Since Christopher McDougall popularized the practice in his 2009 publication of Born to Run, more and more runners have been opting for minimalist shoes or, ditching the foam altogether, barefoot running.
Followers of the barefoot movement maintain the practice both significantly reduces injury and improves running performance. But is there real, scientific proof to back these claims?
According to Dr. Irene Davis, the answer is a resounding yes.
Irene is one of sport’s leading experts on running biomechanics and injury as well as the most credible minimalist shoe and barefoot running advocate in the world. A professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, Irene’s research revolves primarily around the relationship between lower extremity mechanics and injury.
She’s devoted the last decade to developing protocols to alter runners’ gait patterns and thereby reduce those mechanics known to cause injury - mechanics, as Irene has learned, often caused by footwear.
Listen in as Irene explains how the evolution of footwear has ultimately come to defy our own.
4:30 What research are you involved in?
4:54 How did you get involved in biomechanics research?
5:36 Were you initially working with the general public or professional athletes?
6:22 Given your prior background, when and why did you become a barefoot running advocate?
9:12 Why do you think so many runners get injured every year?
10:44 Why do you believe supportive footwear is causing injuries?
14:03 Are these shoes encouraging heel-striking?
16:29 Is it correct to assume that strengthening your intrinsic and extrinsic muscles will correct issues?
18:46 Why do shod runners with a forefoot strike have the best loading-rates?
21:04 How should someone go about altering their stride?
24:07 What is ‘doming’?
26:35 How could a runner perform weight-bearing exercises while doming?
30:38 Can an injured runner do these exercises?
31:27 Are there significant differences in alignment between runners in shoes and barefoot runners?
32:35 How is dynamic stability affected by footwear from barefoot to minimal to standard running shoe?
38:48 What brands of minimalist shoes would you recommend?
43:07 Where do you see the future of barefoot running going?
45:06 As a barefoot runner, can you run on any surface or are some more preferred?
49:41 How can a traditional runner transition to barefoot running?
55:01 The Final Kick Round
“Based on our hypothesis, barefoot running really is the model we should be using in terms of running style because it’s closest to the way that we were adapted to run.
There is something called the “mismatch” theory of evolution that says we’re not using our bodies in the way they were adapted….and saying we’re not eating the food we were adapted to eat. But I like to extend that also to running because I think that the footwear that we have gotten ourselves into….has actually changed the way that we run so that we are not running in a way that we were designed or adapted to run.
We need to be open to new ideas, and you may need to evolve in your thinking. What the truth is today may not be the truth 10 years from now, and the truth 10 years ago may not be the truth today.
Running is in our genes: you don’t need to be taught to run. You run automatically as you develop. It’s one of the motor skills you develop as a child, and so running is something that is innate in us. You do it for survival, and so it shouldn’t be an activity at which we get injured at such a high rate….It would be like birds getting wing injuries or fish getting fin injuries at a high rate.
If you think about it, if you were jumping off a high step and you were going to land in sand, you’re going to stiffen your leg. But if you know that’s concrete that you’re landing in, you’re going to soften your leg. And we do it without even thinking about it….So if you take someone who’s adapted to cushioning and have them run without cushioning, their load rates are going to be much higher.
If you consider the fact that there’s a 52% lifetime risk of developing achilles tendonitis….and most people are heel-strikers, then you start to wonder perhaps if people were landing on the ball of their foot and actually resulting in stiffer, stronger tendons, maybe that rate - that statistic - would be significantly lower.
There is evidence that the more you take away from the foot, the greater tendency you have to land on the ball of your foot….and we have basically shown that forefoot strikers in general have lower rates of loading than mid-foot strikers or forefoot strikers.
‘Lose the foam and dome!’
‘Minimal footwear running is science and evolution in perfect harmony.’
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Irene's Study on Foot Core
Michael Ryan's Study on Partial Minimalist Shoes
Shoe: Innovate Bare-XF 210
Shoe: Merrell Pace Glove
Shoe: Xero Prio
Shoe: Nike Air Pegasus
Shoe: Vibram Five Fingers
Book: Born to Run
Follow Irene on Twitter
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