The manufacturers of the Vibram FiveFingers were recently sued for falsely advertising that their shoes would reduce injury and strengthen feet, Vibram did settle the case in order to save legal fees; but continue to stand behind their shoe. Is barefoot running and minimalist shoes just another fad? We think it is a good idea to take a look and see what the experts have to say about the practice of running barefoot.
The first actual pair of running shoes did not hit the market until 1970. Before then, people ran in flats, thin sandals, moccasins or barefoot. Research shows that when a person runs this way, their forefoot or midfoot strikes the ground first. This reduces the impact of your foot on the ground. Researchers are blaming more injuries on the new cushioned running shoes that have become so popular in the last 30 years.
The benefits of barefoot running
A study at the University of Newcastle found no evidence to support that running shoes would prevent injuries. Many running shoes are designed to make the heel hit the ground first; which is unnatural.
There is evidence though that barefoot running will:
What are the differences in barefoot running shoes vs regular shoes
There are a few drawbacks to running barefoot. Wearing running shoes will offer more protection from road hazards, debris, such as glass and poor weather conditions.
If you want the feel of running barefoot, but the protection of a shoe, then you may want to consider wearing minimalist running shoes. There are two basic types of these shoes, one that gives the closest feel to running barefoot and the hybrid, which is more like a traditional shoe.
The barefoot running shoe:
The barefoot shoe encourages the midfoot strike. Runners with high arches will adjust more quickly to this and suffer fewer problems. Those will heavy pronation or flat feet will struggle to adjust without the arch support.
The minimalist or hybrid shoe:
One of latest studies states the minimalist shoe may reduce injury to the knee; but could increase risk to the Achilles tendon.
Then there are toe shoes to consider
Toe shoes are uniquely shaped like the human foot. They have been becoming more popular among runners who prefer barefoot running. Their design is to imitate the natural movement of the foot and to help increase balance, speed and comfort.
Toe shoe manufacturers claim their shoes provide less impact on hips, knees and lower back when wearing. Among the benefits they claim, toe shoes provide increased range of motion and sensory reception. However, the toe shoe’s disadvantages include some discomfort with toe separation and a poor fit for people with longer toes.
A few popular brands on the market are:
Which is better... Barefoot or Minimalist shoes?
Many runners are far too skeptical to remove all the cushioning and support from under their feet. We also live in a world unlike our ancestors with many manufactured dangers, including concrete, broken glass, nails and other sharp objects. The minimalist shoe has been designed to give a runner the feeling of being barefoot, but with some protection. Shoe manufacturers have designed them so you can transition slowly from the heel-first running to a barefoot style of running.
So maybe barefoot or minimalist shoes are not your thing. If you are a runner who prefers a more cushioned shoe, one of the latest trends is the “maximalist shoe.” One of the newest shoes to hit the market is the Hoka One One, which gives you more shoe than what the barefoot running market has been producing.
The One One consists of rebounding foam and is two thirds thicker than the traditional running shoe. Another notable difference is the curve on the heel and toe. This curve has been designed to create a fulcrum effect and encourage a guided foot cycle.
So with all the studies that have been conducted, the results have been mixed when it comes to whether running barefoot or with a minimalist shoe is better than running with a traditionally padded running shoe. Our advice is that you should choose the type of shoe that feels most comfortable for you regardless of whatever the latest trend may be.