Have you ever slipped your foot into the glove-like interior of a barefoot
shoe? You have to place each toe in its individual casing, making your
foot into a hand for just one weird moment.
You might be surprised to hear that not all barefoot shoes are shaped like
foot gloves, though. In fact, barefoot has another name: minimalist. Minimalist
shoes aren't shaped like feet—they just remove most of the padding
we're used to so that our feet can flex better while running. What,
then, is all the buzz about?
Let's start with the basics: just what is this barefoot running phenomenon?
A reporter from
the Guardian tells usthat barefoot running is nothing new, but only a section of the population
were into it. When Chris McDougall published the book
Born to Run,
a study of barefoot runners in Kenya, it suddenly became a mainstream practice.
The point of barefoot running is to change your jogging gait from hitting
your heel first, to hitting the front of your foot first. The idea is
that this is more efficient and prevents more injuries. Does running barefoot
really do this? We'll explore that in a minute.
Nobody went completely barefoot, of course. There's too much concrete
in our country, too many dangers on the road. So companies developed shoes
that could function like you don't have anything on, yet still provide
Barefoot shoes range from transitional to full-on glove, so the term "minimalist"
is used to cover all types. Transitional shoes look just like normal running
shoes, but really have very thin soles so the ball of your foot hits before
your heel. Examples include
New Balance's Minimus, and
Adidas's Adapt. Vibram is a shoe company famous for their foot glove construct, called,
FiveFingers. If you're brand new to barefoot running, start with a transitional
shoe and work your way up to the FiveFingers. But keep in mind,
says a shoe blogger, everybody is different, so you should focus on choosing a shoe that works
best for your body, not what someone told you would work best.
Barefoot and Your Spine
Now we come to the big question. Since
Born to Run was published in 2009, have we been able to tell that barefoot running
is actually good for us? And more to the point—for our backs? According to
Stanford sports medicine physician Dr. Michael Fredericson, not necessarily. The only conclusive evidence they've found is that
it more efficiently dissipates forces of stress to our joints in the spine
and lower body. It hasn't proven to prevent injury. Our shoe blogger
suggests that if you really want to keep injury at bay, you should switch
things up every week. Don't go cold turkey barefoot—run barefoot
some days and go with a regularly padded shoe other days. This will strengthen
the muscles of your feet without putting too much strain on them.
Do you run barefoot?
So what's the verdict? Barefoot running can reduce the impact of running
to your joints, but it doesn't necessarily prevent injuries. The choice
is up to you. Do your own research, try on some shoes. To get you started,
a pros and cons list.
And once you've decided whether or not to go minimalist, let us know
about it! Leave a comment so our readers can hear how barefoot running
works—or doesn't work—for you. Are you already a barefoot
runner? We're curious—does your back feel better or worse? Our
readers want to know, so leave a comment now!