Facing the bare facts on running



Running barefoot may be more beneficial for your feet and ankles than wearing expensive running shoes, according to a James Cook University expert in the field.

Dr Robert Crowther, an exercise physiologist and lecturer at JCU’s Institute of Sport and Exercise Science, said it was a relatively recent topic of discussion in the wider community.

“My particular interest is in barefoot running or walking and the impact of shoe design on both walking and running,” he said.

“Essentially, I am examining the new fad of ‘ditching the joggers’.”

Dr Crowther said the new ‘fad’ involved either running barefoot, or with modern footwear such as the Vibram 5-fingers, a rubber secondary skin with defined toes.

“The unique part of shoes such as the Vibram 5-fingers is they don’t have a heel chock like traditional running shoes,” he said.

“Most running shoes have a thick inch chock under the heel, which slopes to about half an inch at the toes.

“This can cause problems for the orientation of the hips and limbs, whereas walking or running on a levelled foot allows normal articulation of the limbs and joints.

“The old argument is that this type of extra material is needed to reduce impact but there is no definitive evidence to support that.”

Dr Crowther said the rate and type of injuries sustained by walking or running wither barefoot or wearing running shoes is still unknown and needs more research attention.

“However, when you regularly wear running shoes, the muscles that control the foot and ankle can become weak, as they’re not being asked to do their job.”

Dr Crowther said in some African communities such as Ethiopia and Kenya, walking and running barefoot or with thinner soled footwear was a common situation and showed interesting running mechanics.

“There are numerous examples of very good long distance athletes that have come out of countries where barefoot running is common. Kids in these communities often run 10 or 20km to school in very thin-soled shoes.

“This is compared to rigid, Western-style school shoes, where the foot doesn’t have to do its job, or has limited movement or ‘work’ to do.

“This can lead to excessive pronation, which in the ankle means excessive medial rotation, so the person will have more weight in the inside edge of the foot.”

Overpronation can cause abnormal biomechanics during walking and running, which can lead to injuries of the foot and problems with hips, knees and lower back injuries.

Dr Crowther said Hermit Park-based athletics firm Barefoot Running had approached him to present a talk to the local community on barefoot running.

“The talk will essentially be about ‘what are these shoes doing for us, and is barefoot running or walking better than in shoes?’”

The talk is free, and is open to all members of the community.

It will be held on Friday, February 18 at 6pm in the Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences building at JCU’s Douglas campus. The talk will be video-linked to JCU’s Cairns campus – room A4.105.

PhD student Mr Kenji Doma will also speak about “The responses during and after the combination of strength and endurance training session” on the night.