The Barefoot Running Debate (Part 2)
Since my first article about barefoot running I've done some more in-depth investigation of the subject and, more importantly, run in a pair of FiveFingers. Apart from confirming most of the comments I originally made, a number of things have become clear to me:
- Few people will go to the extreme of doing much running completely barefoot but the new minimalist/barefoot shoes give most of the benefits of improving strength and technique, which has been promoted by numerous coaches for a long time.
- Running is one of the only sports where good technique isn't taught to many participants. Because it's "natural", most people simply go out and run, often with a relatively poor technique which makes it harder to do and increases the chance of injury. Along with barefoot/natural running, other running techniques (such as Chi, Pose and Evolution) have a lot of similarities. The key features involve improved posture, shorter but quicker strides and midfoot striking. These techniques are aimed at improving running efficiency and reducing injuries. There isn't always a lot of hard scientific evidence to back up some of the detail, there's a lot of common sense to what is said.
- Although the debate on the subject continues, there looks like a growing number of shoe manufacturers have realised the demand for lower profile, more minimalist shoes is growing. For example, Saucony's Kinvara has already proved very popular and they will shortly be launching two more shoes in this category. Also Somnio's Nada will be launched exclusively in the U.K. by Apex Sports at the T.C.R. Show in Feb' 2011.
Having now run in a pair of FiveFinger Bikilas, I must say that I think they're great! I'm a typical heel-striking shoe wrecker normally, so I've been VERY cautious with them. I started with a bit of gentle running on soft ground. They really do give a natural feeling which is quite a contrast to my regular, conventional trainers. My only criticism was picking up grass seeds between the toes! The real revelation came when I started doing some running on harder surfaces. I very quickly found that I stopped heel striking and started landing more midfoot without consciously thinking about it. I suppose the body just realises that it hurts landing on concrete without a big cushioned pad under the heel.
The other thing you quickly realise is that your calves are acting like shock absorbers so it's vital not to do too much too quickly with these shoes. We live in an age of wanting instant results but if you're planning on moving from mostly using conventional cushioned trainers to mostly using these very minimalist shoes, it's recommended that you should allow at least a two to three month transition period.
In conclusion, I'm certainly not convinced that the very minimalist shoes will be right for everyone. Most beginners and more casual runners will not be strong enough to get the most out of them. I definitely think they have something to offer to more experienced (not necessarily fast!) runners, but it's essential for most people to change running technique in combination with these shoes to get the most out of them and that takes time. The goal of more efficient running and fewer injuries should make it worth it.