Thursday, August 26, 2010

Where Some People Go Wrong with Barefoot and Minimalist Running

I'll start by saying that I believe barefoot and minimalist running are the only way to go if you are serious about running. I've completely bought into the both the concept and the practice of both with a few caveats. While I consider myself more of minimalist runner than a barefoot runner, I've done enough barefoot running to convince myself that there is no reason that most people cannot go barefoot if they chose to do so.

Not Enough Emphasis on Good Technique
Unfortunately there are some persistent myths in the barefoot and minimalist communities that are dangerous and can lead to injury. The first myth is that by running barefoot or minimalist, you will just naturally pick up good technique. Some people will pick up good technique through trial and error, but most people will not. If I had a dollar for everyone I've seen running barefoot or in Vibrams landing on their heels, or with a slow shuffling gate, I would be able retire comfortably.

There is also the persistent myth that everyone must find his or her own running technique. I've said it before, and I'll repeat myself again. The laws physics apply equally to everyone, and we are all basically put together the same way. So there must be one basic technique that is the best. The only variations in technique from one person to another should be in the amplitude and the range of motion. These will vary with running speed and differences in body proportions.

The barefoot running community offers some guidelines on running technique. Those guidelines are very good, but unfortunately many people just ignore those guidelines and assume that they will just pick it up naturally. Often, these people just end up injured. If you are going to start barefoot and minimalist running, do yourself a favor, and make learning good technique a priority.

Safety Issues
One final note on barefoot running, do not run in the dark barefoot. This is just common sense. However, I often see people running with traffic, next to a perfectly good sidewalk, while wearing head phones; so I must assume that common sense is in short supply. There may not be a lot of glass and debris on the road where you live, but stepping on something sharp or tripping over some unseen obstacle just once while barefoot could end your running career.

I've been running for over 35 years. While running in the dark, I haven't stepped on something dangerous more that half-a-dozen times. However, if I had been barefoot even one of those times, I could have been severely injured. Once I stepped on partially broken bottle, and ended having to stop to dig pieces of glass out of my shoe. Needless to say, I'm glad I wasn't pulling pieces of glass out of my foot.

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