“This is not an appeal to the naturalistic fallacy. This is simply stating a fact: the human foot was designed by millions of years of natural selection to work in its unaltered state. Putting on thick, restrictive shoes with prominent heels and lots of padding puts us at a greater risk of lower body injuries, both chronic and acute. It allows the muscles in our feet to atrophy from disuse. And once that primary link between our bodies and the ground is compromised, the rest follows: ankle pain, knee pain, hip pain, back pain.”
This is an extract from an article in The Huffington Post1 published 5 years ago, it really stood out for me. Mark Sisson explains his thoughts on barefoot running eloquently and logically. We have started to hear people talk about sitting being the new smoking, too much sedentary behavior and we start to have problems with hip flexors and tight hamstrings. So it makes sense that our feet should be thought of in a similar way, giving them constant unnatural support could very well cause weakness down the line.
A study in Pub Med2 carried out a comparison between barefoot running and ordinary shoe wearing subjects. Although the barefoot runners were not without injury it is interesting to read that there were fewer musculoskeletal injuries in the barefoot group. More studies need to be carried out, for instance perhaps we need to know how used to running this way the barefoot groups are? What is their actually running technique? Different heel drops for certain people could also play an important part. This is a great insight nonetheless that is worth experimenting with.
I have to admit I am no longer much of a ‘runner’ however I do build in short sprints into my weekly workout routine. I have previously competed in the Belfast Marathon back in 2009, and found a lot of injuries cropped up, issues with knees, hips, and ankles. I have also never owned a pair of barefoot running shoes. However there is nothing to stop me asking other people I know about their experiences.
Sinead uses zero drop Inov8 shoes; she finds them great for box jumps, skipping, rope climbs, and short sprints. She isn’t really a runner either but finds the lower heel suits her. She said they are comfortable with a slight heel raise (4-6mm), and if you wanted to go for a longer run or a workout which involves thruster/wall balls they work well. If she does go for a run she doesn’t go for long and it is usually off road. Sinead used to suffer from chronic shin splints for years and switching to Inov8 has been great for her. She does point out that transitioning into the lower heel can be slow for some so starting gradually is recommend.
Stuart wears Merrell Barefoot shoes in the gym and explains that he enjoys the great contact with the ground and that the sole is not too “squishy” for deadlifts and squats. However as a rugby player he likes his traditional trainers for sprint training.
Simon has the Vibram FiveFingers and when he runs he now finds them more comfortable, however at first he wouldn’t wear them for more than 20 or 30 minutes to get his muscles used to running barefoot. He explains that the pain in his lower back has diminished when just wearing them day-to-day.
These are all positive anecdotal accounts – although I think the key takeaway point is gradual transition is paramount.
I own a pair of Nike Free shoes, and I can honestly say they are the most comfortable shoes I have ever owned. The heel drop is much lower than other shoes I have owned and my feet fit into them perfectly. They are lightweight and enable me to sprint and squat well. Perhaps now that I have transitioned slowly I could try something even lower, even if putting my toes into little individual sections does seem a little strange.
These types of shoes aren’t for everyone and maybe they don’t suit all types of activity. However I am certainly very open to trying lower drop shoes in the future and hope others will become a little more interested in the opportunity to try something different.
Do you think you would like to give barefoot shoes a try? Even if you aren’t a runner every day walking could actually turn out to be a great way to strengthen your feet, back, and shins. If you want to read more on the topic of barefoot running the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall has proven to be extremely inspirational for people.
- Barefoot Shoes? The Primal Reason You Want to Take Off Your Shoes. (2010). In Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-sisson/barefoot-running-benefits_b_794608.html
- Altman, A.R., Davis, I.S. (2015). Comparison of running injuries between shod and barefoot runners. In The British Medical Journal. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26130697