To Go Minimalist or Not

Today, I went to a fantastic Integrate Performance Fitness seminar on minimalist and barefoot running shoe transitions. The seminar had four knowledgeable speakers on injury and prevention, joint mobility exercises, single-leg strength exercises, and running shoe differences/transitions. Here's my brain dump from the experience.

Injuries and Prevention, Dr. Vid Jindal from the Spine and Sport Institute: 

Dr. Jindal went through the different foot types and how arch structure affects your whole body. His example was the cornerstone of an arch on a building; if that stone moves, the integrity of the whole arch is compromised and will change for the worse or collapse. The foot is similar, and movement in the 'cornerstone' of the arch results in the body adapting to compensate for the change. This is what leads to injury and joint issues, and such a change in the foot can cause pain basically anywhere in the body. Once the arch stops moving correctly, we might put more strain on one part of the foot, then transfer that strain to the knee, hip, and back.

Injury prevention and treatment is about finding the root of the issue and doing the right exercises to improve it rather than having an adjustment temporarily make the issue feel better. For example, a chiropractic adjustment can make the problem better, but without taking steps to alleviate the cause it will come right back.

Joint Mobility, Jason Agrella from the Spine and Sport Institute:

Jason is a specialist in Z Health, and he took us through a series of joint mobility exercises that help with injury prevention and rehab. My biggest take-away about the drills is to focus on where I should feel the movement and not needing to feel a big movement or big stretch. Joint mobility is much more subtle. We don't often move the joints in this way, so they can be super tight and put that strain mentioned in the previous section on other parts of the body.

The drills are hard to explain without diagrams or video, but the ones we did today were lateral and medial ankle tilts, toe pulls (right, left, middle) using a bolster and knee bending motion, ankle circles focusing on very slow movement, ball of foot circles, and proper calf raises (no toe pressure.) I'm going to keep working these into my day and see how it goes. From my practice and teaching session today - I need joint mobility improvement like crazy.

Single-leg Strength Exercises, Al Painter from IPF:

Al is the owner of Integrate Performance Fitness and the person who set up the clinic. He took us through examples of single-leg strength exercises like one foot bridges and single-leg squats. From this, I learned that my left side is way weaker than my right side! I sort of knew this from doing single leg work with personal training, but I'd never talked to anyone about it to confirm.

He made the point that as runners, we are never using two legs at one time and we are always standing. We always take the pressure and muscle movement one leg at a time, meaning we need each leg to work efficiently on its own. The same is true for strength training, so using sit-down weight machines really isn't helpful for our overall strength and stability.

We also did an interesting test where a partner pushed down on our shoulders to see where our bodies felt the pressure. My first time, it was definitely shoulders and many people in the room agreed. To my surprise, an aligned spine and body will feel it in the feet! We repeated the exercise by first attempting to correct our posture and body positioning, although even so I felt it higher than the feet (maybe more lower back.) The point of the exercise was to help us feel how our bodies can be out of alignment, and how correcting that alignment can help the body bear weight better.

Transitioning, Adam Kemist - Pedorthist and owner of On Your Mark Performance:

The whole talk was great, but this part answered my burning question: can I really attempt minimalist running with my bunion issue? I'll go through the overall talk before sharing my new thoughts on that topic.

Adam discussed the anatomy of a traditional running shoe and how that compares to the newer minimalist and barefoot shoes. Minimal and barefoot are not interchangeable and are actually different kinds of shoes, which I didn't realize. It goes like this - traditional shoes have an outer sole, midsole, liner, and upper. The minimal shoe has these parts but less of them, and the barefoot shoe has just the outer sole and upper. The midsole is the part of the shoe with the cushy materials and the structure in the case of stability shoes. In a minimal shoe, the midsole is usually less structured and has a lower drop from heel to toe. This is where my Altra Intuition falls, although that particular model goes for the zero drop.

What I loved most about this talk is that I didn't feel pressured to go minimal or barefoot but that I should consider it if I think it'll help me in my day to day. You know the normal drill - barefoot is best, everyone should do it, your body knows how. Today I realized that's not necessarily the case. Going out cold turkey in a barefoot or minimal shoe can lead to issues because most people are not strong enough to do it quickly. A body that's been running differently won't necessarily know how to best run in a barefoot shoe because of all the joint changes and body imbalances it has picked up over life, and instead the body will take the path of least resistance to run. That could lead to lots of tightness, pain and injury. The joint mobility and strength exercises talked about above, as well as a slow progression, are the key to making a successful transition.

Now for my ultimate question - should I or shouldn't I? The good news is that Adam looked at my current shoes and said the support is good for bunions and my foot looked good in it. Phew, because they feel good and work really well for me. As for going minimal, he said don't rule it out but don't feel like I need to if I'm happy. The best thing to do is to have someone watch me run in my current shoes and in minimal shoes to see if the motion is similar. If so, then my feet could be ok going to barefoot and may have just needed the high stability with the 12mm drop shoes.

My overall outlook has changed from this talk and I feel much more at peace with my shoe choice for now. I'll keep working with the Altra shoes as I have been, short and easy distances and walking around in them more. But for now, I'll let myself be at peace with my Brooks Adrenaline too.


Popular Posts