In today's microdose we're talking about running. Specifically, I want to address the two following statements:
- Natural footwear promotes natural running technique which is efficient and protects our joints from injury.
- Unnatural footwear promotes unnatural running technique which is inefficient and often results in joint pain over time.
I know, those are some bold claims.
Lets unpack the logic and reasoning behind them so we can deepen our understanding about how the shoes we wear affect how we run and why natural footwear is a key to better running.
How you run matters more than your footwear
Big footwear brands spend billions of marketing dollars convincing us that we need an expensive, cushioned, stiff shoe for running.
What if that wasn't true?
What if shoes with cushioned heels actually made us worse at running?
What the rigidity of these "running shoes" disabled our feet?
What if the cushioned heels allowed us to run in a way that is both inefficient and actually promotes injury over time?
After years of treating runners as a physical therapist and going deep down the rabbit hole of foot and lower body health, I can confidently say that cushioned shoes are harmful for runners.
With that said, if someone wants to move away from cushioning, it requires patience and a long term commitment to rebuild a new running technique from scratch. Transition too fast and you can hurt yourself. Be patient and make the shift gradually and you will be granted more efficient running and the ability to run later into life while severely reducing your risk of injury. In my experience, those who don't move away from cushioned shoes when running often end up suffering the same fate: running becomes more painful over time and they are eventually told to stop running because their joints (often the knee joint) can't take it anymore.
When it comes to running, HOW you run is most important.
However, the shoes you wear heavily influence how you run.
Natural running technique is how humans are designed to run. It involves a forefoot strike and a frequent number of short strides.
Unnatural running technique is not how humans are designed to run. It involves a heel strike and a lower frequency of broad strides.
Although there are many reasons why humans run unnaturally, a primary reason we're able to slam our heels into the ground in front of us is because cushioning removes the natural signal (pain) that its not a good way to run. When barefoot or in natural shoes without a cushioned heel, repeatedly slamming our heel into the ground hurts so we immediately stop doing it.
Said concisely, shoes with cushioned heels allow us to run poorly and this poor technique often costs us our joint health long term. Shoes without cushioning act as a governor on our technique and force us to run naturally which is more efficient and protects our joints.
Transitioning to running in natural footwear
A good rule of thumb when first transitioning to natural footwear is to walk (...a lot) before you run. Years or decades in unnatural shoes create stiff, weak, unstable feet. The first step is to rebuild some baseline mobility and strength capacity at your feet. Doing this before attempting running is a very important part of the process. Spend a month using natural footwear as your daily footwear before attempting running.
When you're ready to begin running, start with short walk/jog intervals, monitor how your feel and take daily notes. Take it slow. If you're sore or experiencing pain, slow down and take some rest days. If you're feeling good, increase the distances or intensity.
Know this: moving from unnatural cushioned shoes to natural shoes without cushioning will fundamentally change the way you run. This means you will be using muscles, joints and tendons in new ways and they will require time to adapt to the new loads.
I'm keeping this one short today but will return to this topic in future to dive deeper and offer more insights about how footwear and chair sitting affect how we run. Please comment below with your questions and I will answer them all in my next running microdose.
- How we run is most important but the footwear we wear significantly affects the running technique we end up adopting.
- Unnatural running technique: heel strikes the ground first, inefficient, hard on joints. Causes: unnatural footwear (specifically: heel cushioning), lifestyle of unnatural movement (specifically: lots of chair sitting).
- Natural running technique: forefoot strike, efficient, protects joints from impact forces. Requires a lifestyle of varied daily movements (ie: not sitting in chairs very much), good balance and natural footwear.
- Switching to natural footwear for running requires patience and a period of adaptation but long term, it promotes natural running technique which reduces our risk of injury and improves our running efficiency.
Thanks for reading. I hope you found this article valuable and if you did, please share it with a runner struggling with injuries and help them understand how natural footwear can help make them better runners.
Ciao for now