What kind of runner are you built to be?

Recently the question came up about minimalist shoes and if I was an advocate of them. In general I don’t think they’re a good idea and here’s why: The primary focus of the shoe is to attenuate ground reaction forces of landing. Barefoot or minimalist footwear fails in this prerequisite.

Now maybe you are scratching your head because many people have transitioned to minimalist footwear and have found joy by getting off of their heels?! So why did the shoes work for select percentage of the population and why do we have others that are non-responders and end up with stress fractures?

The key comes back to our anatomy and myokinematics (our own unique activation patterns). The dispersion of ground force reactions to a large extent is managed by how the tibia transitions over the ankle. Some people are blessed with wonderful enhancements to the tibialis anterior muscle. These folks are naturally able to heel strike and allow the tibialis anterior to eccentricly control the foot to the ground. Others are more dominant in their calves & when they attempt to land on their heel, transmit far too much force to their knees. A better way for them to manage the impact is to land in a relative plantar flexed position and eccentricly disperse the load through their calves.

So if you give someone a pair of unpadded shoes and they are not built to manage the forces through their calves (said another way-get off their heels), even with all the transitioning time in the world they will never adopt a pattern that will protect them from injury. Eventually one of two things happens: the energy requirements for that gait style are too excessive or generalized fatigue of the activity brings on a neurologic malaise and the runner breaks down.

Conversely, if you give someone who was always meant to be dominant with their calves permission to do such, it’s a religious experience!

Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, we’ll talk about the softness of the shoes and optimizing your strides.

There is some good data out there that for every ounce you take off your feet, your efficiency increases by 1%. If you want to incorporate some speed training into your regimes-go to a reputable running store and buy a pair of 5K shoes instead of minimalist footwear.

* just don’t go try and run a marathon in your new 5K kicks.



6 thoughts on “What kind of runner are you built to be?

  1. “The primary focus of the shoe is to attenuate ground reaction forces of landing. ” This is definitely not the primary focus of the shoe, or at least it shouldn’t be. People run, not shoes. A shoe can not attenuate 2.5x BW of ground reaction forces.

    That is up to the runner’s body not the shoe. Let the foot work…or perhaps we should share train the foot to work. The role of the shoe is to protect the foot from the elements without interfering with the foot functioning properly, drastically decreasing sensory input, and in terms of performance it would be ideal for it to be as light as possible.

    I don’t care what shoe type you prefer but I think more people need to take responsibility for their mobility/stability of the lower extremity and not rely on a shoe to do things for them.

    1. Adam,

      Thanks for reading the blog post. I appreciate your input.

      I have a question for you (tangentially related to your response): What are your thoughts on babies/infants wearing shoes? Like you said, we should “let the foot work”…maybe shoes should be worn in the first 6 months/1 yr/3 yrs…? Was curious what your thoughts are on early adoption of shoes?

      Thanks again.

    2. Adam,
      Thanks for your comments. This post was a brief overview on the concepts I think are core to establishing the style of runner a person is built for. We would rarely expect a ‘sprinter’ to be marathoning & many of the ultrathin distance folk are gifted w a tib ant that allows miles of heel strikes.

      We’re probably closer than distant on what the foot should do- by attenuation I refer to protection, absorption, traction…. I’m with you that people & not kick make the motions!

      Certainly that people need to stop looking to buy better miles!

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