Walk on heels, run on toes

Multiple times in the past I have attempted to pick up running only to have to abandon it a few months later. I enjoy the sense of freedom it offers and the simplicity of the exercise but why does it have to hurt so much? Shin splits, knee pain, hip pain, wondering how this high-impact activity is going to affect me down the road… I guess my body just isn’t cut out for running… or so I thought.

Humans evolved to walk on our heels (unlike most other mammals) to save energy and thus be able to cover vast distances. However running on our heels is high impact and damaging. New research coming out of places like Harvard suggest that we should run on our toes. Of course they are quick to add the disclaimer that more research is needed and that they are not advocating that the traditional way of running should be discontinued, but I find the concept fascinating. By running on our toes we make use of our massive Achilles tendons and calf muscles to absorb shock instead of our bones and joints. Could it be that after all these years of failed attempts at running the problem was simply relying on artificial cushioning from modern running shoes to protect my joints instead of my own shock absorbers? I don’t know but I’m going to do some experimenting of my own and find out!

Cool new “barefoot” products are starting to be marketed for people like me who want to be able to re-experience the joy of going barefoot while protecting our skin from abrasions and germs. FiveFinger shoes by Vibram (pronounced VEE-bram) are one such product that looks promising. I’m going to buy myself a pair and see if my body was meant to run after all!

3 thoughts on “Walk on heels, run on toes”

  1. Hi Dr. Pate, did you ever try this? I have been running barefoot-style for almost a year and have found it amazing. You actually use your heels a bit even when running barefoot, but you land on the outside balls of your feet and roll in, and eventually put some weight on your heels (very different from a heel strike). This takes considerable finesse and I actually think it is vastly easier to do completely barefoot, rather than wearing Vibrams. (Doesn’t help much now that it is getting cold.) I also find that I rarely walk heel-first either. -Barefoot Intactivist

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    1. Hey Barefoot,

      I did try this and really enjoyed it. No more achy hips, knees and shins. But wow I discovered that my ankle muscles were way out of shape! I must confess though that my exercising has taken another backslide. Its now frozen over here in Minneapolis so I don’t think I’ll start running again until Spring. Thanks for your comment. 🙂

      ~James Pate, MD

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