The shoe world has vastly become a huge moneymaker for companies that are involved in the athletic shoe kingdom. From Shapeup’s from Reebok to the funny looking toe shoes, you can find shoes that claim to make you faster and even make your butt firmer. But with all different companies out there how the heck can you tell the difference between which shoe will best fit you? We first have to take a look at what makes shoes companies differ from each other. You have wide shoes like New Balance and you have narrow shoes such as Nike’s. Even within each company you have different forms as well. For instance, Nike has Shox which have a huge heel and a stiff sole compared to their Free’s which are very flat and offer very little support. We also have high tops, mids and low top to think about as well.
Through the years shoe companies have used every type of cushion from air, gel and 3M foam. But as research is starting to show, less cushion is actually better. With all this cushion causes heel elevation which in turn alters our natural biomechanics and gait pattern. When we look at the gait pattern of a run with shoes on compared to barefoot, we can see a difference. The biggest difference we see is that when the person wears shoes there is a strong heel strike compared to those who were barefoot.
You can see a sharp and instant force with shoes on compared to a more gradual force when running barefoot. With shoes on, humans tend to produce the heel strike which produces much more shock on the joints compared to that of running barefoot which does a much better job distributing force with a forefoot contact instead.
We can also look at other health risks to wearing the traditional running shoe such as ankle sprains. A high top or mid type shoe, and even low tops, can actually treat the foot as if it is in a cast. If we have too much support surrounding the foot how can it become stronger? If the foot lacks mobilization and range of motion the muscles are basically non-functioning and paralyzed. We must activate those muscles so that we are not dependent on the shoe for this support.
Most shoes also reduce neural feedback from the lower extremities to the brain. If we have no feedback to where we are in space, we tend to get injured because of foot position and decrease in function of mechanoreceptors.
Barefoot running has shown to decrease ankle sprains, knee ligament damage, plantar fasciitis, hip and lower back pain. Although research has proven that barefoot training has much more benefits than running in the traditional running shoe, this just isn’t an option for most athletes and general public. Luckily shoe companies are starting to see the research and come out with barefoot alternatives. Although there are many types out there, the top 3 I would recommend would be the Vibram Five Fingers, Nike Free’s and New Balance Minimus.
These shoes are the lightest, have the least amount of support/restrictions, have the least amount of heel height and have the greatest sole flexibility on the market. Although the Nike’s and New Balance shoes are the most attractive and are more popular, the Vibrams are actually the best shoe of the three because of their softness. The Vibram company makes the sole for the New Balance Minimus. Shoes I would stay away from; Reebok Shapeup’s, Nike Shox and ladies…..high heels! Reebok claimed that their Shapeups would actually make your butt firmer and tone your legs. Reebok actually had no proof of this and eventually got sued for false advertising and agreed to pay a $25 million dollar settlement . Nike Shox are very similar as high heels since their shoe also has an elevated heel. Studies have shown that an elevated heel can increase knee flexion torque and increases the work of the quadriceps muscle, increases strain through the patella tendon, and increases pressure across the patellofemoral joint. Over time, these stresses can cause injuries.
As with any change of exercising, barefoot training duration is important to pay attention to. You should start off with short runs and listen to your body. You might feel more soreness in many parts of your body. These are areas that are now active in stability and balance that your previous shoe was not doing for you before. Take your time in your progressions and you will start to see the benefits of how our primitive ancestors once roamed the earth without the movement injuries we are seeing today.
-Dewey Nielsen for his thought provoking Facebook status, lol