Researchers at the University of Virginia are looking at how muscles change when runners transition from traditional running in shoes to minimalist running, according to a news release.

The study will use static and dynamic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with motion capture cameras and an instrumented treadmill to examine running technique and muscle tissue adaptations in recreational runners who are switching from traditional running shoes to minimalist running shoes.

“We want to know what happens to the muscles of the leg and foot when recreational runners make the switch to minimalist footwear,” Geoffrey Handsfield, lead researcher and a PhD student in biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia, stated in the release. “Many minimalist shoe manufacturers make claims that their shoes will lead to strengthening the muscles of the calf and feet while avoiding common running injuries. However, there is little scientific evidence supporting these claims.”

According to the researchers, this will be one of the first longitudinal studies to look at runners switching to minimalist shoes, as well as the first to use advanced imaging to study the effect on muscles.

“Dynamic MRI allows us to image the tissue very rapidly so that we can observe displacements of the muscle tissue as our subject performs a controlled cyclic exercise,” Handsfield stated in the release. “We’re also using static MRI to determine the subjects’ muscle volumes and lengths before and after their transition to minimalist footwear, allowing us to quantify how their muscles changed with minimalist training.”

The first phase of the study, mapping the muscles as the participants ran in standard running shoes, has been completed, and the researchers will soon begin the second phase, which will map muscle changes as the runners begin to transition to the minimalist footwear.

Disclosure: The research is funded by a University of Virginia Double ‘Hoo grant and a gift from the Merrell shoe company.

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