Giving back

I feel it is VERY important to help others, so I will be donating AT LEAST 10% of all profits generated from this site to help in Humanitarian Aid around the world.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Latest run in my Vibram Five Fingers

I went for a 3 mile run yesterday in my Vibrams on a perimeter gravel road on the Navy Base where I work.
It was a good run, I took it easy and just cruised. I love running in my Vibrams! I will never go back to traditional running shoes!
I can't even imagine running in foot coffins again!
I am working my way back into running full swing and making it a big part of my life.

I also wanted to post a link to one of my favorite stores: The North Face. I love them, they have so many products I love. If you are an outdoor person you will love the stuff they have. Check them out via the banner below.

The North Face

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Top 11 Health Benefits of Drinking Water

I thought this would be a good topic for this blog since drinking water is esential if you are working out.

You will be amazed of the benefits of drinking water as follow:

1.Lose weight: Drinking water helps you lose weight because it flushes down the by-products of fat breakdown. Drinking water reduces hunger, it’s an effective appetite suppressant so you’ll eat less. Plus, water has zero calories. Here are the further details on how to achieve fat loss by drinking water.

2.Natural Remedy for Headache: Helps to relieve headache and back pains due to dehydration. Although there are many other reasons contribute to headache, dehydration is the common one.

3.Look Younger with Healthier Skin: You’ll look younger when your skin is properly hydrated. Water helps to replenish skin tissues, moisturizes skin and increase skin elasticity.

4.Better Productivity at Work: Your brain is mostly made up of water, thus drinking water helps you think better, be more alert and more concentrate.

5.Better Exercise: Drinking water regulates your body temperature. You’ll feel more energetic when doing exercises and water helps to fuel your muscle.

6.Helps in Digestion and Constipation: Drinking water raises your metabolism because it helps in digestion. Fiber and water goes hand in hand so that you can have your daily bowel movement.

7.Less Cramps and Sprains: Proper hydration helps keep your joints and muscles lubricated, so you’ll less likely get cramps and sprains.

8.Less Likely to Get Sick and Feel Healthy: Drinking plenty of water helps fight against flu and other ailments like kidney stones and heart attack. Water adds with lemon is used for ailments like respiratory disease, intestinal problems, rheumatism and arthritis etc. Another words one of the benefits of drinking water can improve our immune system. Follow this link for further information on how lemon water can improve your health.

9.Relieves Fatigue: Water is used by the body to help flush out toxins and waste products from the body. If your body lacks of water, your heart, for instance, need to work harder to pump out the oxygenated blood to all cells, so are the rest of the vital organs, your organs will be exhausted and so are you.

10.Good Mood: Your body fells very good that’s why you soul feels happy.

11.Reduce the Risk of Cancer: Related to the digestive system, some studies show that drinking a healthy amount of water may reduce the risks of bladder cancer and colon cancer. Water dilutes the concentration of cancer-causing agents in the urine and shortens the time in which they are in contact with bladder lining.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Running Away from It All

By S. Scott Zimmerman

S. Scott Zimmerman, “Running Away from It All,” Ensign, Feb. 1981, 28

Losing weight is a pastime for millions in affluent societies, but regaining weight is an even more popular pastime. Of those who consult a physician for help in losing weight, only 7% actually reach their desired weight, and only 2% are able to maintain this for one year. In America alone, in spite of diets, weight-loss gadgets, medications, health spas, and fitness clinics, about 60 percent of the adults over the age of 30 are still overweight.

Why are people overweight? Most of us believe that the cause is overeating. While it is true that you can’t gain weight from food you don’t eat, to claim that overeating is the sole cause of obesity is an oversimplification. Let me cite seven research findings which indicate that obesity is not just lack of self-discipline in eating habits.

1. A study has shown that most obese people don’t eat more than those of normal weight.

2. Two studies have shown that obese children actually eat fewer calories than children of normal weight.

3. One study has shown that obese individuals often have longer small intestines than normal. This would lead to faster absorption of food.

4. Volunteer subjects from slimming clubs were incarcerated and observed for three weeks. Fed a 1500-calorie per day diet (which in theory should yield a two pound per week weight loss), nineteen individuals lost weight, nine maintained their weight, and two actually gained weight.

5. In another study, a group of subjects were persuaded to eat seven thousand to ten thousand calories per day for two hundred days or more, with an expected weight increase of 20 to 25 percent. Some reached the expected weight with ease, but others did so only with much difficulty, and others failed to gain any weight at all even though they consumed more than those who gained readily.

6. Hunger is a complex physiological and psychological phenomenon probably involving the release of recently discovered “hunger” hormones. We do not fully understand when and why these hormones are released, but some obese people may be the victims of improper hormone release.

7. Being overweight may be partly hereditary. For example, adopted children have a greater chance of having weight profiles like their biological parents than their adopted parents.

Thus, research suggests that obesity is not a simple matter of overeating and lack of self-control.

The Diet Cycle

One conclusion I draw from all this is that diet may not be the total answer in solving weight problems. Let’s look at the cycle that usually occurs when a typical person, John Doe, goes on a diet.

First, John stands in front of a mirror, sees rolls of ugly fat, and decides to lose twenty pounds. He cuts down on his eating.

Second, let’s say for the sake of argument that John loses ten pounds. However, unknown to him, 30 to 50 percent of his weight loss was muscle. That means he lost about five pounds of fat, which is good, and five pounds of muscle, which is bad.

Third, John’s body resists this destruction of protein by making John feel uncomfortable and irritable. The diet is no fun; John is miserable.

Fourth, John goes off his diet. The miserable means (dieting) simply did not justify the hoped-for end (slimness).

Fifth, now John is discouraged. Since he knows nothing about the physiology of weight loss, he feels he lacks self-discipline. His self-image, strained in the first place by his weight problem, now dips to a new low.

Sixth, if John is like most overweight people, his discouragement leads to more eating.

Seventh, John regains the ten pounds he lost.

I am not saying that weight reduction diets are always unsuccessful, because there are a few people who do find success from dieting. What I am saying is that for most people, diet alone is not the answer to weight control.

So what is the answer? Unfortunately, there is no magic potion or miracle gadget. There is, however, a well-documented solution to most people’s weight problem: endurance exercise.

Endurance Exercise
The right kind of exercise breaks the ill effects of the diet cycle. It increases the efficiency of burning fat and therefore prevents net loss of muscle tissue during dieting. It decreases appetite relative to the calories burned during increased activity, and it increases the lean body mass (while it decreases the amount of fat) to help maintain strength and fitness. Most of the difficulties of losing weight through diet alone can be overcome through endurance exercise.

The following is a simple exercise program designed for weight loss and fitness. Anyone who plans to use this or a similar program safely should consult a physician before embarking on the program. This is especially true for those who are very heavy, who have been physically inactive for some time, who are elderly, or who have some other health problem. The plan is designed for an average person, eighteen to fifty years old, of average fitness, and in relatively good health except for being overweight.

1. Run and/or walk ten miles per week spread over four or more days. I suggest you start by walking only, unless you are very fit. Try to walk one mile. If you begin to feel weary, slow down or stop. Start easy, go slow, and don’t overdo. In a proper endurance exercise plan, there may be room for slight discomfort but none for pain. If your first mile goes well, try going farther the next day. Don’t run. Walk until you can cover about two miles a day, five days a week, or a total of ten miles a week. Some people can start out at the full distance. Others will require a few weeks or even a few months.

After reaching that goal, if you feel you can, gradually mix in a little slow jogging. For example, walk two to three blocks, run a block, walk two to three blocks, and so on. If the running becomes painful or unduly fatiguing or especially if it induces dizziness, walk or stop altogether (after cooling down first, of course). The biggest problem in a fitness program is not lack of determination but too much of it; overdoing can precipitate stress injuries, soreness, undue tiredness, or even heart problems. Use your determination to keep patiently at the program, not to walk or run more than your body can handle.

Gradually increase the amount of slow, easy running until you are running all ten miles per week. Now you are ready to go to the next step. If you have problems running but still can walk comfortably, go to step 2.

2. Increase your weekly distance gradually to twenty miles. Never run more than two miles farther in one week than you did the week before. Never increase mileage from one week to the next if you experience undue stress or fatigue. Have the courage to give your muscles, tendons, and ligaments time to adjust. Once you have reached twenty miles per week, just keep doing it. Don’t worry about speed. Fast running won’t do you any more good than slow running. Just run (or walk) twenty gentle miles a week.

3. Eat a balanced diet. Don’t worry so much about food (but certainly don’t increase your food intake). The main focus of this program is the exercise. If after six weeks or so, you want to lose weight a little faster, consider cutting down on your eating if you already haven’t naturally. But the main thing is to eat a balanced diet from the fruit and vegetable group, the bread and grain group, the meat group (which includes dried beans and nuts), and the dairy group.

4. Listen to your body. I believe that many people with weight problems think of their bodies as an enemy deceiving them into flabbiness. This is faulty thinking. If you listen to your body, you will have a greater likelihood of success in your exercise and in your diet. When you are out running and your body says something is wrong, stop running! Cool down, and then go home.

When your body feels it needs more sleep, get more sleep! When your body starts to feel full, stop eating! Of course, make sure you’re eating balanced meals first (which should include fruits and vegetables, grains, meat, and dairy products); but even here, your body can tell you what you need to do: when your body starts to crave more fruits and vegetables and less “junk food” or other foods, eat more fruits and vegetables! If you will listen carefully, your body will help you in getting back to full fitness and health.

That’s. the plan: (1) run and/or walk ten miles per week; (2) up the distance to twenty miles per week; (3) eat a balanced diet; (4) listen to your body.

Why Running?

This fitness program suggests long, slow distance running (or walking) as the main type of exercise. While other types of endurance exercise are just as valuable, and even may be better for you in your particular circumstances, I suggest running because:

1. It is the right kind of exercise—repetitive, large lower-body muscle exercise. Swimming, cycling, and cross-country skiing are also excellent exercise.

2. It is convenient. This is probably running’s best feature. You can do it anytime, with or without a partner, in any kind of weather, and in any location—around a track, across fields, on roads and sidewalks, along the beach, through city parks, or along mountain paths.

3. It is inexpensive. A good pair of running shoes can cost from thirty to fifty dollars. Comfortable running clothing is all you need. True, you can spend a lot on jogging outfits, but they are unnecessary.

4. It can be noncompetitive or competitive, whichever you prefer. Running has become so popular you can find a road race somewhere near your home almost every weekend of the year. Yet most of America’s twenty-five million joggers never enter a race.

5. It is fun. You probably don’t believe me since your only running before this has been one-mile jogs, forced marches in the army, or laps around the practice field as punishment in your high school P.E. class. And almost everyone finds running painful and boring until they get up to about twenty miles per week. After that—well, get into shape and find out for yourself how enjoyable it can be.

Why Twenty Miles Per Week?

A common question is, “Why twenty miles per week? Why can’t I get by on ten?” Let me give you four reasons:

1. To reduce weight and control body fat. At ten miles of running per week, the fat-burning efficiency in most people is still not developed well enough for significant weight loss. But twenty miles a week will handle even the most stubborn fat. Moreover, running twenty miles a week burns over two thousand calories, or about two-thirds of a pound of fat—the equivalent of two big meals. So for losing weight, running twenty miles is quite significant.

Running twenty miles a week also increases your body’s muscle, not only making you stronger but also increasing your basal metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn just sitting around). This means you can eat the same and lose weight, or eat more and stay the same weight.

2. To increase cardiovascular fitness and decrease the risk of heart attack. 14 Jogging a mile a day or playing racquetball three days a week seem to have only a slight effect on reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Several recently published research reports show that the risk of cardiovascular disease is significantly reduced by exercising two thousand calories per week—and running twenty miles burns about two thousand calories.

3. To exercise without competition. People who are aggressive, pressured, and constantly trying to do more in less time seem more susceptible to cardiovascular disease. Mile-a-day jogging or thrice-a-week racquetball playing often promote competition and aggression and can become one more item for such people to do “faster” and “better” and “more efficiently.” Long, slow distance running is gentle, noncompetitive, and nonaggressive. It allows you to get out-of-doors, to get away from the pressures of life, and to be alone. Or it allows leisurely conversation with friends and family or relaxed sightseeing of your neighborhood.

4. The final reason for running twenty miles a week is to make exercise enjoyable. It’s a case of more being easier. At about twenty miles per week, the runner is usually freed from discomfort and boredom.

Other Suggestions

Here are a few more suggestions which may be helpful, as long as you are trying to lose weight and become fit:

1. Eat slower. Your overweight body may be slow in signaling that you have eaten enough.

2. Eat more dried beans, fruit, vegetables, and grains. They provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and protein without a lot of excess calories.

3. Cut down on red meat and refined sugar, although neither in moderation is harmful. (Replace some of the red meat you eat with poultry and fish, which are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol).

4. Drink water before, during, and after exercise. It’s an old wives’ tale that water and vigorous exercise will cause cramps.

5. Warm up before running by walking or slow jogging. And “cool down” after a run by walking. Static stretching (stretch, then hold) is also recommended following exercise.

6. If you can’t carry on a conversation comfortably while running, you are running too fast.

7. Exercise on an empty stomach. It will not only help you avoid side aches and stomach cramps but also help you cut down on eating. Allow about three hours after eating before running.

8. Get plenty of sleep.

9. Talk with experienced runners about your sport, or read a good book on running. It will give you additional practical advice and motivation.

10. Buy a good pair of running shoes to help prevent excessive stress on ankles and knees. Talk to sales clerks in sports and running stores.

As I talk to individuals and groups about exercise and weight control, certain questions seem always to come up. Here are a few of them:

1. “I have bad knees and can’t run. What should I do?” Maybe you had the wrong shoes. Good shoes cushion and stabilize the feet, and in turn cause less stress on the knees. Tennis shoes are fine for tennis and basketball but not for running. But if you still feel your knees can’t take running, then try swimming, cycling, and cross-country skiing, or just walking.

2. “What is the best brand of running shoes?” There is no single best brand. In fact, certain companies make both good and bad running shoes. Moreover, shoe companies continually improve their shoe models. Read articles, consult other runners, and talk to the sales clerks at a reputable sports shop or running store.

3. “How much swimming or bicycling should I do if I choose these exercises?” The goal is to exercise at a level of about two thousand calories per week. This means about twenty miles of running, five miles of swimming, or sixty miles of bicycling.

4. “What about other sports such as basketball, raquetball, tennis, or golf?” All of these sports are good exercise, but their intensity and duration are usually less valuable than repetitive, endurance exercise. Research suggests that cardiovascular fitness is difficult to attain through these sports.

5. “Do stationary bicycles (exercycles) provide proper exercise?” Yes. If you buy a good exercycle and ride it the equivalent of sixty miles per week, you will get the same benefit as from an outdoor bicycle. Many people like the exercycle because they don’t have to go outside and they can read or watch television while exercising.

6. “If I run in the cold, won’t I ‘burn’ my lungs?” No. Studies in Canada have shown that lung damage won’t occur until temperatures drop to –40° F. Surface frostbite can occur, however, so make sure you wear the proper clothing. I would not hesitate to run at –10° F if there is no wind. Consult running books and magazines for more information about safe temperatures and wind-chills.

7. “How can I know my proper weight?” Although several sophisticated methods are available for estimating proper weight, the easiest method is to look in the mirror. If you see rolls of fat, you’re overweight. A common rule of thumb is this: Grab the skin fold just below your rib cage while standing up. A one-inch-thick roll means you are ten pounds overweight. Another rule of thumb says that your ideal weight is what you weighed when you were eighteen. Unfortunately, many of us were a little overweight even in high school.

8. “I don’t have time to exercise that much. What should I do?” A friend of mine said, “You can take the time now or lose the time later.” I don’t know how true this is, but research does suggest (but not prove) that endurance exercise prolongs life. Running takes planning and scheduling, but most people can find time. For example, I know several people who run to work, saving time, gasoline, and the frustrations of parking. Again, it takes planning, but for some it’s the best way.

9. “What are some of the other benefits of endurance exercise?” I’ve already mentioned weight control and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Endurance exercise also helps reduce high blood pressure and relieve depression and nervous tension. Moreover, physicians report that physically fit people bounce back faster from injury and disease. Most people who stay on an endurance exercise program simply report, “It makes me feel better.”

Following an endurance program will almost certainly take inches from your waistline. But more importantly, you will discover how physical fitness makes everything in life a little more enjoyable.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Running Shoe Debate: How Barefoot Runners are Shaping the Shoe Industry

A group of running rebels are shedding their shoes and reporting years of injury-free miles. Some ultramarathoners, biomechanics experts and doctors think that's probably a good thing. Others go so far as to say running shoes are in fact causing injuries. Meanwhile, running shoe companies continue to precisely measure runners, and pound and flex shoes in their high-tech labs. Could shoes—and shoe companies—be covering hundreds of thousands of perfectly able bare feet? If shoes are doing damage, just what are the companies measuring?

By Tyghe Trimble
Published on: April 22, 2009

The Boston Marathon, one of the world's most competitive 26.2-mile races, had the best runners from Kenya, Ethiopia, the U.S. and around the globe churning out 5-minute miles on Monday for over two hours. While all eyes were on the front-runners—notably the United States' Ryan Hall (third) and Kara Goucher (third among female racers)—way back in the pack there was one person, Rick Roeber, who stole headlines with his unique running style. One glance at Roeber's feet and you can see what all the fuss is about: he isn't wearing shoes. And a number of people—ultramarathoners, biomechanics experts and doctors included—think that's probably the best way to run. Some go so far as to say running shoes are in fact causing injuries.

While entry into the Boston Marathon is a feat in itself—Roeber needed to have about an 8-minute-mile pace over 26 miles to qualify—attempting the race barefoot is something most runners would find an absurd, even obscene, gesture. Runners are hooked on shoes. For good reason, it would appear: Ranging from 5 mm to 22 mm thick and made mostly of polymer, running shoes are engineered to support feet for mile after mile of rough asphalt and rocky terrain. They protect vulnerable soles from glass and debris, provide padding and, shoe companies claim, help correct problematic twists and turns of our ankles and legs caused by excessive pronation.

But to barefoot advocates such as Chris McDougall, author of Born to Run (Knopf, hitting bookstores in May), Roeber is one of the few in Monday's race not drinking the shoe industry's Kool-Aid. In his book, McDougall follows the Tahumara, a Mexican tribe of ultrarunners who race from 50 to 200 miles straight without shoes, yet remain healthy and injury-free. Science doesn't support the shoe industry's claim that "humans are born broken," McDougall tells PM, and that running shoes exist to fix our stride. Humans have been barefoot for nearly 2 million years, but have had running shoes for only a little more than 40—when Nike-founder Bill Bowerman cobbled together the modern-day running shoe with glues, plastic and a waffle iron in his basement. Shoes cause runners to lose musculature in their feet, McDougall argues, and takes away the natural cushion in their stride.

Could shoes—and shoe companies—be part of a $25 billion snake oil industry, covering hundreds of thousands of perfectly able bare feet? Or is barefoot running dangerous for marathoners and weekend joggers alike? That's the debate now brewing in the running community. The answer depends in part on a classic chicken and egg question: Do we run the way we do because of running shoes, or do running shoes support the way we now run?

Taking it in Stride
In a back room at the $2 million New Balance running shoe research and development lab in Lawrence, Mass., the MTS 858 Mini Bionix II—a giant hydraulic piston with the cast of a foot attached—loudly pounds into the heel of a light blue, cushioned running shoe. This stress-testing machine, made by the same company that builds earthquake simulators, can apply 5620 pounds of force to a shoe 30 times every second (although researchers at New Balance tend to be gentler on the footwear). Down the hall, a glass plate sitting in the middle of a polished wooden floor conceals a camera that measures the impact of the shoe on the ground. Cameras also capture the light reflected by tiny silver dots worn by a runner on a treadmill, tracking hundreds of points on the body during each stride. Across the room, an outline of feet projected onto the wall conveys the treadmill runner's footstrike in real time. Meanwhile, a computer records streams of data relaying angle and force, to be interpreted and analyzed by researchers later. This is high-tech biomechanics, all in the service of designing the perfect running shoe.

Some researchers and runners think this ideal shoe will be cushioned and wide, with high-tech gels, plastics and perhaps even moving parts to better absorb shock. To others, the perfect shoe looks more like a sock, with only a thin cover to protect feet from glass and other ground hazards. The two design camps split cleanly between catering to different strides: While the barefoot runner's gait tends to strike on the forefoot, a significant amount of shoe technology is aimed toward a heel-to-toe motion. A study from 1980, which was repeatedly cited by shoe experts at the New Balance labs, reveals how much more prevalent heel-to-toe running is. Analyzing the form of 753 runners, biomechanical researcher Benno Nigg found that 80 percent of runners (videotaped in two races) ran with a heel-to-toe motion; 45 percent of the faster runners (those with a 5-minute, 18-second-mile pace or better) ran heel-to-toe-step; rest ran with what he calls a midfoot strike, in which the heel and forefoot strike the ground simultaneously.

Shoe companies design shoes for the vast majority-the 80 percent of heel-to-toe runners—and their goal is to prevent excessive rolling movement of the foot. "There are people who will pronate a lot but will not get injured," says Keith Williams, a senior lecturer at the University of California, Davis, who has consulted in the footwear industry for 30 years. "Then there are those who will pronate a little and get injured." To play it safe, shoe companies bulk up the heel, the arch and extend the sides of shoes, which stabilizes the foot as it rolls from heel to toe.

While there are as many ways to do this as there are shoes for sale, Sean Murphy, manager of advanced product engineering at New Balance, says shoe companies often fall back on what he calls the 22-12 solution-placing 22 millimeters of material under the heel of the shoe and 12 millimeters under the forefoot. "Shoe companies have been stuck in the paradigm of the 22-12 for years," Murphy says, and people buy them in part because it's the feel they've grown accustomed to. "We're just now building products for people who tend to run more on their forefoot, like many ultramarathoners."

But according to McDougall, all shoes with cushioned heels, however spare, encourage heel-to-toe running, which he says leads to excessive pronation. "Take the heel off the shoe and those problems will be solved," McDougall says. In other words: Run barefoot. He points to a 2008 paper in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, in which the author, a researcher at the University of Newcastle in Australia, "revealed that there are no evidence-based studies-not one-that demonstrate that running shoes make you less prone to injury."

Murphy agrees. "The studies on injuries just aren't there," he says. However, there is also a dearth of studies demonstrating that running shoes make runners more prone to injury.

The More Perfect Shoe
With or without shoes, humans are evolved to run. In a 2004 study published in Nature, Dennis Bramble and Daniel Lieberman provide clear physiological evidence of this: Humans are efficient sweaters, for one. We also have tall bodies with ample surface area to cool ourselves, large buttocks with muscles critical for stabilization in running, and long legs that include Achilles tendons-ideal for storing and releasing mechanical energy. These features, the authors argue, allowed us to be superior scavengers and even hunters (by tracking sprinting animals).

The problem modern-day runners face, according to Hugh Herr, Popular Mechanics 2005 Breakthrough Award winner and head of the biomechatronic group at MIT, isn't presented by our bodies but by the evolution of running surfaces. Humans that ran to scavenge or hunt for their food weren't pounding concrete. Herr is in a unique position to weigh in on shoe technology. He defended the double-prosthetic sprinter, Oscar Pistorius, in his appeal to the International Association of Athletics Federations board last year against charges that his Cheetah prosthetics provided a mechanical advantage. Herr also invented the iWalk Powerfoot One, the most advanced robotic ankle in existence.

Bare feet just aren't meant to support running on modern day hard-top surfaces, Herr says. In his research, Herr focused on two problems with both shod and barefoot running-pronation angle and impact force. While barefoot running is best for a natural, stress-free pronation angle, Herr says, it is not ideal for coping with roads and sidewalks that can lead to stress-impact injuries. Shoes, on the other hand, excel at diminishing the force of impact on hard ground. But they do so at the cost of the natural stride-all the padding added to the shoe exaggerates the foot's rotation. "It's hard to design a shoe with pronation as small as what exists naturally," Herr says. "When you're barefoot, you have the advantage of the heel being very thin [and thus diminishing rotation]."

Herr's solution to the problem of shoe design is to start from scratch and fundamentally redesign the running shoe. His first-stage prototype looks nothing like any shoe for sale today. Called the SpringBuck, Herr's shoe is form fitting, taking advantage of the barefoot runner's naturally low pronation, while a spring-like heel diminishes the impact of feet on hard surfaces. This shoe even shows a metabolic reduction for the runner, Herr says, thanks to the optimized stride. Though no doubt radical to barefoot advocates and shoe labs alike, a running shoe that rethinks humans' relationship with their environment may fill the vacuum of science on the great shoe debate and finally provide a one-size-fits-all solution.

Herr's solution to the problem of shoe design is to start from scratch and fundamentally redesign the running shoe. His first-stage prototype looks nothing like any shoe for sale today. Called the SpringBuck, Herr's shoe is form fitting, taking advantage of the barefoot runner's naturally low pronation, while a spring-like heel diminishes the impact of feet on hard surfaces. This shoe even shows a metabolic reduction for the runner, Herr says, thanks to the optimized stride. Though no doubt radical to barefoot advocates and shoe labs alike, a running shoe that rethinks humans' relationship with their environment may fill the vacuum of science on the great shoe debate and finally provide a one-size-fits-all solution.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Minimalist run

I went for a run on Saturday in my Vibram Five Fingers. I ran 3 miles on pavement. I felt good, but I really need to get back into this on a regular basis. I feel great when running every day.

It does feel really good to run again. I will be making this part of my day at least 4 days a week, hopefully 6 days a week.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Technorati addition

I just added this blog to Technorati and I needed to post this code in a new post to be able to be added to their system. As soon as they add this site I will take this usless post down.


Friday, January 29, 2010


I need to find my motivation again. I was really into this a while back, but recently I have been so busy I keep letting my schedule and my other commitments keep me from getting out and running.
I need to get off my butt and just go do it. I do have time in my day I just have not been making it a priority in my life.
I have duty for the Navy tomorrow, so I plan on getting in a good run. No excuses tomorrow!
I will post up how my run went and how far I went tomorrow night.
I love how I feel when I am running all the time, so it is not like I hate it or anything.
Post up comments about how you find ways to motivate yourselves if you could, they may help me to get motivated again. Thanks.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Spread the word about barefooting!

I just wanted to motivate my readers to get out there and spread the word about Barefoot/Minimalist running.

Lets all do our part in spreading this revolution around the globe!
I know this way of running will help a lot of people around the world become better, faster, injury free, runners and will make their running experience more enjoyable. Thus the sport of running will become more popular and more people will be healthier and live more centered lives.

Find forums about running and post about this form of running. If you want post a link to this blog so people can come here and learn more about Minimalist and Barefoot running.

Also join up on my forums located here and talk to others about the sport:
The forums are very new and just starting up, but the more people who join and participate, the better the community becomes.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Barefoot or Minimalist Running

I just wanted to say a few words about how much I love this movement in the running world.
It has really made a difference for me.

I love how I feel when I run in my Vibram Five Finger KSO's.
I love the feel of the road, be it pavement or gravel roads.
I love being able to feel the road and to have my feet grip the terrain.
I love running with no pain in my joints.

Another positive side effect is that when I run I feel as if I could keep going forever!
I am so grateful to have found this niche, it has changed my life for the better!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Update on my Vibram Five Fingers

I have now washed my Vibram Five Fingers 10 times in the washing machine including going through the dryer. They are holding up great. I love wearing them around all over the place.
I have not been running much lately but this is my week to get back into it.

I really want to prepare myself to run some marathons and some ultras.
I am going to be ordering my Vibram Five Fingers Treks soon. I am really looking forward to getting them!
That is all for now, I will post up more information tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Neuroanthropologist Comments on the Benefits of Barefoot Running

Neuroanthropologist Comments on the Benefits of Barefoot Running

Neuroanthropologist Greg Downey recently posted a fascinating article, Lose your shoes: Is barefoot better? It is must reading! (I can’t wait to read more from this brilliant guy!)
Downey touches on many aspects of barefoot running and the evolution of our feet, but one of the primary premises of the piece is: “the ways that our nervous system adapt to different situations, such as having heavily padded feet or being barefoot when we run, illustrates well how even unconscious training is a form of phenotypic, non-genetic, adaptation.”
Is barefoot running really an unconscious activity?

Downey is half-right here—running in padded, expensive running shoes is unconcious. These runners believe their feet are safe and protected and as a result, these runners become less aware of “feeling” the ground as each foot lands. The secret of successful barefoot runners is that their running is done consciously. Barefoot runners are very aware of the ground, “feeling” it with their feet with each footfall, and adjusting to the surface.

New barefoot runners almost immediately change their biomechanics. Is this unconscious or perhaps, a Pavlov-type response to the pain of landing on the ground without padding?
If the almost immediate gait changes that occur in barefoot running are in response to pain, then this new gait is actually a conscious response.

Monday, November 9, 2009

More evidence for barefoot running

Lose your shoes: Is barefoot better?

Posted by gregdowney on July 26, 2009

In 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics, the women’s 3000-meter final was marred by controversy when American Mary Decker fell after making contact with Zola Budd, a runner from South Africa who represented Britain (due to the boycott of South African sport).
Although Budd had been setting the pace, she faded to seventh in the end and was booed by the partisan LA audience (Decker would later say that she was inexperienced at running in a pack and, as the trailing runner, was responsible for their contact). Maricica Puica of Romania won the event, and Britain’s Wendy Sly took the silver in a final that was seared into my memory by the televised replays of a stricken Mary Decker, hip injured from her fall, shattered and crying on the infield.

In all of the drama, one of the things that left the greatest impression on me as a high school student and sometime athlete was the simple fact that Zola Budd ran without shoes, an almost unimaginable idea to me at the time. Budd was one of a handful of famous barefoot runners, including Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian marathoner who won his first Olympic gold in 1960 without shoes, Tegla Loroupe, the Kenyan women’s running legend and multiple world record holder, and Ken Bob Saxton, aka ‘Barefoot Ken Bob,’ a marathoner and guru to the shoeless.
I’ve been thinking about barefoot running for a while, oddly enough since I started writing about bare-knuckle punching in no-holds-barred fighting (or ‘mixed martial arts’ like the Ultimate Fighting Championship in its early days). Barefoot running, even more than bare-knuckle boxing, reveals the ways that very simple technologies, if used consistently enough, become part of the developmental niche of the human body, shaping the way that our bones, muscles, tissues, and nervous system develop.

Although this post is not strictly neuroanthropology, I thought I might share some of what I’m working on, in part because I’m interested to hear any feedback people have. In particular, this will focus on how hard it is to sort out what’s ‘natural’ when activity patterns, incredibly variable, are necessary ingredients in the development of biological systems. But also, as it will become clearer in the post, the ways that our nervous system adapt to different situations, such as having heavily padded feet or being barefoot when we run, illustrates well how even unconscious training is a form of phenotypic, non-genetic, adaptation.

Before I go any further, though, if you have anything to say in response to this, I would love to read it. This is my first attempt to put down some thoughts that will be in a chapter of an upcoming book…I was sparked to finally put this down and post it by an item in Wired Science: ‘To Run Better, Start by Ditching Your Nikes,’ by Dylan Tweeny. (See below for a number of other recent articles online.)
Tweeny writes:
Strong evidence shows that thickly cushioned running shoes have done nothing to prevent injury in the 30-odd years since Nike founder Bill Bowerman invented them, researchers say. Some smaller, earlier studies suggest that running in shoes may increase the risk of ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis and other injuries. Runners who wear cheap running shoes have fewer injuries than those wearing expensive trainers. Meanwhile, injuries plague 20 to 80 percent of regular runners every year.

The article shares quotes by a number of barefoot running advocates who argue strongly that running in minimalist shoes, or unshod, reduces the likelihood of injury: ‘After all,’ Tweeny writes in a discussion of the work of Daniel Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, ‘we evolved without shoes.’

In the passage, Tweeny refers to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (Clinghan et al. 2008) that found cheap running shoes correlated with better long-term health outcomes than more expensive footwear. Runners who used more expensive running shoes had a pretty shocking 123% higher rate of injury than those in less expensive shoes (see Robbins and Waked 1997). The Robbins and Waked (1997) study directly focused on the relation between deceptive shoe advertising and the force of barefoot subjects’ footfall when they came down on a surface designed to look like shoe padding. Led to believe that the surface was protecting them, people changed their running style in ways that increased impact.

The rate of injuries among runners, including the relatively consistent injury rate despite ‘improvements’ in shoe technology, make some observers suspicious that shoes might be causing, rather than protecting against, injury, even if the link is indirect through shifts in technique or even the population that can participate. Ross Tucker and Anthony Dugas of The Science of Sport point out that there are, in fact, many possible explanations for changes in injury rates – or changing reasons why rates remain constant – such as the demographic factor that many runners in the 1990s might be in significantly worse physical condition than runners in the 1970s as the hobby spread to less-fit individuals. But Tucker and Dugas, too, conclude that certain types of running shoes may not be good for all distance runners, a conclusion supported by a range of research (see, e.g., Richards, Magin and Callister 2009).

In a review of research on barefoot running and training, Michael Wharburton (2001) suggests that running and walking without shoes may decrease acute injury rates from accidents (sprains), diminish chronic injuries from repeated shock (among them, plantar fasciitis), and increase movement economy, because additional weight on the feet is harder to carry while running than weight elsewhere (see Divert et al. 2008). Wharburton asks in his conclusion why more runners don’t opt to run barefoot, suggesting it might be fear of puncture wounds, thermal problems, or even misperceptions about the dangers. He does allow that in inclement weather and with certain biomechanical problems, shoes would be essential to compensate for lower limb issues (see Burge 2001 for reservations about Wharburton’s advice, especially with a range of medical conditions that she details – highly recommended if you’re considering running barefoot but have some pre-existing foot problems or other health issues).

A number of groups advocate barefoot running for a host of reasons: health, injury prevention, greater sensation, enjoyment, and overall well-being (e.g., Driscoll 2004; Robbins and Gouw 1990). Especially prominent websites includeBarefoot Ken Bob, Barefoot Ted, and evangelist Barefoot Rick (who’s all about saving soles… I know, ‘ouch.’ Sorry, Rick.). A recent book, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall specifically discusses the Tarahumara Indians, who run extraordinarily long races through rough country in sandals or barefoot. The interest in barefoot running and the possibility that some types of shoes may be increasing problems for devoted runners has produced a spate of articles (see the list at the end of this article for a few).

As Ross and Jonathan have written of their own series of posts on running shoes, the topic is extremely controversial, provoking heated discussion, enthusiastic discussion, and strong opinions, no doubt because ‘shoes, more than any other topic, touches runners where it counts – their feet! And, unfortunately, their wallets, for it’s still the largest expense a runner incurs for the sport.’

They suggest that the trend in shoe design is toward very neutral (not motion controlling), cushioned shoes that are lighter than previous generations of footwear. In addition, virtually every shoe company has produced a ‘barefoot’ shoe design, minimalist footwear designed to mimic the dynamics of barefoot running. The Vibram Five Fingers, a glove-like light shoe, for example, was named by Time Magazine one of the Inventions of the Year in 2007. Vibram is even recruiting research subjects for Prof. Lieberman’s research on barefoot running dynamics.
I should point out that I have no personal interest in any shoe company, or in criticizing any shoe company. I run with shoes (when I run), but I do like to run barefoot on the beach whenever I can. And my border collie, Louie, is a fanatic about barefoot running…

Shoes, padding and running technique

The padding in running shoes changes the way that we run, even though we may be completely unconscious that our gait has compensated for the change in the biomechanical properties of the feet produced by footgear (see Divert et al. 2005; but c.f. De Wit et al. 2000).
Robbins and Gouw (1991) argue that, with padded shoes, ‘a perceptual illusion is created whereby perceived impact is lower than actual impact, which results in inadequate impact-moderating behavior and consequent injury.’ That is, the perception of impact that is diminished by modern ‘protection’ causes runners to neglect basic biomechanical adaptations to decrease stress on the legs, such as shortening the stride, changing the point of footfall, or increasing bend in the knees slightly.

Joseph Froncioni, an orthopedic surgeon, describes at length the way that shoes change the dynamics of running. Although the assertion that barefoot runners come down on the ball of the foot is controversial (some proponents and scholars argue that barefoot runners come down on the middle-outside of the foot; see Ross Tucker’s post on this debate), quite a bit of his description stands up:

During barefoot running, the ball of the foot strikes the ground first and immediately starts sending signals to the spinal cord and brain about the magnitude of impact and shear, getting most of its clues about this from the skin contact with the surface irregularities of the ground. Take away this contact by adding a cushioned substance and you immediately fool the system into underestimating the impact. Add a raised heel and the shod runner is forced to land on it. Strap the cushioning on tightly with the aid of a sophisticated lacing system and you block out shear as well, throwing the shock-absorption system even further into the dark…. The cushioned midsole of the modern running shoe robs the system of important sensory information necessary for ankle, knee and hip response to impact. The arch support (or orthotic) in modern running shoes not only prevents the arch suspension system from absorbing energy by preventing flattening but eventually leads to intrinsic muscle atrophy and complete loss of active muscular control of the arch leaving only the inelastic plantar fascia as a checkrein to flattening. The barefoot runner’s ‘foot position awareness sense’ which relies heavily on sensory input from the sole of the foot minimizes his risk of sustaining an ankle sprain on uneven ground. The shod runner is at marked increased risk of ankle sprains because his ‘foot position awareness sense’ is handicapped by the paucity of sensations coming from his soles.

Froncioni highlights here three distinctive problems with shoes in the dynamics of running: the first, a decrease in sensory information available through the foot; second, a shift in the position of the foot from a changed motion including an earlier heal strike and longer stride; and, third, an erosion of the impact-absorbing dynamics of the lower body, especially of the arch of the foot arising from both mechanical properties of the shoe and the previous two problems. Some of these detrimental effects are immediate, but others are gradual and cumulative, conditioning the body in patterns of behaviour and reaction that amount to a kind of adverse training that can result in chronic injury.

After a lengthy discussion in the comments on the Science of Sports blog posting on barefoot and shod running, Ross Tucker concludes that, in his opinion, the primary reason shoes cause injury is not the placement of the foot when it strikes the ground but the fact that heavily padded, stiff-soled shoes diminish sensation in the feet from the ground (similar to what Robbins and Gouw 1991 conclude, though they do so on the basis of less data). Without sufficient sensation, the foot and leg do not compensate as well for the mechanics of running; the feedback cycle is stifled and the dynamic suffers.

Research on foot impact by Robbins and Waked (1997) suggests that balance and impact are closely related, that a person coming down on a soft surface (like a gymnast landing on a thick pad or runner on a spongy shoe) intentionally, though non-consciously, comes down harder in order to find a stable surface. The spongier the landing material, theoretically, the harder the impact because the body seeks to compress the material to find some sort of stable footing.
According to Froncioni, shoes don’t simply disrupt the sensory feedback-control cycle through proprioception or the sense of impact through the legs, but also because wearing shoes changes the way that runners actively pursue sensory information through vision and use their bodies. That is, when we run in heavily cushioned shoes, we look differently and hurl our body against unknown surfaces.

The barefoot runner is constantly alert scanning the ground before him for irregularities and dangers that might cause him injury. The barefoot runner is a cautious runner and actively changes his landing strategy to prevent injury. He treads lightly. The shod runner is bombarded by convincing advertising stating or implying that the shoe he is wearing will protect him well over any terrain and he becomes a careless runner. He is heavy footed.

The loss of sensation in the feet is analogous to the effects of a degenerative disease, ironically enough. That is, by mimicking the long-term effects of neuro-degenerative conditions, shoes may bring on other forms of degeneration in the lower limbs. As Froncioni writes:
Finally, certain diseases in humans can cause a gradual destruction of the sensory nerve endings in the foot (and elsewhere) resulting in a significant increase in lower extremity injuries. Diabetes and tertiary syphilis are two. Extremities so affected are termed ‘neuropathic’. The shod runner, because of his sensory deprivation and high risk of injury may be termed as having ‘pseudo-neuropathic’ feet, a term coined by Robbins.

This and previous two drop quotes from Athletic Footwear and Running Injuries by Joseph Froncioni.

Conditions such as diabetes can throw off the fine orchestration of muscles in the feet that absorb and transfer force, as decreased sensitivity and response cause delays of dynamic reactions in the foot muscles (see Abbound 2002: 171, and for a review). As we’ve already discussed here on, some researchers who study loss of stability in older people point to diminished sensitivity in the feet as a potential contributing cause of falling. Not surprisingly, one of the prescriptions for people with this condition is to wear thin-soled shoes or, if the condition is worse, ‘high-tops’ so that sensation on the ankles can substitute for sensation on the soles of the feet.

Shoes as developmental niche for feet

People who habitually wear shoes wind up shaping their feet developmentally in distinctive ways. From the point of view of our feet – if I can be so anthropomorphizing – the shoe becomes the ‘environment’ in which feet are grown. Factors like temperature, abrasion, constriction, and the like become the environment with which the foot must contend adapt to, and rely upon. Shoes are a kind of developmental niche for feet, and like any ecological niche, exert their own influence on the anatomical unfolding of the foot’s anatomy. Of course, other factors in addition to shoes make up the foot’s ‘environment’, such as the very act and amount of walking we do, the surfaces we walk on, the sorts of forces exerted upon the bones in the feet by factors like our body size, built environment, athletic activities… and all of these can be affected by shoes, too.
In other words, from the point of view of the feet, a whole constellation of things make up the developmental environment, some of which are truly ‘outside’ us – like cold or wet or surfaces – but some of which are very much under human control, including activity patterns and habitual footwear. To the foot, the leg is part of the environment, and how the leg is used becomes one of the environmental factors feeding into how the feet develop. If we wear a pair of shoes that changes how our legs work (such as high heels or thickly-soled running shoes), these shoes affect the feet directly, but they also impact the feet indirectly through what they do to the leg and the dynamics of our gait and our patterns of activity.

In the simplest sense, shoes are designed to address what the shoe designers perceive as inadequacies in the human foot, whether these inadequacies are mechanical or aesthetic.

For decades, the guiding principle of shoe design has been to compensate for the perceived deficiencies of the human foot. Since it hurts to strike your heel on the ground, nearly all shoes provide a structure to lift the heel. And because walking on hard surfaces can be painful, we wrap our feet in padding. Many people suffer from flat feet or fallen arches, so we wear shoes with built-in arch supports, to help hold our arches up.

Of course, other design elements enter the mix along the way: the desire to be colour coordinated, the elongation of the leg provided by high heels, the undeniable cool of the tassel, the practicality of Velcro quick-release closures on kids shoes. But the basic ‘functional’ design elements of shoes are relatively consistent since the advent of modern, protective footwear (that is, providing more than simply insulation against cold by wrapping fabric or skin around the foot).

The basic effect of shoes on feet is relatively consistent as well. First, the sole of the shod foot does not develop the hardness that the unshod develop. Anyone who has ever lived in a variable climate (like I did growing up in St. Louis) probably has the experience of their feet fluctuating seasonally in toughness, going from soft and tender when constantly protected during the winter, swaddled in thick socks and insulating shoes, to toughened when barefoot or wearing sandals in the summer. When I worked as a lifeguard, by mid-July I could walk across the sun-heated asphalt parking lot at midday without my shoes. At the start of the summer, pampered winter feet were sensitive to every pebble or crack in the pavement.

In a study of shoe-wearing and habitually barefoot Chinese populations, Sim-Fook and Hodgson (1958: 1059) found:
The feet of the non-shoe-wearing populations showed thick soles with prominent skin creases apart from many minor lacerations due to traumata. The pachydermatous [!!] skin on the sole of the foot had an extraordinarily thick keratinized layer about 0.5 to one centimeter thick which permitted the individual to walk about without any discomfort. Although thick and tough, the skin was pliable and was marked by deep transverse folds which were similar to the lines of joint flexion found on the palm of the hand…
(Before I go any further, ‘pachydermatous’ is the coolest word EVER…)

Even though the groups studied spent quite a bit of time standing in water and unshod, Sim-Fook and Hodgson did not find many complaints about foot health, in part because their soles were so resilient and pliable, but also because the unshod did not have the constant low level friction on their feet provided by shoes. Ironically, this constant, low pressure against the foot can produce more severe chronic injury and malformation than the once-in-a-while and completely varied traumas of walking around with naked feet. Since the bones and tissue are, in a sense, being grown inside the shoes, they struggle to conform to some of the spaces and mechanical environments that we give them.

The second effect of shoes on foot development is that they influence the performance and architecture of the arch of the foot. As Dudley Morton (1964: 145) argued decades ago:
The natural foot is the naked, unclothed foot; and its arched conformation is not an element of weakness in design calling for artificial help, but of structural strength acquired through countless generations of unaided weightbearing. Occasionally we hear shoes referred to as a “natural support for the arch.” The suggestion should move our hearts in pity toward all primitive peoples were it not for the fact that they have no foot troubles, as well as no shoes. The phrase is one of many in which glibness overshadows accuracy, and unfortunately tends to promote erroneous ideas about the foot and its welfare.

The arch of the foot absorbs force when the feet impact the ground, stretching tendons in multiple directions, flattening and deflecting momentum. ‘Supporting’ the arch of the foot by placing it on a convex orthotic would make it virtually impossible for it to function as a shock absorber.

The arch support, which is present in all running footwear, would interfere with the downward deflection of the medial arch on loading. Furthermore, the use of orthodics, or other structures that are fitted to the mold of the soft tissues of the foot, could cause similar difficulty. Such designs occur when an engineer looks at the foot as an inflexible lever which is delicate and thus requires packaging. Various myths persist about foot behavior due to poor understanding of its biology. (Robbins and Hanna 1987)

Shoes also bind together the toes, making it very difficult for them to move, let alone engage in the grasping motions that habitually unshod people make when they walk (see Robbins and Gouw 1990; more on this below). To return to Morton (1964: 218), the bare toes move relative to each other to bear the weight of the body, and shoes affect their angle of spread: ‘The toes of non-shoe-wearing natives are separated when weight is borne on the feet; but any light, closely fitted foot covering will prevent their separation, owing to the lateral mobility of the toes and the small size of the muscles that abduct them.’ Sim-Fook and Hodgson (1958: 1060) also found ‘a tendency to spread’ in the forefoot, especially between the first and second toes (see also Funakoshi 2005).

Normally, the big toe (or hallux) diverges from the second toe at an angle of 5 to 10 degrees. But, in a condition referred to as hallux valgus, the big toe angles toward the small toes. When the condition is also accompanied by hypermobility, it is often congenital and referred to as ‘atavistic’ (although I suspect that this designation is not evolutionarily accurate). But the condition is often caused by wearing ill-fitting shoes, and it occurs 10 times more often in women as in men according to Richardson, Hansen, and Kilcoyne (2000; see also this source for astonishing X-rays of the effects of shoes on bone configuration… I was gobsmacked by a couple of the images). Morton believes that shoes have no noticeable effect on the functioning of toes, but we do know that habitually binding together the toes does affect the skeletal structure of the feet, and the evidence of pathology from shoes seems to me to be pretty compelling.

Patterns of bone growth and remodeling due to use (commonly referred to loosely as ‘Wolff’s law,’ see Ruff et al. 2006) suggest that a shift in toe use and the increased support for the bones of the feet provided by habitually worn shoes, will lead to differences in bone structure between habitually shod and unshod populations (see, for example, Sim-Fook and Hodgson 1958). Bound together laterally and ‘supported’ by an arched shoes, the foot cannot act as efficiently as a shock absorber; at the same time, less dynamic loading on the bones means that the bones will be less robust. Shoes, then, have a range of developmental effects, from low-level, constant pressure and abrasion to a form of protection which leads to greater fragility.

As a result, Zipfel and Berger (2007) recorded substantially higher rates of bone pathology in the feet of shod populations that they studied (European, Sotho and Zulu) than in pre-pastoralist South African populations who likely were habitually barefoot foragers. Although Erik Trinkaus’ work (see below) suggests that pathologies caused by shoes might be uneven distributed among the bones of the feet, Zipfel and Berger (ibid.: 209) found ‘the foot on the pre-pastoralist group is uniformly “healthier” than the modern groups.’

Ironically, even though Zipfel and Berger acknowledge that pre-pastoralist people show some signs of ‘wear and tear’ that might arise from much greater amounts of walking, constant travel and nomadic foraging, this heavy use pattern did not correlate with higher rates of a wide range of bone pathologies.

The results presented here suggest that the unshod lifestyle of the pre-pastoral group was associated with a lower frequency of osteological modification. The influence of modern lifestyle including the use of footwear, appears to have some significant negative effect on foot function, potentially resulting in an increase in pathological changes. (ibid.: 212)

I found it especially curious that the relative rates of pathology types and locations tended to be pretty similar across the different groups, but the overall frequency of pathological conditions varied, with shod populations’ rates of most disorders higher. This suggests that the wear pattern on feet is pretty similar, whether a population wears shoes or not; they get the same sorts of disorders, but less frequently without shoes.

The only way I can explain this is to assume that the shoes themselves don’t cause pathologies (otherwise, we’d notice some abnormally frequent disorders), but that shoes uniformly make the foot susceptible to disordered development. In other words, it’s not the shoes doing the damage, it’s that they throw off the foot’s ability to cope with normal movement, making the organ more fragile and susceptible to all pathologies (but note that this was only a study of bones, not soft tissue lesions).

The problem is not simply that we wear shoes, but that we often don’t wear the right shoes. Abboud (2002:176) reports that,
Since its inception in 1993, most patients seen at the Foot Pressure Analysis Clinic (FPAC) in Dundee, regardless of how minor or complex their problem was, were using ill-fitting footwear with discrepancies in shoe width and size when compared to their feet. In some cases, there was a difference of up to 3 UK sizes and 4 cm in width across the metatarsal head area, needless to say causing abnormal biomechanical force through the foot joints. The cumulative damage caused by footwear over the years goes inmost cases unnoticed and gets ignored despite clear signs of pain and dorsal callus formation, the latter can only develop as a result of friction with the inner shoe.

I probably don’t need to remind you that, as an anthropologist, I make little distinction between what people ‘should’ be wearing and what they actually are wearing. From the point of view of the feet, ill-fitting shoes are just as much a part of the developmental niche as perfectly chosen footwear.

Sternbergh explains the developmental influence of shoes simply: ‘This is the shoe paradox: We’ve come to believe that shoes, not bare feet, are natural and comfortable, when in fact wearing shoes simply creates the need for wearing shoes.’ Shoe designers are convinced that feet need to be protected against the ground, and the result is that our feet are so sheltered that they do become fragile.
The earliest shoes

Otzi the Iceman, discovered in the Tyrolean Alps in 1991, was wearing shoes, but he was only 5000 years old. Even older remains suggest shoes had been around for a while: mummies in the Americas as old as 9000 years have shoes, footprints left by moccasins have been found in the Upper Paleolithic, cave paintings suggest footwear, and burials sometimes have beads on the feet and ankles that might have been sewn to leather shoes of some sort.

Archaeologist Erik Trinkaus has written a number of articles on the evidence for footwear in prehistoric populations, arguing that, in order to survive the cold of glacial periods, hominins would have necessarily figured out how to create insulating protection of some sort: a kind of prehistoric Ugg boot. But more modern-style, mechanically supportive shoes would have been a later development, evident in the bones of the feet because a semi-rigid sole will alter the distribution of force on the foot (see Trinkaus 2005: 1516). When walking barefoot, the toes flex, making the bones on the outside of the foot stronger through remodelling (as mentioned in the previous section); Trinkaus hypothesized that a shift in the robusticity of bones in the hallux (big toe) relative to the smaller toes (or the outside of the foot) would be a possible sign of habitual hard-soled shoe wearing.

Trinkaus compared bones from three different recent North American populations to test the hypothesis that shoes caused shifts in the relative strength of the toe bones (Pecos Pueblo Native American, Inuit, and Euro-Americans). Within these samples, predictions about the robustness of the phalanges in the feet based upon their shoe-wearing patterns turned out to be accurate; Pecos Pueblo Native Americans wearing soft-soled moccasins had the most robust lateral toes, Inuit in harder soled boots had more gracile bones, and Euro-Americans in hard-soled shoes had the most marked disparity. The more support offered by the footwear, the less robust the bones of the feet associated with the smaller toes (especially the pedal proximal phalanges in the middle of the foot).

Trinkaus has used beam model analysis, a technique that scans cross sections of bones across their axis to get some idea of their density and configuration. These donut-like images gives some sense of the stresses placed upon the bones because they remodel to compensate for these stresses, get stronger, in general, to withstand habitual strains.

A similar comparison might provide insight into the earliest rigid footwear because, as Trinkaus puts it, ‘relative robusticity of human lateral toes might provide insight into the frequency of use of footwear’ (2005: 1515). Because the organic materials likely used to make the first shoes would not endure in the archaeological record, Trinkaus’ method is as intriguing as it is ingenuous. In the archaeological remains Trinkaus examined, the evidence from the feet suggest that shoes became more and more prevalent from the Middle Paleolithic to the middle Upper Paleolithic; he suggests supportive footwear is likely around 30,000 years old in his earlier work (2005), but some of his later work with Shang (2008) may push that date back closer to 40,000 years.

I’m not going to go into all of Trinkaus’ analysis here. Blogger Afarensis has a number of posts on the issue of prehistoric footwear including here, here and here. Please read Afarensis, especially What You Can Learn From Bones: When Did We Start Wearing Shoes? for a more complete discussion of Trinkaus’ work.

By comparing the shoes to an ‘environment,’ I don’t mean to suggest that 40,000 years of being shod is a form of ‘unnatural selection’ that has shifted the genetic contributors to the anatomy of our feet. Rather, I just mean to suggest that, if shoes are affecting the anatomy of our feet, we have been transmitting certain kinds of crucial traits through the artificial environment that we’ve created. We place our children in little training shoes so that their feet are sculpted into a configuration that fits within, and virtually demands the support of shoes. So should we lose our shoes and go back to ‘natural’ feet, unwinding perhaps 40,000 years of non-genetic biophysical heredity?

Paleo-nostalgia and lifestyle advice

I often get students who come up to me after a lecture and want to know where I stand on some lifestyle movement that purports to be ‘getting back to’ some earlier human way of life. When I lecture on human dietary change, they come up to me to ask about the Paleolithic Diet or whether vegetarianism is more ‘natural’; when I talk about pregnancy, brain evolution, and altricial infants, they ask my opinion of different approaches to child rearing, or issues like breast feeding or co-sleeping.

I suspect that I usually disappoint my students, who can be pretty fervent about these ideas. Most paleo-nostalgia movements seem to me to be very selective – for example, the whole Paleolithic Diet movement seems to overlook a host of problems, such as changes in activity patterns, the difference between wild and domesticated meat animals, the high incidence of parasites and low life expectancy in prehistoric periods, and the likelihood that much of human protein was not coming from delicious medium-rare steak or grilled chicken breasts but rather invertebrates, shell fish, small vertebrates, offal and carrion (that’s right, maybe it should be the ‘Bugs, Clams, Lizards and Roadkill Diet’ – not quite the same marketing potential as ‘Eat All the Steak and Chicken You Can!’). I’ve discussed this in Paleofantasies of the perfect diet – Marlene Zuk in NYTimes.

So what about shoes and foot health? Is there anyone out there preaching the Paleolithic Podiatry program? Zinjanthropus shares my scepticism of podiatric paleo-nostalgia, asking why one period of our evolutionary history is privileged over others. Zinjanthropus writes:
Either way, I’m usually very cautious about shaping my lifestyle to fit the needs of a paleolithic savannah-scape. We’ve done a lot of evolving since then, after all! If I push my lifestyle back to the Paleolithic, then who’s to say that I’m not even BETTER evolved for the Pliocene?
If a hunter and gatherer diet, for example, is allegedly ‘healthier,’ why not push back to a diet of astringent fruit like our arboreal ancestors (as Richard Wranger points out, you’d be able to look forward to hours every day of chewing to get enough calories, for example).

Paleonostalgia suffers from a number of deep problems. As Zinjanthropus suggests, how to choose which period in time to use as a model. Hominins have evolved over millions of years through a whole range of environments; paleonostalgia tends to arbitrarily pick a point of time in the past, which is not necessarily more valid as a lifestyle model than any other. In addition, paleonostalgists tend to ignore the likelihood that human niches were varied – not as varied as later humans – but the ability to occupy diverse environmental niches has been a hallmark of our ancestors. Too much dietary and environmental specialization hasn’t really been a hallmark of our genus; arguably, the members of our genus and closely allied ones who have become too specialized and inflexible, have all gone extinct (I don’t want to argue this too strenuously, as many of the ones we tend to consider highly specialized a) lasted a hell of a long time, longer than Homo sapiens in some cases, and b) we’re increasingly uncertain that we can know for certain adaptive behaviours from anatomy, as the case of Paranthropus teeth suggests.).

Similarly, discussions of evidence from foraging peoples is often just as selective and slanted. Although we hear about the running capabilities of foraging people (and I, too, firmly believe that they were much more active than technologically-dependent sedentary people), we don’t hear about their injuries, including disabling ones, or their chronic health problems, including things like parasites that enter the body through the feet.

Alfred Gell, for example (I’m pretty sure, but I can’t remember in which text), wrote about travelling quickly through the rainforest with barefoot colleagues; although they were swift and sure-footed, they also had to stop every once in a while when one of them had to dig a thorn out of his or her foot.

One problem with paleonostalgia for barefoot running is the fact that we do not run in a paleolithic environment. As Trimble writes in Popular Mechanics:
The problem modern-day runners face, according to Hugh Herr, Popular Mechanics 2005 Breakthrough Award winner and head of the biomechatronic group at MIT, isn’t presented by our bodies but by the evolution of running surfaces. Humans that ran to scavenge or hunt for their food weren’t pounding concrete.

Running shoes offer a trade-off:

In his research, Herr focused on two problems with both shod and barefoot running-pronation angle and impact force. While barefoot running is best for a natural, stress-free pronation angle, Herr says, it is not ideal for coping with roads and sidewalks that can lead to stress-impact injuries. Shoes, on the other hand, excel at diminishing the force of impact on hard ground. But they do so at the cost of the natural stride-all the padding added to the shoe exaggerates the foot’s rotation.

So just throw away your shoes, right, and let your feet be free? Well, even the proponents of barefoot running caution that the transition from being habitually shod to running around au naturale can take some time because ‘the change in biomechanics and loading of joints, muscles and tendons threatens injury if you’re not careful’ (Tucker and Dugas, Running Shoes).
If running barefoot is so ‘natural’ to humans, why do we have to take it slowly? Because our feet become well adapted, as best they can, to wearing shoes. For all of the discussion of evolution having shaped human bodies and our feet for running, the body that habitually walks and runs in shoes has very much adapted to that niche. (See, for example, Tucker on attempts to change running techniques.)

But an interesting example of just how adaptable the feet can be comes from Shulman’s (1949) study of Chinese and Indian populations, in particular some individuals who might be expected to have the most damaged feet (if shoes were necessary to save our feet):

One hundred and eighteen of those interviewed were rickshaw coolies. Because these men spend very long hours each day on cobblestone or other hard roads pulling their passengers at a run it was of particular interest to survey them. If anything, their feet were more perfect than the others. All of them, however, gave a history of much pain and swelling of the foot and ankle during the first few days of work as a rickshaw puller. But after either a rest of two days or a week’s more work on their feet, the pain and swelling passed away and never returned again. There is no occupation more strenuous for the feet than trotting a rickshaw on hard pavement for many hours each day yet these men do it without pain or pathology.
Weren’t our feet designed for running barefoot?

In fact, a number of recent articles suggest that some of the traits of the foot (and other parts of the body) indicate that an ability to run barefoot might have offered a selective advantage during human evolution (e.g., Bramble & Lieberman 2004; see also Wired Science, These toes were made for running). But I don’t think that the issue is simply a debate between the running shoe industry and the growing ‘natural’ barefoot running movement. Instead, the anatomy of the foot, its sensitivity in development to the presence of shoes, and the evolutionary development of shoes and bipedalism, all illustrate how hard it is to talk about the natural human body at all or what the human body is ‘designed’ to do.

Patterns of activity, the most minimal technology, and the way we restructure our living environments all shape our physiological development. In fact, the role of activity, motor experience, and sense perception is so crucial in the development of so much of the human body and nervous system that I suspect we cannot even imagine how a person ‘without’ these sorts of influences might develop. Because humans are inherently adaptable — through culture, learning, technology, and even physiological change – it makes sense that plasticity itself would be a trait likely selected for in humans (an idea I take from Mary Jane West-Eberhard [e.g., 2005]).
Faced with the evidence that something as simple as wearing shoes can affect our soft tissue physiology, skeletal structure, gait kinetics, and the like, we can ask whether being shod or unshod is our ‘natural’ state. In a number of the internet postings about barefoot running, I find assertions about what sorts of surfaces or types of locomotion the human foot was ‘designed’ to accomplish. I think it’s too easy to just say, ‘barefoot is natural; shoes are artificial; feet were designed to run.’

In fact, the human foot and lege were not ‘designed’ for running or walking, barefoot or otherwise. They were not ‘designed’ at all. Evolution doesn’t design anything. Legs and feet are built by natural selection out of an appendage that, a very very long time ago, was a fin. If you were going to ‘design’ a limb and foot for running, you could do a lot better than the human architecture. Our knees, for example, are really lousy; they’re basically a rejiggered hinge joint and could certainly have been engineered better by a benevolent Creator. And She could have given us a more elastic set-up of tendons, too, something like kangaroos have. Oh, man, if some genetic engineer could just work on that kanga-human hybrid (a ‘kanga-hu’?), Olympic steeplechase would be so cool; no more of that stepping on top of the jump and landing in the water – but I digress.

Most of our readers will, of course, be completely familiar with the problems of the ‘Natural Selection as Designer’ metaphor, but it’s one that still crops up again and again in discussions of the evolution of traits. Normally, we can get by with the ‘design’ metaphor without too much trouble, but in the case of something like the role of activity in shaping the emergence of a physiological trait.

You see, human feet aren’t just good for running. They’re good for walking, standing, swimming, lifting, kicking, and a host of other functions. Like most primates, our limb use is actually pretty versatile; the arboreal niche of our ancestor presented a wide variety of challenges – hanging, swinging, walking on top of branches, standing bipedally, standing on all four. In addition, our primate ancestors, like us, don’t just use their limbs for locomotion; they use their limbs to manipulate objects, process food, hold offspring, interact socially, protect themselves, and a host of other activities.

Wait, you say, but we don’t use our feet this way. We’re humans. Feet are for walking and running…

Well, here’s the thing. Feet aren’t just ‘designed for’ walking or running; they turn out to be useful for all sorts of things. In the Chinese populations that Sim-Fook and Hodgson (1958: 1061) studied, habitually unshod people used their big toes often ‘to hold fishing nets and fishing lines taut so that the hands were free.’ The result was that these individuals developed ‘a remarkable degree of prehensile strength’ in the big toe (ibid.: 1060-1061). They conclude their discussion of the ‘unshod foot’ with the summary: ‘The unshod foot had laxity of the joints and tissues producing, in its natural form, a flexible foot with a degree of metatarsus latus, metatarsus primus varus, and hypermobility.’

You or I or the next guy may not be using our feet for things like peeling fruit or dialing the phone, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. In fact, many individuals congenitally born without arms or unable to control their arms due to a condition like cerebral palsy develop extraordinary dexterity with their feet, not only using them to do everyday tasks, but even activities like painting or playing an instrument. Painter Chan Tung-mui, for example, paints watercolours with her feet because she cannot control her hands due to cerebral palsy.

Other prominent people who do a lot with their feet include painter and dancer Simona Atzori, Barbara Guerra (seen here on Medical Incredible), Mark Goffeney (guitarist for the rock band, Big Toe ), Tony Meléndez (barefoot guitarist, seen in this video playing ‘Let It Be’), and the late Bonnie Consolo, featured in the Academy Award nominated film A Day in the Life of Bonnie Consolo (released 1975) (here you can find a video of Bonnie Consolo typing with her feet (see also the site of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of the World). Pravda carried the story of a Ukranian man, Sergei Vasyura, born without arms, who learned to shave, ride a bicycle, swim, build cars, bait a fishhook, weld, and even repair alarm clocks with his feet.
In most humans, especially shoe-wearing humans, the hallux is adducted, that is, in line with the other toes; but some degree of abduction is present in many of us, especially if habitually unshod, and may even develop to a slightly greater degree with use. Of course, no one approaches the abduction angles of our primate cousins who dwell in trees and have fully-functioning prehensile feet, but this crucial detail of human anatomy, one that distinguishes us from others, may be more variable than we think.

Shulman (1949) makes an off-handed remark about this that I found incredibly interesting: ‘Almost everyone surveyed showed a marked spacing between the first and second toes such as that found on young babies.’ I don’t know about the developmental dynamics, but it wouldn’t surprise me too much if, absent the adducting influence of shoes for more than half of our lives, and an even greater proportion of the time in which our feet were weight bearing, the angle of the toes found in infants was closer to the habitually unshod.

Although we may think that the Chinese practice of foot-binding is a kind of aberration, Zipfel and Berger (2007: 205-206) suggest on the basis of previous research that many Asian populations reveal the degree to which conventional shoes bind feet: ‘Studies of Asian populations whose feet were habitually either unshod, in thong-type sandals or encased in non-constrictive coverings have shown increased forefoot widths when compared to those of shod populations.’

As I wrote in the paper I presented at Univesité Montpellier (Downey 2009), just as Clifford Geertz (1973:67-68) argued that an uncultured human being would be a ‘mindless and consequently unworkable monstrosity,’ a skill-less human would not be capable of the most basic, defining ‘human’ physical acts. The fact that skills like foot painting or feeding oneself with one’s feet are rare does not mean that our feet were not ‘designed’ to do them.

If we were looking for a ‘natural’ foot, one without any influence of activity, we should probably focus on infants or on those who are disabled. We should realize that our feet were not ‘designed’ to do one thing or another; caring for them, and shaping them in ways that we desire, requires more than just figuring out what our ‘nature’ might be.

More readingBare Feet by Zinjanthropus at A Primate of a Modern Aspect

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas at The Science of Sport published a whole series on running shoes and running dynamics in 2008:Part 1: Do shoes cause injury?Part 2: Shoes, injuries and trainingPart 3: Running barefoot – the intelligent biomachinePart 4: The footstrike – how should your foot land?Part 5: The market and evolution of the shoe industry

Dylan Tweeny. 2008. Your Shoes Are Killing Your Feet. Wired Science (23 April).

Amby Burfoot. 2004. Should You Be Running Barefoot? Runner’s World. Available at:,7120,s6-240-319–6728-0,00.html

Adam Sternberg. 2008. You Walk Wrong. New York Magazine (28 April). Available at:

Tyghe Trimble. 2009. The Running Shoe Debate: How Barefoot Runners are Shaping the Shoe Industry. Popular Mechanics (22 April). Available at:

Joseph Froncioni. 2006. Athletic footwear and running injuries. Quickswood weblog (22 August 2006, but Froncioni admits to writing it much earlier).

Runner’s World’s ‘barefoot running’ forum.
Barefoot Ken Bob’s website

Barefoot Ted’s website

Barefoot Rick Roeber’s website (Is it just me, or is there a pattern here?)…El gringo sin los zapatos …

Barefoot running blogBarefoot vs. the Shoe blog, which hasn’t been updated in a while, but the truly obsessive might find interestingAnd if anyone else wants to read it in Portuguese, there’s Correndo Descalço.

Join others that enjoy to talk about these topics on my forum here:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Barefoot Running article

Barefoot Running

By, Michael Warburton
Gateway Physiotherapy, Capalaba, Queensland, Australia

Running barefoot is associated with a substantially lower prevalence of acute injuries of the ankle and chronic injuries of the lower leg in developing countries, but well-designed studies of the effects of barefoot and shod running on injury are lacking.

Laboratory studies show that the energy cost of running is reduced by about 4% when the feet are not shod. In spite of these apparent benefits, barefoot running is rare in competition, and there are no published controlled trials of the effects of running barefoot on simulated or real competitive performance.


Well-known international athletes have successfully competed barefoot, most notably Zola Budd-Pieterse from South Africa and the late Abebe Bikila from Ethiopia. Running in bare feet in long distance events is evidently not a barrier to performance at the highest levels. Indeed, in this review I will show that wearing running shoes probably reduces performance and increases the risk of injury.

I became interested in research on barefoot running when I noticed that a reasonably high proportion of runners compete in bare feet during cross-country races in Queensland, Australia. I have based the review on articles I found containing the words barefoot and running in Medline, SportDiscus, and in Web publications.

I found several original research reports on the occurrence and mechanisms of acute and chronic injuries in unshod and shod populations, and a few reports on the energy cost of running with and without shoes (including an unpublished thesis). Two authors provided recommendations for adapting to barefoot running. I also found informal websites devoted to barefoot running and barefoot living.

There are apparently no published controlled trials of the effects of running in bare feet on simulated or real competitive performance, nor any surveys on the reasons why people do not compete barefoot.


Where barefoot and shod populations co-exist, as in Haiti, injury rates of the lower extremity are substantially higher in the shod population (Robbins and Hanna, 1987). Furthermore, running-related chronic injuries to bone and connective tissue in the legs are rare in developing countries, where most people are habitually barefooted (Robbins and Hanna, 1987).

This association between injury and wearing shoes is consistent with the possibility that wearing shoes increases the risk of injury, but other explanations for the association are possible; for example, in developing countries barefoot runners may be too poor to seek medical attention, shod runners may wear shoes because they have problems running barefoot, and shod runners may wear bad shoes, wear shoes incorrectly, and cover more miles.

Prospective studies and randomized controlled trials of barefoot and shod running would resolve this uncertainty.

Studies of rates of injury in barefoot and shod runners in developed countries are non-existent, presumably because barefoot runners are a rarity. However, there have been several studies implicating footwear in the etiology of injuries in runners. I have grouped these as studies of acute injuries (resulting from an accident during running) and chronic injuries (resulting from continual exposure to running).

Acute Injuries

Ankle sprains are the most frequently reported acute sports injury, and 90-95% of these are inversion injuries causing partial or complete rupture of the anterior talofibular ligament and occasionally of the calcaneofibular ligament (Robbins et al., 1995; Stacoff et al., 1996). It is claimed that footwear increases the risk of such sprains, either by decreasing awareness of foot position provided by feedback from plantar cutaneous mechanoreceptors in direct contact with the ground (Robbins et al., 1995), or by increasing the leverage arm and consequently the twisting torque around the sub-talar joint during a stumble (Stacoff et al., 1996).

Siff and Verkhoshansky (1999, p.452) reported that running shoes always reduce proprioceptive and tactile sensitivity, and that using bare feet on the high-density chip-foam mats in gyms preserves proprioceptive sensitivity. Robbins et al. (1989) considered that behaviors induced by plantar tactile sensations offer improved balance during movement, which may explain the preference of many gymnasts and dancers for performing barefoot.

The skin on the plantar surface (sole) of the foot is more resistant to the inflammatory effects of abrasion than skin on other parts of the body (Robbins et al., 1993), but stones, glass, nails or needles can still cause bruising or puncture wounds even when the plantar skin is thickened by adaptation to barefoot running. Extremes in temperature can also cause discomfort, blistering or chill blains. Running shoes therefore will play an important role in protection on some courses and in some weather conditions.

Chronic Injuries

One of the most common chronic injuries in runners is planter fasciitis, or an inflammation of the ligament running along the sole of the foot. There is some evidence that the normally unyielding plantar fascia acts as the support for the medial longitudinal arch, and that strain on the proximal fascial attachment during foot strike leads to plantar fasciitis (Robbins and Hanna, 1987). Barefoot running may induce an adaptation that transfers the impact to the yielding musculature, thus sparing the fascia and accounting for the low incidence of plantar fasciitis in barefoot populations (Robbins and Hanna, 1987).

Chronic ailments such as shin splints, ilio-tibial band syndrome and peri-patellar pain are attributed variously to excessive pronation, supination, and shock loading of the limbs (Siff and Verkhoshansky, 1999, p.451). When running barefoot on hard surfaces, the runner compensates for the lack of cushioning underfoot by plantar-flexing the foot at contact, thus giving a softer landing (Frederick, 1986). Barefoot runners also land mid-foot, increasing the work of the foot's soft tissue support structures, thereby increasing their strength and possibly reducing the risk of injury (Yessis 2000, p.124).

Wearers of expensive running shoes that were promoted as correcting pronation or providing more cushioning experienced a greater prevalence of these running-related injuries than wearers of less expensive shoes (Robbins and Gouw, 1991). In another study, expensive athletic shoes accounted for more than twice as many injuries as cheaper shoes, a fact that prompted Robbins and Waked (1997) to suggest that deceptive advertising of athletic footwear (e.g., "cushioning impact") may represent a public health hazard. Anthony (1987) reported that running shoes should be considered protective devices (from dangerous or painful objects) rather than corrective devices, as their capacity for shock absorption and control of over-pronation is limited.

The modern running shoe and footwear generally reduce sensory feedback, apparently without diminishing injury-inducing impact–a process Robbins and Gouw (1991) described as the "perceptual illusion" of athletic footwear. A resulting false sense of security may contribute to the risk of injury (Robbins and Gouw, 1991). Yessis (2000, p.122) reasoned that once the natural foot structures are weakened by long-term footwear use, people have to rely on the external support of the footwear, but the support does not match that provided by a well functioning foot.
Measurements of the vertical component of ground-reaction force during running provide no support for the notion that running shoes reduce shock. Robbins and Gouw (1990) reported that running shoes did not reduce shock during running at 14 km/h on a treadmill. Bergmann et al. (1995) found that the forces acting on the hip joint were lower for barefoot jogging than for jogging in various kinds of shoe.

Clarke et al. (1983) observed no substantial change in impact force when they increased the amount of heel cushioning by 50% in the shoes of well-trained runners. Robbins and Gouw (1990) argued that plantar sensation induces a plantar surface protective response whereby runners alter their behavior to reduce shock. The less-cushioned shoe permitted increases in plantar discomfort to be sensed and moderated, a phenomenon that they termed "shock setting".

Footwear with greater cushioning apparently provokes a sharp reduction in shock-moderating behaviour, thus increasing impact force (Robbins and Hanna, 1987; Robbins et al., 1989; Robbins and Gouw, 1990). However, in these studies the subjects ran on treadmills or force platforms. Further studies are needed to establish how shoes affect impact force and shock-moderating behavior on natural surfaces such as road or grass.

Other features of footwear, such as arch supports and orthotics, may interfere with shock-moderating behavior and probably hinder the shock-absorbing downward deflection of the medial arch on landing (Robbins and Hanna, 1987). These features reportedly reduce pronation and supination or offer the wearer lateral and arch support. They may help some people with foot pathologies, but their benefit is uncertain for runners with healthy feet (Yessis, 2000, p.121).

Runners with diminished or absent sensation in the soles of the feet are particularly vulnerable to damage or infection when barefoot. Peripheral neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes mellitus and may result in the loss of protective sensations in the feet. Barefoot locomotion is therefore not recommended in this population (Hafner and Burg, 1999). Indeed, proper footwear is essential and should be emphasized for individuals with peripheral neuropathy (ACSM/ADA, 1999; ACSM, 2000).


Wearing shoes increases the energy cost of running. Burkett et al. (1985) found that oxygen consumption during running increased as the amount of mass they added to the foot increased; shoes and orthotics representing 1% of body mass increased oxygen consumption by 3.1%. Flaherty (1994) found that oxygen consumption during running at 12 km/h was 4.7% higher in shoes of mass ~700 g per pair than in bare feet. An increase in oxygen consumption of ~4% is of little importance to the recreational runner, but the competitive athlete would notice a major effect on running speed.

The increase in oxygen consumption with running shoes could have several causes. An obvious possibility is the energy cost of continually accelerating and decelerating the mass of the shoe with each stride. Another possibility is the external work done in compressing and flexing the sole and in rotating the sole against the ground--up to 13% of the work done in walking, according to Webb et al. (1988).

Frederick (1986) reported that oxygen consumption increased substantially with thicker shoe inserts during treadmill running. Not surprisingly, materials used for cushioning in shoes absorb energy, and stiff midsoles should produce a 2% saving of energy compared with standard midsoles (Stefanyshyn and Nigg, 2000).

Finally, shoes probably compromise the ability of the lower limb to act like a spring. With bare feet, the limb returns ~70% of the energy stored in it, but with running shoes the return is considerably less (Yessis, 2000, p.123).

Adapting to Barefoot Running

Thirty minutes of daily barefoot locomotion is a recommended starting point to allow thickening of the sole of the foot and adaptation of muscles and ligaments (Robbins et al., 1993). Begin by walking barefoot at every reasonable opportunity then progress to jogging, gradually increasing the intensity and duration (Yessis 2000, p.124).

After 3-4 weeks, the plantar skin eventually becomes robust and allows longer periods of barefoot running at higher average velocities (Robbins et al., 1993). To facilitate adaptation, perform progressive strengthening exercises for the foot and ankle, including foot inversion, toe flexion, and walking on the balls of the feet. Barefoot locomotion on uneven surfaces will also help stimulate the plantar surface and provide increased sensory feedback (Yessis 2000, p.125).


• Running in shoes appears to increase the risk of ankle sprains, either by decreasing awareness of foot position or by increasing the twisting torque on the ankle during a stumble.

• Running in shoes appears to increase the risk of plantar fasciitis and other chronic injuries of the lower limb by modifying the transfer of shock to muscles and supporting structures.

• Running in bare feet reduces oxygen consumption by a few percent. Competitive running performance should therefore improve by a similar amount, but there has been no published research comparing the effect of barefoot and shod running on simulated or real competitive running performance.

• Research is needed to establish why runners choose not to run barefoot. Concern about puncture wounds, bruising, thermal injury, and overuse injury during the adaptation period are possibilities.

• Running shoes play an important protective role on some courses, in extreme weather conditions, and with certain pathologies of the lower limb.


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American College of Sports Medicine (2000). ACSM position stand on exercise and Type 2 diabetes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 32, 1345-1360
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