By: Larry Gruber, CSCS, MES
As we all know from the heat and humidity, summer is upon New Orleans. And, summertime means OUTDOOR RUNNING. Since 2009, a new training dimension for runners has soared—the phenomenon of barefoot running. Now let’s be clear—barefoot running in the city is dangerous due to potential debris on the ground. So for the sake of this article, we are going to discuss minimalist running wear, which are those shoes that simulate barefoot running. Does this type of running help improve foot strength and running mechanics, thereby making one a more competitive runner? How does one go about implementing minimalist shoes into their training? And, what are the drawbacks to running in these shoes?
According to the National Sporting Goods Association, 32.2 million people participated in running and jogging in 2013, with a great number of these people competing in races of all distances. So, as participation increases, so does competitiveness. A study by Divert and colleagues (2008) has shown that there are benefits to barefoot and minimalist running, such as an increase in running economy. Wearing a minimalist shoe causes certain modifications of the body that allow the exerciser to do more work with less demand on the body, such as more efficient stride lengths and frequency. And, it’s less fatiguing than running in traditional shoes because it leads to lower energy consumption, thereby delaying the onset of fatigue. Another benefit is that is helps to improve proprioception (the body’s ability to sense stimuli). When a runner isn’t encased in all that running shoe technology, the little sensors in his/her feet can actually feel the surface beneath and then allow the foot to react appropriately—thereby reducing injury and improving balance. And, it helps strengthen all those muscles in the feet and ankles because they are recruited more for support. Finally, most traditional running shoes have a heel lift. By removing this, it helps the Achilles tendon and calves stretch and lengthen, thereby reducing injuries such as calf pulls caused by short, tight tissues.
Now that you have decided to make the switch, transition slowly to running in this footwear because so much more ankle and footwork is required, and those muscles and tendons are not accustomed to the stress. Begin by doing various activities of daily life in these shoes, such as gardening or cleaning the house. Then, begin to adopt a progressive overload approach. For example, wear them for 10 minutes at the beginning of exercise and another 10 minutes at the end. Slowly, add in another 10-minute bout. For the first 2 weeks, keep the total training time to no more than 30 minutes per session. Be mindful of how your feet and ankles feel after wearing the shoes, and slowly progress the amount of time exercising in them as long as you are pain-free.
Beware, however, that there are cons associated with this type of running. As I stated earlier, minimalist shoes don’t offer a lot of sole-support, so one has to be very mindful of the surface upon which they run and be on the lookout for glass, rocks and other sharp objects. And, because one’s calves and Achilles tendons are accustomed to a more supportive shoe, minimalist running may over-stress them in the beginning. So, follow the progressive overload protocol I outlined above. Finally, this type of running may be contraindicated for those with diabetes because peripheral neuropathy (a common complication of diabetes) can lead to a loss of protective sensations in the feet.
Armed with the pros and cons of minimalist shoes and how to incorporate them into your training, you can make an educated decision about joining this running trend. I recommend you go to a running store, like Southern Runner, where a professional can assist you in making the right decision for your foot. Now get out there on that levee and enjoy your run!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – LARRY GRUBER – CSCS, MES, ACE-CPT
Physical fitness used to be just a pastime for me, until more and more friends began asking for my opinion concerning their fitness regimen. In 1999, after a successful restaurant management career in some of Chicago’s finest restaurants, I became a certified personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise and the National Academy of Sports Medicine. I’m also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
As a personal trainer, I strongly feel that exercise should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. I structure the workouts so they are fun, combining traditional weight training with functional training, cardio-respiratory training and flexibility training, all aimed at helping you look, feel and move better. In order for the sessions to be successful, the personal trainer/client relationship must be a very interactive one, requiring constant feedback from both parties. I want and need your opinions and suggestions.
After training for 13 years in Chicago, I made the move south in search of warmer weather. I’m so excited to be part of such a vibrant city, and I can’t wait to try its world famous restaurants. Thanks so much for welcoming me to New Orleans!!