Sunday, May 25, 2014

Running Form (And Heel Strike) Of The Tamahumara Indians

Picture from
Last week's Sunday Times article discussed whether runners were still in favour of Vibrams. Here's a related topic this week after I chanced upon another article by Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman. He had published a landmark article reviewing whether landing patterns (of Kenyan runners) while running barefoot or running with shoes produced more forces.
Lieberman is now studying the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico's Copper Canyon. The Tarahumara Indians and Copper Canyon where they live form the framework of Chris McDougall's best-selling book Born To Run - the book that launch barefoot and minimalist shoe running.

Lieberman compares the running style of the hurache wearing Tarahumara men/ women who wore huraches (leather or car-tyre soled sandals) with the slightly younger Tarahumara Indians who have grown up wearing mostly western styled shoes. 
Hurache - picture from
Both groups of runners did not differ in height, body weight or leg length, although the Western style shoes (WS) Tarahumara were on average eight years younger. 75 % of WS runners landed on their heels while only 30 % of the hurache (HS) shod runners did so. 

HS runners were also less likely to over stride compared to the WS runners, i.e. less likely to have their foot in front of the knee while the foot contacts the ground despite no significant difference between the 2 groups when comparing stride frequency. 

HS runners also had flexed knees and hips while their ankles seemed to point down more. (All these are clues to using the bigger hip muscles and less of the smaller leg muscles while running - my personal opinion and not Lieberman's).

Lieberman also found evidence to suggest that HS runners seemed to have stiffer arches- suggesting they had stronger intrinsic foot muscles which may mean fewer injuries.

Perhaps weary and wary of how runners interpret his research, Lieberman took the effort to say that "there is much more to running form than heel strike type," and "many limitations caution against over-interpreting the results of this study." 

He went on to say that for the majority of us runners (you and I) who grew up wearing conventional shoes rarely run ultramarathons anyway, so his research paper on hurache wearing Tarahumara Indians who mostly avoid heel landing is not justification for anyone to switch to minimal shoes to stop heel striking.


Liberman DE (2014). Strike Type Variation Among Tarahumara Indians In Minimal Sandals Versus Conventional Running Shoes. J Sport and Health Science

Mother and son in Copper Canyon (by glasspondstudio fr Flikr)

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