Barefoot Shoes – The Next Big Fad?

Barefoot Shoes

I am going to try and be as objective as possible here but as already stated, I run in minimalist shoes and am a huge advocate for a natural barefoot running style. I have read a number of articles recently that claim the rapid growth of minimalist shoes in the running shoe market is resulting in an increased injury rate, this may be true but not because minimalist shoes are wrong.

My initial opinion of barefoot running and ‘forefoot striking’ was similar to my view of vegetarians. I believed that if you grew up wearing shoes and running in a certain way then your muscles will have developed accordingly and you would be worse off trying to change this, and I was right to an extent. As I started to run more I noticed that my hip started to hurt a bit, something that had happened before but had corrected itself. This time it just continued to get worse even though I reduced my mileage and increased my self massage. It got to the point where my whole IT (Iliotibial) band running from knee to hip would throb whenever I was sat down for more than 45 minutes. As you can imagine this can be rather distracting when having a desk based job. I then read “Born to Run” by Chris McDougall, the book that kick started the barefoot running movement. I thought I would give it a go, and bought some Merrel Bare Access shoes. Almost immediately my IT band stopped hurting and my running style felt more efficient, it has transformed the way I think about my running.

I had done a significant amount of research in regards to this style of running and being the geek that I am, had loved watching various tutorials and followed numerous blogs. The problem is that not everybody is as sporty-geeky as myself. Not everybody likes to understand why something works and I think this is why people are getting injured. It is the lack of knowledge about the transition from conventional shoes to barefoot that is causing the injuries. Remember when I said I was right (to an extent) that our muscles are developed for conventional running shoes? It is because of this development that people injure themselves when they make the switch. A forefoot strike places vastly different strains on your body, especially on the calf, foot arch and achilles tendon. In this way if you switch to forefoot and immediately run 10k you are going to strain these muscles and tendons. You MUST build it up slowly. I did this and still felt a small strain in my achilles tendon, but I can imagine people running way more and having much more severe injuries. You must let your body adapt and it takes considerable patience. Luckily I made converted whilst I was in an unfit state and so unable to run far enough to injure myself! You should start off by trying to not wear shoes around the house or in the garden. Then move to gently running for no more than a mile in them. Build this up till you feel comfortable. If your achilles tendon feels tight then don’t go for that extra run. Use your brain.

It is not the running style or the barefoot shoes that are the problem, it is the lack of information on how to properly start using this style – and people’s impatience (because the information is actually there). If you take your shoes off and actually run fully barefoot you will understand why people feel so strongly about the mid-forefoot strike. If you are looking to get some minimalist shoes I would advise having an in depth look at youtube tutorials, they can really help. If you are not convinced, read my next article as to why minimalist running style is correct.


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