Thursday, November 18, 2010

Barefoot Running Better for Overweight Runners?

In a guest post called "Can I Run If I Am Overweight" that was recently featured on Jason Robillard's blog, Barefoot Running University,  I wrote that I thought it was possible that barefoot running might not only be okay for overweight runners, but even go so far as to think that it also might be preferable, since barefoot running is known to reduce stress on the knees and hip joints.

At the time I wrote that piece, I did not have any medical or scientific references to back it up.  I had spent a bit of time trying to find something to support the idea, but it was difficult to find anything.  There is not too much research out there on being overweight and running barefoot.  What I wrote was just my opinion based on my own experience and kind of using my own logic based on my limited knowledge so far about barefoot running.

However, today, I have found a reference that might indicate that I'm thinking in the right direction when I suspect that running barefoot is better for overweight runners.

On Dr. Michael Nirenberg's blog (America's podiatrist), in his post "Barefoot Running With Eyes Wide Open," he references a 2006 study which "established that individuals with arthritic knees could reduce the impact loads on their hips and knees by nearly 12% by doing nothing else but simply taking off their shoes."

(Shakoor N, Block JA. Walking barefoot decreases loading on the lower extremity joints in knee osteoarthritis. Arthr Rheum. 2006;54:9:2923-2927 )

Well, it would stand to reason if that was the case -- that if the impact loads were reduced by 12% when barefoot --  then going barefoot definitely seems like an option the overweight person might want to consider as they begin walking or running for exercise before they have lost weight.

It's not exactly proof of my theory -- that not only can an overweight person run barefoot, but maybe even that's the way an overweight person should do it, and that the shoe people are wrong to say that overweight people need more support designed in to their running shoes --  but it supports it somewhat.  The research is not conducted with overweight people in mind, but people with arthritis.  Still, knowing that going barefoot reduces the load on the joints is something that one could refer to -- some kind outside established factor that could be taken into consideration.

In contrast to what I'm suggesting about barefoot running maybe being better for overweight runners, check out out this post on -- "The Best Running Shoes for a Heavy Runner" -- where they are claiming the opposite of what I'm contending here, that overweight runners actually
"need shoes that offer extra stability and support. A heavy runner needs to look for shoes that have strong and sturdy outsoles and good heel support that can stand up to the extra weight."
"Shoes for heavy runners may be more expensive than average. This is because motion-control and other shoes designed for heavy runners use more and stronger materials than other running shoes. Expect to pay about $100 for a pair of quality running shoes. This price may be higher or lower, depending on the shoe that you choose and other factors such as sales, rebates and discounts. Do not let the cost of the shoe be a deterrent. A heavy runner has specialized needs, and purchasing the best shoe for the weight and foot type is essential to avoid injuries."
The Livestrong post quoted above basically reflects the standard advice out there regarding people who are overweight and running: Overweight people need sturdy support with extra motion-controlled and need to pay even extra more for good running shoes.   So, if barefoot runners already face hostility for challenging the conventional wisdom about needing support from shoes while running, then my hunch that barefoot running is better for the overweight is going extremely overboard and turning the conventional wisdom completely upside down.

I just hope everyone remembers that I am not a doctor, nor a scientist, nor a teacher, nor an academician, nor a fitness professional or coach.  I am a plain ordinary overweight stay-at-home mom who's just trying to figure stuff out.  As I learn things and go along, I like to share my thinking, but that's all it is -- one lone person trying to become an "expert" on her own life.  If anything I share makes sense and is helpful, that is good.  I may be completely wrong about this theory of mine.

(By the way, I know a lot of you out there who find this blog find it because you have searched about running overweight or barefoot running overweight.  If any of you finds any good information, please let me know, because I'm always looking.)

What I've ascertained from my own experience so far has been  -- at least in this one case of myself -- that at least one overweight person can begin a barefoot running program, proceed cautiously and conservatively, and get to the point where she can strongly, comfortably, and safely run a 5K distance.  The muscles in my feet have gotten stronger.  My arches have not fallen but seem more beautiful, strong and healthier than ever.  My ankles are stronger.  The mobility of my feet and ankle ankle joints has improved.  I am remarkable free of any other kind of aches and pains in the joints, knees, hips and otherwise -- even more free than when I was a young, normal-weight runner in running shoes.  I've experienced no after-run stiffness.  I recover faster.

I do not yet know what the impact of all the weight will be as distance increases, or when speed would be increased.  I have a feeling that the body will continue be able to adjust to and accommodate the weight provided that the distances are increased very gradually, and the intensity level is increased with thought and care.  We shall find out in the year to come.

On the other hand, however, I do expect my weight to be reducing (as I am taking measures to improve my eating habits) as I go along.  Despite the fact that our bodies can become strong enough to bear extra weight, it does not mean that it's the easiest or best route.  Losing weight would be one of the best things I could do to improve my running from this point on.  But in the meantime, I have to know how to proceed while I am still at my present weight.  So, onward I go.


Anonymous said...

I believe it 100%!!! It's a proven FACT the impact is far less. Wish more people would get that.

Anonymous said...

I took up running six years ago, as as 51-year-old, 205-lb male. A good running shoe store put me into stability shoes, and then motion control shoes. No pair lasted more than 100 miles...because the structure of the shoe broke down under my weight, and I'd get new injuries.

I went through at least a dozen pair of shoes that cost, on average, $90...until I decided to try racing flats--even though the shoe store warned me that these lighter shoes could cause injury.

Just the opposite! I had far fewer injuries in the much lighter racing flats, and was able to reprogram my brain so I landed on the forefoot rather than the heel. Also, the racing flats lasted a lot longer than the heavy motion-control or stability shoes ever did.

Since mid-summer I have been running barefoot almost exclusively (just wore shoes a couple of times, for trail races.) I've now run 20 races barefoot, all but four of them since Labor Day. My knee, which has no ACL and very little cartilage, feels GREAT after every run. (By contrast, when I ran in shoes I limped badly after every run.)

I am quite sure that running barefoot is better for THIS heavy runner than running in shoes...and that running in my Motion Control Shoes (which top the scales at 2.5 POUNDS for my size 14's) is a prescription for further injury.

So...bottom line: I agree with you 100%. Running barefoot is an effective way to run in a LOW-IMPACT manner. And that of course is a good thing for any heavy runner.

Avocational Singer said...

Ken, thanks for sharing that! It does seem to confirm the idea that barefoot is the way to go.

Kim from Milwaukee said...

I felt so light and graceful the first time I ran without my clunky running shoes. I use homemade mocs that keep my feet warm, yet allow me to feel the ground and naturally run with a correct form.

No more knee pain, no more shin splints, and I feel like a kid again! I love this!

My running is so quiet I was able to sneak up on a bunny...felt a little like an American Indian.

Junk Miler said...

Being wiry dude, I think many people attribute my adeptness at tomfootery to the lack of force with which gravity pulls me to the ground. I think such an attribute could be an obstacle in the learning process. If I can land harder without pain as a result of my lightness, I'm more likely to have bad habits with effects not felt immediately.

I think anyone who is concerned about larger people running barefoot doesn't understand or doesn't believe the basic concept of running barefoot: it's about learning how to be gentle. Every runner stands to benefit if they learn to run more gently.

Avocational Singer said...

You are so right on the money, BFJ!

Being heavier there has been just no room for error. It's either gentle or no go with the barefoot. It builds a lot of a certain kind of strength to run gently while bearing more weight. If anyone wants to feel it, they can just load up a fifty pound back pack and try to run gently with it on. It won't be exactly the same, because, for example, with me a lot of the weight is in my legs and not on my back, so it's loaded differently. But carrying a heavy backpack might give a person a little bit of an idea of the task.

Avocational Singer said...

Came back here to state something a little bit different (clearer?) way. Dunno' if you'll see this, BFJ, but I think what it means is that what overweight runners need to do is to run gently. They do better when they learn to run gently because it is less stressful to run gently. Barefoot running teaches someone to run gently.

Junk Miler said...

Remember too that most people assume the foot is an imperfect mechanism at best. Extra weight on these not-fully-evolved appendages can only stress them further.

It's not just about shoes. Barefoot running challenges much of what is taken for granted.

Unknown said...

Your reasoning seems sound to me :) Its like when people ask about what will support my arch if I don't have shoes. They don't know the nature of an arch in the same way that they associate pounding the ground instead of running gently like you talked about above.
Lovely post! Keep at it!

Julie said...

This is intriguing to me as I'm considering restarting to doing barefoot or minimal running this spring. I think your approach has been great so far!