Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Its Gotta Be the Shoes

The fact that I am writing about running again only confirms that I have something wrong in my head. My wife agrees.

We have all grown up wearing shoes. We wear them for everything. They help us look good, protect our feet, and make us comfortable. From the time we start walking we are introduced to shoes. We adapt accordingly throughout life to be one with our shoes. Shoes are more of an extension of our body than any other piece of clothing. So, why try to take away a part of your make up?

It's no secret that there is a big "minimalist" running trend going on. In the races I've been a part of over the last 4 years I'd usually see some dude running barefoot and think to myself "How can that be good for you?" There was usually only 1 person doing it so I didn't pay much attention. However, in the last year, this minimalist mentality has gained increased popularity thanks mostly to the folks at Vibram and their FiveFingers "shoes". I am loosely categorizing them as shoes because they go on your feet, but to me they look more like Foot Work Gloves.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="220" caption="I fear these "shoes" would destroy me"][/caption]

Other manufacturers have gotten into the concept also. My two favorite brands New Balance and Brooks have their lines called the Minimus & Green Silence. These are your more traditional shoe-looking foot covers, but are supposed to promote a barefoot feel when running. I will say both these shoes actually look like they could be comfortable, but still not sure on the hype around this whole thing and that the shoes can live up to the daily demand you place on your running shoes.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="240" caption="I fear I would destroy this shoe."][/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="208" caption="I am biodegradable. "][/caption]

Here's a little background info on the supposed benefits of Barefoot running. Also to qualify my perspective a bit I will say that I have a degree in Exercise Science and a minor in Biology. I'm not a doctor and I don't work in a health related setting. I now work in IT and my only connection to health & fitness is that I run, workout, & read a lot. So take my opinion it for what its worth (which is nothing short of awesome).

  • Comfort & Efficiency - They are kind of one in the same with running. The theory with Barefoot running is that it will promote runners to run/land on the balls of their feet as opposed to leading with the heel and then rolling through the toes. Its believed that this is the more "natural" way of doing things and that landing on the mid & forefoot lessen the blow to the joints as opposed to landing on the heel. Got it?

  • Increased lower leg strength. Remember that Seinfeld episode with Jimmy? Well Jimmy uses special jumping shoes that help his vert. This is similar but instead of adding to the front of a shoe, you take away from the back and emphasize landing towards the front. This will cause the calves & other lower leg muscles to build up and promote more stability in your lower leg. Also, George likes his Kung Pao spicy.

Here's why I think its goofy:

  • Over-compensating for a lack of shoe could promote just as many or more injuries than just running with shoes. We are familiar with shoes. Unless going barefoot to work becomes socially acceptable, only then will we all get natural or minimal.

  • As a larger person (200-ish lbs) are you to tell me that I would benefit from having less cushioning to absorb shock between the ground and my foot? It wouldn't matter where I landed on my foot, I'd be applying more direct stress to my body for sure. Its simple math really.

If someone would like to prove me wrong on this, I am all for it. I will gladly take on a challenge to try it, I am a size 14 2E. However, know that my opinions and body type are stacked against liking this and ultimately succeeding at it.

Also, I know I use a lot of bullet formatting in my writing. I am not a poet & this is the way my brain processes info.



  1. Have you read "Born to Run"? It's about a huge dude and minimalist running. I'm not saying he is Shepard level huge (mostly because I haven't read it), but I think you might enjoy it. I mean, if you hate yourself enough to run, surely you hate yourself enough to read, right?

  2. Your ankle, calf, and Achilles tendon (which absorb the shock when you run on the forefoot) are way better cushioning than any shoe would be unless you put a lot more foam under the heel than anybody would want. You can use a forefoot strike in normal running shoes, but once you do that, you have no need for the weight and clumsiness of all that built-up foam, so why bother?

  3. I am planning to read the book. Part of my thought process behind this post was to not have any outside influences to taint my own opinion. I did very little research outside of my head on this (except to find pictures)

    Paul, I can see your point on the calf, ankle, & Achilles absorbing shock for my lower leg, but I am not sold on it. A significant percentage of that force would then be shifted into the knee right? Also, what about the actual part of the foot that is in direct contact with the ground? I would think one would need some significant padding there outside of what God has given us.

  4. If weight is an issue...I'm 210 lbs and can run a 5k barefoot. My feet are stronger, I no longer have the duck looking flat feet mark when doing the wet foot paper test that shoe companies suggest doing if youre not sure if your flat footed enough or not. In other words I have a stronger higher arch now (that assists with absorbing shock), and my toes can splay when in the past the couldnt. I'd say give it a go for a good month starting slow and small - 5min run, then maybe 1/2 a mile, then increase by 10% after getting accustomed to the first stages. You can knock BF running if you want. But if you don't give it a valid whole hearted intelligent/patient effort you're just succumbing to the whole "you can't teach an old dog new tricks", so then where's the growth and willingness to step out of your comfort zone? One things for sure, the experience will teach something about yourself. And in the end if you find you still don't like it, that's fine too. But if you haven't given the attempt your all...then calling the rest of us BF/minimalistic runners crazy is really ridiculous.

  5. You gotta realize too that the way the foot moves is different. It's not slammed to the ground. And contrary to what most are accustomed to with shoes, you're not pushing off the ground; you're lifting your feet.

  6. Thanks Michael. I appreciate the feedback. I just want to reiterate that I posted this with nothing but my opinions. Close-minded as they may seem, I think there is some good science behind my thought process. Also, I never called BF/Minimal runners "Crazy", I called the process of BF/Minimal running "Goofy". I am left-handed and I have been called goofy all my life.

  7. Also regardless of if I am pushing off the ground or just lifting my feet, there is still stress being placed on the body. That is the main concern I have. The first law of Thermodynamics (Energy cannot be create or destroyed) is the basis of my thought process.

  8. Actually no, because the shock is absorbed so well by the ankle and Achilles, much *less* shock is transmitted to the knee running this way than with traditional running shoes and a heelstrike. And because when the forefoot hits the ground it only has the momentum of the foot behind it, unlike the heel which has the whole body bearing down on it, it really doesn't need any more padding than the natural fleshiness provides.

  9. Conservation of Momentum is closer to what you're describing there, not the First Law of Thermodynamics.

  10. Ok. Sounds good. I am going on my run and will be thinking about all these comments. Good stuff.

  11. I believe the Minimalist Karma struck today after my run. I went to the locker room and realized I only had a small hand towel to dry off with.

  12. it's smart to ask questions.
    try stuff out, learn as much as you can, see what happens :)

    as for me, i discovered that i like to run barefoot.
    i also run in nike frees, and just bought a pair of newtons.

    see what works for you.
    listen to your body.

    also: training the muscles in your feet is a GOOD thing, and not just for running.

    recommended: Sole Training

  13. Thanks Kim. I've got a lot of questions right now.

    The Newtons make a bit more sense to me because they are more heavily padded up front which would help with the impact when running.

  14. Trust me, once you try running this way you find that you really don't need that much padding. Traditional racing flats have a pretty thin sole.

  15. John, perhaps you should ignore Jay-Z who prefers to pay Dwyane Wade.

  16. After yesterday's comments I have taken a personal interest into doing some serious research on the topic. However, King James does have shoes on...

  17. Not everyone is a candidate for barefoot or minimalist shoe running. It's a disappointment to see so many people jumping into it without doing their research. In reference to your comment ("still not sure on the hype around this whole thing and that the shoes can live up to the daily demand you place on your running shoes."), no, they probably won't last as long as a regular cushion street shoe -- they're MINIMALIST!! They don't necessarily need to be the primary trainer (and shouldn't be for most runners!).

  18. LL, thanks for the feedback. Since I posted this article I have started a personal journey to get more info on the subject (not to run barefoot). I am working with a few MD's, DC's, etc to get their take on it and planning on posting another article (or series or articles) on this topic since it has contributed to about 25% of this site's total comments. I will also be reading "Born To Run" since it seems to be the bible for this sort of thing (probably will be a review post). I want to stay as much on the fence on this topic as I research it and make an informed decision at the end. Thanks again and keep checking back in.

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