Barefoot running shoes have been around for a few years, but lately, they’ve gained popularity as advocates claim barefoot running as the “real” way to run. However, the support for these shoes is divided, with some researchers doubtful.
Barefoot running shoes – or minimalist footwear are based on the idea of going back to the days of our primal ancestors that ran and hunted barefoot. They are designed to shorten running strides to a more natural length and help you land nearer to the ball of your foot. This running form is believed to least likely cause injury, as opposed to modern running shoes which force your weight onto your heels.
Wearing minimal footwear is also claimed to free up your feet and ankles to work more in supporting your body during movement and enable joints to pull their own weight, as nature intended. This, eventually, restores natural strength and flexibility.
However, this fad is not without controversy. Even though researchers are still working to confirm their theories, barefoot running shoes do increase the likelihood of a puncture wound and may cause greater stress levels on your lower extremities.
So who’s right?
Sadly, there aren’t many studies done to support absolute claims, but researchers suggest that there are in fact three different instinctive running styles, which could affect which footwear is right for you.
Runners can be divided into three categories – rear-foot strikers, forefoot strikers and mid-foot strikers.
Rear-foot strikers tend to have their heel hit the ground first, while forefoot strikers have the ball of their foot hit the ground without their heel touching down. Mid-foot strikers, on the other hand, have the ball of their foot hit the ground first, followed by their heel.
Essentially, barefoot running shoes are better for people who naturally strike in the forefoot or mid-foot. With rear-foot strikers hitting the ground harder, sending a lot of additional force up the body, padded shoes are said to reduce the impact for these individuals.
Of course, regardless of whether you’re a rear-foot, mid-foot or forefoot runner, if you are someone with foot deformities or leg or hip injuries, you should consult with your doctor before getting barefoot running shoes.
Those with flat feet and orthotics are also advised against barefoot running shoes as they require arch support and need room for metatarsal or footpad devices respectively.
And do be aware of your surroundings – it’s not a great idea to run in these shoes in snow and ice or in a neighbourhood with lots of debris on the ground.
Meanwhile, if you are choosing to swap from running to barefoot running shoes, be careful to give your feet time to transition. Feet and legs need to get used to new positioning and balance, so build up the change slowly.
Above all, listen to your body. Pick a pair of shoes suited to the way you run and ensure you feel comfort in the move.