Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Conservative training progression and Vibrams

Anytime you put "Vibrams" in your title these days people will stop and read. You may have seen these "shoes" out there that are really just a glove for your feet. Christopher McDougall might be able to take credit for the fad after his book Born to Run became a best seller and people wanted to try this new inovative type of running called "barefoot running." The truth is that people have been running barefoot, even in the US, for part or all of their training for many years. This is not a new idea. During my high school and college cross country years, we often used to take off our shoes and run sprints or strides across the football field after workouts. It is a great way to teach running on your midfoot or forefoot and strengthen your foot and ankle. The vibrams allow a runner to "run barefoot" on surfaces other than grass with some protection for your feet. Like any training tool it is best to progress forward conservatively.

The video is a recent guest interview of Keith Olbermann on the David Letterman show. The related discussion is in the first two minutes. Keith comes out on the show walking with a cane and a walking cast and goes on to tell Dave that he has a stress fracture in his foot caused by running in Vibrams. He goes on to imply that if you weigh more than 175 pounds and you run in Vibrams you WILL get a stress fracture.

First off his podiatrist must have stock in Vibrams because to say that walking in Vibrams is good for your knees and hips is a bunch of baloney. WALKING is good for your knees and hips. It really doesn't matter what foot wear you have on. The Vibrams allow for your foot to move as it was intended to move and that is a good thing, but to say that Vibrams are good for everyone is hog-wash.

The reason that Keith got a stress fracture in his foot is not due to wearing his Vibrams, it is because he either ran in them too much too soon, or ran in them before his body was strong enough to control the new movement at his foot and ankle.

This brings me to my point. The key to improvement in running is consistent training progression over a long period of time without interruption (injury). A conservative approach to training progression will ALWAYS decrease your risk for injury. The problem becomes determining how much is too much or not enough. Most people will give you the 10% rule for a safe amount of weekly mileage progression. This means that if you ran 20 miles last week then you can run 22 miles the next week, and 24 miles the week after that. This may be too much for some (jumping from 90mpw to 99mpw) and not enough for others (10mpw to 11mpw). It has to be individualized.
Jack Daniels, PhD. would say that any weekly increase may be too much when continued over many weeks. He advocates keeping mileage fairly consistent for 3-4 weeks before increasing. This gives the body a normal amount of time to adapt to this new stress before changing it again. He recommends increasing mileage by 20% every 3-4 weeks.
I believe I read somewhere that Coach Alberto Salazar increases Galen Rupp's peak mileage by only 5 miles per year. This means that if the most Galen ran in one week last year was 90mpw, then next year his highest mileage will be around 95. Now that is conservative, but you don't hear about many serious injuries with Galen and he has demonstrated a consistent and steady improvement in 5k and 10k times over his career so far.
This conservative rule applies to all aspects of training. If I want to add intervals into my weekly training program and I start with 8000m worth of interval work on the first day, I am at a higher risk for injury than the runner who started with 3000m. If I want to try some barefoot running and I start with a 30 min run 4 times a week, I am at a higher risk for injury than the runner who starts with some light jogging on the grass for 10 minutes.
Unfortunately, everyone is different and even the 10 minutes in the Vibrams might be too much for some, conversely the 30 min 4x/wk runner might be just fine. I tend to lean towards the conservative approach to training as a little bit less over a longer time yields better outcomes than short bursts of heavy training.

Keith may want to just do some light jogging on grass for 100m at a time once his podiatrist gives him the OK to run again. In the mean time he would definitely benefit from some general strength and conditioning. His weight (over 175lbs) probably had little to do with the injury (ie: the contestants on The Biggest Loser seem to be just fine).


Chuck said...

Very well written! Thank you for information.

Ron said...

OUTSTANDING POST my man. While the vibrams are helping some people they are not helping for the reasons they think they are. The gait changes and becomes more efficient. The same concept can be taught with shoes on. Awesome work dude.

Karl Stutelberg said...

Thanks Ron, I wrote it over my lunch break after watching the video of Keith Olbermann and realizing why some people think running is so dangerous and bad for you!

Jill said...

Great article, Karl! I saw that episode of David Letterman and I thought, "Ut oh, here comes the posts...." :)

Our track team at high school always implements barefoot running drills on the grass to help strengthen the feet and I swear there have been less injuries amongst the kids than in previous years when we didn't.

I also went to an amazing seminar the other night on minimalist running with a barrage of expert panelists and Michael Sandler repeatedly stressed that the first time you run barefoot or very minimalist shoes, 200M max distance. For two weeks. His book has some excellent examples how to progress over a 12-week period (I didn't buy it but I did look through it); I suspect Karl went out and did 6 miles in his Vibrams and wham...SF.

Karl Stutelberg said...

Jill, sounds like a great seminar. I'm always looking for new info.
The problem with Americans especially is that we have wimpy feet. It is not socially exceptable to go barefoot and we condition our feet to "need" the support of shoes. No shirt, NO SHOES, no service, right! The worst is when I see infant or even toddlers wearing shoes just because they are cute. What we have done is put our kids feet in casts while they are growing, learing how to move and walk.