If you’re involved in the outdoors or running communities, you likely remember several years ago when Vibram released their much-hyped “Five Fingers design.” The trend took hold, riding on the heels of books like Born to Run and Run Barefoot, which emphasized a minimalist approach to running inspired by impressive running feats performed by isolated and often impoverished runners who couldn’t afford hard-soled running shoes. For a time, everyone knew someone who swore by the revolutionary webbed-foot, minimalist design. Though Vibram was later taken to court for exaggerating the claims made in their marketing, the concept of minimalist running shoes and techniques is backed by credible research.
The concept in question, hard-soled and “supportive” running shoes versus soft, pliable designs resembling the human foot (like the Five Fingers,) is one of impact. Apparently, running in conventional hard-sole running shoes places more pressure on the joints than walking in high-heels. Ouch! In addition, nine out of ten runners sustain injuries while training for marathons. What Marc Perry of “BuiltLean Transformation” urges the runners to consider is the prescription of cushioned, padded running shoes is not based on any scientific evidence.
Looking back at history, human beings have existed for roughly 200,000 years. It was only in 8,000 BC that we began to use shoes, likely a type of woven sandal. From then until 1900, the first rubber soled shoes were introduced, soles were made of wood or hard leather. The padded shoe revolution came in 1974 with the Nike Waffle, allowing the runner to land on their heel instead of their foot as opposed to barefoot running, where the ball of the foot impacts first. By 2005, Nike began to step in the barefoot direction, releasing their Nike Free, the first minimalist design running shoe.
At the end of the day, the numbers tell the story of shod vs. barefoot impact on the body. Running shod causes the heel to hit the ground with 3x the force of normal body weight. Bare feet impact the ground at 0X normal body weight.
In addition, overall energy expenditure is decreased 4% when running barefoot.
Finally, traditional running shoes have been shown to cause an additional: 54% hip rotation torque, 36% knee flexion torque, and 38% knee varus torque.
While the numbers paint a clear picture in the differences of impact, transitioning quickly from one style of running to the other is hazardous and inadvisable. It’s the fast adoption of Five Fingers and subsequent injuries that caused much of the blow-back against the barefoot movement. One must ease into, or rather ease out of, traditional running shoes and methods to enjoy the benefits of using their bare feet.