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Friday, November 4, 2011

Is "good form" the new barefoot?



Yesterday, Christopher McDougall released his latest article in the New York Times Magazine.  The article is kind of a follow-up on his bestselling book, "Born to Run".  It details a lot of what Christopher has been thinking about and investigating since he published the book.  Like all of his word, it's very well written and entertaining.  I suggest you check it out.

The article meanders from one intriguing topic to another, but the main point deals with how we can learn to run injury-free by adopting so-called "good running form".  That is to say, if we all learn to run with a forefoot strike.

My thought after reading this article was this: "Remember when barefoot running was the ticket to running injury-free?"  That if we all took off our shoes we'd be running for hundreds of miles pain-free like the Tarahumara Indians, but without all the man-dresses and access to corn-based moonshine?

I know from experience that it's not that simple.  Barefoot running certainly has taken my own running to places I never thought possible.  Usually, nine miles or so into a run in cushioned trainers my hips would be so sore I could barely walk.  I took off my shoes and was running a half-marathon within a month (by the way...don't transition that way).  I've become a barefoot ultra marathoner; something I've never though I could do.

I've also been hurt in one way or another for a good portion of that time.  From the same kinds of injuries that plague shod runners.  I've gotten IT band syndrome, patellar tendinitis, piriformis syndrome, peroneal tendinitis, and a bunch of other fun stuff.  I've never thought of barefoot running as the cure for my running injuries.  I do it because it makes my running more enjoyable.  That's it.  I have no illusions about it making me bulletproof. 

But when "Born to Run" came out, that's what everyone was saying barefooting would do.  We swung the pendulum too far in that direction.  The conclusions of things like the Harvard Barefoot Study were extended a bit too far.  Sensationalist claims were made.

The result was a movement.  A majority of barefoot runners nowadays were in some way inspired to do so by that book.  People flocked to the stores to buy those "barefoot shoes", or ripped their running shoes off and ran the bottoms of their feet off.  One little book started a mini-revolution.

It's been a pretty amazing journey for this weird little sport.  I'm not sure if this progress would have been possible had it happened any other way.  At the same time, revolutions usually have a lot of causalities.  Lots of people have gotten hurt.  Misinformation has been spread (did you know that there are these shoes that let you run barefoot?!). The Fila Skeletoe actually exists. 
 
The downside of the whole thing is that I feel like half of my time in this movement is spent creating a movement to combat the movement.  I've spent the better part of my three year journey educating people that you can't just rip off your shoes and run pain-free.  You have to start slow and transition.  Even then it's not a silver bullet.  We are still learning about the benefits of barefoot running.  Things aren't as simple as they were made out to be.

I read this article, and as great as it was, I thought to myself, "Here we go again."  According to this article, the next savior for us injury-plagued runners isn't our footwear.  It's our form.  According to McDougall, forefoot-strike and the 100-up drill is the new way to better, faster, injury-free running. 

And maybe it is.  Right now the debate over good running form is still very much unsettled.  Forefoot striking certainly seems more bio-mechanically efficient.  It has many other good qualities.  We have a lot of great people studying the issue.  But it's not altogether clear that it prevents injuries

So my request is this: Can we NOT do the whole Born to Run-style movement thing all over again?  I love my bro Chris McDougall to death.  He does fantastic work, and he is a constant source of inspiration to me.  But I feel like we're about to experience the whole phenomenon again, but this time with "good form" taking the place of "barefoot" as our new holy grail.  And this article is the start. 

Pretty soon is everyone going to be rushing out to find a pair of those "forefoot shoes"?  Or attend a forefoot running clinic (I hope so, because I'll be hosting a few...*wink*!)?  Am I going to have to join the Forefoot Runners Society too?  Or change my name to the Maple Grove Forefoot Guy?  That's just not as catchy people.  And it kind of makes me sound like I have a foot fetish.

As I've written before, I think good form running is a concept that we can all unite around.  This is the right way to push change in the running industry, and probably was from the start.  I am just wondering out loud if we need to do it in the same way again.  I don't think I can handle another movement.  I've got enough going on with this one.  Maybe we could go a little slower this time?  Or work from the inside? 

I don't know dude.  I'm just that barefoot guy.  I prefer to answer such questions in the immortal words of Walter Sobchak (The Big Lebowski): Fuck it dude...let's go bowling. 

What do you folks think?  Or is this stuff too heady for a Friday?

18 comments:

  1. funny thing is, what most people appear to have taken from Born to Run is the whole barefoot thing. What I took away from it was that it was the improved running form that helped prevent injury. so I guess my point isn't that this is a "new movement" as much as it is a continuation of what he was getting at in his book.

    but then I might just be out of my element. ;)

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  2. I was always surprised at how people were inspired to barefoot after reading the book. It always seemed a bit anti-barefoot and pro-minimal shoes to me. All I took from the book is that I need to run ultras and eat chia (both of which I do now)

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  3. Forefoot just doesn't sound as cool! :-) But I'm with you both.. I came away from Born to Run with the barefoot "style" as the key, and not so much that I needed to walk on coals.. If I never leave my huaraches for running, that's fine by me. And I too am careful not to say its a cure all for injury. For me personally, it's eliminated knee issues and made running enjoyable and not a torture session. Thanks for the great commentary... not too heavy for a friday.. then again, its 6am and a beer sounds good! Have a great weekend!

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  4. I thought the McDougall article said what many of us have been saying for some time now- the key is good form. Barefoot running is just one method to learn good form. We already have forefoot running clinics... we call them POSE and ChiRunning. :-)

    Based on that, I agree with Troy. The McDougall article doesn't change anything other than giving us another arrow in the quiver (100 step drill.)

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  5. The book really should have been called "The Joy of Running" - the injury prevention part of the book was much more about form (and the joy of running) than barefoot running. BFT was the only real barefoot character. Even Chris himself ran primarily in shoes after the book was released.

    I ran with him in early 2010, and by this time he was primarily barefoot. He said it was only after a recurrence of plantars fasciitis that he finally went all-in on the barefoot thing. His message since the book has thus been a bit more 'barefoot purist' than it was when he was actually writing it.

    He's a nice guy with lots of charisma, but is not afraid to use hyperbole when selling his brand of running religion. 100-ups will not guarantee a lifetime of injury free running, but does look like a useful warmup drill.

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  6. I don't really understand the 100-up drills from his brief description. Any videos available(couldn't find it on YouTube) or can you explain it better?

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  7. Digger, there is a video embedded in the article.

    I think that you all are correct. The book isn't as much about barefoot running as people have since taken it to be. That was helped a lot by Chris's speaking tour where he spent a lot of time on the issue.

    I guess my point (if I have one) is that I wonder what is going to cone from his next big project. Are people going to start worshipping the forefoot strike the way barefoot running was held up as the holy grail of injury prevention? Then are we going to move on to the next craze?

    Just wondering out loud on a Friday

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  8. Thanks;
    For some reason I can't see the video here, I'll try later on my home computer.

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  9. Here is the link to a free book online from 1904 that contains the "Hundred-Up" exercise on pages 58-62. The book is "An Alphabet of Athletics" by Eugene Miles. It appears to be public domain and there is a link to download the PDF on the page. Per the instructions within the book quoted from Walter George's book on "training" the minor exercise is to be completed with the same foot coming up repeatedly, while keeping balance on the other foot. This is different than as indicated in the New York Times article. Are millions of people now doing this "long lost technique" incorrectly?

    http://books.google.com/books?id=LHNLAAAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false

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  10. I am dubious that doing this drill will make me fool proof and that I will never run again.

    I love how McDougall can stir people up though and get them thinking.

    Posture, Rhythm, and Relaxation. Regardless of footwear.

    I must say that the gimicky forefoot shoes are chapping my ass right now.

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  11. damn, never run WRONG again. oops :)

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  12. And the author of "An Alphabet of Athletics" is Eustace Miles. Not Eugene. Another oops. It could be worse though.

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  13. Maple, you are so transparent. We can all see that you're in the pay of The Man, with your anti-100 ups rhetoric and your 'I'm just that barefoot guy' schtick. You and your corporate masters just want us all to be slow and injured so that you can make a quick buck out of the imminent jet pack running kilt craze.

    You're fooling no one.

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  14. If the future of running is kilt jet packs, then I'm all in bro!

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  15. Yes "good form" is just the newest new-but-old fad. But hey, it's easier to talk about good form -- weightlifters have been doing it for decades -- than do it!

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  16. I've never read the book, but that article was beautifully written. The bit about the 100 ups seemed a bit of a non-sequitur in the article, but I guess he's fishing for a fresh angle, as every journalist must. Your response was great to read also. But I think when you consider how many barefoot runners are actually running with minimalist shoes, and the fact that even us actual, existing barefoot runners have to put on minimalist shoes when it gets too cold/hot or the terrain is too rough, then it seems like it’s always been about adopting a more natural running style. I do think you’re right that if the emphasis becomes one of forefoot rather than ‘good/natural’ form based on proprioception, then we may see an increase in injuries. I have recently adopted more of a midfoot strike after finding that a true forefoot strike put too much stress on my feet to run every day. Perhaps I’ll go back to a pure forefoot strike when the time is right. Proprioception remains key I think, not any particular technique or drill.

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  17. It seems like emphasizing "good form" as the key to injury-free running is just a way to influence those people who couldn't quite accept the original barefoot "revolution". This provides people aren't willing to ditch their shoes a plan to develop better form. It could still be argued that starting barefoot is the "best" way to learn the forefoot strike, but any method that gets people to run with better for is worth teaching.

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