Barefoot Running and Other Bad Exercises You Should Avoid

In the realm of fitness marketing gone are those that want to instill a no-nonsense, evidence-based approach to fitness training, which is very simple and pragmatic. Instead in an effort to distinguish themselves in the market, too many studios and trainers try to have an angle that is unique to them. You will have the "fat loss trainers",  "power lifting trainers" and the "high-intensity, high repetition facilities" when what should be distinguishing facilities are results and not marketing.

A fad that has come, gone and regained a lot of steam lately (with the help of a book called born to run) is the barefoot running craze. Okay so let’s first look at the facts we know from researchers in the Netherlands that barefoot running produces a 60 % deformation of the heel pad compared to a 30% reduction when running with cushioned shoes. Running with shoes will even produce less deformation than walking barefoot, this is pretty important considering that the heel pad is a chronic predictor of heel pain. But what about the Kenyans who have great success running barefoot?  The average Kenyan lifespan is 45 years meaning they really don’t need to maintain the integrity of their heel pad with a shorter lifespan. In contrast the average American recreational runner lifespan is 85 years. Let’s also take into consideration the average weight of an American runner and a Kenyan runner.  So who says Kenyans were born to run barefoot? In January of 2013 George Washington University did a study on a Kenyan tribe and found 78% of them landed heel first, a more realistic sample of 83% landed heel first at an 8:56 mile an hour pace which closely mirrors your typical American runner pace.  This is not an all or nothing topic, barefoot running most definitely has its place as a drill but not as a full-time running alternative for all or most runners.

Another type of exercise that has become quite popular is kettle bell training.  Although kettle bell training when done correctly is very effective, there is one exercise that puts an extreme amount of stress on your shoulders and lower back.  This exercise consists of swinging a kettle bell between your legs and then overhead.  Nine times out of ten what you will see is one thrusting his or her head forward, dropping the pelvis and hyper extending the lumbar spine (middle back) in order to put the arms behind the ears in order to make the rep count. Why is this bad? We sit way too much and most Americans shoulder blades (scapulas) are tilted towards the front of their body. If we have a shoulder blade that is tilted forward we are then driving the shoulder joint right into the rotator cuff causing shoulder impingement. This is a problem with any overhead exercise especially high velocity swinging. You should try to swing the kettle bell no higher than your belly button.

Last but not least is tire flipping where an individual does a deep squat then proceeds to lift and flip a very heavy tire over and then repeats it numerous times. Proper lifting mechanics require you to lift with your hips and not the knees otherwise you’ll end up with knee arthritis. We are also putting a lot of flex on the spine which is not a sign of a flexible back in fact it’s quite the opposite those who have flexible backs will have a greater risk of back problems in the future.  Trends are like stocks, they go in and out of favor. Intelligent exercise selection, frequency and progression are the key to making meaningful strides in your fitness goals and not trying to constantly re-invent the wheel when all you have to do is spin it the right way.

Sources: De Clerq D, Aerts P, Kunnen M. The mechanics behavior characteristics of the human heel pad during foot strikes in running: an in vivo cineradiographic study. J Biomech. 1994; 27: 1213-1222 Life expectancy in Kenya is just 45 years. In the United States, the average person can expect to live to the age of 77.




Jordan Nichols