The Footwear Spectrum: Metabolic Cost and Foot Strike Pattern Associated with Shoe Type
For a number of years now there has been a lively debate regarding the use of traditional, minimalist and maximalist shoes in comparison to barefoot when running including; which gives better performance outcomes, which has higher injury prevention capabilities and which produces decreased load through specific structures which running.
When I first began writing this article I had structured it to separate barefoot/minimalist/traditional/maximalist and supply the evidence from each with a explanatory conclusion and discussion toward the end, but for the most part the ability to separate the evidence is largely unnecessary due to the agreeable nature of that which has been published. I will be the first to admit I came into this research with a bias, the evidence available differed muchly from what I believed it would and it made it difficult to write this blog as quickly as I would have liked but in taking my time it has allowed me to take a better grasp on the evidence available to us.
Footwear Definitions and Origins:
The ideas of barefoot running is raised within the sporting and practitioner community every ten years or so with the effigy that we were born to run and some of the best athletes are found in countries which have little exposure to footwear. Additionally, brought into the context is the recently discovered importance of proprioception and total body awareness associated with functional movement.
The most recent debate was centred on a popular book called “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall focusing on a “hidden tribe of super athletes”.
The rise of the minimalist shoe grew in popularity among the public as the theory of barefoot running took hold and the current holistic trend of organic/natural living supported that which was being claimed by the hypothesis. The most popular shoes at the highest point of fandom being the Vibram FiveFingers and Nike FreeRuns.
Vibram claimed lower injury, better efficiency and proprioceptive benefits -at least one of which has been found to be untrue and resulted in a successful class action against the company.
The athletic footwear which is commonly referred to as Traditional has grown substantially since the running revolution of the 1970’s where technology grew amongst the primary sporting brands to create the best athletic shoe.
The use of advanced cushioning, single/double/triple EVA support and lacing placement has all been used to develop footwear not only for running but sports of all origins.
Based on the concept of over-sized design constructs utilized in powder skis, full suspension mountain bikes, over-sized tennis rackets and, lately, fat bikes for mountain biking in the snow. In each of those applications, it’s all about having a larger “sweet spot” that aids in performance, the same idea has been adapted to “maximal” or “high cushion” running.
Footwear & Commonly Associated Foot Strike Pattern
Barefoot Running: Biomechanics And Implications For Running Injuries, 2012, state it is evident that running barefoot encourages a forefoot strike pattern, this is due to discomfort associated with inadequate fat pad cushioning when rearfoot striking during running as opposed to the gait used while walking. Similarly, The American Podiatric Medical Association has discussed the development of minimalistic footwear promoting a forefoot striking technique with the added protection from the sole of the shoe from environmental factors which may lead to injury from stones, glass or high density pavements (Foot Bone Marrow Edema After A 10-Wk Transition To Minimalist Running Shoes, 2013).
In contrast, a traditional running shoe has a large amount of cushioning or multi-density EVA to allow for control of pronatory forces at the heel of the shoe. This encourages the runner to land in a rearfoot or mid foot strike pattern dependant on the amount of cushioning and limb clearance available. Additionally, the more rigid structure of a traditional shoe tends to hold the foot in a plantar-flexed position limiting foot clearance possibilities and once again encouraging the rear to mid foot strike pattern (Barefoot Running: Biomechanics And Implications For Running Injuries, 2012)
The maximalist shoe currently has little evidence available for write on but it is reasonable to infer that due to its highly cushioned nature a similar strike pattern to that seen with a traditional shoe would be seen.
It is of interest to note that a survey conducted in (Overload Injuries In Barefoot/Minimal Footwear Running: Evidence From Crowd Sourcing, 2014) found that the primary reason most people wanted to explore the notion of barefoot running was to limit the re-occurrence of injury.
How these foot strike patterns affect performance will be further explored in a article to be published soon.
Those who have jumped on the barefoot bandwagon over the years have always claimed that it bares more efficiency than those who choose to run shod. This is where my bias was set, I was determined that the evidence was to show differently from a metabolic perspective.
In a quantitative study by (A Comparison Of The Physiological Exercise Intensity Differences Between Shod And Barefoot Submaximal Deep-Water Running At The Same Cadence, 2010) it was found that for every 100g of mass added or subtracted by each shoe, the VO2 max would increase or decrease accordingly by 1% at a sub-maximal level when external factors are kept constant.
Similarly, Metabolic Cost Of Running Barefoot Versus Shod: Is Lighter Better, 2012) and Rocker Shoe, Minimalist Shoe, And Standard Running Shoe: A Comparison Of Running Economy, 2013) also found that is a controlled environment that VO2 max would increase at a sub-maximal level for every 100g of weight added to a pair of shoes. That which wasn’t addressed was the strike patter favored by each of the test subjects and whether this would play an important role in the reduction of metabolic stress.
Effects of Footwear and Strike Type on Running Economy, 2012, tested the above theory on a group of well seasoned forefoot striking runners. Under conditions distanced from external influences and by adding weight to the foot without the footwear it was determined that adding weight to the feet significantly increases VO2 whether running barefoot (P<0.001) or shod (P>0.001). Additionally, it was discovered that there is no statistically significant difference when comparing VO2 or metabolic power in light-weight shoes and barefoot choices despite the greater mass.
Obviously from an athletic performance point of view there is a lot more to consider than just metabolic efficiency however it is difficult to deny the over-whelming amount of evidence which is detailed above. From a metabolic stance, added mass to the feet has been statistically shown to have a linear relationship with an increase in VO2 at a sub-maximal level regardless of foot strike pattern.
However, metabolic cost is only one category when addressing an issue like this for athletic performance. Risk of injury, structural loading, environmental influences and proprioceptive input all have a place in this debate and will be further investigated in the coming articles.
Until then keep placing one foot in front of the other walk this tight rope that is life
Director /Chief Editor
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