Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Merits Of Barefoot Propaganda

From the Boston Globe:

We were born to run, but maybe not with shoes.

New research led by Harvard scientists shows that people who run barefoot or with minimal shoes -- as people have done for millions of years -- often land on their feet in a way that avoids a jarring impact.

Bare feet slamming down on all kinds of terrain without cushioned soles or arch support may seem like it would be hard on the body. But the new work, published online today in the scientific journal Nature, finds that the way the majority of people run in shoes -- striking heel first -- is not gentle at all.

"It's as if every time you land on the ground, someone hits you on the heel with a hammer," said Daniel E. Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, who studies the biomechanics of running in the lab -- and himself runs with minimal or no shoes. "It's an amazing thing. Running barefoot can be less impactful."

Instead of striking heel-first, barefoot runners tend to land on the ball or middle of their foot. Researchers need to do followup studies to test whether less impact translates into fewer injuries, but the new finding may become yet another example of the way in which evolution has made humans ill-equipped to handle some of the luxuries of modern life. Millions of years of evolution created humans best adapted to an environment lacking recent inventions such as desk jobs, video games, abundant processed foods, and -- perhaps -- the modern running shoe.


*Evolution* created a species that can't survive sedentary living? That can't survive sneakers and Crocs? People who wear expensive footwear don't reproduce as much? Is this the implication?

And how does evolution *create* in the first place? I thought it was a process of development and not an *author*?

Never mind. That's not the subject for this post.

How about that guy above - running near bare-foot in the Boston winter?

Although, the socks are probably gore-tex or something. The story here is *no shoes*.

Now I had never in my life thought much about wearing shoes - about whether or not footwear induced negative side effects until my blog was attacked by a barefoot brigade this past summer in - Is Your Brood Shod?.

But I've been thinking some more on the issue.

You see, while I have a pretty messed up back (1999 car accident, TOS) I also have some banged up knees. Even as a very active child I was told by some orthopedist in 1984, when I was 10, that I had *60 year old* knees. I thought this guy was a jurassic quack; but he insisted I was going to suffer long term problems - something about the cartilage under the knee cap grating when it slid it. Great. Thanks. He told me *no sports* for 6 months, and to do leg raises. I followed this Moron's prescription to no avail.

In 1996 I tore the cartilage and ACL in my right knee playing basketball and eventually had it reconstructed in 2004. Then I re-injured that one pretty badly this September. Now those injuries were exogenous, BUT I am also having problems with my left knee - one that's never even been injured. It's often painful and once in a while slightly buckles. In fact, I really believe it's worse than the other one!

Recently I tried to step up my yoga. I was doing a hard 45 minutes every single day. But ten days into that, both of my knees were killing me - so I had to dial it back. In fact, every time in my life I have tried to STEP-UP my workouts - be they for golf, for basketball, running more, etc. my body has always pushed back on me. I always figured, and still do, that my body was just never cut out for hard core training.

Though that doesn't mean I am going to stop trying to improve my physical state. I tried many things, for many years, before I discovered the benefits of yoga on my achy back.

Here's what I'm going to try now - not barefoot running, but at least spending a whole lot more time without any footwear. Obviously, with homeschooling, blogging, and occasional trading, I'm a home-body. I traipse around most of my day in flip-flops. But no more. Now I'm giving this barefoot thing a try - though it is wintertime and I'm donning socks.

I want to see how my feet react to having no artificial support and no artificial cushioning. Perhaps whatever strengthening or conditioning occurs will filter up into my fragile knees? What exactly do I have to lose with this experiment? (Aside from blackened socks.)

It's not just those hippy foot nudists who descended on my blog - it seems like the yoga crowd is big into barefoot evangelism as well. In the magazine I now get, there are plenty of adds for *yoga sox* and much talk about separating toes - toes that are unnaturally crowded together in shoes.

I mean, it's hard not to see that shoes are a *bailout* for the feet - and like all bailouts, doomed to have serious side effects.

When I was 14 I went to a new school - a Catholic high school where I had to shed my Levis and sneakers for a jacket, tie, and dress shoes. For the first 6 months of my freshman year, my feet, particularly my ankles, were in serious pain. I believe it was because I had never really worn *low-cut* shoes before. For years I had been wearing high-top or high-cut basketball shoes - Kangaroos, the Converse Weapon, etc. And not only did I wear them, like a punk I rarely tied them. (No *fat laces* though!) Obviously, my choice of footwear seriously weakened my feet - though in time, and from wearing shoes with much less artificial ankle-support, my strength came back.

Of course, it's not easy changing a habit like this. I feel awkward, unstable, and *naked* without my flip-flops on around the house.

Paul Mitchell's feet

This is an issue for my wife as well. She's got some really bad feet. One foot in particular has always given her trouble - it has an incipient bunion. Consequently, she absolutely never wants to take her shoes off, even around the house. Mrs. C-Nut says that she just *can't* go unshod. She's seen an orthopedist who did what they always do - prescribe some arch stretches and some expensive inserts - but there has been no progress. Now he says she has *plantar fasciitis*.

But I've been telling her about those barefoot fanatics, she's been listening and receptive. So, while we won't be out there grocery shopping and jogging with naked feet like those bohemians, the C-Nut family is at least giving this no-shoe or less-shoes thing a test run.


Paul Mitchell said...

Dude, I am self-employed and work at home, do you really think that I wear shoes all the time? AND! I have you know, chicks dig my feet.

Next stop for C-Nut, hemp shirts, driving a Toyota Pious, and accupressure.

Anonymous said...

All of that barefoot running seemed to originate with this book "Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen" by Christopher McDougall. I read it and it was interesting. The book has a chapter describing the natural state of humans - active and running - not sedentary and walking. This book seems to promote the idea that shoes are bad. However, the book's poster children, the "Hidden Tribe" - an Indian tribe in northern Mexico, wears sandles made from tire rubber when they run. So even these ultra-runners wear reasonable foot protection when they run.

I run for exercise and this book did not convince me. I'm not giving up my shoes. However, walking around barefoot has always felt great.

Tucker Goodrich said...

I thought you might get a kick out of the latest hippy foot nudists to pick up on the whole barefoot-running thing.

There are real benefits to it. I'm a person who has had knee problems for 20 years. I never ran much because I had a bad knee. Last year I took up running in Vibrams, after reading "Born to Run". My knee has improved so much that I now think that I had a bad knee because I wasn't running "correctly".

The trick to running barefoot is that it forces you to run with correct form. If you run with correct form, you get fewer injuries, and you get a lot stronger. That's why the Army is teaching people to run using the Pose technique, which is a barefoot-style running technique.

The fellow in the picture at the top of your post is Prof. Daniel Leiberman. He's wearing Vibram FiveFinger KSOs. They're not Goretex.

auntulna said...

Although your upper body has much to commend it (except for your low back), it is clear that below the waist you are a knock-kneed pronator.

If you had been born into the Tarahumara tribe, you would be dead now.(got run over)

If I were you, I would never move faster than five miles per hour. Your happiness ought to come from short, but intense workouts in a gymnasium. You would feel better, and stop thinking about your feet.

CaptiousNut said...


Why do you run?

I try to swim laps when I can for aerobic exercise - though those opportunities are few and far
between. No impact, right?


I never cared much for running without a purpose (i.e. no ball) even when I was in tip-top shape.

And I think a lot of that had to do with my excessive mouth-breathing. It tensed me up and shortened my stamina.

neil said...

Yoga is probably going to help you a lot more than losing the flip flops. Your gait is surely screwed up from your knee pain. That is going to leave you prone to pain in other joints and muscles of the lower extremities and low back(esp with your history of back problems). No shoes may correct some of that, but your going to put less weight on painful area and shift the load to other muscle groups that you don't usually use. At least you're staying active-biggest mistake I see from patients with pain(esp back pain) is to do nothing-then they're muscles spasm and it's 10x worse. Many just look for a pill to take away the pain. Pain meds can help in an exacerbation in the short term but are no substitute for a good stretching regimen. Feel better soon.

Just be glad you don't have to ever wear the evil shoes women wear. They are definitely not designed for the anatomy of the foot. Women's dress shoes(esp high heels) are a recipe for bunion formation.

Paul Mitchell said...

neil, you must not read this blog very much, C-Nut certainly wears high heels.

Anonymous said...

There's an inspiring poem, I think it's called the "The Tree That Never Had To Fight" about growing stronger through carrying one's proverbial cross in life, but instead here's a famously witty and acerbic Onion "news" article that (doesn't) show how funny I am:

Tucker Goodrich said...

CN, I started running because it was "good for you", but it hurt, so I didn't do it often. Then I started trail running to get in shape for a hike with a friend who's a runner. I discovered trail running hurts less, and I love being on the trails.

Then I came down with diverticulitis, and was told I would need surgery to correct it. In researching the condition, I discovered that the group of people who had a lower rate of diverticulitis were runners. So I ran a lot in an attempt to get better. You can't cure diverticulitis with running, apparently, the damage was already done.

Then I kept running occasionally, but not too much, because it hurt. Then I read "Born to Run". I alread had a pair of Vibrams, so I went for a run in them. As predicted, it felt great (except for my calves).

I've discovered that if I run in Vibrams I have no pain, I can run more often, longer, and I enjoy it immensely. I now wake up the in the morning wanting to go for a run, which never used to be the case. All the things that I disliked about running seem to have been caused by sneakers, not by running. I have a lot of friends and colleagues who've followed my example, and they've all had the same experience.

Plus it seems to have ended 20 years of knee pain (torn meniscus). I don't entirely understand this part, but I'm happy about it.

Reading stuff like this doesn't hurt either:

"Regular running slows the effects of aging, according to a new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine that has tracked 500 older runners for more than 20 years. Elderly runners have fewer disabilities, a longer span of active life and are half as likely as aging nonrunners to die early deaths, the research found."

Paul Mitchell said...

Yeah, running is great, well, except for that heart disease thingy. No big whoop.

Tucker Goodrich said...

Paul, I read that link. File that next to the dog-faced boy.

"In the March 1, 2007, issue of the American Journal of Cardiology, the researchers say this is the first case, to their knowledge, of advanced coronary calcification in an otherwise healthy middle-aged male marathon runner who lacked traditional cardiac risk factors and had no symptoms of heart disease."

You might also get struck by lightning when you're running, so you should obviously stay in the house.

Paul Mitchell said...

And I'll file it right next to "dog-faced boy" along with the companion article "Runners high may strengthen hearts" on the same page.

You must have a PhD in education, Tuck.

Why do people no longer think, Captious Nut?

CaptiousNut said...


If you wake up in the morning eager for your run....then that's a good thing (I guess unless you're really trying to get away from your life partner!).

I know I should be running more or doing something to strengthen my heart. I've been out of shape for 15 years now, aerobically anyway, and my pulse rate has creeped up to 62 or so (from 54).

I've got to move to one of those gated communities in Florida where I can swim laps every morning. While I've made great *strides* with my breathing and yoga....I don't think my back is interested much in the impact of me running - shoes or no shoes.

BTW, my fore-foot has always been strong and well-utilized. I'm 5'10 and could grab the rim with two hands in my heyday. The difference between me and my wife going up and down the stairs is nothing short of 5 decibels.

But still after a week of *no flip-flops* around the house, I feel a bit stronger and more exercised through my toes.

Paul Mitchell doesn't need to run. He follows his boy Obama around the clock to race his pulse.

Paul Mitchell said...

Yeah, that following around Dear Reader and about twelve miles a day on a stationary recumbent.