The Outside Blog

Photography : Fitness

Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Barefoot Running Form

Shutterstock_96353507Barefoot in the grass. Photo: Shutterstock

The science of barefoot running form hit the ground somewhat simply at first. In a January, 2010, Nature article, “Foot Strike Patterns and Collision Forces in Habitually Barefoot Versus Shod Runners," Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman and colleagues said that traditionally unshod populations likely ran with a soft forefoot or midfoot strike. They said that rearfoot strikes, or heel strikes, involved higher collision forces that could lead to repetitive stress injuries over time. Since staying healthy was important for survival, and survival for early humans may have included running long distances to forage or hunt, they hypothesized that forefoot or midfoot strikes were probably more common for barefoot runners. They also said that forefoot or midfoot strikes might protect today's runners, who often heel strike, against a high degree of impact-related injuries.

The scientific debate about running form picked up, with a lot of back and forth about the economy, injury rates, and performance benefits of foot strike patterns and running. Lieberman and co. added traction to their theory in 2012 when they published a study that said college cross-country runners with rearfoot strikes had a higher rate of repetitive stress injuries than those with midfoot and forefoot strikes. A 2012 lawsuit brought against Vibram for deceptive advertising about the supposed health benefits of their shoes added attention and debate. The science about foot strike patterns and barefoot running is young and far from conclusive.

This month, things got more convoluted. Lieberman's 2010 Nature study, which found a high rate of forefoot strike among traditionally barefooted runners, focused on one particular group of people, the Kalenjin of Kenya. A January study published in the journal PLOS One, “Variation in Foot Strike Patterns During Running Among Habitually Barefoot Populations,” looked at another group of traditionally unshod runners—the Daasanach of northern Kenya—and found they favored rearfoot striking.

Kevin Hatala of George Washington University and colleagues tested the footstrike patterns of 38 traditionally barefoot Daasanach adults and found that the majority ran with a rearfoot strike at endurance speeds. They impacted the earth with some part of their heels 72 percent of the time, a midfoot strike in 24 percent of trials, and forefoot strike four percent of the time. "We were surprised to see that the majority of Daasanach people ran by landing on their heels first and few landed on their forefoot,” Hatala said in a press release. “This contradicts the hypothesis that a forefoot strike characterizes the 'typical' running gait of habitually barefoot people."

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Falcon's Interactive Guides to Hiking, Climbing, and Cooking

FalconGuides just announced the first 12 titles in a new line of interactive outdoor guides the company developed in partnership with Inkling, a platform for interactive learning.

For the price of the download, readers get expert content optimized for iPhone, iPad, and Web, with features that bridge the gap between apps and ebooks: slideshows with high-res images not found in the print editions, guided visual tours, hyperlinks, and smart search that makes it quick and easy to get to the information you need, from a list of dog-friendly hikes to a river name. Hiking guide users can give tips to other readers and share trail notes on washed out bridges, best photo ops, bees nests to watch out for, or anything else. An animal tracks feature lets you click through a series of questions that narrows down which animal tracks you’ve spotted based on pattern, shape, and size. Rock climbing instructional guides have stop-motion animation illustrating specific techniques.

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Brooks Board Shorts: A More Discreet Option for Running

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Not everyone wants to show it all when they run. Slit-up-the-side, three-inch inseam, built-in underwear, nearly-a-speedo running shorts are about as revealing as you can get in public without getting arrested.

If that's not your look, Brooks Running is now making the Board Short, a pair of running shorts just for you. They look and feel like surf shorts, with a classic lace-up fly, a modern plaid print, and a full nine inches of inseam in a super supple stretchy fabric that won't get hung up as you click off the miles.

The shorts are so light, our tester reported, "more than once I looked down to make sure that I was still actually wearing something." In the Board Short, you'll be unencumbered and you'll dry fast—it's DWR coated—whether you're running, hiking, swimming, or cycling. Wear them all day long.

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Holiday Gift Guide: Gear Up Your Gal This Season

Holiday gift guides abound this time of year. But they're mostly filled with gifts that you hope you'll get, not gifts you'll give. Stumped as to what to buy your lady this season? This guide is for you.

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1. NAU DOWN LOOPNER SCARF
She'll wear it as a scarf, and wear it as a shawl. Either way, this 650-fill goose down wrap will keep her warm all winter. Variegated quilt and stripe patterns add subtle style—she will too as she configures this infinity looped wrap the way she likes it. $90; nau.com.

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2. ICEBREAKER'S SKYLINE JACKET
This jacket is functional and beautiful. The merino shell has a wind-resistant membrane that keeps the heat in and the weather out. A zippered inside pocket stashes a wallet or passport, while the soft, stretchy internal cuffs give extra warmth. Simple, sophisticated, and at home in New York, Aspen, Paris, or Oslo. And to speak to her love of mountains, the lining has a subtle topographical map pattern. $350; icebreaker.com.

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Go Ahead, Jump!

File this one under fun:

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Cal Coast Track Team Daily Jump. Photo: The Daily Jump

We recently caught wind of a new DIY fitness trend that’s going viral. You can do it anywhere, anytime, with anyone. By yourself. On a trail. with your kids in the backyard. Inside on a rainy day, at a park, on a mountain, at the pool, in front of the Eiffel Tower. It’s spontaneous, easy, and totally free.

You may have heard of it. It’s called jumping!

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