Runners who wear minimal footwear see a muscular and performance benefit, but not necessarily injury prevention, a new study has found. The report on minimalist running shoe technology and its effects on the foot’s biomechanics claimed a minimal shoe could improve foot strike patterns.
The study, revealed to runners and media Nov. 4 at an event SNEWS® attended in New York, was commissioned by the Ecco brand and done by G.P. Brüggemann, Ph.D., of the Institute of Biomechanics and Orthopaedics at the German Sport University Cologne. It was presented by Ecco’s “Natural Motion” spokesperson, senior product manager and tri-athlete, Alexander Nicolai.
Research participants included 120 male and female runners who completed workouts at varying levels of intensity. First, participants ran in conventional shoes, and then in Ecco’s “Natural Motion” Biom shoes. Data was compiled through 3D motion analysis.
The study found that, over time, the runner’s motion changed to more closely resemble that of barefoot running. Specifically, runners who used the shoe for six weeks showed a decrease in gait width, meaning the runner’s steps fell in a straighter line. In addition, runners tended to land mid-foot rather than on the heel area. This decreased the landing pressure on the heel, which is a central characteristic of barefoot running.
“The re-supination during push off was clearly increased and showed a more barefoot behaviour with the new footwear,” a statement noted.
Biom Natural Motion shoes (www.eccousa.com/shoes/biom) also claim to effect how the foot moved upon landing. Just like in most conventional shoes, the runner’s foot contacts the ground on the outer edge then falls toward the arch before rolling outward again during push-off. But after using Biom’s Natural Motion shoe, runners had more control of this movement and the foot leveled inward at a reduced speed, thus decreasing the impact on the foot, researchers concluded.
“The shoes are stiff in the mid-foot area and flexible in the front…like the foot,” said Nicolai. This may be why the research showed a transformation in participants’ movements in which motion began to resemble that of barefoot runners.
Moreover, after using the Natural Motion shoe for six weeks, the runner’s ankle stiffness increased and the knee joint began to loosen. Research suggests these affects were caused by a higher reliance on the foot to stabilize the runner, leading to a stronger tendons and foot muscles.
Another benefit of wearing the Biom was a power increase coming from a runner’s Achilles tendon. Runners propelled themselves with more power when pushing-off while wearing a Biom, researchers said. This occurred, they concluded, because energy stored in the Achilles was utilized more on push-off rather than being used to correct what were called the impediments of a conventional shoe. According to researchers, the shoe provided intensive support but only to the “most vulnerable part of the foot” and left “the rest to move naturally.”
“We want flexible and elastic support,” Nicolai said at the event. “We don’t want to limit the foot.”
To see a Feb. 26, 2010, SNEWS Health Notes column on a study in Nature magazine that compared barefoot running with shoes, click here.
-- Audrey Goss, SNEWS Youth Advisory & Reporting Team
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