Myth 1: Minimalist Shoes Force You To Run “Correctly”
The accepted theory is that running barefoot — or in minimalist footwear — decreases the impact forces on your legs because the lack of cushioning encourages you to land on your forefoot. This is definitely true, but running in minimalist footwear doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to evolve to be a forefoot striker.
Consider a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina. Researchers interviewed 35 runners who wore minimalist shoes and asked them whether they were heel or forefoot strikers. All 35 responded that they were forefoot strikers, but after analyzing footstrike patterns with a slow-motion camera, it was found that 33% of the runners were actually heel strikers.
The problem for runners who wear minimalist shoes and don’t land on their forefoot (when they think they do) is that vertical loading rates can be up to 37% higher than if they were heel striking in traditional shoes and 50% higher than those who actually do forefoot strike in minimalist shoes. It doesn’t take an advanced degree to realize that increasing your ground impact by 50% with each step can lead to some serious injuries.
What you can do:
First, this study is a good demonstration of how difficult it can be to identify your specific running form issues when your foot strikes the ground so quickly. This means you can’t always rely on sensory data to make improvements to your own running form. Reading the latest article on “the secret to proper running form” and trying to apply the principles spelled out by the author can be dangerous. Be careful with adjustments you make and take the time to get proper guidance and analysis from a professional before you make changes to your footwear, form or both.
More importantly, if you’re going to transition to barefoot running or minimalist footwear, take the time to develop your proprioception, foot strength, and proper barefoot running form. Don’t just assume that switching to minimalist shoes means you’ll start running correctly. Dr. Mark Cuccuzzella, widely considered to be one of the leading experts in minimalist running, suggests spending at least two weeks building a foundation of strength and balance in your feet, lower legs and hips.