Barefoot running is in. The fringe phenomenon which was somewhere in backdrop, now has become mainstream, as found by runners and coaches who are loudly endorsing natural biomechanics in training, and by the many stories of runners who've pour forth both shoes and chronic injuries. While the science is yet to give the full angle of a refereed thumbs up (or thumbs down, for that matter), casual joggers and ultra-marathoners alike are getting rid of supportive shoes and giving the ground a feel with their bare feet.
There is a growing subculture of runners going shoeless and embracing the barefoot running lifestyle. Advocates claim that running barefoot improves foot biomechanics and reduces injury risk. And while studies have found that running efficiency increases by 4% while running barefoot.
Potential Benefits of Barefoot Running
While going barefoot or wearing the new minimal footwear may not cure all that ails you, there are some very compelling lines of reasoning for going shoeless, or at least wearing the least amount of shoe possible.
- You may develop a more natural gait and strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the foot.
- Removing the heel lift of most shoes helps the Achilles tendon and calf muscle stretch and lengthens and may reduce injuries, such as calf pulls or Achilles tendinitis caused by short, tight tissues.
- Runners will learn to land on the forefoot rather then the heel.
Minimalist running shoes provide enough freedom to move the way you were meant to with enough protection to allow you to run almost anywhere. From gym shoes to minimalist trail running shoes, there’s the right barefoot shoe for you. They help build foot strength and do away with running pains by purchasing running shoes that heighten your natural ability, not belittle it. There are everyday minimalist shoes or minimalist shoes for work if you want to move the comfort of barefoot running into other areas of your life.
Running-shoe companies see an opportunity here to cover the feet (minimally) of those who believe that natural biomechanics not arch supports, will save them from injury. The shoes are rolling in for this new market, complete with colorful designs. Many of the athletic shoes actually vary from one another focusing on anything from barefoot water sport shoes to minimalist trail running shoes.
The company VIVOBAREFOOT produces a large variety of running and training shoes suitable for the gym, the road or the mountains. They also produce linings that are anywhere from 50% to 100% recycled that incorporate moisture wicking and antibacterial technology.
The company Newton Shoes actually owns a patent to a special barefoot technology it makes use of to help the runner conserve energy and allow the foot to step and run in the way it was meant to.
Merrell offers excellent minimalist trail running shoes in a variety of colors and styles. Merrel barefoot shoes are not as identifiable as other companies and can easily pass as everyday multi-sport footwear.
New Balance is now producing a small number of barefoot shoes that look similar to their regular line but have the minimalist footwear aspect that is allowing them to enter the barefoot market.
Vibram Well known as one of the original pioneers and innovators of barefoot technology, Vibram produces both insoles for other companies as well as their only line of shoes referred to as “five fingers”. Vibram Five Fingers are very distinct as they have individual slots for one’s toes. They have shoes specifically for travelling and running.
ZEMgear (Zone of Endless Motion) produces some of the most distinct minimalist shoes in the business. Very popular for water sports from kayaking to wakeboarding, ZEM shoes are also used for yoga, running and other outdoor activities. The shoe’s design is focused on providing the maximum protection for one’s foot yet simultaneously allowing the sole’s natural tactile awareness to transmit messages about the environment to the brain.
Today, some of the larger shoe makers are embracing the semi-barefoot movement by making minimalist shoes that offer little more than a rubber sole for protection from the pavement. Nike Free, Terra Plana and, more recently Vibram Five Fingers (like little gloves for the feet) are gaining fans, and market share, quickly.
It is hard to say if shoes are helpful or harmful, we will have to wait until researchers come up with some new theory on this.