After my last blog on barefoot running, I continued to think about the topic and started to think a little more about barefoot training. The sight of vibram fivefingers is a common one (and I’m sure the new adidas adipure coming next year will be too) in many gyms and I have no problem with this. I’m not anti barefoot at all, all I’m doing here is making a few postulations and raising a few questions surrounding their use.
The first is surrounding proprioception and balance. I’m not going to get into a debate here about definitions of the 2, for the sake of argument let us just lump it all together as both are related to barefoot training. Barefoot shoes establish a closer contact with the floor than a standard training shoe and in theory gives more cutaneous feedback aiding joint position sense. When in a training shoe you are elevated off the floor on a lump of EVA foam which compresses, creating an unstable surface increasing the challenge of maintaining balance. Does that increase the proprioceptive activity further up the kinetic chain? Is a barefoot shoe making training easier? Or shifting more focus to the foot and ankle?
The next question I have is what are we using it for? Surely they increase foot strength, although I’m not sure how this has been measured. And if this is true, to what degree? The foot doesn’t switch off once it is in a shoe and switch on when you put a foot glove on, so the difference may not be as huge as perceived. No doubt loading of the architecture of the foot will increase though as you take away the shock absorbing abilities of a training shoe. How well does this cross over to sports performance, particularly if the sport you play involves wearing a training shoe? And will removing that shock absorbing capacity have other impacts?
It would be interesting to track injuries associated with barefoot training. This is more likely to be an issue with those embarking on barefoot running and doing so in an urban environment. I think that there’s definitely potential for an increase in impact injuries to the sesamoids particularly with poor technique and other biomechanical deficiencies. Having raised these questions though, I personally quite like barefoot training, particularly during warm ups where possible, however if I can get away with doing it in socks and keep the £125 a pair of vibrams costs in my pocket I will. For me, for now, it remains another tool in the toolbox rather than a full time pursuit. That might change after the barefoot debate at UKSEM, after which I’ll be quite prepared to eat my words if necessary.
I read a piece in the new York times the other day, it was about barefoot running. To be more precise, it was about how barefoot running can save the world. All it takes is a shift to the balls of the feet and all ills are solved, the article cited a couple of cases where people had changed technique and were now injury free. It can be a very efficient way of running when done correctly but it’s definitely not the answer for everyone.
I work a few days a week doing biomechanical analysis at Profeet running store often seeing people who are carrying injuries and we try to work out what the mechanism is behind that issue and resolve it. Now, the majority of people will run for 2-3 sessions per week and be training for either general conditioning or with a race in mind. Quite often their running style and motor patterns have been grooved over many years and the time and effort required to change these patterns is significant, too significant for many to make the shift to forefoot running. For some, the changes needed are purely technical and they are the ones who will make the transition fairly smoothly if they want to. They will be very body aware and as such will be able to make the positional changes needed to run forefoot.
For others, it’s more a question of function. They don’t have the requisite strength and or flexibility, or inclination to develop the requisite strength and or flexibility in order to aid a change of running style. For those people, the best course is to maintain the current running style and work on bang for buck areas to reduce risk of injury. Namely correct shoe and orthoses, management of training volumes and, depending on potential injury mechanisms, a manageable strength and conditioning intervention. For some, structural issues will be the limiting factor. These will often simply have to be accommodated for with a footwear and orthotic intervention.
So before everyone starts going nuts for forefoot, barefoot, pose and backwards (yes, it does exist) running techniques you need to ask a few questions. Is your current running style a problem? Are you physically able to change it? Are you motivated enough to change it? Either way, get yourself down to Profeet to get checked over.
There’s been a bit of chat recently around the FMS, some web based to-ing and fro-ing of opinions. For me it kind of reminds me of watching wrestling when I was growing up, and to be honest I find it all a little bit painful to watch/listen to. Using the FMS can be useful to give an idea of movement abilities and some issues, and it will suit certain situations. The thing about it though is that you can think for yourself and can change it to suit your own needs.
For example I work with one person who is 70 years old and he wants to improve his skiing. For him, getting into an overhead squat isn’t going to happen and even then he does it once, what does that tell me? It tells me he can overhead squat once, he has decent mobility and good postural control…for 1 rep. Instead of that I use a squat with hands in front for reps, once we hit a 20 rep target we change, progressing to split position and lateral squats and then, hopefully, to lunges. It gives me an idea of the mobility and postural control over time, and some idea of strength and metabolic abilities. It’s a form of functional movement screen (without the trade mark at the end).
I was reading/watching some pieces about a Quotidian Movement Screen that Matt Price in Canada is using which is certainly very interesting and is another way you can utilise a movement screen, especially with a group of athletes you see very regularly. I also like some of the bits Vern Gambetta talks about regarding overloading a system to see it break down, taking the athlete out of their comfort zone. One of the best movement screens I find is to get someone to run fast. If possible film them in frontal and sagittal planes and watch in slow motion, you will very quickly get to see where the issues are. Plus it has transfer as most sports involve running quickly. Watch side on and you’ll quickly pick up on pelvic tilt, postural control and flexibility issues. Watch from behind and you can see ability to control transverse plane movement as well as other flexibility and postural control abilities. It’s a hurdle step, lunge, rotational control, core strength and hamstring length screen in one.
The FMS will suit certain situations and scenarios and it does give some quantitative data. But I also don’t think we should be afraid to work in the qualitative environment. If you can take video and have access to dartfish (or other video analysis software) then getting joint angles and ranges of motion is great. If not or if time is for that kind of analysis is an issue, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with comparing before and after videos by eye, particularly in earlier stages of development where progression is greater.