Minimalist Running Style Called into Question

02/04/2013

Minimalist running style photoWhen my husband read the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, he immediately went out and bought new minimalist running shoes. A much hipper version of the traditional running shoe, made with a slim rubber sole and slight tread. And he wasn’t the only runner to feel completely cured of any possible injury through this new, more natural running style. 

The trend caught on in a big way generating $59 million in sales in the U.S. last year.

The book talked about how Kenya’s famous Kalenjin distance runners naturally land on their forefeet and not their heels, whereas traditional, padded running shoes force runners to land on their heels. It's helped runners discern how best to avoid impact-driven injury over the course of many years.

The Kalenjin come from the Rift Valley, partially located in Kenya. They've been called the "running tribe" after winning countless Olympic medals from the 800 meter to the marathon. Recently, Kalenjin women have been recognized for their athletic prowess as well. 

Running Style Called into Question

According to a story in The Washington Post, researchers at George Washington University have called modern minimalist running into question after studying a different population of barefoot runners. Kevin Hatala, a doctoral student in anthropology at GWU was surprised to find that the Daasanach people strike on their heels rather than their forefeet during their endurance runs. 

“I guess what we found really interesting about this is it directly shows that there is not one way to run barefoot,” Hatala said on The Washington Post. “We have a lot more to learn about how people who are barefoot run and what might be the best way to run barefoot.”

The Daasanach People 

The Daasanach people come from Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya. They're mostly pastoral people that grow sorghum, maize, pumpkins, and beans. They're not as well known for their running abilities as the Kalenjin people. 

According to the study:

Data were collected from 38 consenting adults as they ran along a trackway with a plantar pressure pad placed midway along its length. Subjects ran at self-selected endurance running and sprinting speeds. Our data support the hypothesis that a forefoot strike reduces the magnitude of impact loading, but the majority of subjects instead used a rearfoot strike at endurance running speeds.

This isn't to say that one group is right and one is wrong. It's just a matter of understanding that they're may be more than one way to run safely.

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Read More: Are We Really Born to Run?



Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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