Dear Steve -
Unlike so many of the people posting about barefoot running and minimalism, you do a wonderful job of actually making a credible case. You actually cite studies and try to present a credible argument by discussing both the design of the running shoes and what that particular design is trying to accomplish. You cite numbers and scientists who have tried to create actual control groups so that proper use of the empirical method and modern testing equipment can be brought into play. From all this, you form a thesis and arrive at a conclusion.
So how did you get it wrong?
First lets get this out of the way: “We’ll start with the customary statistic of 33-56% of runners get injured every year (Bruggerman, 2007). That is kind of mind blowing when you think about it.” Yes, it is, because it’s been reduced so dramatically by the shoes that are now available. Look, I’ve been working in running stores since 1982, and in all these years I’ve had the good fortune to see a greater cross section of runners and walkers than any one scientist is ever going to be able to. Back in the early 1980’s you had a much higher injury rate, typically 9 out of every 10 people would walk in the store and begin with: “Well, my knee is acting up, but I have Boston coming up…” so dropping down to a high of 56% is a HUGE gain. Especially since your population of runners back then was far more likely to fitter athletes who were genetically more likely to have better form. Today’s statistics have to include an older population, with a dramatic shift in the male/female ratio, and completely different training methods.
As far as your motion control shoes discussion; lets take the argument apart a little bit, and perhaps see the forest as a forest and not just a huge group of trees, each one of which we can isolate and catalog. You’re calling for the abolition of Motion Control shoes is a perfect example of missing that forest. The three tests that you cite show a profound disregard for a conceit that we runners have long held dear: that keeping the body aligned will prevent injuries. As well, the Stacoff study from 2001 seems to show that Motion Control shoes don’t even prevent overpronation, that somehow the eversion of the foot is not contained by all the fancy medial posts that shoe business can come up with.
Yet the one simple factor missing here is the reality test: how come I can post a video from my iPhone showing a person who overpronates in a Nike Pegasus not over pronating in a New Balance 1012? Its very simple to see, and yet difficult to explain, but science has a tendency to miss that forest for the trees, because its hard to measure the forest without looking at the trees.
The very organic nature of biomechanics shows an interrelationship that is difficult to quantify. Witness the recent studies on lactate and very nature of lactic acid, something that didn’t seem to be a mystery whatsoever.
So back to the studies that show motion control shoes don’t work versus the video. When the eyeball test tells us something other than what science tells us, it simply means that science hasn’t quite described all the variables to degree where it can explain everything. To what degree can we measure the relative tightness of the hip flexor and gluteus muscle in reaction to years of constant overpronation? We can’t. The number of women that I see who have taught themselves to walk on the outside of their feet out of habit as a way to counteract the lack of support under the arch of their foot is simply astounding. Putting their foot in isolation for a scientific study will, without fail, generate incorrect data.
The data brought on from the Cushioned shoes is a good example. Almost anyone in the shoe world would expect that relative difference in the shape of the bed of the Nimbus and Glycerin would lead to pressure changes in the foot through the gait cycle. It would be odd to expect anything other than that. Not only should we prescribing shoes based on the plantar pressure, which is fairly easy to see by dissecting the older shoes the runner brings in, but by body mass as well. Given the different in the durometer of the Asics’ Solyte versus the Brooks Mogo foam, we should expect to put a larger man in a different shoe than a smaller woman.
The problem here is your over arching desire to combine all these different studies, all of which have different parameters and different control groups and different methodologies, and to come up with one cohesive overarching statement. I don’t think that you can do that. The modern running shoe was a decision to back away from the minimal slippers of the early 1970’s, and while we can all agree that there have been plenty of times that the running shoe companies can be accused of piling on, over thinking and just plain overdesigning shoes, there are far more people out running than ever before, and, given the nature of the activity, continuing to run without injury than ever before.
Remember, many of the variables that you cite are obvious to you and I: stride frequency for one, greater sensory input leading to better choices in foot plant and body alignment. But these are things that people who are born to run tend to learn, especially if they have any sort of ability and learn to run in a structured environment with coaching. You’re a nationally ranked runner in your day, and I was a NCAA D2 walk-on, but that puts both of us ahead of the 43 year old mother of 2 with 16 lbs of baby fat to work off. No one is there to correct her form, and its likely that she’ll never get to the stage where her stride rate will increase because she senses the subtle muscle tuning. Her stimulus with a minimalist shoe will be overwhelming and its likely that she’ll never adjust to it. Don’t take away her Adrenaline or Structure Triax or 2150 just because you can’t measure why it works.
Look, I’ve been training in minimalist shoes since 1983, and have always been proponent of that, the vast majority of the runners out there would be hurt by that philosophy. Everything that you’re writing in this post makes sense to ME, and to YOU, but there are a lot fewer of us than there are of THEM, the mother of 2 who needs to get out of the house and work out.
The injury prevention in a large group of Army Basic Training participants (Knapik, 2009) that you cite is something that I’m going to look up. It points out that chosing shoes based a criteria as simple as arch height is fairly stupid, since the arch doesn’t work alone anywhere through the gait cycle. Perhaps it means that instead of trying to simplify the subtle aspects of the running gait, our national running publications should be telling us how much more complex it all really is to say healthy and happy and out on the roads. I also believe that the generic terms that we use to classify running shoes for the general public need to be redone. Certainly we can dissect any of the recent catalogs from the major players in the shoe industry and find any number of “fence sitters”, shoes that don’t fall easily into the neutral or stability classifications. I think that the shoe manufacturers are further ahead of the curve than we want to suppose, but making niche shoes requires people to be properly fit within that niche, and that’s a tricky one.
Thanks for taking time to collate all this. Great food for thought. We’ll see how it all pans out in the spring with all the great minimalist product coming out.
Marin Running Company