Sunday, May 29, 2011

Barefoot Running Update–Q&A With Biomechanist Irene Davis, Ph.D.

Runners World have put up an interesting interview with Biomechanist Irene Davis, Ph.D., a leading researcher in the running field for more than 20 years.

She is very much in favour of barefoot running:

Davis is an unabashed promoter of barefoot running and barefoot-like running form.

“I believe there is a compelling body of evidence that suggests we need to consider a paradigm change," she told me yesterday. "But paradigm changes are risky, and younger scientists may be more tentative."

The whole thing is worth reading but I liked this bit:

Why isn't anyone studying barefoot running and landing styles on different surfaces? We've got a lot of hard asphalt out there today.

There have been numerous studies that have looked at how runners react to different surfaces. We now know that runners will change their form in just one or two strides when they hit a hard surface like concrete or a soft surface like sand. They'll adapt a softer landing on concrete, and a stiffer landing on sand. This applies to shoes as well. It has been shown that runners stiffen their knee when landing in cushioned shoes compared to bare feet, even though those shoes reduce impacts when tested in a lab. Things change dramatically when you interface the shoes with a runner who has a complex, well-honed, sensory feedback system.

I'm not an evolutionary biologist, but when I talk to evolutionary biologists,like Dan Lieberman, they tell me that we did evolve to run on hard surfaces, and that  the African savannah was quite hard. It may not be as hard as pavement, but I believe we have an innate ability to adapt to whatever surfaces we come in contact with. So, with reasonable time to adapt, I think we have the potential to run well on hard surfaces. Every stride you take running barefoot on a hard surface will give you a lower loading rate than running with a rearfoot strike in shoes. In addition, you don't want to take away the sensory feedback mechanism, and that's what shoes do.

I bought a pair of Vibrams yesterday - the first time I'd seen them in a shop in Edinburgh.  After a long time, barefoot running and minimal shoes are becoming trendy.   It made me laugh that while I was buying these FiveFingers, there were people in the shop being sold fancy supportive shoes to correct their "pronation".  I challenged the shop assistant.  He was a podiatry student though so his job will be predicated on sellign orthotics.  Telling folk to spend more time barefoot to sort out their problems will not cut it!


Steven Sashen said...

If you want to try something more "barefoot" than the VFFs (and easier to get on and off, and that don't smell), try Invisible Shoes sandals. Oh, and they cost 1/4 the price too (or you can check out the free videos on the Invisible Shoes site, and make your own).

Marc said...


I just bought my 12 year old son a pair of VFF. Expensive but worth it in my opinion.

The store sales person was very very concerned when my son told him "dad and I are runnug a 5K together and he won't let me run without my shoes" Incredulous the guy asked me "isn't he a bit young for that??? I mean there is no support in those things."

I restrained myself...but I thought to myself.."no lets get his some big cushioned running shoes and he can unlearn his natural style...that should really help. My son runs and plays barefoot all the time outside (on pavement).
Like the author says..."a paradigm shift"

Casue trust me, I know taht when we run those 5k's together...I feel the staring eyes from other people and get commentary all the time that I shouldn't "experiment" with my kid.

Lao tzu was right...In order to eliminate the negative influences, simply ignore them.”