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Barefoot running..........


Barefoot running, yes or no?

Saul Yudelowitz BSc (Hons)

This type of running has been around for a very long time. From time to time it gets a lot of attention from popular media. For the last few years this is exactly what has occurred. While there is a lot of advice about barefoot running most is poor! After the 1984 Olympics in which Zola Budd the South African runner and the American runner Mary Decker collided, barefoot running has been heavily marketed. Primarily the athletes from African countries used barefoot running long before this.

To begin, it is actually correct biomechanically to run off the forefoot. This has been evident for many years and all professional athletes that compete are taught this. A sprinter will run off the ball of the foot while a marathon runner typically runs with the mid foot/ball of the foot striking the ground first. Put simply the longer a lever the more torque it will produce from the applied power. This is easily explained by the following example. If you try opening a heavy safe door by pushing very close to the hinged side compared to pushing, as far away from the hinged side, you will require significantly less energy to move the same heavy safe door from the non-hinge side.

There are many other reasons that we should run on the forefoot however I shall not cover them here. He reason for this is that while barefoot running is promoted the manner in which it is taught by the vast majority is incorrect. This is the main reason that many injuries have developed from forefoot running. It is not advisable to get onto a treadmill and just begin running off the forefoot if you havenít addressed the biomechanics of the hips, knees, ankles and feet at the very minimum. The key to allowing the feet to work correctly is how the pelvis is controlled. From the feet everything else has its foundation of function.

How do you know if you have poor foot biomechanics? Go for a walk that is of medium distance for your fitness level. During the walk, spend 10-20% of this time equally divided up walking off the balls of your feet. If you feel your gastrocnemius (calf) muscles tighten up significantly you have poor foot biomechanics.

If the above test is positive, going for even a short run off the balls of your feet will not be advisable. Common sense advice. If you have spent the majority of your life using running shoes that are very well padded, as the typical shoe has been for the last 30+ years then the sudden change to running barefoot on the balls of your feet is not advisable. Slowly working your way to a goal allows for the body to adapt.

How do I know if my pelvic biomechanics are working? This easy non-invasive test is an accurate way of understanding where imbalances lie. Walk up a fairly steep hill relative to your fitness level. This test canít be done accurately on a treadmill. If you feel your quadriceps (upper thighs) working harder than your gluteus maximums (backside) then you have poor pelvic biomechanics. Please do not that there is a significant difference between running on a treadmill and on the earth. All Olympic athletes, when training on a treadmill use a non-motorised treadmill. For the very same reason, many of the exercises seen in a commercialised gym are also wrong.

Walking correctly is an extremely important exercise to achieve in life as core function has its foundation in this. If you donít walk correctly then your core is not optimal. Any therapist who you hire for rehabilitation that doesnít understand this doesnít understand how the core functions.

Walking correctly has many important aspects. One of them is how the viscera (internal organs) are affected. This is what traditional Chinese medicine is based on however treatments like acupuncture are used to address how energy moves through the body. Walking correctly will resolve around 70% of lower back pain.

Another good reason to learn how to walk is that all movement is based on walking. If you look at the postural development babies go through to learn how to walk, you will see that only once walking has been achieved do other movement patterns developed; however there are very important phases that occur before this. The reptilian phase is usually too short and ultimately results in poor motor patterns later in life. Note when a child has toilet control, this is core control; it only develops after the child has learnt to walk.

It is also interesting to note that some pregnant women, especially those that are heavily pregnant change their walking biomechanics to a more correct pattern with no cognitive thought. This allows for the pelvic floor to work better. First teaching women to walk correctly and second placing them in the correct birthing position can avoid the majority of episiotomies. Lying on your back with lower limbs in a strip is so that the doctor can see as opposed to allowing correct biomechanics to assist in the delivery.

While the reason are many that we should learn to walk correctly before taking on a gym program and many other things functionality only becomes important in our life when things donít work. Until then aesthetics rules and unfortunately this is a flawed method.

I have taken many non-Olympic athletes and non-athletes from shod running to barefoot running with no injuries. They have never looked back and have all been amazed at the significant improvement in efficiency and power and then later at this effect on aesthetics. Forefoot running is correct however first correcting your biomechanics is essential.

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