Stripping down to the bare essentials, in footwear, may not be the panacea for runners that some have suggested, according to research conducted by John Porcari, at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
From a sample of 16 females, recreational runners aged 19 to 25, Porcari found that half of them failed to make the stride changes necessary to run properly in Vibram FiveFingers Bikilas. His analysis of their stride showed that runners who use FiveFingers and other minimalist shoes but continue to run with a heel-first foot strike increase the impact on their lower legs and the risk of injury.
The report prepared for the American Council on Exercise can be found here.
The compelling benefit being used to sell minimalist shoes and barefoot running is the natural stride they promote and the corresponding reduction in injuries. But some runners may never get those benefits.
“It’s tough to relearn to run,” Porcari said “When you look at the data even though we encouraged them to run with a more forefoot strike while wearing the Vibrams, half of the subjects still continued to land on their heels.
"Even with two weeks to practice and instruction in how to use the barefoot shoes, [the subjects’] bodies still tended to run the way they’ve always run.”
In my personal experience, I’ve noticed a change in my stride, more of a mid-foot strike, in my limited use of an Inov-8 shoe with minimal cushioning and drop from heel to forefoot.
Kyle Roberts, who sold me the shoes and the minimalist concept at his Revolution Natural Running and Walking Center in Wauwatosa, offered this assessment of Pocari’s study.
As the study concluded, ”When used correctly, barefoot running shoes may be able to lower your risk of running injury.
But wearing a minimal or “barefoot” style shoe does not, by itself, automatically ensure that you will not heel strike. Old habits die hard.
"For most of us who have been running for quite a long time in the raised heel shoes, it takes some time to learn the new motion patterns of running without them.
"In our store/clinic, when we take people’s shoes off and have them run barefoot, quite quickly we see their gait change to more of a mid-foot landing. Naturally, without any gait retraining. When barefoot, it’s difficult to heel strike, because it hurts! Definitely, once someone learns to land on their midfoot, they will have a better chance of running pain free, with less tissue damage, than with their old, clunky shoes."