Over the last few years, the popularity of barefoot running has taken off. Minimalist shoes have come into the market, especially for runners. The theory is that (using the paleo paradigm) our feet were meant to adapt to the surface that we’re running on. Specifically, this is siting the Kenyans (among many others that copied them) winning of long distance events without shoes. But, is the minimalist shoe the best way? Let’s look at the variables.
Kenyans: The Kenyans are raised in an environment without footwear and without paved surfaces. As such, their running form will be different. Their feet will have adapted differently to the softer surface of soil rather than cement. They also run for life and not just fun. Replacing a shoe will not make up for this upbringing. Although, as seen from many other barefoot athletes from urban lifestyles, the running form can be mimicked if the body is free of imbalances….see Sylvester Stallone run in Converse Chuck T’s in Rocky I and II!
Surface: The paleo paradigm states that we should work as our caveman genetics have programmed our bodies to work. So, many runners went barefoot (minimalist footwear). However, unless the runner is on a soft track (like the all weather Olympic tracks) or on soft soil, the surface is different than that of our caveman ancestors. They did not have concrete or asphalt. We do. Concrete and asphalt has no give to a striking force as soil does. This puts awful strain on the feet under a pounding load. Also, we grew up in shoes because of this. Our feet are likely not adapted to the minimalist footwear for running or many other sports.
Sport/Activity Considerations: We also need to consider the activity involved. All different types of shoes have been invented for all different types of activity. Weightlifting, for instance, requires a neurological connection between the athlete’s feet and the ground. Yet there is no repeated accelerated force into the ground. Walking has a light repeated accelerated force over time. Running, still more. Basketball requires degrees of force in different directions.
Individual differences: Different persons’ feet will have adapted differently over time from varied activity, the individuals body type, genetics, and a host of other factors. For instance, a person who is heavier will apply a higher repetitive load over time on their feet. This may lead to flat feet, especially if they have been using support for a lifetime.
So, the scoop on minimalist shoes is: get some advice from a professional and take many things into consideration before joining any fitness fad.
Here’s a research based article from the National Strength and Conditioning Association if you’d like to read some more on the subject:
Have a great rest of your week!
Jason Root, CSCS