Over the past couple of years I’ve watched this whole barefoot phenomena first with amusement, then befuddlement and now with a high degree of skepticism. What is the big deal here? Let’s get past the marketing hype and the pseudoscience and look at the reality. What is a shoe? The shoe is a foot ground interface. The Tarahumara Indians don’t run barefoot, they fashion what is essentially a sandal that protects their feet from the rough ground. So I guess that would a minimalist shoe.
Ask yourself this basic question: Do I really need to pay $80-$100 to buy a shoe that simulates running barefoot?
I’m old enough to remember when all sports shoes were minimalists. Remember the Converse All-Stars or the first Tiger running flats or the Adidas Mexico 68’s? Those were shoes that allowed the foot to do what it had to do. There was no attempt to control pronation or any motion for that matter. Then we started getting smart. We started putting more stuff between the foot and the ground. We started inserting orthodics to control pronation and to change foot strike. From my perspective this is where the problems really started. We added more and more shoe, how many remember the shoe with the radical he’ll flare in the late 1970s? Remember the knee problems that caused? Then there was a fancy slip lasted model that caused an epidemic of plantar fasciitis. Then came air, gel and foam, that wonderful cushioning pillow that created all kinds of extra motion that has to be accounted somewhere in the kinetic chain. So now we began to see IT band problems, groin and lower back issues that did not occur in any significant numbers before that.
The smarter the shoe technology became the more it treated the body as dumb. The body is not dumb, it is very smart and we need to respect its intelligence. Barefoot running is a natural. It takes advantage of the wisdom of the body. The skin at the bottom of our fee is rich in proprioceptors that give important feedback as to pressure, position, and motion, lest we forget that important aspect of barefoot running. But we are not primitive man. Look around and take a close look at the world we live in now.
Running barefoot is the extreme opposite extreme from running on an air filled pillow. The actionable word here is extreme. If I have learned one thing in my coaching career it is to stay away from extremes. So what should you do, first don’t jump on the bandwagon. How are you doing with the shoes that you are wearing now? No problems, then good don’t change. If you’re just starting out running find shoes that allow your foot to act naturally. I don’t care for the term minimalist but for lack of a better term find a shoe where less is more.
What about running barefoot? If you have a good consistent forgiving surface like grass then by all means use it as a training tool. You can use it to modify foot strike and improve your stride. It has been in my coaching toolbox since the day I started coaching in 1969. So what’s the big deal? Common sense and rational thinking should prevail. So use common sense don’t buy into the hype and marketing be smart and use the body’s wisdom, barefoot is not the answer it’s just another question.