If the “running” shoe fits, wear it

Advice on the run
At Coffs Coast Health Club we see lots of runners,  so when we found this article about running and shoes we thought we would share it with you.  With so many running shoe options out there, or no shoes at all, it can become confusing.  So let’s shed some new light and then you decide which shoe fits for you.
Barefoot running enthusiasts are adopting "foot-gloves" while some go without shoes altogether.Barefoot running enthusiasts are adopting “foot-gloves” while some go without shoes altogether. Photo: Nick Cubbin

For the past few years, proponents of barefoot running have argued that modern athletic shoes compromise natural running form. Now a first-of-its-kind study suggests that in the right circumstances, shoes make running physiologically easier than going barefoot.

The study, published online in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, began by recruiting 12 men with extensive experience in running barefoot. ”A novice barefoot runner moves very differently than someone who’s used to running barefoot,” said Rodger Kram, a professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado who oversaw the study. ”We wanted to look at runners who knew what they were doing.”

Specifically, Kram and his colleagues hoped to determine whether wearing shoes was metabolically more costly than running unshod. In other words, does wearing shoes require more energy than going barefoot?

A few previous studies have suggested that in terms of physiological effort, it’s easier to go barefoot. After all, shoes have mass. They add weight to your feet, and pushing weight through space, as you do with every step while running, demands energy.

These earlier studies generally concluded that every additional 100 grams added to your feet should increase the energy cost of running by about 1 per cent. Over many kilometers, that 1 per cent becomes magnified if you wear heavy running shoes, which can easily weigh 300g to 400g or more.

For their study, Kram and his colleagues wanted a relatively lightweight, cushioned shoe, and chose a lightweight shoe, barely reaching 150g.

The runners were asked to run multiple times on treadmills, either wearing the shoes or not. The runners were never completely barefoot; when unshod, they wore thin yoga socks to protect them from developing blisters and for purposes of hygiene.

Next, the researchers taped thin lead strips weighing a total of 150g to the tops of the runners’ feet. By adding an equal amount of weight to the bare foot, they could learn whether barefoot running really was physiologically more efficient.

It was not. When barefoot runners and shod runners carried the same weight on their feet, running barefoot used almost 4 per cent more energy in each step than running in shoes.

To the researchers’ surprise, barefoot running, often touted by fans as more natural, was actually less efficient.

”What we found was that there seem to be adaptations that occur during the running stride that can make wearing shoes metabolically less costly,” said Jason Franz, a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado who led the study. Shoes, he said, ”provide some degree of cushioning”. If you eschew shoes, ”something else has to provide the cushioning”.

That something, he and his colleagues believe, is your legs. If you are barefoot, the job of absorbing some of the forces generated when your foot strikes the ground shifts to your leg muscles, a process that Kram calls the ”cushioning effect”. As a result, the leg muscles contract and work more and require additional energy. The metabolic cost of the activity rises.

Of course, most barefoot runners do not jog weighted by lead. But even when unweighted barefoot running was compared foot-to-foot with running in the shoes, the latter won out. For eight of the 12 runners, wearing shoes remained slightly more efficient, although the shoes added weight.

The study looked only at the metabolic efficiency of wearing shoes, compared with going barefoot. It did not evaluate the common claim that running barefoot lowers injury risk.

In the end, the difference in metabolic cost between going barefoot or wearing light shoes is probably of greatest interest to serious racers. They might want to mull the trade-off between having less mass on their feet when barefoot versus having greater potential strain on their leg muscles.

For the rest of us, the lesson might be that even if you don’t want to go barefoot, you might want to invest in a slimmed-down shoe. ”There is a metabolic cost to wearing really heavy running shoes,” Franz says. He suggests wearing lightweight shoes that provide cushioning to spare leg muscles without having mass to slow movement might be the physiologically smartest alternative to being barefoot.

The New York Times

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/executive-style/fitness/advice-on-the-run–if-the-shoe-fits-wear-it-20120328-1vyqr.html#ixzz1qlmA173N

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