Continuing to heel strike after transition to minimalist running shoes

I blogged back in July about a study that showed: Increased Lower Limb Loading with use of Minimalist Running Shoes and now we have another related publication:

Short term changes in running mechanics and foot strike pattern following introduction to minimalistic footwear.
Willson JD, Bjorhus JS, Williams B 3rd, Butler RJ, Porcari JP, Kernozek TW.
PM R. 2013 Aug 30
OBJECTIVE: Minimalistic footwear has garnered widespread interest in the running community based largely on the premise that the footwear may reduce certain running-related injury risk factors through adaptations in running mechanics and foot strike pattern. The purpose of this study is to examine short term adaptations in running mechanics among runners who typically run in conventional cushioned heel running shoes as they transition to minimalistic footwear.
DESIGN: 2-week prospective observational study
SETTING: movement science laboratory
PARTICIPANTS: Nineteen female runners with a rear foot strike (RFS) pattern who usually train in conventional running shoes.
METHODS: Participants trained for 20 minutes, three times per week, for two weeks using minimalistic footwear. Three-dimensional lower extremity running mechanics were analyzed before and after this two week period.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASUREMENTS: Hip, knee, and ankle joint kinematics at initial contact, step length, stance time, peak ankle joint moment and joint work, impact peak, vertical ground reaction force loading rate, and foot strike pattern preference were evaluated before and after the intervention.
RESULTS: Knee flexion angle at initial contact increased 3.8° (p < .01), but ankle and hip flexion angle at initial contact did not change after training. No changes in ankle joint kinetics or running temporal-spatial parameters were observed. The majority (71%) of participants demonstrated a RFS pattern while running in minimalistic footwear before the intervention. The proportion of runners with a RFS pattern did not decrease after two weeks (P = .25). Those runners who chose a RFS pattern in minimalistic shoes experienced a vertical loading rate that was 3 times greater than those who chose to run with a non-RFS pattern.
CONCLUSIONS: Few systematic changes in running mechanics were observed among participants following 2 weeks of training in minimalistic footwear. The majority of participants continued to utilize a RFS pattern following training in minimalistic footwear, and these participants experienced higher vertical loading rates. Continued exposure to these greater loading rates may have detrimental effects over time.

This pretty much showed the same thing as the previous publication, in that transitioning to minimalist shoes does not mean that you automatically change from a heel or rearfoot strike pattern to a forefoot or midfoot strike pattern and that the vertical impact loads increase in the short term. Of most interest was the finding of a 3 fold increase in the vertical loading rate in those who chose to run with a rearfoot strike pattern in the minimalist shoes.

As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise, and as I said about the previous study: this study shows that when first using minimalist shoes, impact forces increase. It probably also says that the running form or technique must also be addressed at the same time as going to minimalist running shoes, assuming that there are good reasons for doing so.

Willson JD, Bjorhus JS, Williams B 3rd, Butler RJ, Porcari JP, & Kernozek TW (2013). Short term changes in running mechanics and foot strike pattern following introduction to minimalistic footwear. PM & R : the journal of injury, function, and rehabilitation PMID: 23999160

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12 Responses to Continuing to heel strike after transition to minimalist running shoes

  1. dingle September 4, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    I can’t remember who said ‘it’s not about the shoe´ but this backs it up. Shoes are a bit of a red herring.

    • Michigan Biomech September 4, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

      If its not about the shoes, then why did the loading rate triple when they changed shoes? That is potentially dangerous.

      • Bob Budding September 7, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

        Don’t use a wrench in place of a hammer, and don’t use minimalist shoes if you RFS.

  2. dingle September 4, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    I was talking about changing shoes doesn’t change the technique.

  3. Yannis September 5, 2013 at 2:54 am #

    But what do they consider “minimalistic footwear”? I was not able to find out what shoes were used in the study but I know there are many so called minimal shoes that will allow a runner to heel strike with impunity. I have also owed and run in shoes so minimal that heel striking was impossible like the New Balance MT00.

    Are there any studies that show shod runners that transition to barefoot still heel striking?

  4. June September 11, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    What is Minimalistic footwear?

    • Craig Payne September 17, 2013 at 1:30 am #

      In this study it was Vibrams (compared to the NB 629)

  5. Peter Larson September 12, 2013 at 11:44 am #

    Have you seen the new study by Joe Warne, looks similar except it appears that they included form training in the transition and results seem quite different. Waiting on the full text still, but seems that some form advice might be a critical component of a transition to minimal shoes.

    • Craig Payne September 12, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

      Yes, but been a bit too busy lately to comment in it (actually been really sick and looking after sick kid!):
      It supports the notion that changing to minimalist shoes needs to be accompanied with “instruction” if going to change “form” – it does not happen automatically (….an awful thought comes to mind re product liability issues????)

      A 4-week instructed minimalist running transition and gait-retraining changes plantar pressure and force.
      Warne JP, Kilduff SM, Gregan BC, Nevill AM, Moran KA, Warrington GD.
      Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2013 Sep 5.
      The purpose of this study is to compare changes in plantar pressure and force using conventional running shoes (CRS) and minimalist footwear (MFW) pre and post a 4-week MFW familiarization period. Ten female runners (age: 21 ± 2 years; stature: 165.8 ± 4.5 cm; mass: 55.9 ± 3.2 kg) completed two 11 km/h treadmill runs, 24 hours apart, in both CRS and MFW (pretest). Plantar data were measured using sensory insoles for foot strike patterns, stride frequency, mean maximum force ( M ⁢ F ¯ ), mean maximum pressure ( M ⁢ P ¯ ) and eight mean maximum regional pressures. Subjects then completed a 4-week familiarization period consisting of running in MFW and simple gait-retraining, before repeating the tests (posttest). During the pretests, 30% of subjects adopted a forefoot strike in MFW, following familiarization this increased to 80%; no change occurred in CRS. A significant decrease in M ⁢ F ¯ in both MFW and CRS (P = 0.024) was observed from pre-post, and a significant decrease in heel pressures in MFW. M ⁢ P ¯ was higher in MFW throughout testing (P < 0.001).A 4-week familiarization to MFW resulted in a significant reduction in M ⁢ F ¯ in both the CRS and MFW conditions, as well as a reduction in heel pressures. Higher M ⁢ P ¯ was observed throughout testing in the MFW condition.

  6. Susan O' Connell September 21, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    Just saw this abstract on pubmed. McCarthy et al. Transition program using Vibram FiveFingers minimalist footwear. It seems a longer transition (12 weeks- more realistic of the time it takes to properly adapt to a new footwear condition??) might lead to significant changes in foot strike pattern and kinematics, and interestingly, changes seem to cross over when wearing standard running shoes. Small sample size- but also utilized a control group which is not always the case in similar studies of “barefoot” kinematics. Haven’t read the full paper yet. Would be interesting to see if all runners were initially heel-strikers.

    Int J Sports Med. 2013 Sep 18. [Epub ahead of print] 12 Weeks of Simulated Barefoot Running Changes Foot-Strike Patterns in Female Runners.

  7. Nicky Garcia October 3, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

    Craig – love the website. Will you be doing a review on Joe Warne’s paper… “4 week instructed minimalist running transition and gait re-training changes plantar pressure and force” ?

    Keep up the good work.


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