much too soon will put extra stress on certain structures such as the calves and the achilles tendon. Gradually increase the distance, the same you would normally do to build your running (the 10% rule). A good example is when you go for your normal run, find an oval, kick off your shoes, and do a lap and then put your shoes back on and continue with your run. If you were looking to go with a more minimalist approach to the running shoe, the same sort of principle applies, as there is often a large difference in the heel height. Start by one shorter run a week in the minimalist shoes (or racing flats), and gradually increase.
I will keep you posted on how my running goes. So far with this new style and approach, I am setting new PB’s for myself. I am currently running in Saucony Fastwitch 5′s, which is a a light weight shoe with a 4mm heel lift. Having just come from the Brook Adrenaline’s this is a big change in shoe structure. Next I look to go to a racing flat with zero heel lift to get more of a natural feel. The main thing is that I am loving my running, which enables me to take full advantage of some of the wonderful running tracks which Melbourne has to offer, and you should too.
For some more helpful tips on a natural running form, watch the video below by Dr. Mark Cucuzzella:
Mosaic Health specialise in running and sports injuries, make and appointment today.
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 Knapik JJ, Swedler DI, Grier TL, Hauret KG, Bullock SH, Williams KW, Darakjy SS, Lester ME, Tobler SK, Jones BH. Injury reduction effectiveness of selecting running shoes based on plantar shape. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 May;23(3):685-97.
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 Hespanhol Junior LC, Costa LO, Carvalho AC, Lopes AD. A description of training characteristics and its association with previous musculoskeletal injuries in recreational runners: a cross-sectional study. Rev Bras Fisioter. 2012 Jan-Feb;16(1):46-53.
 Lohman EB 3rd, Balan Sackiriyas KS, Swen RW. A comparison of the spatiotemporal parameters, kinematics, and biomechanics between shod, unshod, and minimally supported running as compared to walking. Phys Ther Sport. 2011 Nov;12(4):151-63. Epub 2011 Oct 17.
‘Born to Run’ – By Chris McDouggall
‘Tread Lightly’ – By Peter Larson & Bill Katovsky
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