3 Adaptations That Animals Have That Plants Do Not Have Barefoot Running Benefits: Real or Imaginary?

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Barefoot Running Benefits: Real or Imaginary?

It’s the latest fitness fad – barefoot running. Or wearing “barefoot shoes” with the oxymoronic name.

Is barefoot running a passing fad or an enduring trend?

Some runners have become true believers in barefoot running, while others are convinced the benefits are all hype. To help you sort fact from fiction, here’s a summary of what we know about barefoot running.

Humans ran long distances for millions of years before shoes were invented.

Running was an essential part of survival. Early humans used a hunting technique to chase other animals to exhaustion. The secret of our success? Humans excel at shedding excess body heat that is generated while running. Lack of body hair, a large brain, and the ability to breathe through the mouth are three adaptations that allow us to remove heat efficiently. Sooner or later, the other animals would have to stop to avoid passing out from the heat. So early hunters could eventually catch almost any target, even fast runners like zebras or wildebeest.

Barefoot runners are invariably foot landers.

With each step forward, you have a choice between two basic walking patterns:

• plant the heel of your foot, or

• straighten your leg slightly and land on the front of your foot.

If you run without shoes, you will naturally, almost automatically, use a barefoot running technique to protect your heel by landing on the forefoot. Compared to heel landing, forefoot landing creates a smoother impact cycle without an initial increase in pressure. Runners who use a forefoot planting pattern—with its moderate impact forces—have a reduced incidence of certain running-related injuries, such as ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis, and bunions. of the legs.

Wearing shoes can drown out the sensory signals coming from your foot.

If you’re not getting feedback from your leg muscles and joints, your brain becomes less adept at accurately controlling leg extension. Your muscles may become weak and you will be oblivious to early warning signs of injury.

Running barefoot uses 4% less energy than running with shoes.

We do not know whether the energy saving of barefoot running is due to increased biomechanical efficiency of the forefoot striking gait pattern, or whether wearing shoes simply expends more energy due to the weight of the shoe itself.

Barefoot runners have been winners in international competitions.

Remember Zola Budd? She was one of the favorites to win the 5,000 meters at the 1984 Olympics until a collision with Mary Decker sidelined her (and Decker, too). Budd ran barefoot. Before her, the marathon winner at the 1960 Rome Olympics was barefoot Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia.

Barefoot running involves a different pattern of muscle and joint use.

Wait for an adjustment period before it becomes completely comfortable for you.

My experiments with forefoot running.

First, some background. I’m in my mid-fifties and my running is pretty casual. I run five to seven miles a week at most, and often less than that. My longest runs are once or twice a year 5K. (And my best time is 28:40.) So far I haven’t had any serious problems with running injuries. I wear running shoes with a fair fit, a moderate amount of arch support, and a moderate amount of heel cushioning. As long as they meet my minimum level of comfort and fit, I buy shoes based on price.

I was intrigued by the concept of barefoot running and wanted to learn more about it. The best way was to try it myself. For starters, I thought about wearing the shoes and learning a forefoot kick running pattern. After all, many of the touted benefits of barefoot running have to do with the forefoot gait pattern, not the lack of shoes per se.

So the next time I went for a 2-3 mile run, I practiced landing on my forefoot. This went pretty well – not hard to do. It seemed to work better when I was running a bit faster (sprinters are more likely to be front end strikers than long distance runners). It definitely engaged my muscles differently – my calves were working a lot harder.

Towards the end of the run I started to feel a twinge in the back of my calf. From self-defense I went back to my more usual pattern of heel striking. The next day my calf was fine. I’m not giving up on the front shock – I plan to stick with it and see how far I can go with it, although for now, given my level of commitment to running, I see no reason to invest in a new pair of shoes for the purpose.

Think you’ll try running barefoot yourself?

You can start by simply practicing a forefoot strike, as I did while wearing your normal running shoes. I recommend that you prepare with additional calf stretches. And start with shorter distances than normal until your muscles rebalance to accommodate the different pattern.

See how it goes. Maybe in six months we’ll both be there in those ridiculous five-toed shoes.

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