Why Running shoes do not work: Looking at Pronation, Cushioning, Motion Control and Barefoot running.

           The running shoe model needs to be fixed. Pronation, Motion Control, Cushioning, and Stability shoes? Get rid of them all.


          It’s not just barefoot running and minimalism versus running shoes, the either/or situation many portray it to be. It’s much deeper than that. It’s not even that running shoe companies are evil and out to make a profit. Shoe companies may be accomplishing the goals they set out for, but maybe the goals their aiming for are not what need to be done. The paradigm that running shoes are built upon is the problem.
          Running shoes are built upon two central premises, impact forces and pronation. Their goals are simple, limit impact forces and prevent overprontation. This has led to a classification system based on cushioning, stability, and motion control. The problem is that this system may not have any ground to stand on. Have we been focused on the wrong things for 40+years?
         I’ll start with the customary statistic of 33-56% of runners get injured every year (Bruggerman, 2007). That is kind of mind blowing when you think about it. Since there are a ton of injuries going on, let’s look at what shoes are supposed to do.
Pronation:

      As said earlier, shoes are built upon the premise that impact forces and pronation are what cause injuries. Pronation, in particular has been constructed as the bane of all runners. We have become inundated with limiting pronation via motion control shoes. The central idea behind pronation is that overpronating causes rotation of the lower leg(i.e. ankle,tibia, knee) putting stress on the joints and therefore leading to injuries. Running shoes are therefore designed to limit this pronation. Essentially, running shoes are developed and designed to put the body in “proper” alignment. But do we really need proper alignment?
         This paradigm on pronation relies on two main things: (1)over pronation causes injuries and (2) running shoes can alter pronation.

            Looking at the first premise, we can see several studies that do not show a link between pronation and injuries. In an epidemiological study by Wen et al. (1997), he found that lower extremitly alignment was not a major risk factor for marathon runners. In another study by Wen et al. (1998), this time a prospective study, he concluded that “ Minor variations in lower extremity alignment do not appear conclusively to be major risk factors for overuse injuries in runners.” Other studies have reached similar conclusions. One by Nigg et al. (2000) showed that foot and ankle movement did not predict injuries in a large group of runners.

             If foot movement/pronation does not predict injuries or is not a risk factor for injuries, then one has to question whether the concept is sound or working...
            Looking at the second premise, do shoes even modify pronation? Motion control shoes are designed to decrease pronation through a variety of mechanisms. Most choose to insert a medial post or a similar device. In a study by Stacoff (2001), they tested several motion control shoe devices and found that they did not alter pronation and did not change the kinematics of the tibia or calcaneus bones either. Similarly, another study by Butler (2007) found that motion control shoes showed no difference in peak pronation when compared to cushioning shoes. Lastly, Dixon (2007) found similar results showing that motion control shoes did not reduce peak eversion (pronation) and didn’t change the concentration of pressure.

This is sort of a double whammy on motion control shoes. If excessive pronation does not cause injuries to the degree that everyone thinks, and if motion control shoes don’t even alter pronation, what’s the point of a motion control shoe?
Cushioning:

Impact forces are the other major scoundrel of running injuries. The thinking goes like this, the greater the impact force on the lower the leg, the greater stress the foot/leg takes, which could potentially lead to injuries. To combat this fear, running shoes, particular cushioning ones, are to the rescue. Let’s take a look.

The first question is, do cushioning shoes do their job?

Wegener(2008) tested out the Asics Gel-Nimbus and the Brooks Glycerin to see if they reduced plantar pressure. They found that the shoes did their job!....But where it reduced pressure varied highly. Meaning that pressure reduction varied between forefoot/rearfoot/etc. This led to the interesting conclusion that their should be a shift in prescribing shoes to one based on where plantar pressure is highest for that individual person. It should be noted that this reduction in pressure was based on a comparison to another shoe, a tennis shoe. I’m not sure that this is a good control. Basically, this study tells us that cushioned running shoes decrease peak pressure when compared to a Tennis shoe.

In a review on the subject, Nigg (2000) found that both external and internal impact force peaks were not or barely influenced by the running shoes midsole. This means that the cushioning type does not change impact forces much, if at all. But how can this be? I mean it’s common sense if you jumped on concrete vs. jumped on a shoe foam like surface, the shoe surface is softer right? We’ll come back to this question in a minute.


Impact Forces: The picture gets cloudier:

But it’s not as simple as described above.
In an interesting study by Scott (1990) they looked at peak loads on the various sites of likely injury for runners (Achilles, knee, etc.). All peak loads occurred during mid-stance and push off. This led to an important finding that “the impact force at heel contact was estimated to have no effect on the peak force seen at the chronic injury sites,” and led to speculation that impact force did not relate injury development.

Further complicating the impact force idea is that when looking at injury rates of those running on hard surfaces or soft surfaces, there appears to be no protective benefit of running on soft surfaces. Why is this? Because of something called pre-activation and muscle tuning which will be discussed below.

Supporting this data, other studies have shown that people who have a low peak impact have the same likelihood of getting injured as those with a high peak impact force (Nigg, 1997). If you want to complicate things even further, impact seems to be the driving force between increased bone density.

As a coach or trainer this should make sense. The bone responds to the stimulus by becoming more resistant to it, IF the stimulus is not too large and there is enough recovery.


Underestimating our Body: Impact forces as feedback:

Back to the question I asked earlier: How can impact forces not change based on shoe sole softness and why isn’t running on hard surfaces lead to more injuries?

The problem is, once again, we underestimate the human body! It’s an amazing thing, and we never give it the credit it deserves. The body adapts to the surface that it’s going to strike, if you give it a chance. The body adapts to both shoe and surface adjusting impact forces via changes joint stiffness, the way the foot strikes, and a concept called muscle tuning.
An example of this can be seen with barefoot running, the diminished proprioception (sensory feedback) of wearing a shoe negates the cushioning of the shoe. Studies using minimal shoes/barefoot have shown that the body seems to adapt the impact forces/landing based on feedback and feedforward data. When running or landing from a jump, the body takes in all the sensory info, plus prior experiences, and adjusts to protect itself/land optimally As mentioned above, it does this through a variety of mechanisms. Thus, you stick some cushioned running shoe on the bottom of your foot and the body goes “Oh, we’re okay, we don’t need to worry about impact as much, we’ve got this soft piece of junk on our foot
        One concept that needs to be further discussed is muscle tuning. It’s a concept recently proposed by Nigg et al. in 2000. He sees impact force as a signal or a source of feedback, as I stated earlier. The body then uses this information and adjusts accordingly to minimize soft tissue vibration and/or bone vibration. His contention is that impact force is not the problem, but rather the signal. Muscle tuning is essentially controlling these vibrations via a variety of methods. One potential mechanism is pre-activation. Pre-activation is activation of the muscles prior to impact. In this case it serves as a way of muscle tuning to prepare for impact and in addition can alter muscle stiffness, which is another way to prepare for impact. Pre-activation has been established with multiple EMG studies.
         Shoes not only impact this, but surface type does too. As mentioned previously, the change in running surface did not impact injury rates. Why? Probably because the body adapts to running surface. In an interesting study measuring muscle activity, O’Flynn(1996) found that pre-activation changed based on surface. To prepare for impact, and presumably to minimize muscle/bone vibration, when running on concrete pre-activation was very high, when running on a soft track, not so much.

     What all of this means is that the body adapts via sensory input. It has several different adaptation methods. A shoe influences how it adapts. The shoe is not doing anything to alter cushioning, it is simply altering how the body responds to impact. It’s a significant mindset jump if you think about it. Here’s the summary:
The type of shoe and material of the shoe changes impact NOT because of alignment of the lower leg or because of changes in cushioning. Instead it changes impact characteristics because it alters the sensory feedback
In conclusion on the cushioning concept. Well, what are we trying to cushion? Heel impact forces have not been shown to relate to injuries, in fact in one study low impact runners had a 30% injury rate compared to a 20% injury rate in high impact runners. Shoe midsoles do not change, or marginally change impact forces anyway. So, not only may cushioning not be the answer, the shoes might not even be doing their job. But what about those shoe cushioning studies showing improved cushioning with their new midsole?! Well, the majority of that testing is done by using a machine to simulate the impact forces that you experience during running. That means, yes it may cushion an impact more, but it doesn’t take into account the role of the body adjusting impact based on feedback.
The reason cushioning doesn’t work? Because the body adapts based on feedback and feedforward information. These results prompted one notable researcher(Nigg,2000) to call for the reconsideration of the cushioning paradigm for running shoes.
Barefoot running?

Quickly, this topic could not be complete without a brief mention of barefoot running. An interesting thing to note is that the initial peak impact force is absent in barefoot running when compared to running with shoes. What this means is that, the impact forces look like (A) for shoes and (B) for barefoot. That initial little blip in A is the initial impact force. There is a hypothesis that this initial impact force is related to injuries.


A recent study by Squadrone et al.(2009) compared running shoes, barefoot running, and running in Vibram Five Fingers. They demonstrated reduced impact forces, shorter ground contact and stride length, but increased stride frequency while running barefoot (and in Vibrams) as compared to running with shoes. This is not unexpected, but shows that running shoes do in fact alter our normal strides. An interesting point is the reduction in stride length but increase in stride frequency. Shoes tend to promote this longer stride at a consequence of ground contact times and frequency. This happens because of changes in feedback signaling, increased likelihood to land on heel stretched out, increased weight, all of which lead to longer times on the ground. It’s interesting to note that elite runners all have short ground contacts and high frequencies (as demonstrated by the often quoted Daniels study of 180 strides per minute).
Tying this to the discussion above on the body controlling things based on sensory information, when running barefoot, there is a higher degree of stiffness in the lower leg. Increased stiffness can result in an increased SSC (stretch shortening cycle) response, resulting in greater force on the subsequent push off (2001). Dalleau et al. demonstrated that pre-activation causing increased stiffness improved Running Economy. In his study, the energy cost of running was related to the stiffness of the lower leg (1998)

Another recent study found that knee flexion torque, knee varus torque, and hip internal rotation torque all were significantly greater in shoes compared to barefoot. What does all of this mean? Potentially, this means more stress on the joints in this area. Jay Dicharry put it best when he said:
“The soft materials in modern running shoes allow a contact style that you would not use barefoot. The foot no longer gets the proprioceptive cues that it gets unshod. The foot naturally accommodates to surfaces rapidly, but a midsole can impair the foot’s ability to react to the ground. This can mute or alter feedback the body gets while running. These factors allow a runner to adopt a gait that causes the elevated forces observed above.”

The one thing that non-barefoot/heel strike proponents use to dismiss midfoot striking/barefoot running is the Achilles tendon. They say, correctly, that the load on the Achilles is higher in midfoot striking runners. The Achilles is meant to take a large load. The problem is we’ve weakened the Achilles through years of wearing shoes with their elevated heels. Essentially, we’ve created the Achilles problem with the shoes meant to prevent it. The Achilles is designed to operate in a rubber band like fashion. . During impact such as the braking or contact phase of running, the achilles tendon stores energy and then subsequent releases that energy via recoil during the take off phase of running. The Achilles, can store and return approximately 35% of its kinetic energy (Ker, 1987). Without this elastic storage and return, the oxygen uptake required would be 30-40% higher! So, in terms of performance why are we trying to minimize the tendonous contribution? It’s like giving away free energy.

Running shoes do not utilize the elastic storage and return as well as barefoot or minimal shoes. More energy is lost with shoes than with barefoot running (Alexander and Bennett, 1989). In addition, in some models of shoes, the arch is not allowed to function like a spring. The arch of the foot can store around 17% of kinetic energy (Ker, 1987). Given these results, its not surprising that running barefoot when compared to running with shoes is more efficient. Several studies have shown a decreased VO2 at the same pace with barefoot running, even when weight is taken into account. This should be no surprise as I mentioned above, without elastic recoil VO2 requirement would be 30-40% higher. Running in a minimal shoe allows for better utilization of this system.

So, the take away message is that shoes change natural mechanics to one that creates mechanical changes that are not optimal for running fast (decreased stride frequency, increased ground contact, decreased stiffness of the system, decreased elastic contribution, and on and on).

Tying it together with elites:

Looking at elite athletes, when racing and training, they generally have higher turnover, minimal ground contact time, and a landing that occurs closer to their Center of Gravity. Since the majority of elites exhibit these same characteristics while racing, it makes sense that this is the optimal way to run fast. So, why are we wearing footwear that is designed to increase ground contact, decrease turnover, and promote footstrike out in front of the center of gravity? I have no idea.


Conclusion:

In conclusion, I’m not some fanatic saying everyone ditch shoes now. Chances are you’ve been running in shoes for 20+ years. Your bodies done some adapting during that time. You’ve got to gradually change if you want to undue some of the changes.

The purpose of this article wasn’t to talk about the benefits of barefoot running. Instead it was to point out the problems with Running Shoe classification. It’s based on a cushioning/pronation paradigm that simply is not as true as they want us to believe. That paradigm needs to be reevaluated. It’s not founded on good science but rather initial ideas that made sense with no science behind them, but upon further review may not stand up to testing. A recent study found that using the good old shoe classification system that everyone uses, had little influence on injury prevention in a large group of Army Basic Training participants (Knapik, 2009). They concluded that selecting shoes based on arch height (like all major running magazines suggest) is not necessary if injury prevention is the goal. I guess that means the systems broken…

Where do we go and how do we fix it? I have no idea. Sorry, no genius answers here. My inclination is that we aim for letting the foot function how it is meant to function, or at least come up with some shoe that may alter foot mechanics but while still allowing feedback/functionality of the body. The first step is looking at the foundation on which running shoes are built upon, the motion control, stability, and cushioning paradigm. My take is that it needs to be reevaluated. I’m going to end with something I’ve already said, but it’s an important concept to get across:

The body is more complicated and smarter than we give it credit.
The type of shoe and material of the shoe changes impact or stride characteristics NOT because of alignment of the lower leg or because of changes in cushioning. Instead it changes impact and stride characteristics because it alters the sensory feedback. The brain is a wonderful thing.'

If you found this article to be informative, I'd appreciate it If you passed it along.  The goal is to get research based data out there so people can be well informed.


POST A COMMENT

84 comments:

  1. Very Interesting article!

    Makes you think. I guess the problem is we started out with a running shoe classification system before figuring out what running shoes actually needed to do. Then we just built and built upon it.

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  2. Has anyone looked at to what degree sensory feedback is diminished in shoes? I believe this is the case but I am still well aware of variation of surface no matter what shoe I wearing. Grass is different than concrete or dirt. I am also aware of the differences in impact. (granted not to the degree of sensitivity that a lab study can offer)

    About elites, perhaps the idea that sensory feedback is lessened at higher speeds might provide a clue.

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    1. Anonymous10:13 AM

      You consciously may know what variation of surface you are running on. The question is how can your body react through dulled senses. Consciously is good, but your body must be able to react in its own way. It's like if you touched a burning pan without any nerve receptors. Yes you know it should be hot, and you also know that your skin is burning. On the other hand with nerve receptors you will have an immediate physical reaction faster than your thought process will allow you to retract your hand. If minimal running is something you're interested in slowly let your feet adapt and reteach your body to react on its own.

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  3. Anonymous12:48 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. Excellent overview. Thanks a lot!

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  5. Steve,
    Thanks for writing this! It was one of the few shoe/barefoot/economy types of pieces I'd seen that actually had any convincing and reasonable scientific discussion (although in mostly layman's terms, which is appreciated).

    I wonder about the application in my own running though. I have long suspected many of the points you made about what is wrong with shoes (though i lack the scientific background to coherently discuss it) but I also had a lot of leg problems in high school and have been running with orthotics for something like 4 years now.

    I incorporated barefoot running into my schedule a little bit...mostly with strides, hills, and minimal grass running, but have yet to ever do much volume barefoot and I still run with my orthotics. I have a very high arch and now even when I run in normal shoes without my insoles I notice a difference.

    I wondered what can I do? Is the only logical thing to VERY slowly work my way into doing more barefoot/minimal running? Obviously I must have a severe deficient achilles/other parts of foot and lower leg, given that even a neutral cushioned shoe without orthotics is enough to give me problems.

    Obviously I don't want to get hurt, but I want to strengthen these areas and improve my economy. Should I just very gradually build up volume using vibrams/barefoot/etc.?

    Sorry if that was vague and rambling.

    -Jacob

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  6. I know this wasn't really the point but I have to ask what you're running in?

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  7. Thanks for this thorough and unbiased treatment! McDougall talks about this too in his book "Born to Run." The whole shoe problem reminds me of the idea that dietary cholesterol/saturated fat causes heart disease. At first blush, the idea made sense (if you ignored a bunch of data like Ancel Keys did in his Seven Countries Study), though more and more evidence is coming out finally that it is not causal. But because of that (still) prevalent belief, you have advertisers telling people to eat this or that to get their cholesterol down, to avoid butter and other saturated fats and cholesterol, and substitute some franken-oil butter substitute, etc. There is a big market for running shoes, just like for these dietary alternatives, and sometimes I think the industry acts in its own interest- that is, it promotes misconceptions in order to sell more products- at the expense of the public's health and wellbeing.

    That said, I think you are very wise to point out that we can't all just go out and start training hard barefoot or with drastically different shoes and expect no transitional difficulties. I wonder how long does it take to retrain tendons and ligaments to a modified stride length and impact forces. Any idea? And how would you recommend people try to improve foot mechanics and strength- any particular drills or exercises that might make the transition go easier?

    Thanks again,

    Cynthia

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  8. Anonymous8:35 PM

    I'm interested in the conclusions about soft/hard surface running and impact forces and subsequent injury rates.

    The overwhelming sense I've gleaned from my experience as a runner and teammate is running on soft surfaces prevents injuries. Informal observations are that more of my teammates get injured to various degrees in the winter when running on roads, than when running on trails in better seasons. Also, I feel fewer achy sessions when off the roads. It seems to me that the increased pre-activation, which was identified as the opposite of the problem (cushioning shoes causing problems via low activation) is caused by hard surface running. However, I would imagine this increase lends itself towards more overuse during hard surface running.

    I am wondering at what point does an increase in activation rates (from hard surfaces) wear on the muscles more than they can recover, resulting in injuries typical of sub-elite and elite college runners?

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  9. Giancarlo8:47 PM

    Very, very good post.

    We've talked about this in our shop. It is not a right/wrong issue. We do tend to pick polar opposites when discussing almost anything, and this is no different. The "shod" v. the "unshod."

    But the real issue is that the shoe companies are behind the curve. Form, in running specialty footwear, does not follow function.

    They all have minimalist designs on the boards, but can't introduce them without the proper marketing to push the numbers.

    And really, when we look at the shoe wall, which innovations lately (other than VFF and Free, etc.) have been in support of injury reduction. None. They are all to make the shoe feel better first try.

    It is a good argument because it makes us think about it, from whatever side of the road we're on.

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  10. Great insight,

    I see patients daily who present with foot pain limiting any ability to train. In fact, several present with motion control shoes (usually 2 different types) and clinical exam reveals no need for them. They exhibit no overpronation while walking or running. It is important to realize that pronation is needed. It is not static but dynamic. The foot needs to pronate as a mobile adaptor and unlock the midtarsal joint for shock absorbtion and then resupinate to become the rigid level to propel us while running. This often gets overlooked. It is important to allow proper function in the gait cycle. Limitation of function can have serious results. Great post!

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  11. First off, Thank all! Glad you liked the article. Hopefully it made you think a bit.

    DumpRunner- No one has looked at that to my knowledge. There was one study that Iced the bottom of parts of the foot to lessen feedback from the foot that was interesting, but not much else. It’s a subject that needs more attention.
    Jacob Brower- As a runner who also wore orthotics for years, I sympathize. I’d work very slowly and I’d make small transitions. My suggestion is to come at it from a couple different ways. On the barefoot front start with walking and some short 100m strides after runs. Progress where you do some short jogging. Start with maybe once a week and gradually increase in frequency. On the other side, I’d start wearing a more minimal shoe on some runs. Start with minimal shoes maybe once per week on a faster workout.

    In your case, I’d make sure that every day spent minimalist/barefoot is followed by 1 or 2 days in regular shoes/orthotics to let your feet rest and adapt. It’s just like training, stress the feet, then give them a break.


    Rich- Fair question. I run in all sorts of shoes. As I said above, I wore orthotics since the age of 15. The variety of shoes I run in:
    -Asics Gel Speedstar
    -Asics Piranha
    -Vibram Five Fingers
    -Asics Gel Nimbus
    The one that sticks out there is the Nimbus. It’s my “break” shoe to give my Achilles a break (the reason I wore orthotics). I’m on a slow transition. Right now I wear the speedstar probably 3x per week, the piranha’s 1-2x, and the Vibram’s on all runs 5 miles or less.

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    1. Anonymous4:59 PM

      Hey Steve,

      What do you tell your athletes that you coach to do in terms of shoes? Do you want them to make the switch to more natural running?
      Also, has the transition to running in vibrams and other minimalist shoes helped you thus far?
      Finally, what do you think about the toes in relation to the defects of modern day running shoes? In unshod communities around the world, their toes are spread out where as most peoples in shod societies are cramped. My toes are smushed and you can barely see my pinky toe because its mashed into my foot.

      -Everett

      Delete
  12. Cynthia,
    Nice connection there with Heart disease. I agree completely. I’m not sure on how long it would take to retrain and modify tendons and ligaments. I suspect it’s highly individual.
    I haven’t looked into it, but we could get some sort of answer from studies on eccentric Achilles tendon training. Remodeling of the tendon has been shown in studies using eccentric calf lowering exercises. I’m going to take a look at those and that might give a general framework on the time course of change in tendons.
    Not sure on particular drills. I think starting slow with just walking barefoot would start. Probably some walking in sand might aid in strengthening at first. If we look at where most people’s weak link is, it’s going to be the Achilles tendon. So, I’d start with strengthening that tendon before going into barefoot/minimal running/training. For that, I’d suggest the eccentric calf exercises mentioned above. Basically, calf raises focusing on the lowering part. Stand on a step with one leg, lower slowly all the way to the bottom, then use both feet to come back up.

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  13. Anonymous- The research on hard vs. soft surface is an interesting one. It’s a difficult thing to study since runner’s have a preconceived idea that hard surfaces are bad. Thus, whenever someone gets injured it’s automatically attributed to running on hard surfaces. You’ve got to remember that running strengthens bone. The impact is a stimulus for bone creation AS long as there is enough recovery. It’s like any other aspect of training, the stimulus can’t overwhelm the body and enough recovery needs to be taken after, and the sources of bone building must be present (i.e. calcium,etc.). If that’s the case, then running strengthens bones.

    There hasn’t been as much data on hard vs. soft running though. In your experience is it possible that other mechanisms are at play?

    For instance, you point out that hard running is done in the winter season while you can run on trails in other seasons. Is it not possible that this might explain the rise in injuries/aches. Your running in much colder weather and the muscles sometimes never really warm up. Your stride is altered b/c of this and the fact that you’re training in more clothes. You could go on and on.

    On pre-activation. I don’t think it’s a problem UNLESS you are under heavy fatigue. So, your theory could be true in situations like long runs. Where pre-activation would start to diminish because of fatigue. When pre-activation diminishes, the body can’t modify and control the impact as well. Essentially, it can’t adjust to the hard surfaces as well. This could lead to injury, fatigue, muscle soreness, etc. So, it’s not the pre-activation that’s the problem, it’s probably maintaining it during heavy fatigue that is.

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  14. Great article, been following your blog for years and your research really coincides with other peoples opinions of how running shoes are the problem when it comes to injuries. If anyone wants anymore info, they should read Born to Run...great book on the same topic

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  15. Excellent article. This topic has totally captivated me for the last 3-4 months. I've struggled with Plantar Fasciitis for over a year. I finally stopped trying to run - in an effort to let the tissues heal. Now that that has happened I'm adopting the Pose method and, just last week, I not only got out of my huge orthotics, I'm wearing minimalist shoes full time. It's astonishing to me. I'm out of the hardware AND the PF pain is gone.

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  16. Anonymous10:43 PM

    Hi Steve, very interesting post, and lots of food for thought. I'm not sure where the evidence is going to lead on this issue, but I can imagine that there might be a role for some barefoot running for mmost people, and mostly bare foot running for some people. In your article you stated that "Several studies have shown a decreased VO2 at the same pace with barefoot running, even when weight is taken into account. This should be no surprise as I mentioned above, without elastic recoil VO2 requirement would be 30-40% higher. Running in a minimal shoe allows for better utilization of this system." Could you possible gibve me these references? It's a key issue for many people, and I'd love to get a more balanced perspective...

    Thanks,
    William
    www.endurancescience.com/blog

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  17. Fantastic article Steve. Thanks so much for taking the time to put it together.

    If you have time, can you bug Coach Tellez and get his thoughts and what shoe(s) he'd recommend for young athletes and athletes? In Boulder we see all of the Japanese runners in what look like racing flats. Curious what he has to say on this.

    Thanks again.

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  18. Great blog post. I found this through Jim Haselmaier's blog BTW. I've facebooked it so my running friends can all read it too.

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  19. Thanks for the comments.

    Jay- I'll talk to him this weekend and get his thoughts!

    William- I don't have full citations with me at the moment, but the 30-40% vame from a review by Saunders 2004.

    The studies on VO2 and barefoot are from:
    Squadrone, R. & Gallozi, C. Biomechanical and physiological comparison of

    barefoot and two shod conditions in experienced barefoot runners. J. Sports Med.
    Phys. Fitness 49, 6-13 (2009).

    Divert, C. et al. Barefoot-shod running differences: shoe or mass effect. Int. J.
    Sports Med. 29, 512-518 (2008).

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  20. While rehabbing from ankle surgery I spent a lot of time on balance pads to regain proprioception and strengthen the muscles supporting the ankle. When Born to Run came out the similarity between the shoe's cushioning and those balance pads sprung to mind. It seems to me that the need for medial posts, etc. is a result of the fact that the foot is running on an unstable platform that doesn't allow the foot to firmly sense where the ground is.

    I was starting to have some foot pain under the ball of my foot as I ramped up mileage after the injury. It seems counterintuitive, but as I started running in Vibram Five Fingers the pain went away and only showed up when running in regular shoes. Not what I expected, but it made this lingering pain go away.

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  21. Anonymous1:04 AM

    What a great resource!

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  22. PaulYS4:33 AM

    Excellent even-handed article. Most runners look to running footwear (or lack thereof) for two things: (1) protection from injury and (2) increased performance.

    This article is a great contribution to the critical mass of evidence that shows most current running shoes decrease performance when compared to footwear that gives more accurate body feedback and allows 2 million years of evolution to better accommodate running surfaces and terrain.

    Shouldn't that be sufficient to get the full attention of the running shoe industry? It's likely only a matter of time before research would directly tie current shoe designs to increased injury. Must we repeat the class action lawsuits as suffered by the tobacco industry?

    I know the industry has been paying attention. More to the point, I hope the shoe buying public demands the shoe industry's attention and actions!

    I am not against comfortable shoes, but they should be sold with a warning of possible injuries arising from their use.

    To increase the credibility of this article to that high standard of your website, please include the list of references that you cited within your article.

    Thanks.

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  23. Anonymous9:52 AM

    What a great resource!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Anonymous10:59 PM

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    ReplyDelete
  25. Very well done article!

    I have made a transition completely out of cushioned running shoes over the past 6 months and my body and running ability have reaped HUGE reward and benefit from it.

    My personal experience has validated for me all of the points made in your article.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  26. Excellent article. Sensory perception seems like the logical issue.

    Harry

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  27. Anonymous8:29 PM

    Running barefoot ---the latest running fad---granted the shoe companies have been selling us a lot of needless "extras" with their shoes for yrs. but you don't throw out the baby with the bathwater--simply pick a basic light weight minimalist shoe and you'll be fine---we are seeing and will continue to see more people injured because they thought barefoot running was the answer.

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous9:09 AM

      Running barefoot a fad? I thought the human race had centuries of running barefoot!

      Delete
  28. Rob Katz9:05 AM

    Fad: a custom, style, etc. that many people are interested in for a short time; passing fashion; craze.

    Sure, minimalist running is the latest fad. Isn't everything 'new' a fad until enough time has passed and it either fades from existence or is accepted by the mainstream?

    Anon basically has it right about picking a minimalist shoe and being fine. He's also right about the increase in injuries due to people who went 'barefoot' and came back injured. Common sense is required when incorporating a change to your exercise routine. However, if the human body is capable of adapting so well, then the extreme caution may also be overstated. Put some minimalist time in to your existing routine. Set some out and back loops with a change of shoes factored in. If it's about getting 'time' in without the artificial support of 'traditional' shoes, then wear your minimalist shoes when you commute, or grocery shop, etc.

    Set yourself a target and then build a plan. There are lots of Couch-to-5k routines, or 16 weeks to your first marathon programs. take the structure of your favorite routine and target certain days of the week to include minimalist time. If you've never run a race longer than a 5K, or are only putting in <15 miles a week, you wouldn't try to run 20 miles on the weekend because there's a marathon next week you want to run. So don't expect to have your VFFs/Frees on exclusively by the end of the first week!

    As we currently 'blame' all of our current running injuries on 'running' and not the shoes we wear, let's try to remember that we shoudln't be 'blaming' the increase in BFR injuries on the lack of shoes. There are also two major categories in BFR injuries: The 'Ouch' I wish i had something protected my foot when I stepped on that, and the bone/tendon/ligament/knee/ankle/etc. injury related to running.

    We are a people of extremes. We're quick to condemn the 'fool' who signs up for a marathon with no training and collapses a mile 10 and earns a trip to the hospital, AND we're quick to write magazine articles and books about the 'phenom' who does the same thing and completes the marathon on his first try!

    Go slow, but not too slowly. Go get a pair of minimalist shoes and try them out for a few months. You may discover something. Then again you may not!

    Fantastic Article! Filled in a lot of 'blanks' from BTR.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Steve,

    Awesome article, and nice to see one that is well cited for once! Wish I had come across this sooner.

    Pete

    ReplyDelete
  30. Anonymous12:28 PM

    This article speaks to the conclusions I have come to in the past 6 months of studying and researching running shoes and form/technique. I completely agree that the primary disservice of a over-built and cushioned traditional running shoe is the lack of feedback. This effects new runners even more than experienced ones. My recomendation to new runners is to start with a lightweight, neutral, flexible and low-profile shoe. In most cases, starting slow and being patient will yeild the best results. Barefoot running and VFF running should be undertaken even more conservetively and if someone finds it useful it can promote proper form and strenghten feet and legs.....hopefully the jist of your article will find traction and people will benefit from changing the current running shoe paradigm. TLV

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  31. Anonymous10:57 AM

    On a different topic, what do you think about what Vern Gambetta said, "Need to revisit the whole ice after Wk Out if healthy. Can it do more harm than good? No research to substantiate use of ice unless injury". I thought inflammation may not always be a bad thing, and thus, reducing inflammation via ice tubs may not necessarily be a good thing. I'm also interested in to what effects submerging half of the body may have on the entire body. And, for the many athletes, is that extra 15 or so minutes it takes to ice tub worth the extra time? I also do understand that it may not be an all or nothing thing, perhaps it's good if one has another heat/race the next day, but perhaps it's not justifiable after an easy run.

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  32. That was excellent. Thanks!!!!! I've been in the midst of dealing with this personally for 2+yrs. Now I run and race primarily in Terra Plana Evo's without the insole . . . only 4mm of protection and no support (3 yrs. ago I ran in 11 oz. motion control shoes). I use barefoot as a weekly training tool.

    No question my stride changes as I migrate up with more cushion as my feedback to the brain must be delayed.

    Harry

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  33. Anonymous10:33 AM

    thanks for the great info.
    I have been researching the topic & have started to run on vibrum minimal shoes ( keen makes a water shoe that appears identical to the foot glove but without the separation of toes which I, 1- didn't want to invest in yet 2- worried that encased toes would bug me.) I've only run about 6 times for 30mins on a treadmill and was quite impressed. The one day I told someone about this new revelation I jinxed myself & developed a pain on the outside of both ankles (or more accurately, just below the ankles)They are still sore & I am trying to figure out what happened & what to.
    I chose the minimal running approach to see if I could still run as I get older (58) without the recurring joint/muscle injuries. Any suggestions?

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  34. Anonymous12:32 AM

    So in the end, what shoes would you recommend, brand or features, for someone with chronic Achilles tendon issues?

    ReplyDelete
  35. Those were some good points. The motions in the foot affect the entire lower extremity. The kinetic chain is interlinked, forces transmit all the way through the skeleton. Malalignment of the forefoot-rearfoot is not just the cause of overpronation (and I use that term cautiously)can cause shin splints, knee pain and even low back pain.

    regards
    Paul
    http://independent.academia.edu/PaulFiolkowski

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  36. Anonymous5:32 AM

    Working in a running store and getting normal non-elite, 8/9/10min mile runners coming in with injuries, especially knee pain. Analysing them on the treadmill taking into account the footwear they currently use, then sending them away with a stabilty shoe to suit them. Then often they return saying how great it has been and how their knee pain has gone.
    Would that have been the crossroads where they could've gone down the re-learn how to run/minimalist running route?

    The problem with studies is they would find it impossible to give the correct stability shoe to each subject. It becomes just random tests then the overall conclusion is suddenly motion control shoes offer no support!
    We can put people who appear to need more support in say 3 high stability shoes, 1 motion control shoe and 1 neutral shoe and get different results on what the best shoe is for every single person that runs in them. Often the stability shoe is better than the motion control shoe.
    e.g. chances are a motion control shoe won't work as well if you have very slim feet!

    I'm not against the minimal running etc but I hate it every time studies are done or information is provided and elite or fast runners are mentioned as the subjects as they tend to have better running form (forefoot) regardless of what is on their feet.

    Interesting stuff though!

    Chris

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  37. just posted this on my blog over at Marinrunningco.blogspot.com


    An Open Letter to Steve Magness:

    Dear Steve -

    Unlike so many of the people posting about barefoot running and minimalism, you do a wonderful job of actually making a credible case. You actually cite studies and try to present a credible argument by discussing both the design of the running shoes and what that particular design is trying to accomplish. You cite numbers and scientists who have tried to create actual control groups so that proper use of the empirical method and modern testing equipment can be brought into play. From all this, you form a thesis and arrive at a conclusion.

    So how did you get it wrong?

    http://marinrunningco.blogspot.com/2010/11/open-letter-to-steve-magness.html

    ReplyDelete
  38. Well written and rational article. Thanks for the in-depth analysis. I completely agree that shoes can cause a myriad of problems, and this article explains why. But it's not just running shoes - it's your everyday shoes as well. You spend much more time in those than you do in your running shoes. Check out my post on this topic here. And for the record, I'm not a barefoot runner - but I do like my running shoes to be very light and flexible.

    ReplyDelete
  39. the article is great but the part where it talks about elites kills some of its credibility. sorry but it does that for me. it is way too unscientific there. there is too many confounding factors here. firstly, elites are running at 5min/mile pace, how am I supposed to run the exact same way at 8-10min/mile pace, huh?

    and just because I go barefoot I'm not going to be able to run 5min/mile for a long time!! in fact, when I tried barefoot running, my oxygen uptake INCREASED. my running form was totally beautiful barefoot but my heart rate went way too high at an incredibly slow pace. so, it's not a quick fix to become faster. nah, to become faster, you have to increase your aerobic capabilities by training. simply by changing from shoes to barefoot you won't suddenly become elite. I know you weren't suggesting that, but... it's just not a quick fix.

    oh and my stride rate is already up at 180, it's just the way it is, and I run in normal shoes with some shock absorption abilities. and I found that if the shoe gets too old (i.e. decreased impact reducing ability), my lower leg starts hurting everywhere, until I get a new pair of shoes. so looks like my shoes do absorb some impact keeping my lower leg happy. so uh, I don't care what the stupid studies say... I care more about my own and real experiences.

    btw, about the shoes, motion control shoes were no good for me (changed my running form too much, for the worse), neutral shoes had too much cushioning for my liking, but I love light stability shoes (light meaning there is not too much control built in the shoe).

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  40. while I'm waiting for my comment to appear, I remembered one more interesting thing about impact forces. when I started out with running, I did not have running shoes... I just ran in some other shoes with a thin sole. I started by running 10 minutes on a road that was a hard surface (concrete-hard). after I finished, my stomach started hurting really bad and I was in great pain for about half an hour. next time I did 10 minutes on the same surface with the same shoes, and same pain afterwards. after this, I tried running at the side of this hard road, the side was more like a trail, a bit softer than the road. I ran the same time and same pace. now, the pain did not come up. if I went on the hard road, it did. and I could feel that the surface was harder, I could feel some impact. I have no idea about what my running form was like back then, but it definitely did not adjust enough to the hard surface... :( I did not have pain in my legs though...I just felt the extra impact in them.
    well, a few weeks later, I bought proper running shoes with proper impact absorbing abilities and I was able to run on the hard road again and no problem since then.
    to me this seems like the impact forces were decreased on a softer surface, also decreased in good running shoes. I don't know of a better explanation right now.
    but it could be that ANY shoe (even minimalist ones!!?) is a bad idea, because when I ran barefoot on hard surface, I had no such problems.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Good writing, and I very much agree with your thoughts and insights. Hope that more could write such a good word, I said, to continue coming to visit, thank you for sharing.i love these shoes very much .

    ReplyDelete
  42. Anonymous7:44 AM

    I Just posted this article as my first post in my blog http://runnersblogx.blogspot.com/2010/12/why-running-shoes-do-not-work-looking.html. Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  43. Anonymous4:43 PM

    My sister broke her foot running barefoot on concrete, and two years after healing up, is going to go at it (barfoot on concrete) again. She pointed me to your website.

    I have not yet read all your stuff, but if you promote running long distances barefoot on hard surfaces, would behove you to rethink things. There are probably more people like her injuring themselves, maybe with your encouragement.

    :-(

    Mitch, concerned brother of "Susie"

    ReplyDelete
  44. So did you read the article? Did you know that runners break their feet while running in running shoes? Deena Kastor (olympic marathoner) broke her foot in the opening miles of the olympic marathon. As far as I know she isn't a barefoot runner. By your reasoning should her family be concerned if she returns to training in running shoes?

    I think studies are currently lacking but will be forthcoming. But based on advice from the barefoot running community I've very slowly and progressively incorporated barefoot and minimalist running into my training over the last year and now do all of my running either barefoot or minimalist. I'm 250 pounds and my mileage is pretty modest at about 20 miles a week and longest runs of 10 miles but my feet, ankles, and lower legs have never been better.

    As long as your sister doesn't do too much too soon she'll be fine. In fact, I'd guess she's probably more likely to do too much too if she isn't barefoot and get injured because the shoes provide too much protection and make it easier to push further. When you're barefoot all those nerves let you know if you're doing too much pretty quickly.

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  45. Anonymous10:22 AM

    I'm 66 years old and have been running since 1958. Also, I've been wearing shoes all my life. My feet have weakened accordingly throughout the years so that my feet expect a heel and a sole and a support structure. So the muscles in my feet have adapted to my shod(dy, LOL) habits. Any radical change to barefoot running at this point means injury. My approach has been to wear minimalist shoes such as the 3.5 ounce Mizuno Universe Wave 3 combined with a Powerstep Pinnacle insole. I believe that the insole is actually more important that the shoe itself because it has a more direct bearing on foot plant. I use that combo for races and some training while alternating to a slightly heavier shoe for the rest of my training. "Everyone's different"

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  46. Anonymous2:28 AM

    I've spent a considerable amount of time studying the barefoot/minimalist 'movement' and the reasons behind it. This belief that there is only one 'perfect' running form seems to be a constant theme. As a running coach I am surprised by this concept. When I start each cross country season and have new runners come out for the team I am reminded (vividly) that we are all made differently. There is no way on earth all of us can (or should) have the same running form. Thank goodness we have shoe types to help runners who have flat feet, high arches, over pronation, etc!

    With that said, are there some basic form similarities? Of course. But to try and overhaul someone's natural running form to match that of some preconceived idea of what a 'perfect' form might be, to me, is begging for injury.

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  47. My podiatrist and my trainer both blame modern footbeds that force feet into an unnatural position and weaken the muscles. They believe this is the root cause of all sorts of problems - achilles - shin splints - you name it.

    They both advise a flat footbed when not possible to go barefoot. Unfortunately bad orthopaedic surgery wrecked my feet (don't trust UK Orthopaedic surgeons folks!) so I can't go barefoot now. But at least my podiatrist has now made me custom orthotic supports that mean I can walk properly again.

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  48. Barefoot running sounds painful to me. My concern is that some companies have started bandwagoning on these light weight running shoes and I think it compromises overall feet protection. Happened to me and my podiatrists said that my running shoe was defective.

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  49. Anonymous4:55 PM

    Good article (even if it needs some editing).
    One important point is missing, however, concerning the impact curves that you show. The issue is the speed of the impact (or the rate of increase). With a heelstrike, the increase of the curve is almost straight up ("the blip"), meaning that the impact is going from 0 to 2+ G's almost immediately. In the forefoot-strike curve, the force increase is more gradual over time.
    The time component is crucial here, because the final height (total force) of the curve is about the same (approaching 3 G's).

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  50. I think running shoes have progressed far. Today's rubber shoes are lighter and are designed for comfort and foot protection.

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  51. Anonymous3:56 PM

    Sorry, but I found it hard to read with grammatical errors in the first paragraph.

    ReplyDelete
  52. I like the article, but agree more research with different age and fitness level subjects need to be pursued. Overall I think injury and shoe selection comes down to looking at an individual's need and training pattern. It is difficult to blame a "shoe" for injury alone. Training schedules, back,hip, knee, and ankle alignment should be looked at. Many training schedules could be improved with cross training vs running everyday. Injury prevention and cure should take into account many factors, not just the shoe. Bottom line, see an expert, pedorthist or other certified shoe fitter and get "fit" for a shoe. A barefoot or minimalist shoe may be a good mix into your routine but may also take some retraining to work correctly. Also a good conversation between you Doctor, PT, athlectic trainer, coach, and or shoe fitter will help.

    As for myself, I am 40 yrs old and I am training for a 10 miler and do suffer from plantar fascitis which at this point I keep at bay. Stability shoes do help my knees, and I do have flexible arches that overpronate when walking barefoot. I also have a stiff back and more right sided pain in the knees and feet. I am going to try some barefoot running shoes for my own research, but not everyday at first, if they do not work well in my running routine, they will work great in my kayak. I also know I need to cross train more and stretch and strengthen my core and back. Wish me luck!

    ReplyDelete
  53. Anonymous11:26 PM

    I don't like this, reason it away!

    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/21/making-the-case-for-running-shoes/

    ReplyDelete
  54. Running in old or worn-out shoes is one of the most common causes of running injuries.I bought a pair of Vibram FiveFingers shoes. I have been running in them now .I love these shoes. Asics has always been my go to running shoes

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  55. Awesome article! Thanks! I am sharing it right now with my running clients! :)
    -Personal Trainer from Montreal

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  56. Excellent article. My issue with the running shoe industry is the concept of needing a shoe to correct the way you strike.

    Oh you are a overpronator! Here use these motion control shoes so you pronate less!

    Oh you are a supinator, here use these shoes to cushion your landing more!

    I am a fan of the minimalist movement, and have corrected my form. Anecdotally, I used to heelstrike during college and began running often second semester (I had begun getting the freshman 15, and was like oh hell no.)

    Kneepain resulted!
    This is the issue for me with a heelstrike vs midfoot, with a heelstrike the force goes straight up and the brunt of the blow is taken by your knees and joints. With a midfoot to forefoot strike, your achilles heel and calf muscles take the blow. Muscles recover, they are meant to absorb this shock and as our bodies are complex adaptive systems, eventually adapt to be able to do this without significant recovery time. Muscles recover over time relatively quickly, joints (cartilage) on the other hand do not recover quickly, or much at all.

    After learning how to "walk" properly by practicing barefoot and in Vibrams, I ALWAYS walk and run the same way even in modern running shoes or any shoes, basing my stride on the sensory information collected barefoot. Unsurprisingly, I once had very FLAT feet, I now have arches, better foot control, my feet do not tire quickly, and due to the arch taking up more space in its curve, my shoe size has gone down by a half size.

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  57. Steve, thought this was a great article that more people need to read. I was hoping you'd have the name, if not the full reference article of the:

    -nigg et al. 2000 (looking at foot and ankle movement in large groups of runners)
    -butler et al 2007- motion control shoes and pronation
    -dixon et al 2007- motion control shoes and peak pronation
    -nigg et a. 2000 review on external and internal impact forces

    my apologies, I wasn't able to find the articles I thought you were referencing and wanted to read the entire thing. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  58. Anonymous2:54 PM

    Nobody has given attention to the weird upward curvature they all now have, curling the toes, up.

    I noticed it right away the first time I bought one of the new fangled running shoes, about 10 years ago. I can't wear them. Even just sitting at a desk. To me it is the most unnatural thing - the foot - after 10 million years or more of evolution into the amazing structure it is - sits perfectly flat - or even concave. To me the most unnatural thing imaginable - is warping the underneath of a foot - up - convex. While you are sitting comfortably at a desk, or just standing anywhere admiring the scenery - do this exercise. Flex your toes - up - and hold it. All the muscles up and down the legs seize up in a most uncomfortable, and unnatural feeling discomfort. These shoes, enforce this positioning, full-time, permanently. Why?

    Is there some proven mechanics showing that during all the dynamics of full out running, that the same muscle train resonates focalizes or something, to the extent that curving your toes - up - during all of this, is actually good? Okay, I'd like to see or hear the argument. Maybe the roundness of the underneath of the shoe helps the foot "roll" through a running motion. I find this most unnatural, and definitely not in sync with what I feel are the natural structural advantages of a foot. I can feel a shock wave, focusing perfectly right at the knee joint, does no one else notice this? Throwing the shoes away, and putting on normal sneakers, it seems that the toes want to burrow down, into the ground, like a scoop. Like a fin, going into water, but encountering earth instead, give an extra forward push. But also every other muscle seems to be in sync with the motion. Every toe, bone, muscle, and sinew, add to this. With these shoes - you take away ALL those dynamics and make the front part of the foot a mute bystander as it's all leg motion. And, my argument will be, that the curving - up - of the toes - tightens up the entire leg muscle train in such a way that strains, or injuries, are actually more likely. I can't wear these shoes for more than a bit, then I take them off and put on a regular pair of shoes. With the flat or semi-flat soles. At least they may have the usual orthotic like underneath, but that mercifully leave the front part of the foot - flat.

    But it just seems an instinctive abomination, to take the wonderful flexibility of the foot, and just like, turn it all off. Rigidly. It seems so perfectly, Corporate.

    A perfect metaphor for the taking over completely of our lives by unseen hidden forces that are supposed to be smart, but in reality, are quite dumb and don't give a damn about anything at all as though they are secretly just faces carved out of stone, that we all worship.

    In taking away the entire flexibility of the foot, flexing as it contacts the ground, I think is the dumbest and stupidest thing I have ever seen big corporate stupidity do - some dough head made a picture - and everyone since has followed it like lemmings falling off a cliff. I don't wear them. I bought one pair, then had to buy another thinking it was some flaw - then discovered - they're all like that now.

    One thing is for sure - if some diabolical Ernst Blofeld type somewhere in the Austrian alps in his castle, wanted to brazenly ruin the walking ability of millions of people, as part of some kind of SMERSHian type plot, strategically, carefully, insidiously, invisibly, subtly - this - would be perfectly it. And getting rich, at the same time, as all the cash registers at the chiropractors offices go ching.

    Some day the aliens will land, look around, and shake their heads...

    Wiwi

    ReplyDelete
  59. Anonymous7:26 PM

    hi,

    interesting article but i could not find anywhere the papers cited, for instance where do i find (Bruggerman, 2007) ??? sorry, i am a science guy that is used to look at the references. you made it hard to get to, i don't know how.

    please, help

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  60. Anonymous8:03 AM

    Could you possibly post the full citations for the works cited here? I am a physiologist who has PFPS and would like to read these papers. This is a very nice rundown of the lit. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  62. Really got great article, I really like your well written content, and thank you for putting in time and effort into your wonderful website. Thank you for this information.

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    ReplyDelete
  63. Thanks for a very interesting article...I have been running in minimalist shoes for 3.5 years now. I have two pairs of VFF's and one pair of Saucony Hatori. I tell anyone that wants to CONVERT to minimalist running shoes and the new running style that will come with it to be patient. You will be using muscles and tendons you have not been using with running shoes. You will have aches and pains as you make the transition. I run in a high altitude, rocky area so I watch where my foot is landing all the time. If you want to try it out first to see what it is going to feel like simply run in one pair of socks on a treadmill, no elevation. You will find that you won't land on your heels anymore therefore your stride will shorten. Count your strides...you should be doing at least 180 per minute, try to get to that. Minimalist running forces you to land on your toes to mid-foot area. That transition takes a long time to become your natural running stride. Your calves will get bigger and your feet will be much stronger and you will certainly be getting alot of feedback from your minimalist running shoes.

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  64. Thanks for a very interesting article...I have been running in minimalist shoes for 3.5 years now. I have two pairs of VFF's and one pair of Saucony Hatori. I tell anyone that wants to CONVERT to minimalist running shoes and the new running style that will come with it to be patient. You will be using muscles and tendons you have not been using with running shoes. You will have aches and pains as you make the transition. I run in a high altitude, rocky area so I watch where my foot is landing all the time. If you want to try it out first to see what it is going to feel like simply run in one pair of socks on a treadmill, no elevation. You will find that you won't land on your heels anymore therefore your stride will shorten. Count your strides...you should be doing at least 180 per minute, try to get to that. Minimalist running forces you to land on your toes to mid-foot area. That transition takes a long time to become your natural running stride. Your calves will get bigger and your feet will be much stronger and you will certainly be getting alot of feedback from your minimalist running shoes.

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  65. Anonymous3:43 PM

    Good stuff. I often think about how freeing it was to "spike up" in HS. If there ever were a minimal shoe, it's the xc spike. It never made sense to me that we'd wear these bulky trainers, then when it counted- we put on these little 2 oz flimsy house shoes with a spike plate on our feet. Why not wear the light weight things all the time?

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  66. Dan Wilkins1:47 PM

    To answer your point on elite athletes and that you have no idea why they aren't barefoot, its down to sponsorship.

    They are paid a lot of money to be seen wearing a particular brand. The Kenyan marathon runners grew up running barefoot, and have admitted they found running in shoes hard to begin with, but for them the sponsorship money has helped them to rebuild their villages back home.

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  67. If your gait is neutral get a cushy single density midsole shoe. Save them for speed sessions on the track, or for tempo runs to build your speed for racing.

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  68. Anonymous4:57 PM

    Id love to see the stats of what percentage of people moving to barefoot or less than 3mm heel to toe drop become injured within the first 3 months !!

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  69. Excellent article on so many levels.
    The current legal case in U.S.A against Vibram Five Fingers accuses them of false claims in their marketing and insufficient warnings leading to injury:
    po.st/qvCnFX

    What is vital is more communication & debate like the above so that the correct message gets out there:

    Learn to run a mile before you try and run two.

    As somebody who offers full body 360 degrees video gait analysis in a clinic as opposed to just lower leg video in a shop selling trainers, I am fortunate on a daily basis to see how FORM must come before footwear. It sounds obvious but people forget that it is the whole body that affects how you run, how your foot lands, how impact force is dealt with, etc. Blaming what happens at just foot level for injury and "correcting" what happens at just foot level in an attempt to cure injury just doesn't make sense.

    Cushioned trainers entered the market following the massive boom in running that occurred back in the 70's when people other than trained athletes took to the streets to mimic the runners they had seen compete in a marathon. The general public could obviously not perform the same mileage that trained athletes could and suffered. Cushioned shoes hit the market as an idea to let your average Joe or Mary run to their heart's delight. Given that the majority of runners today are either injured, recovering from injury or about to get injured, I think we can agree the plan didn't work.

    Running for a duration, intensity or frequency higher than your body can handle will lead to injury. Wearing cushioned or corrective footwear is not a viable alternative to a sensible, graduated running program supported by adequate strength & flexibility training.

    The idea behind minimising cushioning and learning to run closer to how nature intended makes good sense, but it must be preceeded with training to learn how NOT to run. Everybody is unique (different jobs, lifestyle, history of injury, genetics) so no one running style is perfect for all, but certain pitfalls must be highlighted and understood as opposed to just buying a pair of shoes and hitting the roads with no understanding of your body or its needs.

    As always, communication is key. I will be directing people to this excellent blog.

    @sportinjurymatt.

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  70. Excellent article on so many levels.
    The current legal case in U.S.A against Vibram Five Fingers accuses them of false claims in their marketing and insufficient warnings leading to injury:
    po.st/qvCnFX

    What is vital is more communication & debate like the above so that the correct message gets out there:

    Learn to run a mile before you try and run two.

    As somebody who offers full body 360 degrees video gait analysis in a clinic as opposed to just lower leg video in a shop selling trainers, I am fortunate on a daily basis to see how FORM must come before footwear. It sounds obvious but people forget that it is the whole body that affects how you run, how your foot lands, how impact force is dealt with, etc. Blaming what happens at just foot level for injury and "correcting" what happens at just foot level in an attempt to cure injury just doesn't make sense.

    Cushioned trainers entered the market following the massive boom in running that occurred back in the 70's when people other than trained athletes took to the streets to mimic the runners they had seen compete in a marathon. The general public could obviously not perform the same mileage that trained athletes could and suffered. Cushioned shoes hit the market as an idea to let your average Joe or Mary run to their heart's delight. Given that the majority of runners today are either injured, recovering from injury or about to get injured, I think we can agree the plan didn't work.

    Running for a duration, intensity or frequency higher than your body can handle will lead to injury. Wearing cushioned or corrective footwear is not a viable alternative to a sensible, graduated running program supported by adequate strength & flexibility training.

    The idea behind minimising cushioning and learning to run closer to how nature intended makes good sense, but it must be preceeded with training to learn how NOT to run. Everybody is unique (different jobs, lifestyle, history of injury, genetics) so no one running style is perfect for all, but certain pitfalls must be highlighted and understood as opposed to just buying a pair of shoes and hitting the roads with no understanding of your body or its needs.

    As always, communication is key. I will be directing people to this excellent blog.

    @sportinjurymatt.

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  71. Jason D5:43 PM

    Minimalist barefoot style running shoes have been around forever, they are called spikes!!!!
    While it is a small percentage of the competitive runners out there, those that compete on the track 100m-10k in spikes are forced to run in very lightweight, thin soled minimilist shoes on a very hard surface. And run fast. This has been going on for ever and is nothing new. So it makes sense that they should also train in a minimalist lightweight shoe to mimick how their legs will function when performing. The times I have injured myself have been in going from bulky "cushioned shoe, motion control shoe" back into spikes. Of course I used to blame the injury on the spikes! Now I know that it came from a weakened sensory feedback and resultant poor muscular coordination gained from a dynamic change in a thicker shoe. I now stay injury free by training in minimalist footware all the time but just varying the intensity. Listen to your body, muscles and tendons.

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  72. I was just wondering, where did you find your sources? I see that they are cited in-text but links to them are not give, and neither are full names. I am doing a research paper on barefoot running and I would greatly appreciate this information.

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  73. Anonymous5:49 AM

    I like the article, but think it is too much scientific. No doubt that bare foot gives you better feedback. It may be very similar to having sex with and without a condom. Main question is what you want to do and what kind of reasonable protection you will need?
    No doubt that a few miles of running bare feet on a concrete for unprepared individual will result in injury.
    Some referred to Born to Run. When I observe some runners, I wish they stand in front of the mirror and ask themselves this question.
    Sasha

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  74. Anonymous10:33 PM

    I am a beginner and need recommendations on a minimal, light weight, light design shoe. I used to run track but have since stopped running through college and now work. I want to start running again and felt the wrong areas sore or damaged around my ankle after starting again. I was running in tennis shoes and forgot that I used to run on my ball. I was running on my heel trying to drag my body instead of propelling it with the ball like I used to. I have found that I liked running more barefoot, as most children did growing up in third world countries. Shoes are quite limiting. However, to avoid injury I'd like a starter running shoe. I thought a curved heel would help me avoid landing on it as I retrain my stride but most of the selections I see don't even seem to have that. I plan on starting with about a mile or two a day at a running pace on sidewalks in an area with a fair amount of inclines.

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  75. Hi, Hope you are perfectly good. This is the very nice ost about shoes and working shoes. I found very good point in your post which cleared my few confusions. Thanks much.

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  76. Anonymous1:06 PM

    If you take an overweight person weighing well over 250+ and try it put them in a minimal shoe with no support or cushioning, they will quickly become injured. Truth is that humans have adapted to the current model running shoe. Too many times so I so runners come into my store complaining about injuries after switching to minimal shoes. And for people that say, "Well humans didn't use to have shoes, and they had to chase down their prey to eat and survive". Well they also didn't have to worry about roads or glass. And they also weren't given the choice of wearing shoes. Bring a runner over from Kenya and offer him shoes and you know what he does?? He wears shoes!

    Enough said. The "minimal" running boom will be over soon along with crossfit. Its a fad, just like the 5 fingers blew up.

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  77. Anonymous11:13 AM

    I like to diminish the sensory input of rocks, glass, sharp sticks and thistles.

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  78. Anonymous9:32 AM

    Hey Steve,

    Has running in vibrams helped you? What do you have your athletes wear for shoes? What about the toes?

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  79. Excellent article. I have been running and winning for many years and I have tried many shoes. I always go for neutral shoes with 'normal' thickness sole or more recently a more minimal type. I never run barefoot or in sandals. I think it is the insole that is the only way to 'customise' a shoe and no matter what shoe i use i have specific insoles that have molded to my foot print. I never suffer from running injuries:)

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  80. Thanks Steve for this great article. I've been trying to diagnose the cause for my plantar fasciitis and trying to fix it. I'm addicted to daily barefoot running at the beach.

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  81. Hello Steve. Very interesting article, well-supported. Two questions if you don't mind. 1) If I followed your suggestion and went the route of letting my body's proprioception do it's thing, how few mm of midsole "protection" do you think road ultra runners (50, 100, 125+ miles at one time) can reasonably reduce to, given enough time to transition? 2) Do you feel that since feet are flat, zero drop shoes are the "best" way to go? Thank you very much.

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