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Thursday, 23 June 2011

The benefits of Barefoot Running

About 5 years ago, I was introduced to barefoot / minimalist shoes while shopping for a pair of running shoes.
The salesperson showed me a pair of Nike Frees and explained to me the concept behind this new/old technology.
Since then, I have been a big fan of minimalist shoes. And I’m not the only one. In the past few years, these weird anti-shoe shoes have nudged their way into the mainstream athletic shoe market.
And while the bulk of the market is dominated by Nike Frees and Vibram Five-Fingers, there are a ton of other manufacturers making a wide variety of different minimalist shoes. But since they don’t have big advertising budgets, you have probably never heard of any of them.
That stops now.
A few months back I contacted some of the most interesting manufacturers to see if they would be interested in having their minimalist shoes reviewed by yours truly. And most of them said yes.
For today’s post, I thought I should outline the criteria I will be using to review the shoes as well as a brief intro to the theories behind barefoot / minimalist shoes & running.
barefoot running1 Barefoot / Minimalist Shoe Review
Why should you wear barefoot / minimalist shoes?
Our ancestors covered their feet to protect them from physical damage (puncture) and unpleasant temperatures (Canadian winter). Since that time, shoe manufacturers have “improved” upon our footwear to the point they have more technology in them than your iPad.
As a result of this shoe tech, humans have modified theirjogging/running/sprinting gaits to look more like a natural walking – heel-toe – gait. Instead of using the natural shock-absorbers built into our feet, we rely on our shoes to absorb the shock of a longer heel-toe stride. And this has resulted in a whole bunch of aches, pains & injuries.
The makers of minimalist shoes are creating shoes that:
  1. Protect your feet from puncture & cold temperatures
  2. While still allowing your feet to function as originally intended
  3. And hopefully helping you correct all of the postural and impact related damage you have inflicted upon yourself by running in your cool Nike Shox.
Review Criteria
  • Protection – If you’re not going to develop thick natural calluses by actually running barefoot, you need to wear a shoe that will protect you from the occasional sharp stone or chunk of glass.
  • Proprioception – A bare foot provides immediate feedback to the surface it rests upon. A thick spongy sole…not so much. This can be crucial when it comes to avoiding ankle sprains and wiping out while trail running.
  • Natural Foot Movement – Does the shoe allow or  prevent your foot from flexing & spreading in order to distribute the load uniformly over the entire foot. This analysis will address shoe width (especially the toe box), arch support, shock absorption, etc…
  • Weight of the Shoe – Who wants a heavy, clunky shoe?
  • The Drop – Most running shoes raise the heel 22-24mm off the ground while lifting the front of the shoe only 10-15mm off the ground. This difference creates a forward leaning slope which changes your posture and leads to a heel-toe gait which leads a bunch of problems. Long story short, a flat shoe is more natural.
  • Shape of the Sole – As your foot spreads, does the protective sole continue to protect your foot from physical damage
  • Comfort – Do they feel good on your feet?
  • Ease of Use – Are they easy to put on?
  • Appearance – Do you look like a freak wearing them? Do you care?
  • Ventilation – Vibrams are notoriously stinky shoes…what about the others?
  • Durability – I only tested the shoes for a few weeks, so this test is pretty inconclusive.
  • Price - Due to my Scottish background, cost is always a factor.
  • Application – Is the shoe applicable for everyday use, running, sports, yoga, weight lifting, water sports, beach sports, etc?

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