New data on how to run:
In 1985, Benno Nigg, founder and currently co-director of the University of Calgary's Human Performance Lab, floated the notion that impact and rear-foot motion (called pronation) were dangerous. His work helped spur an arms race of experimental technology to counter those risks with plush heels and wedged shoes. Running magazines spread the new gospel. To this day, Runner's World tells beginners that their first workout should be opening their wallets: "Go to a specialty running store . . . you'll leave with a comfortable pair of shoes that will have you running pain- and injury-free."Nigg now believes mistakes were made. "Initial results were often overinterpreted and were partly responsible for a few 'blunders' in sport-shoe construction," he said in a speech to the International Society of Biomechanics in 2005. The belief in the need for cushioning and pronation control, he told me, was, in retrospect, "completely wrong thinking." His stance was seconded in June 2010, when The British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that a study of 105 women enrolled in a 13-week half-marathon training program found that every single runner who was given motion-control shoes to control excess foot pronation was injured."You don't need any protection at all except for cold and, like, gravel," Nigg now says.
Of course, the only way to know what shoes have done to runners would be to travel back to a time when no one ever wore them. So that's what one anthropologist has effectively done. In 2009, Daniel Lieberman, chairman of Harvard's human evolutionary biology department, located a school in Kenya where no one wore shoes.Lieberman noticed something unusual: while most runners in shoes come down hard on their heels, these barefoot Kenyans tended to land softly on the balls of their feet. Back at the lab, Lieberman found that barefoot runners land with almost zero initial impact shock. Heel-strikers, by comparison, collide with the ground with a force equal to as much as three times their body weight. "Most people today think barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but actually you can run barefoot on the world's hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain."Lieberman, who is 47 and a six-time marathoner, was so impressed by the results of his research that he began running barefoot himself. So has Irene Davis, director of Harvard Medical School's Spaulding National Running Center. "I didn't run myself for 30 years because of injuries," Davis says. "I used to prescribe orthotics. Now, honest to God, I run 20 miles a week, and I haven't had an injury since I started going barefoot."