Blog roll > Alex Hutchinson’s take on uLaval’s and Lieberman’s study on minimalist shoes and biomechanics

Interesting work being done in La Belle Province, specifically at Quebec city’s Université Laval.

[…] researchers from Laval University, led by Blaise Dubois and Jean-Francois Esculier, presented the results of an initial pilot study (funded by CASEM in order to avoid the need for shoe company funding). It’s an interesting study — and more importantly, it’s a preliminary step toward a much bigger, full-scale study that they hope to begin this fall if they can secure funding.

Their presentation was called « Effect of 2 Running Shoe Types on Injury Rates in Recreational Runners: A Pilot RCT. » The pilot involved 24 runners between the ages of 18 and 45, relatively inexperienced runners (no more than one previous half-marathon). The subjects were randomized to either « traditional » or « minimalist » shoes; in either case, they were sent to a local running store where their grouping would be revealed and they would be given the choice of three different shoes, to allow them to choose the most comfortable one within whichever category they were assigned.

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Hutchinson takes thing a step further, linking the above findings to the now famous 2010 Lieberman study, focusing on running biomecanics. It is interesting to note that the above Laval study, as well as Lieberman’s finding seem to correlate with findings published as far back as 1985 (Dickenson et al.) and 1980 (Cavanaugh and Lafortune). What’s old is new again:

What stands out in these graphs isn’t the peak force, which is about 2.5 body weights in all three cases. It’s the initial sharp, steep spike for the heel strikers. This « impact transient » is worst for the barefoot heel strikers; it’s reduced and broadened a bit for heel strikers wearing shoes; and it completely disappears for forefoot strikers. What Lieberman and others argue is that the factor contributing to injury is how steeply the graph rises initially, because that tells you how sudden the jolt through your joints is. In this picture, it looks pretty compelling that heel striking is a no-no. In a sense, these graphs are the foundational texts for the scientific discussion of minimalism — and they look pretty convincing.

But here is where things get interesting:

So what’s going on here? We have two studies that present identical biomechanical data. One concludes that the best way to prevent injury is to switch to minimal (or no) shoes and land on the forefoot; the other concludes that we need cushioned heels and should avoid midfoot or forefoot strikes. Were we simply too dumb in 1985 to see the obvious truth — or is the data a Rorschacht blot that allows us to impose our existing assumptions on it?

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