What we consider normal running today, is actually far from it. Our feet were not designed to land on their heels; this is only possible with cushioned running shoes.
It may be considered a fad now but barefoot running, with minimal or no shoes at all, is the way humans have always run. We lost our way when technology made it possible to create a shoe that allowed us to take a longer stride landing on our heels. This has developed into a multi-billion dollar business, that uses pseudo-science to sell us shoes that are of no benefit and may actually cause injuries they claim to protect against. There’s even a whole wealth of medical professionals backing up the myth that you need special shoes to run.
What’s it all about?
A normal runner today will run in conventional running shoes that are heavily cushioned – especially at the heel which will be elevated to allow even more cushioning. This artificial springiness encourages the runner to land on their heels running with longer strides.
This ‘heel-striking’ is what the barefoot runner doesn’t do. A barefoot runner takes shorter, faster strides and lands with an almost flat foot, the heel touching down milliseconds after the ball of the foot. By doing this, they take advantage of the natural spring in the foot’s arch and the natural damping mechanism of the achilles tendon and calf muscle. This ensures the barefoot runner’s weight is evenly spread throughout the whole foot with each step.
Humans have always run this way, from the African savannahs through to Roger Bannister’s 4 minute mile.
But in the 1970s, it all changed. Modern materials allowed us to create cushioned running shoes and with it running appeared to change forever. We thought that the longer stride created by these shoes would allow us to go faster.
40 years later and we’re only just starting to understand what is wrong with this type of stride. But now, this type of stride had become the ‘normal’ way to run. For those of us under 50, we’ve never known anything different. Barefoot running?! It must be a fad, it’s not ‘normal’. Well, yes I’d agree, barefoot running is not considered ‘normal’ – not these days.
Running Shoe evolution
From running spikes with no heels to modern trainers with nothing but heels, this is how running shoe ‘technology’ has shaped what we believe to be normal.
Magic Running Shoes
Despite this quantum leap in running shoe ‘technology’, injury rates in runners have not gone down. Not one study has demonstrated any improvement in injury rates; in fact the opposite is true. Runners found they actually got less injuries in older running shoes. Shoes that had seen better days and were failing to control the motion of the runners foot – the very thing they were designed to do.
The word was out, conventional running wasn’t the way we evolved to run; and maybe it wasn’t an improvement. Certainly not in terms of injury numbers.
It was looking like all the magic technology built in modern running shoes wasn’t actually doing anything for us.
Back to Basics
The barefoot revolution is therefore, nothing new. It’s not a fad. If anything conventional running is the fad – a fad that’s lasted 40 years.
Barefoot running is more akin to rediscovering our natural form of locomotion and realising that it’s easier, more enjoyable, more efficient, and if done correctly, less injury prone.
Anyone can learn barefoot running. It doesn’t need to cost you anything, there’s nothing to buy.
Built to Run
Big butts, loose shoulders and other running adaptations have made us the ultimate running machines.