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Barefoot and Midfoot Running Shoes

Sean Lerwill stretching

As those of you who know me will be aware, I recently had a book on running published: Haynes Running Manual

While researching for the book, I did a lot of reading and investigating into the world of barefoot and midfoot running. Although it’s had a recent reappearance, barefoot running has been around since the 1960s, with Olympic runners even competing barefoot back then.

In terms of mid foot running, we have always known, despite most trainers having huge padded heel blocks, that 20% (approx) of runners are actually not heel strikers, they are midfoot strikers. In truth, this 20% gets more prevalent the better the runner: with most top level professional runners being midfoot strikers. Having said that, Haile Gebrselassie (who is regarded by many to be the greatest distance runner who has ever lived), is a heel striker.

So why am I writing this post? It is in response to a couple of conversations on Twitter about trainers and which to use/buy. A lot of people have been buying Newton trainers (designed for midfoot strikers), Nike Frees (designed for midfoot/barefoot style running) and Vibram Fivefingers (again, designed for barefoot running), yet they don’t know how to run in them and are getting injured.

As you will know if you follow my blog, I was involved in the latest Merrell campaign, and in particular for their barefoot shoes (which are the best on the market in terms of the ones I’ve tried). While filming/shooting in California, I had to help coach the other models in how to run in the shoes, as it is not easy, especially if you are used to the “normal” type of cushioned trainer.

This post is not about whether I am pro barefoot or midfoot running. I am actually a bit of both: I agree it is how we used to run, when cushioned trainers didn’t exist. Equally before concrete existed. Just because we used to do something, doesn’t mean we should go back to it. I’m pretty sure pillaging used to be the norm, but we’ve moved on and evolved since then. There is a place for barefoot training, but it needs to be very progressive, performed on the correct surface and often taught by a professional. Just buying some Vibrams and going for a 10km run will result in one thing: injuries. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Vibrams. I PT in them most of the time (ease), I do all my squats, deadlifts and recently even Plyometrics in them, but I have built up over 6months, and tore my plantar fascia along the way…

As for midfoot running, I have coached people to change from heel striking to midfoot running to help speed up over 10km, due to injuries to ankles or knees, or just because they wanted to learn. I have tweaked my running to an even more midfoot strike (even though I always had a very high cadence) to help keep my patella tendonitis away. I am an advocate and do teach the technique. However, again, it must be taught/learned. Too many people are buying Newton trainers because they read or see professional or good level runners using them, and just crack on, often leading to injuries. Newtons, Merrells, Vibrams etc are great, well made shoes, but for a purpose. Learn how to run correctly in them, do 200metres today, 500metres in a few days, a km in a week or two and build up slowly. Buy a book that explains how to do it (I know a good one!), or get a professional running coach/personal trainer (who is credible and knows what they are doing) to teach you how.

If you need any advice on running in general, either check out my book or get in touch over Twitter.

Sean Lerwill - Author

Sean is an former-Royal Marines Commando Officer & Physical Training Instructor. He has been published as a writer five times, has a BSc in Molecular Genetics and a Post Graduate Certificate in Education. He is also a MaxiNutrition ambassador.

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