Barefoot Running…Then and Now

I read an excellent article in the NY Times written by Christopher McDougall. If you don’t know who McDougall is, he’s the author of the fantastic book, Born to Run. I highly recommend this book. It gives not only McDougall’s personal story about injury and how he got healthy, but also what he learned along the way about how the body is designed and what it’s designed to do. When trying to find a way to run pain free, McDougall learned that we were actually born to run…barefoot

If you’re an avid reader of mine, I’m sure you’ve read one of my articles on barefoot running. If not, these four articles are a good place to start. They explain why going barefoot (or wearing Vibram FiveFingers) is beneficial for the entire body: “More Shoe, More Pain“, “Hip Shoes“, “Breathe Easy“, and “Shoulder the Load.” If you are thinking of going barefoot, I would definitely suggest easing your way into it. I would also suggest getting a personalized e-cise menu (click “Get Therapy Now”) from an Egoscue therapist to make sure your body is properly aligned before beginning.

McDougall has been running barefoot for a while, and through his research, rediscovered that the human race should have always been running barefoot. In the NYT article, McDougall notes now running almost defines us as humans:

We were once the greatest endurance runners on earth. We didn’t have fangs, claws, strength or speed, but the springiness of our legs and our unrivaled ability to cool our bodies by sweating rather than panting enabled humans to chase prey until it dropped from heat exhaustion. Some speculate that collaboration on such hunts led to language, then shared technology. Running arguably made us the masters of the world.

Our ability to cool our body while on the go is remarkable. Other creatures may be more explosive and quicker than us, but their bodies can’t cool them while running. That’s why you’ll see a dog panting after fetching a ball you’ve thrown. He’s having to cool himself while stopped, because he can’t do it while running. Advantage: Humans.

Or maybe that’s not the case…

“The data suggests up to 79 percent of all runners are injured every year,” says Stephen Messier, the director of the J. B. Snow Biomechanics Laboratory at Wake Forest University. “What’s more, those figures have been consistent since the 1970s.” Messier is currently 11 months into a study for the U.S. Army and estimates that 40 percent of his 200 subjects will be hurt within a year. “It’s become a serious public health crisis.”

So, what gives? Are we all stud athletes? Or are we broken-down machinery? Actually, I still believe we’re studs. We can’t blame running for the injuries, or else everyone who runs would be injured. According to Stephen Messier that number is only 79%. So why aren’t the other 21% of runners getting hurt? Is it possible that they’re all Egoscue clients? Could be…but not likely. My guess is that while some of them are Egoscue clients, most of them are probably running barefoot. It’s speculation, sure, but I may not be too far off knowing that “barefoot-style” shoes are a $1.7 Billion industry.

I believe a lot of those runners have realized that their feet are designed to move, and aren’t designed to be confined to an “anti-pronation” or “anti-supination” shoes. And, they realized their feet aren’t supposed to have expensive orthotics underneath them, either.

While Vibram has become one of the industry leaders in the barefoot world, Nike was actually the first company to produce a barefoot shoe, the Nike Free, with Pete Egoscue being one of the primary voices in how the shoe functioned. Now you have a wide variety of shoes and companies from which to choose. Reebok, Adidas, Fila, New Balance, Merrill, and Vivo Barefoot have all joined in to claim their piece of the pie, and the minimalist-shoe world has exploded.

I believe the barefoot revolution is here to stay. Are you on board? If not, I would definitely suggest checking it out–Your body will thank you for it!

QUESTION: Have you joined the revolution? What’s your favorite “barefoot” shoe?