Must Have Android Health Apps, Part I(a)

This app was not on my original list of must-haves. However, when planning a training ride the other day, I realized that none of the apps I had reviewed for cycling actually had the ability to import a gpx (route or track) file, and instead of recording where you had been, could tell you where to go. Well, ok. I have enough people telling me where to go without really wanting to add to the list. But not infrequently, I will spend some time on a site like, or, creating a "custom" training loop. The varied topography of Litchfield and northwest Connecticut makes it possible to design a route with the amount and type of climbing you want, depending on your climbing goals.

Unfortunately, routing apps don't work very well for creating loops, nor do they take into account your training desires in point-to-point route design. Thus the use of sites like those mentioned above to create the ride of my dreams -- or at least my dreams for that day.

And on those occasions when you are riding on a pre-planned group ride, having your route in your GPS (or in this case, smartphone) saves you from fumbling with cue sheets in the wind, rain, and at busy intersections while you try to figure out which way you are supposed to turn on Reallybighill Road. Or, better yet, prevent you from riding those extra "bonus miles" that you get awarded for veering off course. (My worst day involved 15 bonus miles, but that's another story).

Which is where Must-Have App I(a) fits in. Called OsmAnd, this app allows you to import a .gpx file, either a track or a route, and will give you on-screen or verbal directions as you move down the road.

OsmAnd is free and open source, which means a number of developers are welcome to add their coordinated input to the project. It is also intentionally designed to minimize resource use, both on your phone and in terms of internet access -- a big bonus now that unlimited service plans have gone the way of Vioxx.

Another big bonus is that OsmAnd itself is not only open source, but employs open source maps as well, from the Open Street Maps project. Which means the maps are more accurate, as a larger number of people are available to evaluate the data and make corrections. There is also the OpenCycleMap project which, while currently largely UK-based, holds the promise of creating cycling-specific maps worldwide. OpenCycleMap currently has maps for part of Litchfield County here in Connecticuty. It's an effort worth keeping tabs on, if not actively supporting.

This app does exactly what I wanted it to do. Using ridewithgps, I mapped out a short 20-mile route that would end by taking me past the farm, where I could pick up some milk and eggs on the last few miles and get them home before they spoiled (a route that also, I might add, require me to carry the groceries up a minimum of hills).

Ridewithgps created the .gpx file, which I then downloaded to my Android. I fired up OsmAnd, which on command immediately found my file and created the route. The program worked almost flawlessly, guiding me through  the unfamiliar stretches and turns. The screen updated my location on the map, and an icon in the upper left hand corner told me how far to the next turn and which direction I was headed.

As I noted in the previous review, satellite coverage in my area can safely be graded as somewhere between "less than spectacular" and "I get better satellite coverage in caves." So there were a few spots were the app wasn't quite up to speed on my current position. But it handled the confusion with aplomb, updating itself as soon as it got reacquainted with its satellites. And the constant turn reminder permitted me to estimate the location of the turn, even if the app itself was behind me.

If there are any hiccups in this app, it is only in the installation. It does not automatically create the file folder where you need to place the gpx files, though it does tell you exactly where the folder should be and what it should be named. Similarly, the voice configuration data has to be downloaded separately, from the OsmAnd website. Those sorts of issues are of little consequence, though, compared to the value of the application.

But once those two tasks are accomplished, you're ready to go. This app is not resource intensive, downloading map tiles only as needed and working offline as much as possible; nor did it seem to draw down the battery power any more than any other application using the gps features.

If you are a cyclist or runner that likes to design their own routes, then OsmAnd is the application for you. You can download it from the Android Marketplace or from the website.

Dr. Avery Jenkins is a chiropractic physician specializing in the treatment of people with chronic disorders. He can be reached at or by calling 860-567-5727.

Barefoot Running

A reader brought to my attention the growing trend of barefoot running, given fuel recently by this study:

Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners.

Lieberman DE, Venkadesan M, Werbel WA, Daoud AI, D'Andrea S, Davis IS, Mang'eni RO, Pitsiladis Y.

Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, 11 Divinity Avenue, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.

Comment in:

Humans have engaged in endurance running for millions of years, but the modern running shoe was not invented until the 1970s. For most of human evolutionary history, runners were either barefoot or wore minimal footwear such as sandals or moccasins with smaller heels and little cushioning relative to modern running shoes. We wondered how runners coped with the impact caused by the foot colliding with the ground before the invention of the modern shoe. Here we show that habitually barefoot endurance runners often land on the fore-foot (fore-foot strike) before bringing down the heel, but they sometimes land with a flat foot (mid-foot strike) or, less often, on the heel (rear-foot strike). In contrast, habitually shod runners mostly rear-foot strike, facilitated by the elevated and cushioned heel of the modern running shoe. Kinematic and kinetic analyses show that even on hard surfaces, barefoot runners who fore-foot strike generate smaller collision forces than shod rear-foot strikers. This difference results primarily from a more plantarflexed foot at landing and more ankle compliance during impact, decreasing the effective mass of the body that collides with the ground. Fore-foot- and mid-foot-strike gaits were probably more common when humans ran barefoot or in minimal shoes, and may protect the feet and lower limbs from some of the impact-related injuries now experienced by a high percentage of runners.

It's an interesting idea, and certainly has its appeal, falling in line with other fitness trends such as functional strength training and the naked warrior concept. I've known people who have been running barefoot since the mid-90s.

But I suspect the faddishness of the trend, and I see some real problems with the research. The first is that it was not until last fall, with the Wolf study, that a decent examination of the consistency of lower extremity kinematics was even performed (to my knowledge, at least). Without that base consistency data, drawing conclusions from a comparison of shod versus barefoot kinematics is perilous. How do we know that the data from the Lieberman study (and others) even falls outside the range of normal variation? The fact is, we do not. So to to make conclusions about technique from such studies is rash.

While the research does show some force reduction at the joints, from that data the researchers are *presuming* a reduction of injury. There are not any studies which actually show a reduction of injury, and it is quite possible that none will be found. Lieberman admits this limitation in his study. What is most probable is that barefoot running may tend to reduce the risk of certain types of injuries, while increasing the risk of others, and as I note below, the benefits are likely to vary widely based on individual biomechanics. There truly is no such thing as a free lunch.

Similarly, performance has not been evaluated. The argument held forth thus far is the "Ethiopian runners do it and they are the best," which is an argument beset with obvious problems, from cardiopulmonary functioning to femorotibial ratios. Until I see some good studies, I am inclined to dismiss barefoot running performance claims.

Interestingly, the kinematics of shoeless running point to the fact that, in all likelihood, the runners who do benefit most from shoeless running are those that are free of foot dysfunction in the first place. Which makes sense.

It is important to note that the foot scans I'm providing are not with the intent to provide a rationale to fit every athlete with orthotics, but more to detect those individuals whose foot dysfunction or pathology tends to increase their risk of injury or hinder their performance. For such individuals, there is absolutely no data to suggest that they would benefit from barefoot running and a wealth of research to suggest that custom orthotics would be beneficial.

I'm not a one-size-fits all kind of doctor, and I may happily recommend seemingly contradictory advice to two different patients with the same (apparent) problem, because I think that any protocol needs to account for the huge individual variability in physiology and biomechanics. It is one of the core ingredients missing in most of mainstream medicine.

So I'm not going to utterly dismiss barefoot running out of hand, because it may have some genuine utility for some people. But the majority of runners, I suspect, will continue to benefit from a well-made shoe and proper foot support.