Meet-up with Dr. Dan Lieberman, ever-practical barefoot rockstar

Despite the difficulty of parking in Cambridge on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I enjoyed yesterday’s clinic put on by the Metro Boston Barefoot Runners. Particularly interesting and useful was chatting with Dr. Daniel Lieberman whose recent study, Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners, represents some of the most extensive research in the field to date.

Photo courtesy of Ken Skier http://runwithKen.com

After running 16 miles training for the London Marathon, Dan Lieberman joined about twenty of us yesterday afternoon first in the rec room of a church and then on the Cambridge Green. Dan is not an M.D., he’s an Evolutionary Biologist and runs the Skeletal Biology Lab at Harvard. One of his primary areas of research is “the biology and evolution of endurance running.” Thus, he’s thought a lot more about how people run and how feet work than most podiatrists. To say that his perspective is an informed one is an understatement.

I’ve not seen the lab (maybe sometime) but it seems to be mostly about putting people on treadmills and taking extensive measurements. (He also mentioned putting sheep on the treadmills; I’m guessing that one of the benefits of using sheep is that you can take them apart and study them afterwards without pissing too many people off.) A lot of the discussion was Dan’s translation of the lab’s theoretical work into useful, practical advice for runners. The engineer in me wishes I had taken notes on his biomechanical explanations in response to real life questions from the group.

Here are some of the pragmatic nuggets from the good doctor:

  • “What’s important is barefoot running style,” he said. It’s good to start literally barefoot to develop technique, but Vibrams or other minimalist shoes are fine (if less fun) once you know what your doing. He’s wearing VFFs now to avoid anything minor that could disrupt his training for next month’s London Marathon.
  • There’s no right style and no need to sweat it too much. The important thing is to avoid heal striking.
  • Forestriking is more efficient because forstrikers spend less time on the ground than heel strikers. (He’s timed it.) It’s “bullshit” that barefoot necessitates a short stride. You can go just as fast and stride just as long barefoot.
  • Another piece of BS that comes from some podiatrists is the assertion that adults can’t develop the requisite foot strength to run barefoot. Dan has seen people with flat feet develop arches by strengthening their feet.
  • Sore calves are good; it means you’re doing the right thing. Getting all of the leg and foot muscles and tendons retooled for barefoot running may take as long as a few years.

Most useful to me was advice Dan provided about my Achilles tendon issues, which I’ll share in a subsequent post. I’ve paid short shrift here to the MBBR and clinic overall, and I’ll be blogging about those topics as well.

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One Comment on “Meet-up with Dr. Dan Lieberman, ever-practical barefoot rockstar”


  1. […] Barefoot Phil A possible running adventure « Meet-up with Dr. Dan Lieberman, ever-practical barefoot rockstar […]


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