Sunday, January 31, 2010

What Do Running Shoes Actually Do?

In his blog post, Looking at Pronation, Cushioning, Motion Control and Barefoot Running, Steve Magness challenges some strongly-rooted assumptions about the benefits of running shoes and puts forth his opinion that the current categories used for running shoes -- cushioning, neutral, stability, and motion control -- should be rethought and replaced based on what really happens in a runner's stride.

Magness surveys several research studies that tried to look at the real relationship between impact forces, shoe correction, and injuries. The thing that struck me the most was Magness' contention that shoes, or at least the wrong shoes, interfere with the body's natural adaptation to forces.

The human body is an incredible organism. Judaism and Christianity have long acknowledged that fact. The writer of Psalms said: ...I am fearfully and wonderfully made... (Psalm 139:14, NIV)

Science agrees and Magness affirms that viewpoint:
we underestimate the human body! It’s an amazing thing, and we never give it the credit it deserves. The body adapts to the surface that it’s going to strike, if you give it a chance. The body adapts to both shoe and surface adjusting impact forces via changes joint stiffness, the way the foot strikes, and a concept called muscle tuning.
My take-away from the article? For now, at least, I have no intention of giving up my running shoes. Though I love going barefoot*, I've worn shoes while walking and running for 55+ years and suspect that my feet have adapted, for better or for worse. Besides, they are definitely not tough enough for Nairobi roads. However, I think I'll work on mimicking the style of running that the body seems to naturally use when running barefoot -- attempting to ensure footstrike beneath my body's center of gravity rather than out in front, shortening my stride length, and increasing my turnover rate.

Provocative article. What do you think? Would a change in your stride or you shoes make a difference in your running?

Run well, y'all,

* -- I like the dress code for my current office. Since I office in my house, I can and do go barefoot a lot. It's great. TCK's (third culture kids) in Africa are notorious for going barefoot whenever and wherever possible -- I'm not one but in that respect, I'd make a great TCK! :-D
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