There are a number of tests or evaluations that are recommended before starting the transition to minimalism or barefoot running. I have come across various permutations of these tests on a number of blogs, articles and books and most recently in Scott Douglas’s Runners World Complete Guide to Minimalism and Barefoot Running (a good book!), but I really struggle to understand the rationale for them and have not seen anyone yet question or critique any of them. A lot of ‘blind faith’, wishful thinking and appeal to authority seems to be placed in them. I do realize that what gets written about these tests are done so in lay language, so something could be lost in the understanding and translation.
I will go through the six tests as outlined in the Runners World Complete Guide to Minimalism and Barefoot Running (pg’s 95-105):
Test#1: Ankle Dorsiflexion:
If your Achilles tendon lacks sufficient flexibility, you not only limit your ability to push off effectively…
I have no idea why this test is important! Of course an adequate range of motion at the ankle joint is important and stretching plays an important role in preventing injury. However, in minimalism and forefoot striking, the heel does not generally come down to the ground, so generally needs a less of a range of ankle dorsiflexion than when heel striking. So if you are already running, why is having an adequate range of motion to make the transition even an issue, let alone important?
Test#2: Big Toe (Hallux) Dorsiflexion:
An inability to move your big toe toward your shin can be an indicator of a tight plantar fascia…
No it is not! It indicates a problem of a high force to get the windlass mechanism established (which is discussed here and I made a comment on this test there). The last thing anyone needs is a flexible plantar fascia. The plantar fascia supports the arch of the foot via the windlass mechanism, so if it is flexible, how is it supposed to support the arch? I just do not get the rationale for this one and it seems totally wrong to me. This is probably actually bad advice!
Test#3: Big Toe (Hallux) Isolation:
About 85 percent of foot control comes from the big toe …keep all toes of one foot on the floor. On the other foot, press the big toe into the floor and raise your other toes while keeping your ankle stable. To pass this test, you should be able to keep the big toe flat on the ground while you raise the other toes…
I have absolutely no idea where the “85%” comes form, especially in the context of foot control coming from the big toe. Its a totally meaningless statement, having no basis in fact. With all my understanding of all the foot biomechanics research, foot anatomy, the different approaches and theories of foot function and biomechanics, I can see no rationale at all for this test (or maybe I am missing something; perhaps someone could explain it to me in technical/biomechanical terms!). I am guessing that this might have something perhaps to do with the windlass mechanism, but that is just as important if you are going barefoot or going to wear shoes.
Test#4: Ankle Inversion and Eversion:
If your ankle can’t move adequately toward the midline of your body (inversion) and away from the midline of your body (eversion) “you won’t utilize your arch’s shock absorber or spring to withstand the impact of footstrike”
Again, a totally meaningless statement that makes no sense or logic to me. The ranges of motions talked about in this test bear no relationship to the actual ranges that are used during gait! Of course an adequate range of inversion and eversion of the rearfoot is important, I just see no rationale for it being an important (or even unimportant) indicator if you are ready to make the transition to minimalism or barefoot running or not. I am not convinced by this one (you are welcome to try and convince me otherwise).
Test#5: Single Leg Balance:
Imbalances and weakness in your hip and trunk areas introduce instability into your gait and require your feet and lower leg to absorb more impact forces than they should.
I do agree that this is probably a very important test. But, its probably important for all runners to be stable when balancing of one foot and have that proximal control. I just don’t understand why its important to make the transition to minimalism or barefoot. All runners should pass this test if they want to avoid injury and have good control of the gait.
Maybe I am missing something and I welcome anyone who can explain what I am missing. Most of these tests just do not make sense to me and neither does the rationale of passing them before starting minimalism. I am happy to be convinced otherwise on these tests. Simply stating the tests are important is the fallacy or cognitive bias of wishful thinking that does not make it true or make them important. Personally, my anecdotal n=1 is that I fail 2 of the 5 tests and I can run in my New Balance Minimus’s just fine, but anecdotes are not data.
A lot of this seems like to be what Thomson in his book, Counterknowledge describes as misinformation packaged to look like fact.
As always: I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise, and there is no evidence to support the above tests, let alone the rationale behind them.