Barefoot Training Shoes Can Be The Difference
Brian Tevis, CSCS, PES
In the running world today, we have been taught to find shoes that have plenty of support and cushion. Shoe manufactures have reinforced this thought process by developing features such as elevated heels, increased cushioning and motion control and stability technologies. With all of the money spent on developing these features, one would think that research has been done to support the implementation of these new designs. Despite these “new and improved” running shoes, various studies have suggested that up to 90% of runners will sustain an injury that causes them to miss time every year. So what’s the problem?
The problem resides in the altered foot and ankle mechanics caused by an unnatural alignment while wearing shoes. Many moons ago, mankind traveled the earth completely and utterly barefoot. Sure, their feet were dirty but their ankles, knees, hips, or lower backs likely didn’t hurt. Anatomically and biomechanically speaking, this is how we were designed to walk and run. Don’t get me wrong, there are certain advantages to encasing our feet in shoes – our feet stay relatively clean, we don’t have to worry about stepping on relatively sharp objects that could puncture our skin, and we have the ability to show off our fashion and style with every new shoe purchase.
When one of the greatest inventions in human locomotion burst onto the scene – shoes – our natural, anatomical foot alignment was altered. Elevated heels caused altered foot biomechanics, which led to inhibited gluteal and hamstring muscles, which led to quad dominance, which led to knee and hip pain, which led to lower back pain, which led to…you get the point. We began to experience an uptick in foot and ankle disfunction and injuries. Simply put, we impaired our bodies’ natural alignment and function. By now, you may be asking yourself, “how do we fix it?”
Fixing our altered movement mechanics requires an all-encompassing approach – through rehabilitative exercises, barefoot training, conscious awareness of our bodies’ positioning and center of mass, and gradually transitioning from elevated heels to zero-drop shoes. Depending on the current amount of heel elevation that you are accustomed to wearing, the transition to zero-drop barefoot shoes can be fast or slow, relatively painful or pain-free. When I say painful, I am referring to the anticipated amount of soreness in your lower extremities. As your body adapts to this more natural alignment, muscular issues may arise that need addressed. The process may be quick or it may take weeks or months, but it is worth it. Without fine-tuning your body’s movement capacity and function, these injuries will continue to crop up and compile upon each other.
So whether you are a runner or not, transitioning to a zero-drop barefoot shoe can make all of the difference in your body’s physical health and well-being. Popular zero-drop shoe brands include Vivobarefoot and Merrell, but there are many other high-quality shoe brands to pick from. Assess your current shoe’s heel elevation and then gradually transition your way down to a zero drop shoe (i.e. if your shoe’s heel to toe drop is 8mm, transition to 4-6mm; if it is already 4-6mm, transition to 0-2mm).