Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lose the Shoes. Get Stronger.

Today I've got a confluence of ideas for you regarding joint health, strength, and endurance.

My friend Jon Hinds, owner of the fantastic Monkey Bar Gym in my old stomping grounds Madison, Wisconsin, recently posted this video of a video analysis of someone running in running shoes and the same person barefoot.

Listen to the video commentary about what happens to the bones and joints, and you don't have to wonder why most runners will end up injured. Running shoes with puffy heels simply don't let your feet contact the ground the way they should, thus joints above take a real beating and eventually injury will occur. It's that simple.

Likewise, in the gym I prefer people to wear as flat a shoe as possible. Other than barefoot training, which is common in many of the top gyms in the country, Vibram Five Fingers are a great choice, as is Nike Frees. Vans, Converse AllStars, or other flat shoes are also good.

Here is why: A flatter shoe will be more stable, and will allow you to sit back further on your heels which will aid in recruiting your posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings) i.e. the biggest muscles. Working your biggest muscles means you get better results. You'll get stronger where it counts.

Not to mention that wearing flatter shoes will put less shear force on your knees and low back.

Sound good?

But that's not all (joke). There is a book making headlines these days called "Born to Run" concerning the Tarahumara native peoples of Mexico famous for incredible distance running abilities. One of the reasons cited for the Tarahumara's legendary running is that they run barefoot or in sandals. They also rarely get injured despite running distances and over terrain we can hardly fathom.

Now, moving on to developing endurance I-let's look at a study done by Universities in Spain and the U.S. concerning the influence of strength and power on endurance.

The study (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23(5) 1482-1488) took 14 firefighters that must perform endurance tests as a part of their job and in training specifically targeted their maximal strength and power, then looked at the effect on endurance. Across the board they found that just by increasing their maximal strength and power output the firefighter's performed better in endurance tests.

To put it another way, if you have hit a plateau in running, biking etc... then more running is not the answer. It's doubtful that cardio capacity or VO2 max is what's holding you back. Likely it is that your body is not able to produce enough power in order to propel you faster. Improving muscle strength means that running at a given pace will now be easier due to the fact that said effort requires less of a % of maximal strength and power output.

The most efficient way to do this is to get follow an intelligent strength & power program using resistance training. And one key to getting stronger is developing the largest muscles using proper biomechanics and technique - i.e. the stress should be placed across the proper muscles instead of the knees and low back.

The bottom line is do yourself a favor and lose the crosstrainer shoes with the puffy heels. Once you go flat you'll never go back.


Alphadominance said...

I definitely have found this to be my experience. I spent my youth largely barefoot and my joints were never stronger. When I have to wear shoes I despise those with heels, like dress shoes or boots. I'd guess though that running barefoot on concrete is inadvisable right? You'd need to be on sand/earth or in the gym or at least on a track perhaps? I have run barefoot on concrete for brief periods but always do so raised onto the balls of my feet since the heel striking such a hard surface is jarring and uncomfortable. Sidenote: I am convinced dress shoes worn for work are largely responsible for my lower back pain. The more I work out the less of an issue it is, but when I can wear sneakers I don't have this problem at all, even at desk jobs where sitting is most of the workday. I'm convinced sitting and poor shoes are a major part of our ill health issues here in the US.

Roland said...

Good post, Chris.

Alpha -- IMO, you shouldn't run on concrete in cushioned shoes, either. I read a report once where they measured the impact on a variety of surfaces, even with shoes. It was ugly.

It may feel similar, but asphalt is a better choice in the real world, when you can't find a real track, grass, dirt, etc.

The lake near my house has a path around it and it's concrete. I pitty these joggers... I run the grass around the path. It's a lot harder, but I'm in it for he hard parts, not to be a better jogger.

BTW, I'm right there with you on the dress shoes. I have to wear them every day. As soon as I'm off, I swap them for my Chuck's, Fivefinger, or bare feet. Do a little stretching and mobility, and I'm good to go. It took a month or so, but I'm able to go back and forth seamlessly now. You have to "break in" your feet a bit, but it will come.

Chris B said...

Darian, meet Roland. Roland, Darian.

So yeah as Roland said avoid running on concrete period. The forces on your knees and low back is scary.

And I agree that sitting and poor posture is a huge part of health issues.

Scott Lightner said...

The Tarahumara are also known for having very fast senior runners.

As far as health issues, I'll quote Dr. John E. Sarno,

"We are all programmed to react to inner tensions with physical symptoms. Failure to recognize that fact breeds epidemics".


Anonymous said...

Another trainer friend of mine proposes the same thing. Here's my issues - perhaps caused by a lifetime of using shoes as a crutch. I have extremely flat feet - some of the flattest my podiatrist has ever seen. They are so flat that I screwed up my knees before the age of 18, the pronation causing the knee joint to go out of alignment and tearing lateral meniscus. Flash forward to my 30s, where I was running barefoot on sand in Hawaii for a week. The day I return, my plantar fascia tears abruptly (for all of the pronation) and my calcaneous has a nice big break. So... what say you about someone with a big structural deficiency like mine? FWIW, I do lift in as flat a shoes as allows my orthortic to fit; in my case, Adidas Sambas.

Love to hear your feedback Chris.

Your brown friend in Chicago, Q.