Will Barefoot Running be the death of trainers?

A growing fad.

The barefoot running revolution has taken another stride across the Atlantic this week. Dr Mick Wilkinson, a barefoot runner himself and one of the first people to finish the Great North Run completely barefoot in 2011, told the attendees of the British Science Festival that he would advise anyone taking up running for the first time to run barefoot.

This is welcome news for barefoot running fans as most of those who choose to run barefoot, or even in minimalist shoes, still turn heads in the park or on the track and could really use some good scientific evidence in support of the idea, instead of the same old poor arguments.

Barefoot running has experienced a surge in popularity in the US over recent years thanks to a book called Born to Run and popularity is beginning to grow in the UK.

This advice from Dr Wilkinson came with the sensible caution that people should build up slowly to barefoot running, perhaps moving first on to very lightweight flat-soled flexible footwear while their feet become used to the practise. A sudden switch to barefoot running can cause a difference of an inch in your normal footfall from regular footwear.

The research carried out by Dr Wilkinson, a sport and exercise scientist at Northumbria University in Newcastle, found that while you need a gradual start you should begin barefoot running right on to a hard surface such as a running track, ignoring the instinct to sick to grassy softness.

Dr Wilkinson went on to warn that parents should steer clear of expensive trainers, saying that old-fashioned flat soled plimsoll shoes are preferable as they teach children to run in a more natural manner on the middle part of the foot. Once children learnt to run in fat bottomed shoes it’s a difficult habit to break as adults have to be weaned off them slowly.

The running shoe industry has grown substantially over the last few decades with companies spending vast amounts on researching ever more hi-tech trainers, but surprisingly levels of running injuries have not fallen.

The belief among barefoot running advocates is that the heavily cushioned heels of regular trainers are detrimental to people’s feet as the shape of the shoe causes us to hit the ground heel first, in what has come to be known as "heel striking".

The reputation of barefoot runners in the US is not always a pleasant one, with general opinion being that they act superior, lording it over runners who choose to wear traditional training shoes. Hopefully this is one characteristic that will not make it across the pond as the movement grows.

While perhaps we will soon see the fall of the traditional inflated trainer, named as gaudy dinghies by Harry Mount in the Telegraph, don’t expect this change to happen over night (or even within the next generation).

The only realistic solution is that parents and schools recognise the benefits of unheeled sports shoes. If children are started on them early then perhaps they will be able to avoid developing the bad shoe habits that we as a society have sadly stepped into over the last century.

The barefoot running revolution Photograph: Getty Images

Billy Bambrough writes for Retail Banker International at VRL financial news.
 

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.