I'm suddenly reading about barefoot running and minimal footwear everywhere I go. What's the benefit? Is it safe? Is it something I should try?
Great question! While barefoot running has been an underground trend for years, mainstream media and a growing body of scientific research has recently improved the public's knowledge about barefoot training and it's benefits. The concept of being closer to barefoot while you walk, run, or participate in other activities began with the studies of various tribes who run extreme distances all their lives while barefoot, or with minimal protection on their feet. Not only do these people have a very low injury rate, but they are also fast, efficient, and often having a lot of fun doing it!
Fast forward to modern day and the advent of today's running and athletic shoes. Studies have shown a steady increase in running related injuries as our athletic shoes have become more technologically advanced. One reason for this is that so many modern shoes prevent our feet from doing all of the miraculous things they were intricately and amazingly designed to do. We have dozens of bones and joints, muscles and connective tissues that have an ability to absorb shock, store and generate energy, and cue the rest of our body to efficiently power us forward. Our own anatomy contains technology that scientists have not been able to come close to reproducing artificially.
But what about concrete and asphalt? Those Kenyans are running on dirt, right?
It's true that many of our urban running surfaces are a little harder on some people. Even so, studies have shown that ‘advanced' footwear actually increases the amount of force with which we hit the ground on every stride. So many of us are running heavier and with more impact than necessary or healthy because of our weak, immobile feet and poor shoes.
Supportive footwear also changes the way our foot hits the ground, creating a foot strike that allows us to absorb less shock than we would with less technology underfoot. When your foot hits the ground a series of shock dissipation, force transfer, and muscle firing is deigned to occur. Unfortunately many of the motion control, padded heels and arches, air pockets, and microchips the marketing guys have sold us don't allow these natural things to happen. This can lead to an abnormal gait, lack of muscle recruitment, joint imbalance, additional wear and tear, and injury.
Am I a lost cause for barefoot running since I've worn supportive shoes for so many years?
Our bodies are highly adaptive to change, so everyone can certainly benefit. As you journey through this transition and find your new stride, you will immediately become aware of many changes. The first may be a better ‘feeling' of the surfaces underfoot. This will make your body feel more grounded and your brain happier because of all the precise sensory input it is now receiving. Your foot strike will adapt, making you feel lighter and springier with every step. You will absolutely feel some muscles in your feet and legs working that you haven't felt in a long time, or ever. You might even rediscover some of the joy of moving you see when you watch young kids running around in carefree play.
OK, I'm convinced, but now what do I do?
Unfortunately it's not as simple as just buying a new pair of shoes, although that is an important part of the plan. Taking your feet and your body in to this new world of efficiency does require some special preparation.
Many of us have spent years de-training, stabilizing, and ‘supporting' our feet. Therefore it is important to create flexibility and strength in your feet so you are prepared to take them out for a spin. And while barefoot might not be an option for the broken glass and dirty grime of urban living, there are footwear options that protect your soles while still allowing them to behave like human feet.
One of the fastest ways to accomplish this is through the precisely designed Dynamic Joint Mobility Drills used in the Z-Health system of pain relief and performance enhancement. (More information on Z-Health in next month's newsletter). These drills address any inefficiencies and imbalances and give your feet the mobility, strength, and proper gait your need to quickly make this transition pain free, effective, and fun!
To get started you want to talk to a qualified trainer who can do an assessment and give you the tools to prepare for your newfound athleticism. Your trainer will also recommend what footwear might work best for you and how to transition in to them.
You can call or email us if you want more information or to schedule an assessment. We can't wait to get you on your way to fewer aches and pains and improved health and performance!