Every once in awhile, I like to consider my current thoughts, opinions, and observations on all things related to barefoot running. My own barefoot philosophy has changed dramatically since I first ditched my foot coffins back in the day. Here’s my latest thoughts:
On Barefoot Running:
- Barefoot running is a great way for many people to learn to run in a more efficient manner. If we recognize our brain has the ability to maximize motions to become as metabolically-efficient as possible (e.g.- we waste as little energy as we can in any given condition), the skin-on-ground condition is difficult to beat. We’re taking advantage of as much sensory input as possible, which is the raw data our brain uses to make the small adjustments that maximize efficiency. In short…
- It’s all about efficient running form, which is unique to each individual. Barefoot running is merely a tool to help learn that form, but anecdotal evidence suggests efficiency and injury-prevention are a function of finding your ideal form.
- Barefoot running remains one of the best ways to learn to run in minimalist shoes. The gait used for barefoot running and “barefoot” minimalist shoes is probably close to identical for both conditions. Based on my own experiences and observations of others, barefoot running is the fastest way to learn to run in minimalist shoes.
- Barefoot running limits the dangers of doing too much too soon. Ken Bob has been saying this for years, and he’s right. People seem to experience a lot less injuries when transitioning if they actually start barefoot.
- Learning to run barefoot is simple for most people. About a third of the people I come in contact with can just take off their shoes. Another third require some VERY basic instruction (like the ABC stuff I teach in clinics). The last third usually needs more instruction, like books, video, a barefoot running group, coaching, or some other source of knowledge.
- Not everyone wants to run barefoot. Most people don’t want to try. Of that group, I found some will like it if they give it a chance. At least half won’t even try despite the advantages I mention above. That group is more content transitioning to minimalist shoes or even using their old shoes and just learning to run with better form.
- The injury prevention benefits touted with barefoot running are dubious. If you compare a typical heel striker to a barefoot runner, injuries seem to shift from one area to another. In other words, barefoot running isn’t going to make you bullet proof. The real cause of injuries is probably pushing too hard, whether we’re wearing shoes or barefoot.
On Minimalist Shoes:
- The options are increasing at breakneck speed, which is a great development. Just about every major manufacturer is dabbling in minimal designs. Some are taking a leadership role and expanding their lines. New startups continue to enter the market. The gray area between ultra-minimal “barefoot shoes” and traditional raised-heel cushioned trainers continues to blur, which leads me to…
- Foot coffins probably aren’t as bad as we made them out to be… for some people. Various characteristics of shoes alter gait. For some people, that may be medically-necessary. The problem, of course, is HOW foot coffins are sold. I’m more convinced than ever than local running stores are really under-qualified to diagnose gait issues, let alone prescribe shoes to correct said problems. The solution to this problem could be…
- Minimalist shoes should be the default shoes recommended by running stores. If there’s an issue that requires stability or motion control shoes, qualified doctors should make that call. Starting with minimalist shoes as the default setting would be much like starting with a neutral baseline, which seems a lot more logical than current practices.
On the Shoe Industry
- We’ve had it wrong about the motivation behind the shoe industry over the last 30 years. There is no grand conspiracy to injure runners. There’s no secret marketing plans to assure runners need shoes every 300 miles. The industry is filled with people doing what they do to help advance the injury. The modern foot coffin development has been a confluence of events free of ill-will.
- I stand by my previous predictions, which I talked about here and here. While some of the periphery ideas have changed, I believe that colorful graph in the first linked post is the future of the shoe industry. Check out Pete Larson’s comments on the sales figures for the first quarter of 2012.
There are quite a few other elements of my own personal philosophy that are changing as new information, research, and experiences emerge. In my previous post, I asked “What have you learned about barefoot running.” How about a slightly different question- “How have your thoughts on barefoot running changed since beginning?” Leave your thoughts in the comments section!