The Propel Blog

Barefoot running – not just a trend

Posted on: May 31st, 2011 by Laurie Plouffe No Comments


Barefoot running, or minimalist running, has become more talked about and addressed in  popular media as of late. This has lead to lots of people asking me if this is just another  trend, another way to market the most basic sport known to man. I do believe shoe  companies are capitalizing on this shift in running mentality, but I do not believe it is a  trend. With my background in running, mainly longer distance events (marathons, an ultra  marathon, Ironman triathlons, and many shorter distance events) I have always had a  keen interest to learn the most I can. Treating many athletes and runners of all different  capabilities also increases my desire to learn and share what I believe to be the best and  most helpful information.

Well before it was trendy to see the 5 finger toe shoes at gyms and at running events, I  took some courses on running and injury prevention. At the time it was definitely met with  lots of resistance, especially from the physio, health care and fitness professions. It is  said it takes 10-15 years for findings in research to become mainstream knowledge, so you  can see there has been a lot of background work done already. As leaders in our field of  work it is also important that we keep up to date on these new findings, and stop treating  based on the old information that was passed to us through our basic education. Times  change and to remain ahead in your field you need to stay on top of these changes.

The theory behind barefoot or minimalist running is to get us to run as close to we would  if we were running barefoot. This makes so much sense when you look at anthropological  studies that show we were designed to run, and run long distances, as this was essential  to our survival (hunting, transportation, communication). Anatomically we are the only  creatures with a plantar fascia (the large tendon on the bottom of the foot) and an  Achilles tendon, which work together to store and release energy, making running energy  efficient. Running barefoot you quickly find you don’t strike with your heels, and this in  effect engages the windlass system of the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon to store and  release energy, which propels you forward while running (using as little muscle energy as  possible). The quickest way to demonstrate is to run on the spot. Feel how springy your  feet and legs are, this is the storing and releasing of energy using the tensile strength of  the windlass system. By running this way we use the smaller muscles in our feet and lower  leg, and not the larger muscles in our upper legs and hips and trunk to work repetitively to  move us forward.

Shoes have evolved over the past 20+ years to increasingly higher heels, anti -pronation   support and extra cushioning. Not to mention the trend of using orthotics to control   movement even more. This in effect has decreased our intrinsic use of the muscles in our   feet having us rely on external factors for shock absorption and foot positioning (similar   to having a cast on a body part, the muscles are supported and protected and not used,   therefore they shrink and become weak). These extremely weakened foot and lower leg   muscles can cause a multitude of biomechanical problems up the “chain”, and contribute to   the repetitive stress injuries we typically see in runners. In fact, I believe bunions, plantar   fasciitis, runner’s knee, patella-femoral syndrome and many other common lower extremity   issues are a result of our lack of use of the proper muscles, and thus can be treated by   strengthening this system. This is not exclusive of runners, this includes all people that   have experienced these types of problems.

I am very passionate about this area, it makes so much sense and I have seen it work   (yes, I’ve had these discussions at dinner parties bringing dirty shoes to the table much   to my husband’s embarrassment!) Personally I have had EVERY running injury under the   sun, including chronic plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis for years. (over 17 years of   distance running will do that to you, or so I thought). Three years ago I changed my shoes   and technique. I have not had a single over use injury since. I believe this works because I   know it works. I have also had the pleasure of treating hundreds of runners over the past   3 years, and have helped them become more efficient and less injured. Remember, when it   comes to your health and well being it is important to find a health care professional that   can relate to your lifestyle. And don’t worry, if you are like me and your toes prefer not to   be separated, there are an increasing number of runners on the market which provide the same effect!

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