Barefoot Running vs Barefoot Lifestyle: a fad leading to a revolution

Barefoot running has got a lot of press since Christopher McDougall released his book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.

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A great book and amazing story that is worth the read even if you’re not a runner.  This book has lead to a paradigm shift in the running shoe world and is slowly creeping it’s way into the normal shoe world.  If you are not familiar with my stance on shoes, have a look at my articles:

Shoes: Good support or coffins for your feet?
Why Feet Hurt

Movement in general is a set of skills that you acquire through trial, error and practice throughout your life.  Walking and running are fundamental movement skills that we develop from a young age, but the thing that most people don’t understand is that just because you can walk and run, doesn’t mean you are doing it very well.  The most important tools our bodies have, that gives us the unique ability to walk and run upright, is our feet; covering them up with heavy, clunky, confining shoes most of your life will almost guarantee that you walk and run poorly and inevitably develop pain and deformity.

Although I think the barefoot running movement is great, what really needs to happen is a barefoot lifestyle movement.  You need to walk before you can run and stand before you can walk.  What you choose to put on your feet will affect all three of these skills.  You spend far more time in a day standing and walking than you do running so the best cross training you can do for running is to keep your feet active and in tune with the ground when ever you are vertical.  The implication of this requires a shift in fashion and functional footwear to allow barefoot and minimalist shoes to be more socially acceptable and/or individuals to start valuing function as much as fashion.

As a physiotherapist, I look at every client’s feet from 9-95 years old every day and unfortunately it has become the norm for people’s feet to deform as they age due largely to foot weakness and poor proprioception (sensory feedback to your brain).  Just as the running shoe world has effected our running with cushy motion control shoes, the fashion world has effected our posture and balance with stiff, heeled shoes and orthotic inserts.  Your awareness of where you are in space largely comes from the feedback your brain gets from your feet, if you dampen that system by wearing overly confining or cushioned shoes you will be doing yourself a disservice.

Athletes need foot strength and propriception for performance, but the average person needs the same for day to day life.  Taking away the role of your foot intrinsic muscles leads to over activity of your hip muscles, more pressure on your back and overall worse posture and balance.  Most seniors are so reliant on big orthopedic shoes by 70 years old that they are very prone to falling in situations that require their feet for balance.  It’s never too late to train your proprioceptive system.  We should stop encouraging people to buy overly supportive shoes and at very least encourage them to spend more time barefoot or in minimalist shoes.

The best resources and minimalist shoes I have found so far are:

 

I have lots to say on this topic so please give me your feedback below and I will answer any questions.

 

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2 Comments ↓
  • Magnus Sjöström

    In my opionion, merrell barefoot has to much arch support. There is one model though, which i like: merrell vapor glove.
    Another brand that i like is Altra zero drop. Some cushoning but very wide toe box and zero drop.
    I would also like to thank you for very good and informative web site.
    Greetings from Magnus in Sweden (a new born barefoot walker)

  • Matt Ferguson

    Great blog Brent. Obviously there are times when we need to wear shoes to protect our feet as well as keep them warm and dry, but when you can *lose the shoes* or pick a barefoot option. My tip: on social media we often see videos showing good lower-body exercises like squats and lunges – just do them barefoot, but pay very close attention to form.

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