A few weeks ago, I made a few changes to my exercise routine - switching from primarily single-muscle focus to a whole-body workout produced by Roman Fitness Systems. This switch had been a long time coming, and I could not be happier with results.
In fact, I was so happy with the results, that I decided to go a bit overboard and increase the workouts per week from the prescribed 4 to 6, leaving only Sundays for rest. In retrospect, I realize how bad of an idea this was, but at the time I had deluded myself with the 'more of a good thing is always better' fallacy.
After about 3 weeks of 6-days/week workouts, I began developing a noticable soreness in my left knee and hip. I've had intermittent issues with both of these joints since the age of 20, so this was not a new injury. Generally speaking, it caused by excessive use and too little rest.
However, this time around there was one complicating factor: I had been using/wearing Vibram Five Fingers shoes during the entire time. In fact, I'd been wearing them all the time - during workouts, at the office and at home. One of the obvious differences with these shoes is that they offer no padding at all.
This started to look like a problem of 'too many variables' - was my knee/hip pain caused by the extra workouts or the Vibram Five Fingers shoes? So I decided to be a good little scientist and performed a simple experiment:
- For two weeks, wear only my heavily cushioned New Balance 1220's during workouts and while walking around the neighborhood, while continuing the 6-days/week workouts.
- For two weeks, wear only the Vibram Five Fingers for 6-days/week workouts, but change my walking stride at all other times to specifically prevent/avoid all heel strike impacts.
- For two weeks, reduce the workouts to the recommended 4-days/week, while only wearing the Vibram Five Fingers.
The results were very clear: The extra cushioning from the New Balance 1220s did not reduce the level of knee and hip soreness. In addition, my attempts to completely avoid heel strike impacts while wearing the Five Fingers by decreasing my stride length and focusing on fore-foot shock absorbing did not fix the problem.
The excessive workouts and too little recovery time was the culprit. Reducing my workouts to 4-days/week, even while wearing the Five Fingers (and paying no attention to the level of heel strike force in my stride) led to a very quick disappearance of the symptoms.