Introducing Barefoot Running Shoes
When Run and Become first opened in 1982, running shoes weren't much different to the likes of Inov-8's Road-X range; mildly cushioned, fairly light shoes. Gel and Air were terms for the future. Since then running shoes have gone through huge development, so has the running population. Running booms in the 90s and since the Millennium have seen running transform from the exercise of the few to a mass participation sport. The advance of running shoes made this process easier; the development of better cushioning materials and more effective ways of guiding the motion of the foot made running more comfortable.
A few years ago running shoes were becoming so soft that some of us became concerned that the shoes were in danger of producing an unnatural reaction in the foot, sinking into so much cushioning that the natural proprioception would be dulled and the foot encouraged to be lazy. There was a huge increase in the number of new runners, who were easily convinced by the comfy softness of the shoes, something many brands were happy to play up to (in fairness, most brands have now pulled back from over-soft shoes and are working on encouraging a more natural gait). Right then a new running book hit the shelves 'Born to Run' and its author sparked the fuse for the Barefoot Revolution.
Chris McDougall gave his first UK Born to Run talk at Run and Become, and inevitably the question arose, why was Run and Become supporting the launch of a book that seemed to doubt the benefits of modern day running shoes? I said then what I still say now; running shoes incorrectly advised can cause many problems, equally the support and cushioning in shoes can make running feel easier and, correctly fitted, can help prevent injury, but long term your feet won't get stronger from using them. If you want to strengthen your feet lower limbs, making them less reliant on super support, then going barefoot is a very effective way of effecting this change. It's like wearing glasses, they help you see but long term your eyesight isn't getting any better, probably worse, from using them.
We are all different and what works for one does not work for all. We also get inspired by different things. Before you decide if going barefoot is for you, ask yourself what you want out of your running. If the answer is getting out the door and running to clear your head and keep you fit, then stick with the shoes that make that easy, the cushioned supportive shoes. If you want a new sensation in your running, to see if you can strengthen your feet and legs, improve your posture and enjoy the feeling of the ground under your feet, then going barefoot is the experiment for you. But proceed with caution!
If you Google Barefoot Running, you'll find 'Barefoot running is the only way to go' along with 'Barefoot running is Bad', the truth as ever is somewhere in the middle! Some people have found that moving to barefoot has solved some long-term injury problems and others have ended up with stress fractures. Barefoot isn't a wonder cure, if you find that through the build up in strength that comes from it that some injury problems fade then that's fantastic. For the majority, barefoot will result in gently improved posture, a more efficient running gait, stronger feet and lower limbs, and a little sense of freedom - it's fun. But it must be progressed into gently, too much too soon is going to cost you a few physio visits!
All our staff have tried at least one shoe from the Barefoot range and we're converts, but not for all our running. We've noticed that after a long day on the shop floor we've less foot fatigue if we've been in Barefoot shoes, especially the Nike Free which have a bit of padding and are super comfortable - this is because the foot has been moving and flexing properly the whole day. Where our running is concerned, a couple are up to medium length runs with no problems, others use them for short runs or speed work, and a few, like me, find running too much but love them for walking and have noticed a positive effect in being able to choose lighter and less supportive shoes for our running as our feet have strengthened.
Some barefoot shoes like the Vibram FiveFingers KSO are nothing more than a strip of rubber to protect you from cuts and infection. Others like Vibram FiveFingers Bikila and Merrell have a bit more grip that also results in a fraction of impact protection. Then you have the Frees and Road-X which offer many of the benefits of the barefoot approach - lots of flexibility that encourages the foot to move more and better - but with some level of cushion protection. We would always recommend that you start walking in any of these shoes first and then progress to short runs, never forgetting to listen to your body, if it's saying STOP then ignore it at your peril.
If you've any questions about whether Barefoot is right for you please pop in and see us.
P.S. if you're wondering what Proprioceptive means, it's the nerve impulses initiated by sensors deep in tissues and tendons that responds to changes in physical tension within the body. Why's this word used so much by Barefoot brands? Well, they're basically trying to say that through using their shoes the muscles and tendons in your feet know better where you are and can feed info to your brain that enhances your balance. Kind of like a gymnast needs to land on a firm mat when coming off the bar to maintain balance, rather than a crash mat that would make it very difficult.
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