Original publication of article: Asia Trail Magazine
Early History – Once hominids became upright, running could not have been far behind. Shoeless.1860s – Track spikes become popular in England. These shoes have minimal heel cushioning.
1950s – 1960s – British Bruce Tulloh broke many European records running barefoot. Later he runs across the USA in shoes.
1960 Rome – Ethiopian Abebe Bikila won Olympic marathon gold running barefoot by accident as meet sponsor Adidas ran out of his size. He had trained both with and without shoes but thought no shoes was better than too tight.
1962 – Bill Bowerman, University of Oregon track coach and Nike co-founder releases a small leaflet “A Jogger’s Manual.”
1964 Tokyo – Bikila breaks world marathon record wearing shoes.
1966 – Bowerman publishes a book called “Jogging.”
1968 – Original Nike Cortez comes out.
1974 – Nike Waffle trainer and explosion of Nike
1977 – Jim Fixx becomes releases “the Complete Book of Running” fully popularising running for fitness and weight loss. Millions are running in cushioned, high heel Nike shoes.
1984 – Jim Fixx dies while jogging beginning controversy whether jogging is good for you at all!
1999 – Designer Robert Fliri proposes a minimalist shoe to Vibram USA CEO Tony Post. FiveFingers is conceived!
2004 – Harvard’s Daniel Lieberman becomes the father of the current interest in barefoot running when his group publishes
a paper in the journal Nature that concluded “The fossil evidence of these features suggests that endurance running is a derived capability of the genus Homo, originating about 2 million years ago, and may have been instrumental in the evolution of the human body form.
2005 – release of Vibram FiveFingers. BFR now changes to include minimal footwear.
2007 – Lieberman et al. release a follow up paper suggesting humans have evolved to be particularly adept endurance runners to “help meat-eating hominids compete with other carnivores.
2009 – “Born To Run” book published by Christopher McDougall. It takes a lot from the work of Lieberman and re-visits the Tarahumara tribe seen in 1981 in Peter Nabokov’s book “Indian Running.”
2009 to Now – More studies comparing barefoot runners (and minimalist) to shod runners in efforts to see if there is any difference in running economy and any difference in injury rates between the two.
2012 – Lawsuit brought against Adidas and their health claims for their glove-like Adipure trainer.
2013 – Several lawsuits against health claims by toning shoes: $40 million from Sketchers, $5.3 million from FitFlop and $2.3 million from New Balance.
2014 – Vibram settles a $3.75 million class action law suit for deceptive marketing that seemed unsubstantiated. Vibram claimed the FiveFingers would:
- strengthen muscles in the foot and lower leg
- improve the range of motion in the ankle, foot and toes
- stimulate neural function important to balance and agility
- eliminate heel lift to align the spine and improve posture
- allow the foot and body to move naturally.
- running related injuries to bone and connective tissue in the legs are rare in developing countries where most are unshod.
- where both barefoot and shod populations exist (Haiti), injury rates of lower extremity are substantially higher in shod population
- footwear can increase the risk of ankle sprains
- plantar fasciitis is rare in barefoot populations
- running barefoot reduces oxygen consumption by a few percent.
Actual bare foot running may allow for ‘grounding’ – an exchange of electrons between your foot and the ground supposedly a potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory!
In 2010, Daniel Lieberman pointed out that barefoot runners with a mid-foot to forefoot strike generate smaller collision forces, markedly less than heel striking, shod or unshod! This was attributed to a more plantar-flexed position and more shock absorption through the ankle and foot. However in the spring of 2012, Lieberman published a summary of BFR type research so far and concluded that “we simply do not know yet” the influence of BFR on injury risk. Yet a few weeks later Lieberman published what appears to be the first evidence that natural, forefoot running (a byproduct of BFR) causes significantly less risk of repetitive stress injury than those who heel strike. Rear foot strike showed 2.6 times more chance of injury and 3-4% less efficient than forefoot strikers. The interesting Hansen et al. study (2012) showed that when tested on a treadmill, BFR is 2% more economical but 5.7% more economical when tested outdoors on ground! Since many studies are done on treadmill this research seems to show that differences may not be as obvious when drawn from treadmill results! Perl et al. (2012) found even more amazing results – minimally shod runners are significantly more economical that regularly shod runners REGARDLESS of type of foot strike! The results are almost too good to be true!
An interesting set of pictures sums up the whole debate. One researcher took photos of the moment of foot strike for 50 distance runners at the US Olympic trials. The photos captured every possible strike position from solid heel strikes to mere baby toe strikes!
When patients ask me if they should try barefoot running my first question is why? As the saying goes…if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Barefoot running is not for everyone and most people should question why they are making the change. I will often say that 2 things will help your barefoot success – you were born in the Rift Valley and/or you spent a good portion of your life running barefoot. Next issue will continue nicely from here when the discussion will focus on footwear.
What I see with BFR is the increased injuries when the transition is done too fast. This is due to too many different elements in your run style that have to change for successful transition. BFR is one extreme end of the current shoe spectrum so you must move to zero rise (flat from toe to heel) and zero cushioning! One must change foot strike pattern, stride length, stride frequency, body position and also change demands on your musculature. This is a bit of a Goldilocks dilemna because you must get everything ‘just right’ for this to work for you!
The research is mixed and inconclusive so again, why make the switch? As well evidence is hard to compare in areas of injury prevention, running efficiency, body posture etc. Simply put, things are not as simple as X causes Y, and yet these studies put all the focus of injury on shoe or foot strike when a myriad of other things also come into play! In time we may yet see that barefoot running has advantages over other styles. Right now it is just too new to make any sweeping statements, but I feel some of Vibram’s claims will prove correct, given time.
Written by: Doug Tahirali, Registered Physiotherapist, BSc. (Queens University, Canada), Member of Hong Kong Physiotherapy Association
Since graduating in 1988 from Queen’s University in Canada, Doug has treated a variety of patients including international sportsmen, special needs athletes, professional ballerinas, the Canadian Ski Patrol and even the band KISS. His experience in different settings has helped hone his skills in diagnosing the root cause of his patients’ problems and prescribing the right treatment plans including manual therapy, movement, exercise and education. The most fulfilling part of his job is helping ‘fix’ people and seeing them get out of pain, and back to doing the things they love.
Get more personalised advice by booking a session and a running assessment with Doug.Book An Appointment