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Barefoot vs Shod Running: Which is Best? - Lecture Videos

Discussion in 'Biomechanics, Sports and Foot orthoses' started by Kevin Kirby, Sep 7, 2011.

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    I gave a lecture, Barefoot vs Shod Running: Which is Best?, on June 15, 2011 at our local running shoe store in Sacramento. This four part video of the lecture is now posted on YouTube for those who are interested.

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 22, 2016
  2. Admin2

    Admin2 Administrator Staff Member

  3. Dana Roueche

    Dana Roueche Well-Known Member

    Kevin, thanks for sharing this. A nice recap of the points you have been making for the past year or so.

    One thing comes to mind regarding the use of racing flats and minimal shoes as an interchangeable concept. I recently purchased a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves which is their trail shoe version in their barefoot collection. I would really encourage you to go to the store and try a pair on, possibly take a few laps around the parking lot in them if the store lets you. The reason is so that you can see how much different the fit and feel is compared to the traditional racing flats. The reason I bring this point up is that while I agree with you that racing flats are minimal shoes, I struggle with the notion that minimal shoes are racing flats and that by being familiar with racing flats assumes familiarity with minimal shoes.

    Not to debate this, I just suggest that you try the Merrell trail gloves on so you can see for yourself how much different they are from traditional racing flats across many variables. I also own a pair of New Balance Minimus trail shoes which compete in the same market. Those shoes on the other hand are much closer to what I would consider a racing flat than the Merrells. For that matter, I will be running in a timed ultra marathon this weekend on Sept 11. The run will last for 9 hrs, 11 mins, your place is determined by how far you run in that time frame. I have a marathon coming up in October so I'll limit my total distance to 50 miles and use it as a really long training run. In spite of how much I like the Merrells, I plan on using the NB Minimus because they more closely resemble a racing flat and posses the qualities I feel necessary for competing and running 50 miles. On the other hand I see the Merrells to be more appropriate as a training shoe. Both shoes weight 7.0 OZ for a men's size 9. Both are considered minimal shoes, one I will wear as a racing flat, the other I wouldn't consider it.

  4. AJM

    AJM Member

    I agree with Dana: the Merrell Trail Glove shoes do not function the same as “racing flats”, at least for competitive endurance runners. Probably the differences are immaterial for recreational endurance runners, including serious recreational runners.

    The context of the use of the shoe is important when offering comments. The differences among Asics Piranha SP3 or 4 and Mizuno Wave Universe 3 or 4 might be immaterial or even undiscernible for a recreational runner piling on the mileage week after week, but the differences can be critical for a competitive endurance-based runner. So too may the differences between the Merrell Trail glove and a racing flat be immaterial or critical, depending on the context of the use of them. Talking in the abstract about the differences is of limited value unless there is a context for the use of the shoe.

    I use the term “endurance running” for this context because it covers the predominant physiological feature for training and racing, at least for most of the season, so it covers middle distance and long distance, in and out of stadium. Training for those events on a competitive basis strongly features running on terrain that benefit from Merrell Trail Glove, less so from racing flats (though much training occurs in racing flats too).

    Feedback from (competitive level) runners is that racing tends to be better in the racing flats, spiked track shoes or spiked XC shoes (even on a synthetic track), depending on the race terrain and the event.

    The differences for competitive runners in their experiences of Merrell Trail Glove vs racing flats probably arise from the combination of:
    • heel drop (even the lightest racing flats might have some);
    • arch shape & support (and whether they wear orthoses or not, with or without heel risers);
    • degree of flexibility of mid sole;
    • tread pattern (and propensity for degrading and tread materials if they differ over the sole);
    • cushioning – amount of it (including no discernable cushioning) and its performance features in relation to the speed and footfall type (plenty of topics there, but mostly already covered by Weyand, Nigg et al);
    • heel cup design;
    • heel flare – none vs limited;
    • toe box shape;
    • last shape;
    • weight, weight distribution;
    • lacing & upper structure and shape.

    Isolating and analysing all of those individual aspects on a rigorous clinical basis would be exceedingly complex.

    I do not make any comment regarding competitive ultra-endurance runners. After last week’s misfortune with some ultra-endurance runners suffering bushfire burns in Western Australia, possibly they also need to consider fireproof materials.

    I am not arguing that Merrell Trail Glove shoes are perfect or even that they are optimal for everyone - just passing on the observation that for those needing to train extensively under a program designed for optimum competitive performance in middle to long distance events requiring (among other things) endurance training over a sustained period of time, Merrell Trail Glove shoes perform differently from what are commonly referred to as racing flats and because of those differnces they are superior to them in much of the training, yet racing flats can be preferred for the actual races (except for some kinds of terrain and weather conditions).

    The cohort of runners I am involved with generally will not train or race in any shoe heavier than 4 oz. Although the Merrell Trail Glove is heavier than this (still under 7 oz) so far they are worth using. Hence – always looking for model upgrades or other brands that perform as well or better but will weigh less than 4 oz.

    It is hard not to generalise in a post. I know I have used loaded terms and especially appreciate that the distinctions between a competitive runner and a recreational runner might not be understood or even accepted by many readers. Happy to respond on any question or comment that will constructively add to the thread.
  5. Dana:

    I will try to spend more time trying to run in a few of the shoes you mention when I get a chance (just saw 30 patients today so time is at a premium currently). I agree that racing flats can be included within the minimalist shoe category but still haven't been able to find anyone who can give me a good definition of what defines a "minimalist shoe".

    Can you, Dana, give me your definition of what constitutes a minimilast shoe? In other words, what is the maximum shoe weight (size 9 mens), maximum heel height differential, maximum heel sole thickness, maximum forefoot sole thickness and any other parameters that must be met before a shoe can be considered as a "minimalist shoe"?

    As far as I can see, the minimalist shoe crowd can't even agree on what shoe design parameters make a shoe a "minimalist shoe" and, as a result, the shoe manufacturers are using the "minimalist shoe" banner to market their shoes with some very thick and cushiony soles to this crowd, even though these shoes are further away from any "barefoot concept" than what I was racing in over 35 years ago. What gives?

    By the way, is this a 39 year old shoe a "racing flat" or a "minimalist shoe"?

    Attached Files:

  6. AJM:

    Who are you? Are you a podiatrist or medical professional? Identifying yourself properly may encourage others to respond to your posts.
  7. Dana Roueche

    Dana Roueche Well-Known Member

    Kevin, you can't say I didn't I try to encourage you to go out and see for yourself!

    The minimalist shoe is a concept that incorporates a combination of design parameters. The confusion comes from the fact that a shoe company can elect to use whatever design parameters it wants and can classify the shoe in whatever category it wants. If a shoe company wants to take a pair of hiking boots, spray paint them neon green and call them minimalist running shoes, they can do that.

    What is fortunate is that because everyone is different and everyone has different requirements in a shoe, the shoe companies are making all kinds of shoes with different combinations or permutations of design parameters and offering them to the public. This can be really confusing to the uninformed but hopefully, people can find the shoe with the combination of design parameters that works best for them.

    Kevin, rather than attempt to give you a definition of a minimal shoe, I will give you three design characteristics of a minimal shoe that separate it from a racing flat and would render it ineffective to use as racing flat. I will speak in general terms which is a problem in itself because you can always find exceptions. Keep in mind, "minimalist" shoes can contain any number of design characteristics, therefore there is great variability in what is considered a minimal shoe and the source of the confusion. Personally, I could care less what a shoe is labeled as by the shoe companies or the minimalist shoe advocates. I have a specific set of design characteristics that are important to me depending on how I intend on using the shoe. I look for the shoe that best incorporates those characteristics and could care less how the shoe is labeled.

    The general philosophy of a minimal shoe is to provide protection from the ground while limiting it's presence and interference with the function of the foot. Having said that, the classic racing flat doesn't do a bad job. On the other hand, the minimalist shoe incorporates some characteristics that make it quite different than the racing flat.

    The first and biggest differentiating characteristics that I see between a minimalist shoe and a racing flat are the very different lasts that the shoes are built on. In a minimalist shoe, the forefoot and toe box tend to be very wide and tall. There is a LOT of room in the front of a minimalist shoe. The purpose is to provide a completely non-restrictive front of the shoe so that the toes and metatarsals have complete freedom to spread and move independently. On the contrary, in a racing flat, the forefoot and toe box have a tendency to be narrow and low. The racing flat is quite snug and confining in the front of the shoe. The point here is to provide a high level of support to the forefoot which hopefully will help with leverage at higher speeds. This single characteristic is why I prefer to race in racing flats and train in minimal shoes.

    A second characteristic of a minimalist shoe is that the sole is very flexible from the toe all the way through to the heel. This is to allow the foot to bend and flex through it's entire length encouraging natural function of the entire foot. In a racing flat, while the forefoot is flexible, there is a tendency for the mid foot and heel to be rigid. Many racing flats go as far as incorporating a rigid plastic truss in the midfoot to ensure stiffness at the transition between the flexible forefoot and the rigid heel. They also tend to use a plastic heel cup to hold the heel in place. The minimal shoe tends to use an overlay or strap over the heel instead of a plastic heel cup. The purpose of the stiffness in the mid foot and heel is to provide stability.

    A third characteristic has to do with the height differential between the heel and toe. Not all minimalist shoes have a zero differential between the heel and toe but the tendency is to at least approach that. The point is for the differential to not interfere with the placement of the foot as it touches the ground. Not to say that a given foot strike is preferable, the shoe simply allows the foot freedom to land however it wants to land. In a racing flat there is also a lot of variability in heel height but there is a tendency to at least have some differential. The purpose is to ease the pressure and demand on the Achilles tendon and calf muscles.

    As you know there are several other characteristics, some are shared by both types of shoes and some aren't. I just believe that the 3 I listed provide the biggest differentiation. A characteristic that is shared and is extremely important to me in both types of shoes is weight. It is the first characteristic I look at. If the shoe weighs more than 8 OZ, whether it is a racing flat or a minimal shoe, I won't bother even looking at it. I don't need to, there are many options out there that weigh under 8 OZ for me to consider.

    Kevin, I suggested you try the Merrell Trail Glove because these shoes are a fine example of a minimal shoe from a major shoe company that incorporates the 3 characteristics I listed above. I sincerely believe that for you to understand the difference and subtleties of those characteristics, you need to try the shoes on and experience them first hand.

    As far as the 1972 Nike Marathoner, what is interesting about that shoe is that if you imagine it as an Onitsuka Tiger, you can see the difference is only in the swoosh logo. This shoe was sold by Phil Knight's Blue Ribbon Sports between the time they were distributing Tigers and they became Nike. For that matter, it wasn't until 1974 that Nike came out with it's first original design, the waffle trainer.

    At the time, the Nike Marathoner or Onitsuka Tiger was one of the lightest, most flexible flat available. Compared to today's standards that is not saying much. The shoe was actually pretty heavy, weighing around 10 OZ and wasn't that flexible with it's firm plastic/rubber sole. For that matter, nylon was in it's infancy so they were still working on trying to make a shoe that fit well using the material. I used to run in both the marathoner and the Tiger when I ran in high school.

    To answer your question about the Nike Marathoner, compared to what is being used for materials and the design aspects they use in today's shoes, I wouldn't classify the Nike Marathoner as anything other than a casual sneaker in today's market. :drinks

  8. I was hoping for something much more specific that could adequately define what physical parameters of running shoe design constitute a "minimalist shoe", rather than "lighter, less heel drop, thinner and more toe box space" than a "traditional running shoe".

    Does anyone want to put numbers to what makes a "minimalist shoe"?

    In other words, if a running shoe has a forefoot sole thickness of 6 mm, a rearfoot sole thickness of 20 mm, a heel height differential of 14 mm, a deeper, wider toe box and a shoe weight of 6 oz for a size 9 men's shoe, is this a minimalist running shoe or is this too much heel height differential to be considered a "minimalist shoe"?

    Without a clear definition of what constitutes a "minimalist shoe" then there is really no point in discussing the subject of minimalist shoe biomechanics from a scientific aspect since this leaves too much room open for subjective opinion, depending on the individual who is making the "minimalist" vs "traditional" shoe determination.
  9. Dana Roueche

    Dana Roueche Well-Known Member

    Wow, it looks like I wasted my time with my prior response.

    A finite, measurable definition of what a minimal shoe is doesn't exist. I am very grateful that someone hasn't tried to define the parameters of a minimal shoe as some sort of benchmark. The last thing I want is the shoe companies trying to develop a shoe that conforms to some arbitrary list of specifications.

    I know the parameters of a fair share of shoe models currently being marketed as minimal shoes. There are exceptions but these shoes generally do fit into a fairly narrow range of variation. The specs of these shoes are readily available to anyone willing to learn about what they are.

    Kevin, you have obviously spent a lot of time putting your presentation together, It takes almost an hour just for you to deliver it. Considering all of the time you've invested, I would really encourage you to spend a few more minutes and go to the store to try on a pair of Merrell Trail Glove shoes. They are a valid example of what is considered a "minimal" shoe and I am convinced the exercise will give you some insight into the difference between a minimalist shoe and a racing flat. After you do that, I'll be happy to provide you with the physical parameters of that shoe as well as the parameters of several of the competing shoes on the market so that you have an idea from a quantitative perspective what a minimal shoe is.

    I know that making the suggestion is probably futile but I am an optimist. With your interest in running and in running shoes, maybe someday you will try out a pair of minimal shoes and learn first hand what all of the buzz is about. For me, it was pure curiosity that drove me to try some of the new minimal shoes being marketed. I wanted to see for myself what the difference was between my traditional racing flats and minimal shoes. I was surprised at how big of a difference there actually is.

    Since I'm not sure if you are running enough at this point for any of this to matter, I won't push the idea any further.

  10. I feel the same way.
  11. Dana Roueche

    Dana Roueche Well-Known Member

    Kevin, I wish you the best imagining what it is like to run in the shoes being developed today. Meanwhile, I think I'll head out and enjoy a run.

  12. Dana:

    I don't like being told what I need to do any more than you like it. Just remember this fact when you start giving me advice about how I am to become more knowledgeable in a subject that I already specialize in and am asked to lecture in quite frequently.

    Have a nice run.:drinks
  13. David Wedemeyer

    David Wedemeyer Well-Known Member

    Great presentation and info Kevin, thank you. :good:

    About spit water everywhere at the probe revelation but your commitment to science is exemplary!;)
  14. Dana Roueche

    Dana Roueche Well-Known Member

    Kevin, I thought this thread was about me trying to explain the difference between racing flats and minimal shoes. Do I need to point out the obvious?

  15. Orthican

    Orthican Active Member

    I think you are right. The more I ponder this the more I think this "definition" you seek might perhaps be like asking what parameters and measurements make a "cell phone" a cell phone. In the begginning they were quite large but called cell phone none the less. Now it has become a game of packing everything they can into smaller and smaller packages.
    Regarding these "minimalist shoes" every manufacturer or user or professional has thier own belief about what this is so far. In that this recurrence of a fad has taken off again in today's society there will be many many versions brought out by the individual manufacturers over the next couple years touting that the latest version is more minimalist than the competition's last version. In that vien it would not be in the manufacturer's interest to lock down any one set of parameters as this would not leave them further room for interpretation and design changes as time progresses. We could determine the parameters here, but then the next version of shoe would likely challenge those set limits.

    That said right at this point it seems the numbers are in a state of flux regarding exactly what consitutes "minimalist".
  16. David:

    Just found a photo of myself when I was ready to enter the hot-humid room at the UCD Human Performance Lab, all hooked up with skin thermistors and probe. I ran for about 75 minutes in the hot environment on a treadmill. My sweat loss record for the experiment, where I ran about 6 times over a period of month, was 3.7 lites in 75 minutes (8.1 pounds weight loss in 75 minutes). The experiment compared the cooling mechanisms of male vs female runners.

    It was the summer of 1978 and I was 21 years old.

    Attached Files:

  17. David Wedemeyer

    David Wedemeyer Well-Known Member

    Awesome. Dr. Kirby looks like a young podiatric Spartacus, in running garb of course....thank you for not revealing the probe!;)

    And btw that is epic water loss, can you imagine attempting that today?
  18. David:

    All I remember is that it took about 3 days after that 8 pound sweat loss on the treadmill to gain the weight back (i.e. bring my blood volume back to normal) and feel more normal again.
  19. admin

    admin Administrator Staff Member

  20. drsha

    drsha Banned

    "lighter, less heel drop, thinner and more toe box space" than a "traditional running shoe"

    I feel very comfortable with this definition. I'm not sure what your problem with it is.

    It's simple, understandable, digestible and most of all places all participants on the same platform from which to entertain friendly discussion.

    Your stand , IMHO, kind of reminds me of The Orthotic Consensus Project (visit this thread for insight as to the lack of consensus at The Arena) which has never found starting commonality.

    Please end your demands to start with a definition that fits your argument, your bias, your practice, research and lecture goals and places you above the other debaters.
    As there are other viewpoints than yours, why can't we start with a basic definition that reflects the common knowledge of those participating in this debate that might actual harmonize and show positive fruit rather than polarize or intimidate those whose views differ than yours.

    We can further massage the definition as we proceed rather than "piss on each other".

    Can't we end the Kirby Image, self promotion and the podiatric Sparticus part of your debate.

  21. Telemark landing?
  22. It was an awesome landing, Dr. Spooner!:drinks
  23. Yes, but your Telemark is far camper than mine. Like I said, "some people run like there's something coming out of their bottom, and some people run like there's something up their bottom"... if we compare and contrast our two photographs, you'll see the same is true for the Telemark landing. Which is just lovely.:drinks;)

    Attached Files:


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