photo by mikehamm
It’s us, your running shoes.
We’ve got a few things to tell you.
We’re tired of being blamed for all your running problems.
Shin splints? “Shoes must be getting old.” Knee problems? “I must have the wrong type of shoes.” Slow race time? “My shoes felt too heavy.”
Don’t get us wrong. We love running with you. We would never quit on you. We want you and your feet to be happy. But before you give up on us and go barefoot (who will you blame for your aches and pains then?), just hear us out.
Consider breaking up with your work shoes
No, we’re not jealous. We understand that there are other shoes in your life. We have no desire to go to boring meetings or sit under a desk all day. But come on, do you think you’re really doing your feet a favor with these?
If we’re lucky you might spend two or three hours with us, but you cram your feet into your work shoes for up to 12 hours per day, five days a week! And if you really are wearing high heels for that long, you could be doing some serious damage. In fact, recent studies have shown that high heels can shorten calf length by up to 13 percent!
And men, you’re not doing yourselves any favors either. When you jam your feet into your expensive stylish narrow dress shoes with pointy toes, you will over time deform your foot by cramming your toes together. And when your toes are all crammed together, they don’t contribute so well to your running stride.
Take your shoes off when you’re at home
We spend a lot of time with your feet. We listen to them much more than you do. You know what their biggest complaint is? You keep them in shoes too much.
You should take your shoes off every chance you get. It’s good for your shoes, and it’s even better for your feet. Walking around the house without shoes develops your foot and calf muscles while helping your feet breathe.
Here’s something you should try. When you walk around the house, can you hear the china rattle? Do the people on the floor below you hear THUD THUD THUD with every step you take? You probably don’t even notice it. Pay attention to how hard your feet hit the floor when you walk without shoes — and then try to walk silently. You don’t need to walk on tiptoes to walk silently. Just put your feet down more gently and make sure your heel doesn’t strike first. In fact, this is the way humans were meant to walk. Landing on the ball of your foot instead of your heel improves your balance and your form. You can do this at home every time you take a step, and your feet, shins, and knees will thank you.
Running shoes can’t save you from bad form
You’ve heard the conventional wisdom. Do you overpronate? Get a motion control shoe. Do you underpronate? Get a cushioned shoe. Do you have knee problems? Get fitted for orthotics. In fact, it seems there’s a shoe or an insert for every possible gait problem.
But is it really the shoes? Recent studies using control groups have actually “…found almost no correlation at all between wearing the proper running shoes and avoiding injury.” In fact, runners who used the “correct” type of shoe in the studies actually had a higher incidence of injuries than runner who didn’t.
So how do you make sense of this data? Here’s our take on it. When you use your running shoes to compensate for bad form, you actually train your feet and legs to run worse. If you buy cushioned shoes because you’re a heel striker, the shoes make it OK to heel strike and over time your heel strikes harder and harder. If you buy motion control shoes because you pronate, the shoes do all the work for you so the muscles that would normally keep your feet from pronating get even weaker and your over pronation gets even worse.
So what can you do?
Don’t fix your shoes, fix your form
Yes, you can probably fix your form by running barefoot — but we don’t think you need to. We think you can improve your form and reduce injuries and problems by simply following these two pieces of advice:
- Go natural — By this we mean get off the pavement. Run on grass. Run up hills. Run on trails. Run anywhere that the surface isn’t flat. Uneven terrain will force you to run with a more responsive gait. In time, this will develop all those muscles that have atrophied from years and years of motion control and flat pavement. It will be hard at first, and you should start slow. But in time you’ll notice the difference. Besides, isn’t pavement getting boring for you? We would sure like a change of scenery!
- Shorten your stride — We think that you are heel striking, and suffering from shin splints, knee problems, and other maladies because your stride is too long. When your feet land in front of you, you are overextending your joints and muscles. Also, when your feet land in front of you, the only way they can land is on the heel. The heel is not made for gently absorbing shock — it transfers the shock right up your legs and through your body.If you shorten your stride so that your feet land underneath you, you’ll find that you will dramatically reduce the impact on your heels. You’ll move more quickly onto the balls of your feet, and you’ll have a better push off to start the next stride. To help yourself achieve this form, lean forward slightly as you run. Of course, shorter strides mean less distance covered, so you’ll need to increase your turnover. Over time it will start to feel more natural, and the reduced impact will translate into less training time lost to injury.
So can we be friends again? Take care of your feet when you’re not running, and they’ll take care you when you are. Pay attention to improving your form by shortening your stride, and you’ll reduce the impact of each step on your body. And finally, take it slow. Add distance gradually when you train and listen to your body.
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