That’s the question a growing number of runners are asking thanks to the growing popularity of what is know as ‘barefoot running.’
More than 45 years ago, sports companies began inventing running shoes for every occasion.
Since then most runners haven’t stepped outside their front doors without first slipping into gel-arched shoes of some description, in the hopes of running faster while staying injury free.
However, an increasing amount of runners are choosing to lose the heavily supported shoe and get back to nature – arguing that built-up shoes interfere with our natural running style which in turn can lead to serious injury.
And for runners taking part in this years St Andrews Chariots of Fire 5k beach race, those looking to try out the barefoot approach can take inspiration from the 1981 movie which was shot with actors running shoeless through the waves on the very same beach.
To take a further look at the debate surrounding the au natural approach, Rufflets Hotel has asked barefoot running expert Colin McPhail to explain why we are going back basics.
While running totally barefoot is possible along sand, for those tackling rougher terrain some sort of shoe is required – and that’s why a new range of ‘unsupported’ or ‘barefoot’ shoes have been developed.
Colin owns the Edinburgh Footworks running store, selling a range of shoes that don’t have built in support – including Luna Sandals, Vibram Fivefingers, Lems, Skora and Altra. He is also a keen natural runner.
So You Thought About Barefoot Running?
Let’s ask and see if we can understand why the human foot is such a masterpiece of engineering.
If you run or walk without any form of padding, your heels really do hurt after a short period, and so they should, your heel was never meant to be hitting the ground.
The foot should land with the front part, the forefoot, and the heel touching down virtually at the same time so the plantar surface can stretch and dissipate the shock across this wider area, and assisting with tensioning the Achilles tendon.
Layering the sole of the foot with padding is essentially the same as stuffing the mouth of someone screaming with paper, or any other material for that matter, in the hope they will stop screaming.
The way we use our anatomy when barefoot, is entirely compliant to the surface we walk or run on, which basically means our brains kick into a self preservation mode and change the way our feet get used, depending on the landing surface.
The brain is the organ which switches on all the stabilisation muscles to allow the body to function on whatever surface it is on.
The brain requires sensory information unmuffled by cushioned footwear to act in a rational manner switching on the correct muscles.
You wouldn’t listen to an orchestra wearing ear defenders…..so why put cushions under your feet?
All this sounds very complicated for something we take for granted, walking and running, but, when we intervene with cushioned layers under the foot we are changing the moment, which may work for some, but as it is away from the “natural” it is most likely that remaining as close to the barefoot as possible is one way to better overall health and active ageing.
At Footworks we specialise in the basics of good running form which also involves the skill involved in walking without creating shock to our joints.
After all the invention of the cushioned shoe has been with us now for 45 years and no-one, yet, has produced results which prove that this invention encouraged the human to hit their heel on the ground creating damaging forces to the main 3 joints, hip, knee and ankle.
But figures currently available show a substantial increase in joint replacement amongst the over 60’s in the last 45 years and this figure is still on the increase.
How long will it be before the footwear industry falls into the same trap the tobacco industry fell into during the 60’s 70’s and 80’s.
Continuing to sell cushions for feet may prevent the use of muscle which is essential for bipedal stabilisation.
Instability then creates unnecessary forces on the 3 main connecting joints.
I now hear the cynics cry out; “that’s why the modern shoe has stability devices built in”.
I have an answer for everything.
Stability devices in footwear are only necessary if the human fails to demonstrate the strength required to stabilise itself.
By using a stability device within footwear you allow certain muscle groups to become redundant.
This can and does have an overall weakening effect, although, with correct prescription the stability footwear may allow other strengths to flourish.
Therefore the answer is to use all that is available to maintain and achieve a high fitness level but the final objective and target, for every human, must always be to use the least amount of intervention, from footwear, that you can possibly get away with.
This should ultimately be every humans goal which will give them strengths to remain active right into old age.
We were not born with shoes on, but we were born with all the tools in the box, to run, walk, skip, hop and jump!!!
Let’s reinvent and use what we were born with…..THE FOOT!
Colin McPhail | Footworks (Edinburgh) LTD |
www.footworksrunning.co.uk | www.lunasandals.uk |
11 Gowanhill Farm | Edinburgh | EH14 4AE |
0044 (0)7771 521 788