Thursday, August 30, 2012

An Evolution of Judgment on Barefoot Running

I start this blog with a preface. These are my personal thoughts on this topic and don’t necessarily represent that of Innovative Fitness ownership or staff.

Barefoot running is the latest fad in running and training. Yes, I am aware that we all “started” out as barefoot so maybe it shouldn't be labelled as a fad, but I am using that term anyway. My first reaction to the minimalist shoe movement was that I was against it. I was seeing people everyday with injuries due to their choice of using these barefoot shoes as their footwear and it drove me crazy.  I still think that for the VAST majority of the population, barefoot shoes are a bad idea, not because the principle behind the shoe is bad but because most people do not have the patience or follow-through necessary to train to use them properly.

Typically I was seeing people who would buy the shoes and then, immediately and with no "breaking-in" period, go running in them. Invariably, they would sustain a foot, ankle, knee, or back injury within a few weeks, decide that barefoot running was stupid, and promptly give it up. This is very typical of our society and its 'feast or famine' attitude towards basically everything. On the flip side of this, I was being bombarded by barefoot shoe enthusiasts who were screaming at everyone that we were “born to run” this way and, therefore, everyone should be "barefoot" all the time. "Barefoot", of course, meaning wearing some god-awful looking toe shoe things that look good on virtually nobody.

Now, as I was bristling against these two extremes, I formulated my opinion that I was against the movement and then moved on to other things. Until six months ago, that is, when one of my business partners and I were enjoying a glass of wine and discussing whatever came to us.  He suggested that I reconsider barefoot shoes as simply part of a training mode and not as a "be all and end all" to anything. First, let me say that I value my partner’s expertise and knowledge above almost anyone else's so, when it comes to injuries, I had to at least take pause and consider his advice.

Barely two days later another good friend of mine, who owns an outdoor apparel company, offered me a pair of Merrel Trail Gloves to see if I could better understand the trend. Maybe the universe was trying to give me a nudge? These particular shoes are a barefoot runner (not the toe kind) that fall into the atypical minimalist shoe category. It was this perfect storm of advice and gift that led me to open my mind again and give them a chance.

I started using the shoes. When I say, “started using”, I mean I first wore them for about 15 minutes while I was working with a client. The next day I wore them for 20 minutes and so on. Slowly, over the course of 2-3 months, I was able to work out in them, wear them for a few hours at a time with no problems. I began to realize that they can be a valuable training tool and gave me yet one more thing to add to my bag of tricks.

I am convinced that my original point about the majority of our population not having the patience to properly wear these shoes, let alone run in them, still stands. For me personally, though, it was a lesson in not railing against a trend for the sole sake of railing against faddish trends, but instead searching through the hype and garbage publicity surrounding yet another “revolutionary” product that was hitting the fitness industry and forming my own opinion based on research and personal experimentation.

My considered opinion, now, is as follows:
      1)   Barefoot/minimalist running shoes can be a good training tool when used properly.
      2)   Most people do not have the patience to break their feet in properly and, in order to not injure themselves, should not wear them.
      3)   Nobody should be running on concrete without "real" shoes on.  We may have been born to run, but we were not born to run on concrete!
      4)   Not everyone is built to wear minimalist shoes, but many people could benefit from them if they are used properly.

Now, after that has all been said, I fully understand that many people are serious pro barefoot runners and, to you, I say "Great and Enjoy". For those of you considering getting some of these "shoes", take my advice and approach it as a very slow and drawn out process in order to properly condition your feet, legs, knees, and entire body to run in a fashion that you have not done since you were a child regardless of some long ago ancestors who may or may not have lived without shoes.

          ~ Yoshia

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