Sven Vath, Vibram Shoes , and Taruhumara runners

19 Apr

My cousin took me to a dj show spinning house/techno, not really my kind of music but I’m open to it all and did myself a little dancing for my birthday. Yes I am now 33 years young. The DJ Sven Vath, besides being like 50 years old was pretty good. Anyway on to the subjects.

I saw a young man dancing by himself and he was wearing those new Vibram shoes. I’m sure running fanatics will have already heard of the shoes that are like rubber socks with no arch support, etc. Furthermore they look like the person had dipped his whole foot in a red dye up to his ankles. For the uniformed, they are the newest trend in running and look more like the aqua shoes that were popular in the 90’s, but the forefoot is more like toe socks. I’ve heard that many people think this will fix their gait or running stance. But first a little history lesson.

The Tarahumara people are an indigenous group of northern Mexico. Known for being able to run barefoot through the Sonoran desert for an average of 120 miles a session usually over two days for inter village communication. This dwarfs marathon runners who train 20-25 miles a day on average (excuse my ignorance if you can run more). Two interesting facts about this practice, first they load up on carbohydrates in the form of corn beer before the run and secondly and more importantly they run entirely on the forefoot as opposed to the normal heel strike. If you watch some sprinters, case in point the great Michael Johnson, they run entirely on the forefoot. Some orthopedic doctors and chiropractors alike have suggested that this repetitive striking of the heel is the root cause of a lot of repetitive stress conditions like, stress fractures, shin splints, ankle sprains, and even knee and hip problems.Side note, ever walk down a steep hill? Ever walk down a steep hill backward? Why is backward easier on the shins and lower leg than walking forward downhill. When you walk backward there is no heel strike.

Now I am not asserting that going out and buying a pair of toe shoes will fix all your running pains, but science is always interested in freaks and here we have set of people who have conditioned their bodies in the most extraordinary way. In fact I have heard from an amateur runner and seller of the shoes that they can exacerbate some conditions because the runner is not accustomed to that style of running and though they try to, cannot run the same length as they would with normal shoes. Remember that these people have trained a certain lifestyle, and untraining or retraining takes time. But my point is this, if you had a child runner and were teaching him how to run, if he were to run barefoot and on his forefoot, he might experience less future joint problems than if he wore shoes and ran the way we had all been taught. Just a thought.

The Tarahumara runners are said not to get ankle “tweaks” because their toes and forefoot “grab” rocks. Any runner can tell you that ankle sprains are likely if you step on a stone that you weren’t expecting to be there. The sole of the shoe is rigid and leads to the rolling of the ankle. In running barefoot the feet become a sensory organ. Next time you are running try to lean forward disallowing your heel strike and try not to bounce up and down. Running is a horizontally linear activity and when the body moves up and down too much or the arms/torso swing too much efficiency is lost, so try to keep your arms close to the body and please…. Watch where you step.

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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Health Restorations


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