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[1/27: For more on this debate, see here.]
Mark Plaatjes, the marathon gold medalist at the 1993 world championships and longtime physical therapist to running stars in Boulder, has posted his thoughts about the current fad for barefoot/minimalist running on Facebook. It’s an interesting read. He starts with five facts that (he says) no one would dispute:
1. Running barefoot/minimalist strengthens the intrinsic or postural muscles in the feet and lower leg.
2. Running barefoot/minimalist increases proprioceptive awareness and balance.
3. Running barefoot/minimalist forces a change in mechanics to adapt to the forces on the feet.
4. There are no clinical trials that show an effect of barefoot/minimalist running for a prolonged period of time.
5. There are no research studies that prove that wearing traditional running shoes increases injuries or that barefoot/minimalist running reduces injuries.
I’d agree with these statements.
He then discusses the distinction between “good” and “bad” heel-striking. People who overstride come crashing down on their heels, braking with each stride. This is bad. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that ALL heel-striking is bad — if you’re running with a short enough stride, so that your centre of gravity is above your heel when you land, that’s a perfectly good stride, Plaatjes says. In other words, not everybody has to become a forefoot striker, despite the claims made by minimalist advocates.
After that, the article starts to ramble a bit, and I’m less clear what his point is. He does make an interesting claim: that 65 to 75% of people are unable to run barefoot because they have inadequate foot structure and mechanics (and he can tell by looking at their feet). He starts to lose me here, since he doesn’t back up this statistic. But I think his first five points (which I quoted above) are a good starting point for any discussion of this issue — because if you disagree (particularly with points 4 and 5), you’ve probably bought some snake oil.