Time was when we all had to wear proper trainers like the one above and change them regularly. The trainers got more and more sophisticated in their motion control, and the prices shot up accordingly. Now there is a revolution happening – we are finding out that our feet are actually rather good at their job of zooming us about the earth without any assistance. And furthermore they’ve had up to 2 million years of practice at it.
Trying to catch up with the trend and get a modern barefoot trainer is not as easy as we might think. Most shops stocking them are in London. Going outside London, there are many sports shoe shops, but the huge majority fight shy of these new completely flat and flexible trainers. I wonder if it is partly because the injury rate of people taking these shoes up is so high.
‘I’m a seasoned runner. I’m sure these flatter ones will be just fine.’
The problem with most trainer shoes is that they cannot be twisted. Of course the forefoot bends – or we wouldn’t be able to walk in them at all. But if we grab the shoe and twist or bend it, it won’t move where the arch of the foot is. Added to that, most trainers have varying degrees of arch support, so when we walk or run in them, our feet cannot properly spring down and up as they should.
Trainers like the one above are akin to wearing a neck brace. The foot is so supported and cushioned that the little muscles in the feet do not get used, so atrophy. If we wear a neck brace for hours every day then take it off, our neck will be unable to hold itself up properly. And so with trainers. If we ditch our supportive trainers, the muscles of the feet are now very weak and unable to carry our body weight properly.
Added to that, the brain loses all sense of how the bones in our feet should articulate.
Above we see almost the most extreme of the barefoot trainer – the Vibram five finger. Ultimately, they are quite a trainer to workout in. Wiggling the toes into the ‘fingers’ takes quite a bit of practice at first and there is no other trainer that encourages toes to straighten out.
But before leaping into these delightful things, it is wise to start strengthening the feet and reacquainting the brain with the joints there. To reduce the chance of injury, transitional trainers such as the Nike Free 5s or the Inov-8 Road-X 233 are good places to start. Both have a slightly higher heel, which eases the calves and soleus muscle towards its fully springy length. There is no arch support, so the arches of the feet get a workout. The shoe is padded, so less of a shock than the true barefoot trainer. Nevertheless, running distance should be considerably reduced to avoid injury. Another possibility, if a running nut, is to take a short run in them, then do a longer run in existing trainers. And slowly increase distance in the transitional trainers.
The main problem with these transitional trainers is they still encourage heel strike. Barefoot running involves striking the ground with the forefoot, followed by the heel. Whilst on the way to ditching the support, try to run landing on the mid foot and not the heel and land the foot underneath the body instead of ahead. When finally blowing away the pads and supports, do a little completely barefoot running. Nothing else stops heel striking so rapidly. Landing on the heel when running barefoot makes it feel as if your teeth are going to fall out, such is the jarring through the body.
After about 6 months, we can go to the next flatter pair, and eventually to completely flat. Most companies have jumped on the bandwagon and produce their version of a barefoot trainer.
Of course, there is the ultimate of going completely barefoot. Or there is running in a pair of huaraches:
How to strengthen the feet? Come and see me and I’ll explain.