Here's a little impromptu, off-schedule WHEE, just because.
For those of us that run, there's been a whole lot of news to look at recently about the concept of barefoot running. Time Magazine just published a big feature article about running barefoot, inspired by a recent high profile Nature paper, which comes with an informative companion website showing videos of people running -- habitual barefoot runners, people who wear standard modern supercushioned running shoes, and everything in between.
NPR also has a feature out; funny how some things which seem so trivial can become such big news.
Some may say it's all a big scheme to sell Vibram Five Fingers, which are funny shoes with minimal soles and a space for each toe. They did partially fund the study, but it's not the only study of its kind, and you don't get past Nature's peer review process with sheer hackery no matter who funds you. Other studies have shown that cheap running shoes are correlated with better health outcomes than the big fancy padded variety, and other studies have at least raised suspicions that fancy shoes may not be all they're cracked up to be, as reviewed at neuroanthropology.net. So maybe the big scheme was to sell Nikes, originating back in the 70s, and we're coming full circle to examine whether that was a good idea, just like we're re-examining, say, high fructose corn syrup and the usefulness of antioxidant supplements.
The thrust of the study (by a Dr. Daniel Lieberman, no relation to Holy Joe) is that we may be injuring ourselves by super-padding our feet in big, wide, stable, cushiony, springy, air-pillow-y running and athletic shoes. If you look at the videos, you see that people who run barefoot all the time run completely differently. They don't strike heavily in the heel because without all the padding, that would hurt; instead, they use a more toe or mid-foot landing. Habitual barefoot runners in modern shoes tend to strike more in the mid-foot because the shoe forces them to. People who have never run barefoot fairly quickly learn to stop heel striking because it hurts. You may use less energy running barefoot; you may therefore have more endurance for pursuing that wooly mammoth until it just can't run anymore.
As a long-term barefoot exerciser (I belly dance, and it being a traditional, folk-ish dance, one does not wear shoes to practice or perform; I also have done yoga for over 20 years, and that is also a barefoot activity) I have to admit to being intrigued. I know I feel stable in bare feet, I'm always barefoot around the house, and my favorite shoes for daily wear are always my most minimal shoes, summer sandals with flat bendable soles and a few well-placed straps. But I've always just absorbed the conventional wisdom on running. Big, cushioned stability shoes are the rule of the game, and I have a pair of splendid New Balance running shoes that cushion my heel strikes just fine. Last spring and summer when I was running daily, I did take some time to observe what I was doing and to try to improve my gait, putting more emphasis on reaching forward for the step instead of landing it heavy on my heel, keeping the toes lightly extended instead of the foot flexed. It did help. It made running feel less stressful and smoother, but I always had to think about it. And I'm still in the shoes.
I also ballroom dance. Sometimes I practice in 2.5" heels, but other times I wear low-heeled practice sneakers. I also wear my practice sneakers to Zumba, but I've been looking for a shoe alternative, something that would protect my feet while letting me feel closer to the floor. Dancing in shoes, I find myself doing strange things. Curling my toes and gripping, trying to get hold of the floor, or crossing my toes. Maybe barefoot would be the thing. But again, I've been schooled all my life that IMPACT IS BAD! And so I'm still in the shoes. Interestingly, a couple of recent studies (one discussed here in the NYT well-blog, link included in that article) have shown that lifelong runners who don't have other physical problems seem to show no negative effect from prolonged "high-impact" activity. Impact does not necessarily break down your knees.
What I'm finding anecdotally, starting two high-impact activities in my early 40s, is that daily exercise of this type seems to vastly improve some of the middle-aged aches and pains I had been having. At 40, I thought I was beginning my decline into the grave. This year, after daily high impact exercise for almost a year? Not so much. Movements (like standing dips and squats) that I was physically "scared" of a couple of years ago? No big deal.
The other thing that I am besides a long term barefoot exerciser is a person with long-term back, hip, leg and foot issues. Arch cramps; toe cramps. Calf cramps unless I'm taking a whacking dose of Ca/Mg/Vitamin D. Clicky hip joints, sensitive sacroiliac region. Thank dog my knees aren't all busted, but it's probably only a matter of time. ALL of these problems have improved (save the night leg cramps) since I started running and high impact aerobics. Because of my various problems, though, I'm kind of a fanatic about shoes and so I'm always curious about new shoe technology. I have Earth shoes (that negative heel technology) and MBT trainers (the ones that force you to roll your foot through from heel to toe on every step). The negative heels worked out great, the MBTs? Not so great. Unlike most people of the female persuasion (or at least so the media tells us) I can't cram my sensitive, delicate body into sharp pointed, ridiculously high heels and spend the day in them. Most of my shoes are positively orthopedic. Those that are not are selected in a long, arduous process of buying shoes and then having to return them or give them away because they don't "work" for some reason. It's the most frustrating thing in the world, and still, no matter how good the shoes, as soon as humanly possible, I want them OFF.
So I'm thinking about barefooting. Barefoot running, perhaps with a minimal shoe to start.
What says WHEE? Anyone tried this? Would you try it?
"I mean, I think we have to be really, really careful about what we do and don't know. We have not done any injury studies; this is not an injury study," [Lieberman] says. That's next.