Every so often, you might come across a runner, or even walker, who has intentionally who has decided to complete their trip barefooted. The ironic thing is that way back in human history, this was common practice, and to have shoes, was in fact abnormal. Then along came shoes, originally just to protect the foot from cold surfaces and sharp objects. We have come a long way since then, with footwear acting as fashionable statements and performance enhancers. More recently, however, science is developing an argument that we should in fact, be going back to those early days and carrying out our daily lives in a barefoot manor. So lets dig a little deeper and find out what both sides of the debate have to say.
The science behind running (almost) barefoot:
According to science, the human foot in it’s natural state is wide, flexible and very sensitive. Like a car, our feet have a driving force, an engine to them that powers their ability to perform and in the case of our feet, it’s the big toe. When we run, walk, jump etc, our feet are designed to push off from the ball and big toe of the foot. Therefore, the modern day cushioned sole that we are used to now, reduces the amount of sensory feedback our feet are able to provide to our brains, resulting in less skilled and weaker steps. The narrow shape of modern shoes means the muscles between the toes and ball of the foot might also lose strength and performance over time.
It is thought that shoes were first created over 40,000 years ago, when humans were still living outside and hunting on the run. The original shoes were only supposed to do one thing, protect us from sharp objects and the cold, not change our foot’s natural shape or movement techniques. Human bodies know 3 ways to move, walk, run or sprint. Each type of movement requires the body to move in a certain way and therefore, requires the brain to properly understand which form of motion we are performing. This side of the fence says modern day footwear reduces the brains sensory feedback, leading to bad postures and inefficient movement.
Therefore, advocates to the barefoot movement say their way of life will lead to a more efficient and injury-reduced way of moving. This is something they believe we must go back to given the fact that we have gone from being hunter gatherers, to farmers and now sedentary modern workers. A brand leading the barefoot movement is Vivobarefoot, a brand we discussed in our previous article.
The science behind shoes:
The modern shoe has evolved massively. As science gathers more and more date, human’s understanding of our feet, their structure and how they function continues to develop. The more this knowledge and science develops, the more sophisticated and complex our shoes have become, offering a whole breadth of choice and option. Modern footwear looks to offer greater amounts of arch support and pronation stability, decreasing inefficient motion in the lower half of the body and pelvis. They also have increased levels of padding in the heel to absorb how much impact the ground has when we exert force, increasing comfort and efficiency.
The science can be difficult to ignore when you see some of the performance results coming out of sports massively dependant of good quality footwear. Take the Nike Alphafly Next% for example. When Eliud Kipchoge ran a marathon in 1:59:40, he did so in a prototype of this shoe. This running shoe is packed with technology that includes two air-filled pods in the forefoot and lots of foam in the heel.
Therefore, advocates to the shoe movement say their way of life leads to safe, faster and more fashionable looking feet.
Like most things in life, the best way to approach this argument, is to inform yourself first, test after. It is common knowledge that those who choose to go down the barefoot route, need to give their feet time to adjust and strengthen to their new ground-level way of life.