Toe shoes, bare feet: The search for injury-free running


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What’s the deal with toe shoes? Just recently, actress Shailene Woodley was spotted, and bashed, by Gawker for wearing a black pair of what they describe as “simian monstrosities” to a Golden Globes after party. A few months back, Danny Glover wore white Vibram FiveFingers with a matching white suit to a press event back during the Deauville Film Festival in France.

Form and function don’t always go together. When it comes to sports and fitness, function almost always takes precedence. While we’re not sure what Hollywood’s fashion plans are for the toe shoe, we know for sure that they are the result of the minimalist and barefoot running phenom, and they have their pros and cons. Before you decide to jump on the fashion bandwagon (we hope you don’t, but then again, Crocs happened) or just want to run barefoot altogether, do some research first. You can injure yourself if you don’t make a gradual transition.

According to Running Times magazine, minimalist running “asks the runner to look for the least amount of shoe he or she can safely wear now, and to work toward reducing the amount of shoe necessary through strengthening the foot and improving one’s stride. It assumes that running is a natural movement of the body, rather than an unnatural act that requires pads and braces to perform safely. Putting it plainly, the movement embraces the notion that the beefier the shoe, the more a runner’s natural stride is inhibited.”

Traditional sneakers do most of the work when you walk or run, leaving your foot and ankle muscles atrophied. If worn properly, minimalist running shoes and barefoot running are supposed to strengthen your foot and ankle muscles, leading to less injury when running. Be warned, you cannot simply strap on a pair of Vibrams and run a marathon. These shoes have little or no support, and no cushioning. Your body has to gradually adapt. For instance, you may have to adjust your stride since minimalist/barefoot runners usually have a shorter stride.

Vibram’s website offers customers tips on getting started in their shoes and even provides a foot fitness program to follow during your transition.

Jason Robillard, author of “The Barefoot Running Book” and a founding member of the Barefoot Runners Society, a national nonprofit organization that advocates the acceptance of barefoot running, suggests starting out learning the proper form of barefoot running, and then use minimalist shoes as needed. This will give you time to strengthen your muscles and allow your body to adapt with good form. Click here for an in-depth tutorial on how to get started running barefoot.

Thinking about running barefoot? You don’t have to be an ultramarathon runner to do it. Check out the video below featuring members of the Minnesota Chapter of the Barefoot Runners Society for a glimpse into the lives of sneakerless runners. Just watch for glass!

Tell us: Have you switched to minimalist/barefoot running? What do you think? We want to know!