Athlete Alert: Barefoot Running, Beneficial Or Harmful To Your Training Regime?

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Runners know that theirs is a sport in which fads come and go (and usually pretty expensive ones at that!) There’s always the latest equipment (footpods, GPS watches), clothes (engineered fabrics, reflective, designer gear) and new shoe designs to shell out for! Tough on the track, tougher on the wallet!



But in the last couple of years a persistent and intriguing vogue has dominated runners’ magazines. This is the craze for barefoot running – and by barefoot, I mean running in rather pricey ‘shoes’ that allegedly give the impression of running barefoot. There are now a number of brands, e.g. Vivo Barefoot, Vibrams, Nike Frees and MBTs. Enthusiasts swear by these intriguing, and rather odd looking items of footwear. However they have also had their detractors…


Take Care Of Your Tootsies

Do I Need Shoes For 'Barefoot' Running?

Of course there are a couple of questions that spring to mind in relation to barefoot running shoes for the natural cynic. Your first thought on hearing about them may well have been, “If they’re a pair of shoes that mimic the experience of running barefoot, then, well, why not just run barefoot?” A little thought, however, suggests that issues of hygiene and safety may come up when running on tarmac and pavement (and even on running tracks and on dirt, come to that.)


You may also wonder why, if the heavily designed and cushioned running shoes recommended to us in recent years are now out of vogue, why we can’t just don a cheap pair of plimsolls? Won’t they give the foot much the same freedom of response and flexibility of movement as running in ‘barefoot’ style shoes? Well (and why is this not especially surprising?) according to their proponents, the answer is no!

Barefoot Running: An Exciting Athletic Trend, But With Potential Problems?

There’s an element of ‘back-to-nature’ romanticism about the whole phenomenon. The suggestion is that we need to get back to heeding the body’s natural wisdom rather than continually ‘assisting’ it with technologically advanced aids. This is the appeal of running with minimal interference between foot and track, allowing the body to respond flexibly to a wider range of neural and sensory information. Some claim that this can help with ailments such as shin splints, or that phenomena like over-pronation previously seen as pathological are in fact natural responses to track conditions.

However some critics point out that communities habitually engaging in barefoot running tend to do so in childhood and have different foot and leg development as a result. The implication is that a sudden switch to ‘barefoot’ running for a westernised runner used to highly cushioned and supported footwear may produce very different results than for someone to whom it is the normal running condition.


References

Phillips, S. "The Shoes That Mimic Running Barefoot." GuardianOnline. 11/08/2009.

O'Connell, S. "Vivo Barefoot: Bare your soles with ethical trainers." GuardianOnline. 13/07/2009.

Runners Are A Different Breed

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