Question: I have recently seen several people who were wearing shoes with toes in them but I didn’t get to ask any of them what these shoes were and why they were wearing them. Do you know of these shoes I’ve seen? Is wearing them like being barefoot and are they better for your feet?
Answer: The shoes you probably are referring to are probably the Vibram brand. They actually do have a sole but it is minimal compared to some of the “training” shoes on the market. They look like gloves for your feet, or my daughter’s toe socks. Researchers studying the incidence of foot and ankle injuries noticed an increase in injuries through the years and wondered if the public’s demand for more cushioning and support from their athletic shoes has in exchange weakened the feet of the people who wear them. The high ankle support, thicker soles and heavier cushioning has immobilized feet much like a cast would and this has, in turn, weakened the supporting tissues of the ankles and feet. In addition, analysis has continued to show that when running in shoes, runners strike the ground with the heel of the foot instead of the more supportive forefoot strike which occurs naturally when barefoot. Heel strikes impact the body when running with a force equal to three times your bodyweight which would affect your muscles, skeleton and nervous system over time.
Some trainers specializing in track and field prefer barefoot or minimalist training. Randy Hadley, a good friend and trainer in Florida, has his athletes begin their training by running barefoot in the grass. This method builds strength in the tendons of the feet and the supporting connective tissues in the ankle. Nike has begun to manufacture “barefoot” shoes and Vibram has had the ones like you saw available for a few years now. They can be found most easily on-line. If you are thinking about training “barefoot” of using shoes like the Vibram brand, begin your workouts slowly. Start by doing only your warm-ups barefoot after which you should put on your shoes and continue with your training. A park, football or soccer field would be ideal to begin jogging on and increase your time and distance over a two week period. Your feet will be sore initially but will adjust to the change in impact and method of running very quickly. We have clients who train in Vibrams and wear them all the time. If you miss being barefoot or are looking for a method and means to strengthen your feet, give barefoot training a try.
God bless and keep training,