Running in minimalist footwear may increase injuries, study suggests

A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine examined the effect of running with minimalist shoes on pain perception and injury incidence in recreational runnings. The study is titled Examining injury risk and pain perception in runners using minimalist footwear and is authored by Dr. Michael Ryan of Griffith University, Australia.

The study, published in December 2013, concluded: 

Running in minimalist footwear appears to increase the likelihood of experiencing an injury, with full minimalist designs specifically increasing pain at the shin and calf. Clinicians should exercise caution when recommending minimalist footwear to runners otherwise new to this footwear category who are preparing for a 10 km event.

What I find interesting is the following:

  1. The study included only 99 runners.
  2. Non of the runners had ever done any barefoot (or minimalist) running before.
  3. The training was only 12-weeks in preparation for a 10 km event.

The first point makes me think that’s not a significant number to be a good representative sample, but I honestly wouldn’t know. I’m not a scientist.

The second point wouldn’t be an issue, except for point three. I’d assume twelve weeks is too short a time and 10 kilometres is too long a distance to push runners that have been running with padded shoes their entire life. And if the “event” was a race, even worse. They were asked to train too much, too quickly, and too fast.

I’m surprised there weren’t even more injuries.

When I first started running barefoot I did a lot of research. I searched online and found the experts, read books, asked a few people that had been running barefoot for a while.

What everyone agreed on is that you must start slow and run short distances for a while… or you will get injured.

Your body is used to running one way and you suddenly ask it to run differently. It seems obvious that it’ll need to adapt. I started with very slow 2 kilometre runs completely barefoot. I did that for weeks. And I almost immediately felt better. After a few months I tried 5 kilometres. After about 6 months I bought my first minimalist shoes (New Balance Minimus) that I still use, and I tried 10 kilometres. Slow.

After that, I increased both speed and distance pretty quickly and have not had a single injury. I’ve ran 2 marathons in those shoes.

Granted, I’m a sample of one and clearly not representative of anything other than myself. But seriously, if you’re going to do a study and publish it in a respectable journal, you need to exercise common sense above all.

This study seems like it lacked common sense from the start. Was it sponsored by a shoe manufacturer?

Music in Sport and Exercise : An Update on Research and Application

I’ve seen the study I mentioned previously referenced in several articles and publications, so I did some digging and found it in The Sport Journal.

The study is titled “Music in Sport and Exercise : An Update on Research and Application” and was submitted by Costas Karageorghis and David-Lee Priest of Brunel University. The conclusion says:

We have established that there are many ways in which music can be applied to both training and competition. The effects of carefully selected music are both quantifiable and meaningful. As Paula Radcliffe, the world record–holding marathoner, has said, “I put together a playlist and listen to it during the run-in. It helps psych me up and reminds me of times in the build-up when I’ve worked really hard, or felt good. With the right music, I do a much harder workout.”

The findings we have discussed lead to the possibility that the use of music during athletic performance may yield long-term benefits such as exercise adherence and heightened sports performance, through a superior quantity and quality of training. Although many athletes today already use music, they often approach its use in quite a haphazard manner. We hope that through applying the principles outlined in this article, athletes and coaches will be able to harness the stimulative, sedative, and work-enhancing effects of music with greater precision.

It’s an interesting read for anyone interested in running to music.

More on running with music vs not

Few debates in the running world are as heated as the argument over whether or not it’s ok to listen to music while you work out: Pro-mp3 runners push the distraction, fun, and motivation of good tunes; the other side maintains that using headphones is a departure from nature, athletic awareness, and is simply the stuff of joggers.

Both sides make valid points, but recent studies have shown evidence of enhanced performance in those who listen to music during difficult training. So if you do enjoy wearing headphones, it appears you’ve got some support to bolster your case.

link: Running with Music |

This article references 2 studies, one related to cyclists and one related to runners that I’ve mentioned before.

More on the benefits of exercising to music

This is a really interesting article.

Another new study by researchers from Liverpool John Moores University, and detailed online in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, looked at the tempo angle differently. Instead of a mix of different songs at different tempos, they asked a group of cyclists to pedal to the same song over three different trials.

What the subjects did not know is that the researchers first played the song at normal speed, but then increased or decreased the speed of the same song by 10 percent. The small change was not enough to be noticed, but it did have an effect on performance.

Speeding up the music program increased distance covered/unit time, power and pedal cadence by 2.1 percent, 3.5 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively. Slowing the program produced falls of 3.8 percent, 9.8 percent and 5.9 percent. The researchers concluded that we increase or decrease our work effort and pace to match the tempo of our music.

via: Music Benefits Exercise, Studies Show | LiveScience

Research on running barefoot or in minimal footwear

For those interested in barefoot running as I am, I just came across this study by the Skeletal Biology Lab at Harvard University on this very subject. This is how they describe it:

In Daniel Lieberman’s Skeletal Biology Lab, we have been investigating the biomechanics of endurance running, comparing habitually barefoot runners with runners who normally run in modern running shoes with built-up heels, stiff soles and arch support.

And a summary of their findings:

Our research asked how and why humans can and did run comfortably without modern running shoes. We tested and confirmed what many people knew already: that most experienced, habitually barefoot runners tend to avoid landing on the heel and instead land with a forefoot or midfoot strike. The bulk of our published research explores the collisional mechanics of different kinds of foot strikes. We show that most forefoot and some midfoot strikes (shod or barefoot) do not generate the sudden, large impact transients that occur when you heel strike (shod or barefoot). Consequently, runners who forefoot or midfoot strike do not need shoes with elevated cushioned heels to cope with these sudden, high transient forces that occur when you land on the ground. Therefore, barefoot and minimally shod people can run easily on the hardest surfaces in the world without discomfort from landing. If impact transient forces contribute to some forms of injury, then this style of running (shod or barefoot) might have some benefits, but that hypothesis remains to be tested.

link: Running Barefoot: Biomechanics of Foot Strikes & Applications to Running Barefoot or in Minimal Footwear

The research was funded by Harvard University and Vibram (who make the FiveFingers shoes), so one could argue it may be biased. However, given it comes from Harvard I would like to trust it was not influenced in any way.

It’s an interesting read and has plenty of videos to explain and support the findings.

On finding your “zone”

Turns out, however, that each person has an optimal running pace that uses the least amount of oxygen to cover a given distance.

via: Sports Are 80 Percent Mental: Runners Pace Themselves Into The Zone

Interesting article on a study that suggests that each runner has an optimal pace for maximum efficiency. I wonder how training affects this?

The article states that after testing a group of runners, the average optimal speed turned out to be about 4:43 minutes per kilometre (7:13 minutes per mile) for men and 5:64 min/km (9:08 min/mile) for women.

I can sustain a sub 5 min/km pace for 5 kilometres or so, but still find it hard to do so if I’m running 10 kilometres or more (especially on a hilly route). The runners in the test group must’ve been in better shape than I am at the moment if their optimal running pace was 4:43.

Even more interesting though, was that the research found that “at slower speeds, about [8.07 min/km] (13 min/mile), the metabolic efficiency was at its lowest.”

So, to run at maximum efficiency, run fast.

Matching cadence to music while running

There’s an interesting article I found on that explains all this beats-per-minute (BPM) and how it ties in with running (and exercising in general). They summarise it quite simply:

So what is music-paced running? It is running to the exact tempo (beat) of tunes on your portable music player.

via: Matching Cadence to Music Benefits Your Workout | Training

It’s a good read with info on medical research that suggests exercising to music has a positive effect on performance. We’ve discussed before that it also boost brain power, so it seems running to good music is good all around.

However, they do close the article with the following:

While matching cadence to tempo may be the new dimension in running, music-paced running may not be for everyone. But for people who need more motivation and for those who want more fun when they run, it may be a perfect match.

I say everyone needs more motivation… and who doesn’t want to have more fun when they run?