Why Humans Evolved to Run
Humans possess unique features that indicate our evolution as runners. These features include extended glute muscles, a small pelvis, short toes, and fluid-filled ear chambers, which contribute to our ability to maintain balance when moving. Additionally, humans have a ligament in their neck called the nuchal ligament, which helps keep the head still while running. The Achilles tendon, which acts as a spring-like mechanism during strides, is another feature that sets humans apart as runners. We also have sweat glands that allow us to regulate body temperature and endurance-enhancing endorphins that help us endure long distances.
Modern Running Techniques and Mismatches
In his book, “The Story of the Human Body,” evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman highlights the discrepancies between our evolved traits and modern lifestyles. One such mismatch is the way we run with modern shoes compared to how we used to run. Lieberman, also known as “The Barefoot Professor,” is an advocate for barefoot running. He emphasizes that many modern diseases are caused by these mismatches and suggests that our modern running techniques with cushioned shoes contribute to these issues.
Approximately 2 million years ago, our ancestors engaged in “persistence hunting,” where they would chase prey for extended periods until the animals overheated. This hunting technique was possible due to our endurance adaptations, which allowed us to run long distances without overheating. The Rarámuri indigenous people of Mexico, who are renowned long-distance runners, also employed this hunting technique in the past.
Running Incorrectly with Shoes
The prevalence of running-related knee injuries and discomfort can be attributed to running techniques with modern shoes. Many individuals experience knee pain after running, which is often a result of the way they strike the ground while wearing shoes.
When running barefoot or with minimal footwear, the foot strikes the ground almost flat, with the metatarsus absorbing the impact. This impact is then transmitted to the Achilles tendon, which acts as a spring. In contrast, when wearing cushioned running shoes, people tend to strike the ground with their heels, leading to the absorption of impact by the knee and the shoe’s foam cushioning. The knee, which is designed to function as a hinge, is ill-equipped to absorb such impact. The use of shoes with arch support further hinders the natural movement of the foot and removes the benefits of millions of years of evolution.
Running incorrectly not only puts unnecessary strain on the knees but also reduces the efficiency of the Achilles tendon as a spring. This leads to increased fatigue and energy wastage, making running a less enjoyable experience for many individuals.
Improving Running Technique
To improve running technique and reduce the risk of knee injuries, it is beneficial to adopt a more natural running style. This can be achieved by transitioning to barefoot running or using minimal footwear that allows the foot to move more freely.
When running, focus on landing with a midfoot strike rather than striking the ground with the heel. This allows for a more efficient transfer of energy through the foot and reduces the impact on the knees. It is also essential to maintain proper posture and engage the glute muscles to support the body during the running motion.
Transitioning to a more natural running technique may take time and require gradual adjustments. Start by incorporating short barefoot or minimal footwear runs into your training routine and gradually increase the distance and intensity. It is important to listen to your body and make adjustments accordingly, allowing for proper adaptation and preventing injuries.
Humans have evolved to be proficient runners, possessing unique anatomical features and endurance adaptations. However, modern running techniques with cushioned shoes often lead to improper running form and an increased risk of knee injuries. By adopting a more natural running style and using minimal footwear, individuals can improve their running technique, reduce the strain on their knees, and enhance their overall running experience. It is important to remember that transitioning to a new running style takes time and gradual adjustments to avoid injuries. Embracing the natural capabilities of our bodies can lead to a more enjoyable and sustainable running practice.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How long does it take to transition to barefoot running?
The transition to barefoot running can vary depending on individuals. It is recommended to start gradually, incorporating short barefoot runs into your training routine. Over time, you can increase the distance and intensity. It may take several weeks to months to fully transition and adapt to barefoot running.
2. Are there any risks associated with barefoot running?
While barefoot running can have its benefits, there are also potential risks. It is important to strengthen the foot and lower leg muscles gradually to avoid overuse injuries. Additionally, running without proper protection may increase the risk of cuts, scrapes, and puncture wounds. It is essential to choose suitable running surfaces and be mindful of potential hazards.
3. Can I still wear cushioned running shoes?
Yes, you can still wear cushioned running shoes if you prefer. However, it is important to be mindful of your running technique and strive to maintain a more natural running style. Consider incorporating barefoot or minimal footwear runs into your training routine to improve foot strength and technique.