Barefoot and minimalist runners around the world have taken off their traditional training shoes in recent years and opted for a simpler approach to footwear. So what’s all the fuss about and why go barefoot?
What is barefoot running?
As simple as it sounds, barefoot running is all about running in bare feet as our ancestors did. Minimalist running is also gaining popularity and is often grouped under the same term barefoot running; expensive trainers, cushioning, and support are out the window in favour of thin soles that are super flexible to allow your feet to do their thing naturally.
While we often get recommended by doctors, physios and personal trainers to get shoes with more arch support (for high arches and flat feet), more heel support (for heel strike) and more cushioning (for a generally more comfortable running experience), the barefoot running theory goes that using these kinds of shoes can actually cause our feet muscles to become ‘lazy’ and not work in they way they are physically intended to.
What are the pros of barefoot running?
Your feet are more sensitive to what is underfoot so your body’s natural balance and stability comes into play. Even the smallest of shifts in balance can cause your muscless to be challenged more, which could potentially result in better functional foot strength.
De-training your feet from standard shoes may take some time, which means running barefoot or in minimalist footwear may take some time to get used to.
What are the downsides of barefoot running?
This may not be for you if you have certain kinds of lower body injuries or are prone to stress fractures if you are wearing shoes without enough support and cushioning. It may actually help to minimise heel strike if that’s an issue you usually have when you are running. Consult a podiatrist to see if barefoot running is right for you. As barefoot running provides little or no protection for the soles of your feet, you may end up with cuts and bruises if you end up standing on things like rocks and twigs (not to mention, hot concrete if you’re road running in the summer time – yeouch!). However, these factors aside, many of us managed to deal with running barefoot as kids, right?!
What does a minimalist shoe look like?
Some of the big brand shoe companies have ventured into barefoot territory with thinner-soled running shoes and, notably, more flexible shoes that allow more bend for your foot’s natural movement such as the Nike Free Run range, New Balance Minimus, and Adidas Adipure.
Vibram FiveFingers (www.fivefingers.co.nz) came about because of the barefoot movement, and they may look a little odd but are the ultimate in minimalist running shoes. The separated toes allow them to spread gently and move individually as they normally would. This is one of their most popular styles for women, the Bikila LS (RRP $229) which has abrasive resistant toe protection, and thin yet sturdy soles to provide better grip and protection.
Image / Top (FreeDigitalPhotos.com – Ambro); Bottom (Vibram Fivefingers)