Those who have tried or trained in distance running in the past most likely have dealt with some manner of joint pain or soft tissue discomfort. This pain may come and go or be persistent, but whichever the case, it diminishes any possibility for gains or improvement in running. Even when the pain does not hinder the runner, but tends to quickly subside, it can have long term effects on the joints that may become severe. Injuries such as shin splints, runners knee (iliotibial band syndrome), patellofemoral pain, and stress fractures are the most common conditions in runners, and all of them can be greatly reduced with form or alignment correction. These conditions can be greatly reduced through balancing out the leg muscles by: strengthening weak stabilizing muscles, releasing tight muscles, increasing joint flexibility, improving running form, changing run surface (trail vs pavement), or by wearing shoes that are meant for your feet.
Your feet, and therefore shoes, are what connect you to the ground when you run. They face a large amount of stress from repetitive impact, so any misalignments are compensated for by the body. This in turn can cause muscle imbalances, tightness, and joint friction, leading in turn to injuries. The importance then of having proper footwear that promotes good running form is essential in preventing injuries. Perhaps you have heard about minimalist running shoes: you know, the ones with the toes. One of the pioneer companies, FiveFingers, is probably the most well known due to its distinctive displaying of the toes.
The concept with minimalist running shoes is that they allow for the runner to stride through/on their natural foot arches. This involves having the foot be completely on the ground, as compared to running shoes you may be familiar with that have a larger amount of cushioning at the heel. The issue with having a higher heel is that it promotes a heel-strike to toe-strike method of striding, which puts excessive stress on the joints in the legs causing injury. A great solution to the problem of heel striking is using a midfoot or forefoot strike. Both of these are biomechanically more efficient for striding, and cause less impact and stress on the runner’s joints. Minimalist running shoes promote the midfoot and forefoot strike. Having less of a heel cushion and heel to toe difference encourages runners to develop better running form.
One issue with minimalist running shoes however, is that most people are too used to their traditional running shoe. Removing the height difference is typically too radical of a change for individuals who have been running for quite some time. Easing into minimalist running shoes can solve this problem, but there is also another solution. Running shoe companies such as New Balance and Nike, have been quick to come up with their own version of the minimalist shoe, with both companies opting to manufacture not only completely minimal shoes, but also transitional shoes that still have some heel to toe height difference and maintain some cushioning. These transitional shoes still promote proper form, but are not as extreme of a change, and allow runners to more easily adjust to running on their arches.
The transitional shoes still need to be eased into. Some elements of a good transition include starting with a significant reduction in run distance, but not necessarily run frequency. Running on dirt paths, undulating trails, and rougher paths are beneficial for foot stabilizer mechanisms, and Running uphill with good form can strengthen the muscles and feet to make a faster transition. There is much that can be done to take the body’s running mechanism to a more efficient and less injury-prone level, but a good start includes an update of training gear. Minimalist runners allow you to run on your natural arches and assist you in running efficiently off of the mid or forefoot, just the way nature intended.
By Coach Kevin Hehr
Here is a link to more information about local run training groups
As founder of Ivanco Fitness, my promise is to ensure your journey in fitness is unlocked and uplifted. It was the summer of 2012 and I was burnt out - I had spent over 10,000 hours personally training clients through rehabilitation to health, and from health to strength. Young and old and in between, I worked with these individuals to help them create their best version of themselves. While this brought me much joy, I was stressed, tired, and knew I was limited to only a small group of people I could help in this way. I had worked with other coaches along the way, and realized it was time to build a team and create a system that would allow talented coaches to create meaningful connections with those who seek to uplift their lives through physical training. Having brought the right people on board, Ivanco now works as a team of trainers, kinesiologists, holistic nutritionists and administrative staff to provide a more streamlined and versatile experience than an independent trainer could offer. Yours in health, Ivan.