Breaking in your "barefoot" running shoes - WDAM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

The benefits of "barefoot" running shoes

According to The Economist, the footwear market for athletic trainers is a $17 billion industry. 

For decades, runners have sought the perfect gels, cushions and thick rubber sole comforts until a new shoe came out made of practically nothing.

The barefoot, or minimalist running boom, has people of all walks of life walking around in funny-looking shoes.

As the trend has grown, doctors say the number of injuries have also increased.

The minimalist shoe is close-fitting like a sock, and each of your toes sticks out as opposed to being enclosed in a traditional shoe.

While the new style has certainly made the minimalist shoe trendy, avid runners say this isn't a matter of fashion, but rather one of science.

Experts say you shouldn't expect biomechanical magic overnight because patience and knowing about the product are the keys to the barefoot running performance.

Running is a sport without much instruction. All you have to do is put on a pair of shoes, and hit the pavement.  

If you're jumping on the barefoot running bandwagon modeling what's called a minimalist shoe, you might want to make yourself an owner's manual.

"Don't bring your minimalist shoes home and toss your other ones out and say 'I'm going to start running in these,'" says Scott Dvorak with Charlotte Running Company.

According to barefoot believers, running in a typical sneaker has trained our bodies to move against human nature.

"Those shoes are doing the work for our feet that our feet should be doing," Dvorak says.

Motion control, stability, cushioning and all the other bells and whistles of more traditional running shoes elevate your heel about 13 millimeters (or a half an inch) above the toe, versus a minimalist shoe which is practically level with the ground. 

While a half-inch may not sound like a lot, it's one you can see when you get moving.

To clear the extra height in a sneaker, most people land the hardest on their heels.

Since that hurts without the help of padding, when you're wearing a minimalist shoe, the promise is that you'll end up forcing your foot to hit closer to the front with much less impact on your frame.

"You don't have that slap, slap," Dvorak says.

Some runners say the minimalist shoe is easier on your body, but only if you ease into it.

"We're actually seeing in our practice a little bit higher of an injury rate," says Kent Picklesimer, a podiatrist with Eastover Foot and Ankle in Charlotte, N.C.  

Specifically, he says there have been cases of Achilles Tendonitis and stress fractures from misguided minimalists who didn't realize that after striding for decades in full support shoes, there's a training schedule for reverting back to bare.

"Any type of pain, tightness in the calf, obviously, you want to stop doing what you are doing," Picklesimer warns.  

He recommends walking with your new minimalist for about a month, and then trying light jogging for about half a mile for another month.  

After that, Picklesimer suggests, start increasing your mileage by about 10 percent per week.

Whether you've trained for the Olympics like Dvorak, or are just a weekend warrior, runners don't recommend anyone wear minimalists shoes for long miles.  

"You don't need to go pound on your feet for 15 miles on a long run; it just doesn't make sense," exclaims Picklesimer.

It also doesn't make sense, he says, to look for bargain deals online.  

Big cuts in price are often counterfeits made of materials and a copycat design both doctors and runners are reluctant to count on. 

So, for a shoe based on less is more, let those five fingers on your foot go free if you're a serious runner searching for a new training tool or trying to get a full-body workout including your feet.

Just remember, being a good runner takes some practice, and its going to take a little more to get your body grooving when you're basically barefoot.

One dingy disadvantage to these shoes is their stench. Without socks, they become a foot sweat sponge. You can buy specialty socks, or just throw them in the washer.

Use a gentle cycle and detergent. Then, air dry to avoid heat damage.

Take care of the shoe and your body while you are breaking them in, and you both should be good to go for hundreds of miles.

Additional Information:

  • The modern cushioned running shoe is a phenomenon of the last 30-40 years.
  • Minimalists are not recommended by podiatrists for diabetics who often have little sensation in their feet.
  • The minimalist movement gained strength after Christopher McDougall's book "Born to Run" hit the best seller list in 2009. He studied a tribe who had exceptional runners all of whom ran barefoot.
  • The 1960 Olympic marathon in Rom was won barefoot by Abebe Bikila, an Ethiopian.
  • Vibram, an Italian sole manufacturer, created the Five Finger shoe which compartmentalizes each toe. Sales have grown from $470,000 in 2006 to $50 Million in 2010. (The Economist)
  • Minimalist shoes sell for about $100 to $200 a pair.
  • "Minimalist" may be a term that's getting diluted. Look for shoes without a thick cushioned heel. They should be lightweight and constructed of minimal fabric with flexibility, a roomy toe box for toe expansion, and no support enhancements.
  • What's called the "Heel-toe drop" is the difference in the height of the sole in the heel compared to the forefront. Minimalists have about a 3 to 0mm drop.

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