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Do Barefoot Running Shoes Work?
What the Heck are these Barefoot Running Shoes?
I'm a runner. In fact, I train for marathons year-round and I've seen and worn my share of running shoes.
But I'm just not sure about one of the latest "fads" in footwear. are funny looking, but people who wear them swear they are exceptionally functional and better for their overall fitness level and health. The minimalist shoes are sweeping the running circuit and even creating converts who wear them during cycling, hiking, climbing and aerobic exercise classes. Barefoot running shoes
Barefoot running shoes are extremely flat and most models include five "fingers" in which your toes fit like a glove. They are meant to provide protection for the soles of your feet, while strengthening the muscles in your foot, toes, ankles and calves. Barefoot shoes claim to change your running stride to become more natural, once you remove all the carefully constructed padding, air and high tech soles that athletic shoe manufacturers have worked to develop over the past 30 years.
Not to mention, they're extremely ugly. But do they work?
About Barefoot Running Shoes
The term "barefoot shoes" is a bit of an oxymoron, admittedly. After all, if you are barefoot, your feet are bare. No shoes. No coverings whatsoever.
Yet, our urban environment doesn't allow the type of free running and walking enjoyed by our ancestors. The thin covering provided by barefoot shoes is for protection of the soles and tops of your feet. But they are designed to be minimalist so that your feet function as they would if you were, in fact, barefoot.
With only a few millimeters of a thin rubber sole separating your tender arches from the pavement, barefoot shoes are an amazingly light 6 ounces in weight. Simply put, barefoot shoes do nothing more than cover your feet. There is no arch support, no cushioning, no "air," nada.
But isn't this a total 180 from the highly engineered running shoes to which we've become accustomed over the past 20-30 years?
Do barefoot shoes really work, or are they just the latest "getting back to nature" fad invented by some hippy green guy?
The answers appear to be yes, yes and yes!
The original "barefoot shoes" are the Vibram FiveFingers, created by Industrial Designer, Robert Fliri and Marco Bramani, the grandson of Vitale Bramani, who invented the first rubber soles for mountaineering boots in 1935. The two men took the idea of barefoot shoes to Tony Post, who was a former collegiate runner. Post is now the president and CEO of Virbram USA.
Although barefoot shoes were originally designed for people enjoying sailing and climbing as an alternative to going completely barefoot, runners quickly picked up the invention as a revolutionary way to enjoy the sport and reduce injury and pain. They've become so hot over the past few years that Time Magazine named them as one of the best inventions in 2007.
The Inventor of the Barefoot Running Shoe
How do Barefoot Running Shoes Work?
Wearing barefoot running shoes are said to return our gait to a natural state. Our leg and foot muscles can actually get stronger so they can support knees, and even reduce back and hip pain. Not only that, but can help improve agility, balance and posture. barefoot running shoes
According to the Vibram FiveFingers website:
The typical human foot is an anatomical marvel of evolution with 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments. Like the rest of the body, to keep our feet healthy, they need to be stimulated and exercised.
Unlike traditional running shoes, barefoot shoes allow your foot to hit the ground as if you had no shoes on - naturally. Instead of a heelstrike, you'll land on the ball of your foot. This simple motion will completely change the biomechanics of your run.
For some people the change in gait and biomechanics is too much. Experts often recommend that you wear the shoes for short periods of time to begin with before gradually working your way up. As you do so, you develop new muscles that have probably not been used before during your running. It might take weeks, or months, before you can comfortably run in the barefoot shoes.
Those that have made the transition usually swear by the shoes.
The Mechanics of Running in Vibram FiveFinger Barefoot Shoes
Pros and Cons of Barefoot Running Shoes
Allows for proper biomechanics in walking and running
It can take time to adjust and the shoes are not usually recommended for long distance
Fits like a glove - almost like being barefoot
People that need orthotics, those that over-pronoate, with extremely flat feet, or webbed toes should not wear them
Comes in many colors and styles
Still pretty ugly!
Cost ranges from $80-125
Considered to be less durable than running shoes
Likely to find bargains on them on eBay or Craigslist
You may wonder why people are selling their barefoot shoes
Learn How to Run in Barefoot Shoes
Do I Wear Barefoot Running Shoes?
As for me, I'm sticking with my running shoes for now. I'm not ready to go barefoot running. In fact, the barefoot shoes are not recommended for long distances like the marathon (for which I am currently training).
The owner of one of the local running stores in my hometown states that, generally speaking, people use barefoot shoes to complement rather than replace their traditional running shoes.
So, maybe one day, I'll try a pair of barefoot shoes for my strength class or even spin. Perhaps I'll wear them on a hike in the mountains nearby.
Would You Wear Barefoot Shoes for Athletic Training?
© 2011 Stephanie Hicks