You Can’t Run Like a Kenyan: Barefoot Running Research Says Keep Your Shoes On

Running, like most things, has its trends. One rage that has died down a bit is barefoot and minimalist running, and maybe for good reason. The science is fascinating and my running shoes are much lighter than they were five years go, however, you never caught me with my piggies hanging out as I took off for runs. Yet, many others have adopted this craze and in turn gotten hurt, sometimes badly. many got hurt, bad. Now, here’s some better evidence that many were trying to suggest all along.

New research published in PLOS ONE from George Washington University looks at foot strike patterns of barefoot Kenyans. In a nutshell, the study found that even those who are always barefoot while running have a varied foot strike. The biggest argument for barefoot and minimalist shoes was that they would help you run more naturally like the champion Kenyans. The shoes were supposed to help you land on your forefoot and be more efficient.

Don’t misread, there are countless positive studies behind the minimalist movement. When used properly, many runners were getting stronger as a less stable shoe built up unused muscles. Many people found a great benefit from the movement. However, the study points out that no shoe can make you run like a Kenyan.

Well + Good NYC reported these findings and interviewed Jonathan Cane, the co-founder of City Coach MultiSport. Cane’s remarks pretty much summed up what many of us who held off on jumping on the bandwagon were saying all along. The idea that one single element, footwear, was the magic formula to making one a top racer, was simply laughable. Many shoe store owners will tell you that many casual runners who were overweight and out of shape would come in to buy Vibrams or another minimal shoe because they read or heard this would make them a great runner. Cane put it best with his remarks.

“The notion that footwear is the biggest difference between a 180-pound American who runs a few miles a day a few days a week, and works a desk job, and a 120-pound runner from the African desert who runs every day at speeds that the Americans can only imagine is ludicrous.”

To put it more consciously, Cane said, “Simply running barefoot … isn’t going to magically transform the middle-of-the-pack runner into a race winner.”

The minimalist movement isn’t dead, but I think many can say it has matured. Taking training advice from a fad or a few individual stories is never a good idea. When it comes to running, like most things, there’s really nothing new under the sun. Our gear will get better and we’ll understand more about our bodies with each season, but, no single element will make us run like a lean Kenyan. Trust me, if that train comes to town and it’s legit, I’ll be the first one in line to buy a ticket. Until then, train hard, eat smart, and do the research.

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