A have a problem. I like to buy shoes.
Not just any shoes though, I like to buy shoes that allow for as close to a barefoot experience as possible. That statement alone seems ridiculous right? Why wear ‘barefoot’ shoes when you can just go barefoot for free?
Like I said, I have a problem. Let me tell you why a like them and why you might too.
What are barefoot shoes?
Like I said above, barefoot shoes are designed to emulate barefoot movement while still protecting your feet from weather, gravel, glass and other terrain issues.
They usually offer no support (unlike a traditional runner), have very thin soles and a slightly larger toe capsule to allow some movement in the toes while wearing.
But, aren’t shoes supposed to give me support and padding?
High heels no, runners yes.
But why do you need all of that support? Have thousands of years of evolution failed our bodies so much that we really need a supportive shoe to run and walk? Is not running and walking a basic function of the human body? It’s hard to imagine how we got around before Nike came along.
Excuse the sarcasm in my writing but there are some things in life that we don’t question that we really should.
Ok, no need to be an asshole about it. So what is so good about barefoot shoes?
That’s good, you are starting to rethink why you wear runners, well let me lay down for you what are so good about barefoot shoes.
During summer I love to just go barefoot although wearing shoes all my life has left me with rather delicate soles. Wearing barefoot shoes rather than going plain barefoot allows me to give my feet a rest and also stops me from looking like a bogan. Although my Vibram Five-Fingers do still attract some strange looks.
Barefoot shoes also make my feet and ankles strong. I meet a lot of active people in my passion and rolled ankles, flat feet and sore knees are all way too common. Barefoot shoes force me to use my entire foot when I walk and run. The lack of cushy padding and stability has also increased my ankle strength and balance.
I suffered my first knee injury at 11 years old. A chronic overuse injury that baffled the doctors caused by a combination of soccer and athletics. I had to stop both or else I would wind up with my left knee inflating to twice the size of my right.
From then on every time I would run or even go for a long hike there was a 50-50 chance I would be nursing a swollen knee for the next few months.
Correct weight training as a young adult improved this condition a lot. But since I ditched my runners, adapted to bare feet and changed my running style my knee hasn’t so much as given me a twinge. I went from pretty much guaranteed knee arthroscopy in my 30′s to no problems at all in 6 months. This is a big deal for someone who makes their living being active.
Wearing an oversupportive runner that encourages bad running and exercise technique is like putting on a full head helmet everytime you leave the house. It’s bulky and unnecessary.
I wear orthotics, can I use them?
I’ll let the guys at Vibram answer this question.
Vibram FiveFingers® are designed to promote better foot mechanics—naturally. As such, they’re meant to be worn directly against the sole of your foot, allowing your foot to move as if barefoot. An orthotic is an assistive device to support your foot’s function and help you compensate for any biological aberrations. Attempting to utilize an orthotic with Vibram FiveFingers® would defeat their purpose. If you have an extremely flat foot, you will need to work into wearing your Vibram FiveFingers® gradually, as your muscles will need time to adapt and strengthen.
My advice – and this is just advice that in no way constitutes as medical advice. I am not a doctor or medically trained so you should take my advice with a grain of salt – would be to do two things. And this only applies if your condition is not structural. Strengthen your feet rather then use a crutch (Would you keep using crutches for a broken leg after getting the cast off?) and possibly lose some weight. Both of these things will put you in a much better position for long term healthy feet.
But why so many shoes?
Ah, back to hassling me about my problem again. There are lots of different brands out there, I like to try them out and see which ones are right for me. As a result, I can give you a little advice if you are planning on getting some.
Vibram Five Fingers – Great if you like a bit of attention. Also the only shoe that will give you use of your toes when training. You will be amazed at how much your toes can improve your balance and performance.
Merrell Barefoot Gloves – My favourites. These shoes really hug your feet (like a glove) giving you excellent control.
Vivo Barefoot – These guys make the best looking casual shoes so you can go barefoot to dinner without looking like a hobo (no shoes), a freak (Vibrams) or like you are about to go for a run (Merrells). They also make nice running shoes with loser fit.
I’ve heard about these shoes that aren’t quite as supportive as a runner but aren’t as minimalist as a barefoot shoe. Should I get them first?
Short answer. No.
In the time it would take you to wear through a pair of these, you could have well and truly adapted to a pair of barefoot shoes. To be honest, this is just the big shoe companies trying to get you to buy another shoe from them before you leave them forever. It’s like buying a sugar-free energy drink rather than just stopping drinking the damn things.
Then again, it’s your money and your feet. So if you feel like you need to take a two step to get to bare feet, I’d rather see you do that then just stick with your runners.
Disclaimer: Adapting to bare feet and barefoot shoes after a lifetime of other shoes will take time. Play it smart buy slowly integrating them into your life. Remember, your feet and legs will be working harder than normal to begin with so they need time to recover before they can handle hours upon hours of use.
Got some more questions on barefoot shoes? Ask me in the comments below.
Zoe and I have a huge line up for you this summer, including a series on how to keep fit on long holidays so make sure you sign up to our email updates so you don’t miss out!