Lately we’ve been discussing the hot button issue of barefoot running: is good for you? Is it bad for you? Are the lawsuits being brought against companies like Vibram legitimate, or does science say otherwise?
The human body is nature’s machine
What many detractors of the practice of barefoot running seem to disregard is that the human body is naturally adept at moving. It is especially well-designed for walking and running, activities they evolved to do. The human foot, along with the lower leg, is incredibly fit for absorbing impacts without the need for shoes. Scientists have actually discovered that wearing shoes significantly changes the way we walk and run, in some cases increasing the amoung of pressure places on our heels by up to two or three times our whole body weight!
People who run without shoes, in contrast, often land on the ball of the foot, rather than the heel, giving them a more springy step. Their gait is also different: they tend to strike shorter and with higher frequency, increasing the muscle activity in the feet and legs. So we’re looking at more frequent, but shorter and less impactful strikes that utilize more of the muscles in the leg and foot than in people with shoes. Amazing!
Getting to the bottom of bare feet
It isn’t an entirely rosy picture for all barefoot runners. There are some dangers, besides the obvious hazards like stepping on sharp rocks or glass. In our next post, we’ll discuss some of the science against running without shoes, and give our suggestions for our readers.
Here at Vibram Shoe Sale, we love Vibram’s FiveFingers shoes because of the way they get us closer to the way we were meant to run – barefoot. But, paradoxically, barefoot running has come to be seen as an “extreme” activity in the minds of the public over the last decade, with lawsuits brought against companies like Vibram who claim that their shoes are safe to run in. Over the next few posts, we’ll talk about the benefits and then the risks of barefoot running.
Barefoot for millenia
In a recent study, scientist found that barefoot running was considered an “extreme” sport – quite shocking considering the long history of barefoot running across the world. That history spans back as far back as the ancient Greeks, whose runners historians believe ran barefoot. In fact, the first “marathoner” is said to be an ancient Greek who, after the Battle of Marathon, ran from Athens to Sparta to tell the Greeks of their victory over the Persians. Even today, there are tribes in Kenya and Mexico who always run barefoot. An Ethiopian runner won the Olympic marathon in Rome in the 1960s without shoes, and a number of runners in the aughts have proven that the practice is safe and practical today.
The UK experiment mentioned earlier, in which participants considered barefoot running to be extreme, the participants also admitted that they thought of running without shoes as “natural.” They also trusted anecdotal information and analysis from running shoe stores over academic knowledge and the advice of health professionals. In the next post, we’ll discuss what medical professionals have to say about the practice of running shoeless.
Given the recent lawsuits brought against Vibram in response to their claims that their FiveFingers running shoes can help build muscle and strengthen feet, it seems timely that we take a step back and talk about what FiveFingers are, why they were created, and how they are meant to be used.
What are FiveFingers?
FiveFingers are a kind of shoe manufactured by Vibram that is designed to replicate being barefoot. The sole of the shoe is thin and flexible, and the shoe itself is made to mimic the shape of a human foot, giving them their distinctive look because of their ability to contour the foot. They are common shoes for dedicated runners and those who prefer minimalist products, especially in warmer climates.
FiveFingers were originally designed for and marketed to yacht racers, who often have trouble maintaining their grip on the slippery decks of their yachts. FiveFingers mimic the feel of being barefoot while giving the yachters the grip needed to race. However, Ted McDonald, a well-known barefoot running coach in addition to being the CEO of Vibram, began running in the shoes and believed they could be marketed as such. It is well known that running barefoot — an experience mimicked by FiveFingers — can decrease a number of injuries associated with runners, including planar fasciitis and ankle sprains.
However, without proper oversight and a slow ramping up to running barefoot, injuries could, of course, be caused. Although a lawsuit was brought against the company over their claims that FiveFingers could successfully mimic running barefoot, it should be remembered that one must not start running in the shoes cold turkey.