So there’s a study going around that I’m not going to even link to that has all the shoe-wearers in my life rubbing their orthotics in my face. OK, not really. The only person to bring it up to me was Viper in an effort to get my dander up. It’s a hobby of his. Some people are pretty when they’re angry. Others, ugly. I’m amusing.
As a general practice, here’s a good way to think critically about the methodology of any study about anything: imagine the conclusion were the opposite. I’m pretty sure if the study in question showed barefooters to be more efficient, most of our ilk would say “see? More evidence I’m right.” The shoe fetishists would snort, pointing out the many obvious flaws in the study. Since it’s the other way around, the gloating smug hat and the sour grapes hat are switched.
That’s all beside the point I’d like to make, however. All barefoot running studies are bunk because
1. We don’t know the extent of the adaptations and compromises our feet have made to accommodate the shoe environment
2. We don’t know if those adaptations and compromises need to be reversed in order to run barefoot
3. If we do need to reverse these adaptations and compromises, we don’t know which adaptations and compromises to reverse, how long it takes to reverse them, or if it’s even possible to reverse them at all.
When studying a barefoot runner’s foot, you’re not just looking at a foot without a shoe on it. You’re looking at a foot with a history, one that probably involves a lot of shoes. Not just recent history, either, but a foot that likely spent it’s formative years inside footwear. How would this foot be different if it was bare for it’s entire existence? All barefoot running studies seem to assume there would be no difference at all.
Let’s take two barefooting beginners, one grew up taking karate classes, all barefoot in a dojo, the other grew up dancing in cowboy boots on a never-ending tour of Oklahoma!. Who is going to be more efficient? Should they be the same, just because their shoes are off? If you were to study their gait and form and efficiency, do you think their different histories would matter? If you do, how would you go about accommodating for those differences? How many other aspects of their lives affect their barefootery, one way or another?
There’s too much chaos. Sure, you’ll find plenty of correlations here and there, just enough to confirm anything you’d like the data to say.
Here’s an idea. Get 1000 dogs, put shoes on them. They keep their shoes on for most of the day every day of their lives. They play in shoes, they walk in shoes, they run in shoes. Their paws grow into the shape of their shoes. After a few years, let 500 of those dogs go bare-paw for an hour each day (then it’s back to shoe time). Once these newly bare-paw dogs adjust to the weirdness of having their paws exposed, test the running efficiency of all of the dogs on a treadmill twice. Once in shoes, once bare-pawed.
What’s that? You want to add dogs that have never worn shoes to the study? What kind of crazy hippie cult let their dogs run around without shoes? What if they step in poop?
Anyway, what’s sadder than the idea of 1000 dogs spending most of their lives in shoes? Except for, maybe, an entire species who do so because they think they need to, and cling to sensationalist media to justify their fears.