Barefoot Running is Unnecessary
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Pure barefoot runners are like Big Foot. I've read a lot about them. I see pictures of them on the Internet. But I've never actually seen a barefoot runner, unless you count my four young children.
The most irritating thing about barefoot running is finding a single shoe under the ottoman.
I wish the barefoot running advocates would quit talking about how our ancestors use to run. Those of us with less than perfect foot structure and other physical attributes would like to fare better than our ancestors.
The fact that some of our ancestors 5- or 50-thousand years ago ran barefoot and survived doesn't say much about modern feet and footwear. While our ancestors who happened to be nearsighted were eaten, many modern folk greatly benefit from glasses and contact lenses.
We are taller and heavier than our ancestors. The feet of our ancestors did not get accustomed to working 40+ hours per week in shoes. They did not have to deal with cement and glass, and repetitive jumping and landing on basketball courts.
This is not to say that orthotics are the answer to every foot problem, or that minimalist shoes are a bad idea. I do believe that overblown, cushy shoes can encourage improper running mechanics and cause our feet to become fragile and imperceptive. The longer I've worked as a physical therapist, the more I've witnessed how interlinked and mold-able are our systems.
Without at doubt, every person presents a unique case that defies simple categories.
I've seen individuals experience immediate relief by wearing the right orthotics. Some of those require regular long-term use of orthotics. Some people can train their way out of flat footedness. This may sound like a huge oversell, but it is absolutely possible! Do not underestimate the way foot function is connected with neurological factors all the way up past the hip.
Whatever footwear you're in, you don't need to run barefoot to get all the benefits of running with better form:
-avoid a heel strike and large vaulting strides
-place your weight down softly on your mid-foot
-lean slightly forward, imagining a series of smooth controlled falls rather than pushes
The image at about 1:44 says it all!
Of course there's a catch. Abruptly changing to this form may cause your plantar fascia and achilles tendons to scream, especially if you're overweight. You can expect a variety of aches and pains if your core, hip, lower leg, and intrinsic foot muscle are weak, or if you have ankle or foot inflexibility or structural issues.
Whatever your form and function, being barefoot allows for less margin for error, at least initially. If you have issues while running, a few weeks off is not going to fix the problem. It is often worthwhile to have a qualified professional develop a plan of care that is specific circumstances.
In conclusion, many of you should probably keep wearing some type of footwear, unless your goal is to disappear or become a hide-and-seek champion, Big Foot style.
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