Runner’s World published an article recently saying the barefoot fad is over, saying that the sales of barefoot and minimalist shoes have dropped significantly (13-14%) and shock absorbing or motion control shoes sales have increased by 25%. Actually they used the word “plummet” but I’m not sure that 13% is a “plummet.” Others are wondering the same thing: The Science of Sport (Sportsscientists.com) has an article published today that discusses this claim and the characteristics of barefoot/minimal shoe running. It seems to me that the drop in sales may just be a return to the mean since minimalist shoes were the biggest growing running shoe segment a year ago.
Shoe statistics aside, it is interesting to ask how runners are doing with minimalist/barefoot shoes?
A bit of history. The barefoot movement started in my memory with Zola Budd who competed in the women’s 3000M in the Olympics running barefoot in the 1980’s. She trained and raced barefoot almost exclusively. The barefoot trend became over-hyped with the popularity of the book “Born to Run.” At that time I was running in Brooks shoes, doing 5K an 10K races, running about 50 miles per week. I had no interest or knowledge of minimalist shoes. They reminded me of the spikes I ran with in high school and the way my knees hurt after an extremely hard workout (which was all we did at that time).
My experience with barefoot and barefoot shoes started back in 2003 when I was running with my kid’s high school cross-country team during the summer to help the athletes get a good base in for the fall’s cross-country season. We would run on the football and soccer fields in the early morning, eventually building up to 1 to 2 hours of barefoot running. No, I didn’t start out running 2 hours barefoot immediately, I see entries in my log that say 12 minutes, 20 minutes, etc. barefoot in the beginning, either at the start or end of a run. By the summer of 2004 I was running more than 60 minutes barefoot (8 miles or so) and enjoying the cool grass on my feet in the morning. There was the occasional sharp stone or bee-sting, but for the most part my feet were strong, uninjured and just a bit calloused. I attributed much of my running ability at that time to the long barefoot runs. Unlike Zola, my feet could not handle the coarse track surface or running roads barefoot, so I started buying barefoot shoes to wear on the rougher surfaces. I had the original Nike Frees when they came out and have worn most of the versions (the minimal ones) ever since. I wore them training and racing, although for racing I sometimes wore Nike’s “Mayflys” which was a minimal racing flat that was designed to last about 40 miles. They weighed about 4 oz. and didn’t last much more than 40 miles. Still have a pair in my collection, though I don’t race in them these days. The photo above shows the shoes that are sitting on my shelf, guess which ones I use most.
Recently I bought a pair of Vibram’s FiveFingers shoes to try. These are probably the epitome of barefoot shoes having separate toe pockets and protection on the soles. Somewhat like toe-socks with tougher soles. The challenge is to get them on quickly. I’ve been wearing them for short periods indoors to get used to them. No running in them yet, but will start in a few days with short runs (treadmill first, then outside on smooth surfaces). So far I find (to my surprise) that they are very comfortable.
So do I think barefoot/minimal shoes work? From my experience, yes. But you have to look at the mechanics of my stride also. I am a forefoot strike runner, so the flat shoes allow my feet, achilles and calves to work efficiently at storing and transferring energy from the foot strike to the push-off. I had very little knee, ankle or foot issues since starting barefoot running in 2003. In the 1980’s running in motion control shoes (which I broke down quickly due to pronation) I had lots of sprained ankles and sore knees. I could and did sprain my ankles on flat pavement. Hard to compare the two eras, but I ran just as hard and trained just as many miles in the 2000’s with less knee issues and almost never spraining my ankles.
The Science of Sport article discusses the difference between heel-strike and forefoot strike runners when it comes to minimalist shoes. They observe that not every runner changes to a forefoot strike when running barefoot, and for those that continue to heel strike, the impact loads on the feet and legs are 4x what the forefoot strike runners experience running barefoot. When they return to the shock absorbing shoes, both have the same impact numbers. This may explain some of the reasons why runners have tried these shoes and gone back. Not everyone can change their foot-strike. Some who are successful in changing their foot strike find that that they get injuries after some time that may be attributed to the new foot strike. Some runner’s experience with these shoes and changing their running stride mechanics resulting in injuries can be found here.
Another reason also discussed was the typical runner’s impatience with taking it slow, some have bought the minimalist shoes and tried to continue to do the same mileage immediately, with the expected result. Sore joints, stress fractures in the feet and other injuries. Our bodies are amazingly adaptive, but the process is slow. The Science of Sport article says it best:
“Ultimately, injuries will be caused by exceeding a threshold of adaptation, and footwear, biomechanics and factors like flexibility and muscle strength may contribute to this threshold. It can be shifted, higher or lower, but not in a manner that is yet predictable or formulaic, because it’s too complex to link A to B. “
So what is the answer to the question of whether or not the barefoot/minimalist shoe is a fad that is over? I say maybe, maybe not. We all have to do what works for us and not let marketing hype push us into something inappropriate. These shoes work for some, but not all. My personal sense of the debate is that less shoe is better, but it may not be for everyone. Drastic changes to shoes or running mechanics require long periods of adjustment that most runners do not want to wait for. So listen to all the information, but do what works best for you in the long run.
The Big Ring Riding group did 26 miles of paceline work last night!
How strong and confident are you when in the peloton? Practicing these skills with others on a regular basis will make you better able to stay in the peloton no matter how strong your legs are.
We worked on pulling, drafting in high winds, signalling, staying on the wheel of the rider ahead, what to do when you are on the back and getting dropped, and other skills.
Active.com has a nice list of paceline skills here.
How good are your skills?
Using pain relievers such as NSAIDS (ibuprofen, acetomenophin, etc.) to train through an injury or get you to the finish line can be a very bad practice. These OTC pain relievers just mask the pain, and do nothing about the injury and according to physical therapist Bruce Wilk, may even result in crippling injuries.
In the last 10 years I have made it a rule to never use these drugs to train or race, in fact, I will only use them sparingly even when I am not working out. There are just too many side-effects in my opinion. Some pain is ok, severe pain is a warning sign. Pay attention.
So please read Bruce Wilk’s blog entry and make your own decisions. Remember the goal is to able to do your favorite sport, whether it be running, cycling, or whatever for a very long time.
I hope you are all enjoying the outdoors again now that Spring has finally decided to stick around. The FitnessEDGE is capitalizing on the warming weather by taking the next session of Cardio Core to the great outdoors! Well okay – to the Red Hook High School fields- but it’s still outdoor!
Class will be moving to Mondays and Wednesday mornings for a 7 week, 14 class session that starts May 13 and ends June 26. This is a 60 minute session that begins bright and early – 5:45am.
So give it a try and experience the improved strength and conditioning for yourself. Each class is different, offering a variety of functional movements to recruit more muscles along with cardio bursts for a heart-healthy you!No room left in your calendar for a class? No problem! Forward this email to a friend and don’t forget to subscribe to the FitnessEDGE Blog for a variety of healthful tips, links to area rides & runs, and customized training services. You can also like and follow us on Facebook! Let us know what you’re thinking and how we can serve you better.