You may have noticed the explosion in shoe options these days. One end of the spectrum is the rocker-bottomed “shape up” shoes, while on the other end is the barefoot/minimalist option.
Barefoot running has recently experienced a surge in popularity and has been shown to improve foot mobility, stability and activity. Additionally, it has been linked to increased lower limb muscle firing and greater muscle activation patterns through the kinetic chain. In some cases, there is evidence that barefoot training can even decrease lower extremity, hip and low back pain.
There are roughly 206 bones in the human body and exactly one quarter of these, 52 to be exact are in the foot forming 33 joints. As the foot hits the ground and the ground hits the foot with an opposite and equal reaction, a lot of energy is absorbed. A good foot will allow all 33 joints to help decelerate this energy, so it can be used to propel the body forward.
Improper footwear (which is the kind many people wear) forces the foot into a tiny and often adducted space, with an elevated heel over the forefoot (Hoffman, 1905; DAou et al, 2009) It seems very plausible that many shoes may inhibit (to some degree) some of the energy that would normally get dissipated in the foot. The law of conservation of energy states that energy cannot be created or destroyed; therefore, this energy just keeps travelling up the chain. The knee is the joint above the foot that has first dibs on deceleration of this energy.
Barefoot shoes (like Vibrams) are a step against the classic athletic shoe. The idea is that the external device in the usual shoe (i.e. ankle wraps, orthotic insoles, shoe inserts, extra padding etc) allows for a limited range of movement so either injury is either prevented or limited. This, however, is the equivalent to putting a Band-Aid on an open wound. It may mask the wound, but it doesn’t heal it. In an effort to protect and assist through wrapping or restricting the foot and ankle, we may actually inhibit normal pro prioception, muscle and tendon action and overall gait properties.
So whilst traditional training shoes may seem beneficial and mechanically advantageous, they can prevent the foot from moving in a natural pattern. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of research touting the benefits of barefoot shoes (like Vibrams). However, at Eqvvs we believe barefoot shoes allow the foot to do the job it was designed to do (Hoffman, 1905, Daou et al, 2009). Secondly, we feel it can make the weak link in many people stronger, so that it can help the rest of the chain (knee, lower back etc). Thirdly, there would be less tripping because you can feel the ground due to more enhanced sensory information and finally, it truly does feel good to train this way!
In summary, barefoot training is not the only effective method for foot or ankle training. It can fit into a well structured programme if used properly. Appropriately integrated and progressed into training it can be a beneficial tool to increase performance, reduce injuries and increase overall wellness.
Find out how Nicola got on with her trial of these shoes in next weeks’ blog.