Barefoot runners ease into nature
Barefoot running has made strides in recent years. But runners shouldn't just ditch their kicks and hit the streets; it's generally recommended they ease into this style. Choosing the right shoe is an important step.
By Striperpedia staff
Minimalist or barefoot running shoes are in demand. In the past several months, dozens of models with dozens of colors each have hit the market, all appealing to runners looking for a more natural range of motion and close-to-the-road feel.
A little background: In 1960, Ethiopian Abebe Bikila won the Olympic Marathon while running barefoot. Recent interest in barefoot running, however, may be attributed to acclaimed barefoot running enthusiast Christopher McDougall and his 2009 book, Born to Run. Since then, others have tried the barefoot phenomenon and swear by it.
Barefoot runners claim that modern running shoes cause injuries by preventing natural movement of feet and legs. It is thought that running without shoes can actually help to strengthen feet, ankles and lower legs while also improving balance. Others, however, remain skeptical. Many runners have high arches and other foot types that favor the cushioned support of a standard running shoe.
“It’s a hot debate,” says Footlocker.com running shoe buyer Craig Lefebvre, “but a lot of people enjoy it. Designers are finding ways to develop a happy medium — the minimalist shoe, which provides the benefits of barefoot running with the support and protection of a standard running shoe.”
Minimalist running shoes are becoming a favorite among many experienced and beginning “barefoot” runners. These shoes are characteristically lightweight and often are described as having a “sock-like fit” or wearing a “second skin.” The flexible outsoles provide support for the ankle, forefoot and midsole while yielding support in the heel to promote a natural footstrike for the development of stronger foot and leg muscles.
“Runners like the idea of barefoot running and are excited for the natural feel, but they have a hard time imagining running without shoes on. Mostly, they are worried about stepping on dirt and debris and being cut,” Lefebvre says.
Just as standard running shoes have many models and benefits, so do minimalist running shoes. Here are some examples of how popular running shoe brands have addressed the trend toward barefoot/minimalist running:
Researchers at Nike spent years studying the biomechanics of barefoot running, and as a result, Nike Free technology was born. The outsoles of Nike Free running shoes featured siping (deep slices) and reverse flex grooves to encourage flexion and extension in both directions, which allowed feet to move and flex as if they were barefoot. A lightweight seamless upper was used atop this flexible outsole. Nike Free shoes merged the natural, healthy motion of a bare foot with the protection of traditional footwear.
“The Nike Free Run+ was one of the first of its kind,” Lefebvre says. “It’s a little heavier than a true minimalist model, but it provides more cushioning and is designed to lead runners into barefoot running. The purpose of the shoe is to promote natural movement for building muscle strength in the feet and legs. This strength “training” prepares runners for the next step – barefoot running.”
Each shoe in Reebok’s RealFlex line used 76 strategically placed sensors that independently adapted to the environment. These sensors on the bottom of the shoe were strategically positioned to twist, bend, expand, and support to help athletes’ feet move in a more natural, barefoot-like motion.
“The influence behind the design build for minimalist running was a barefoot runner,” said Reebok Running Global Product Marketing Director Ted FitzPatrick. “We wanted to get a shoe design that felt like running barefoot — with a supportable and durable shoe.”
“I’ve really enjoyed running in mine,” said Bobby Curtis, an NCAA champion who has run the seventh-fastest 10K in U.S. history and whose personal bests include a 10K time of 27:33 and a 5K in 13:18, both set in 2010. “I’ve done a 90-minute run, 3x2 mile on the grass and a few short runs in them. Overall I think they’re great. The upper is amazing, and the shoe itself is lightweight and flexible, but cushioned enough to not beat up your legs too badly. [Recently] I ran about 50 miles during the week in them.”
The “33” is a lightweight, minimalist running shoe line by ASICS that encouraged natural foot movement. Inspired by the 33 joints in the foot that must work together to allow it to move more efficiently, the first two shoes of the ASICS 33 series were the GEL-Blur33 and the GEL-Rush33. They weighed 9.88 ounces (men’s size 9) and 9.63 ounces (men’s 9), respectively. The idea behind the ASICS 33 series was to provide shoes with comfort, cushioning and flexibility during everyday use while remaining lightweight.
New Balance Minimus
The New Balance Minimus Series is a departure from “traditional” athletic footwear. The Minimus series consists of three shoes: Minimus Trail (7.1 ounces), Minimus Road (8.2 ounces), and the Minimus Life (5.6 ounces). These shoes were created to offer the ultimate minimalist experience by focusing on four areas of the shoe that can make it lighter in weight while remaining comfortable.
The drop in heigh from heel to toe of these shoes was just 4mm, which provided a natural foot position. The forefoot was a bit wider so the foot could expand naturally on impact. The lower heel height encouraged a midfoot strike.
At 4.4 ounces, the Hattori was the most noticeable of the three, as it became Saucony’s most minimal and lightest shoe ever. The Hattori had zero drop from heel to forefoot and fit the foot like a slipper. The Mirage and Kinvara both were minimal shoes but with slightly more cushioning than the Hattori.
PUMA developed its Faas series by studying the training habits of Jamaican athletes, in some of the fastest runners in the world. PUMA found that rather than running on treadmills and with speed parachutes, they train in their natural surroundings. This was the inspiration of the Faas series, and PUMA used the minimalist theory of “less is more.”
To create this minimalist shoe, PUMA developed a lightweight system called BioRide, an integrated system that lent a more natural and responsive ride. It came together from three integrated parts; Rocker, Flex and Groove. The rocker shape allowed for a biomechanically efficient stride with an effortless toe-off. The flex grooves built across the tooling increased responsiveness. The groove in the heel reinforced stability on impact.
Before you kick off your shoes
Even barefoot runners have been quick to point out that barefoot or minimalist running is not for everyone. Without care, this style of running can lead to injury. As with any new routine, or change to a routine, runners were recommended to start slowly and prepare a training schedule. Minimalist running shoes were designed to be a transitional step toward barefoot running.
This way, runners could condition their feet and develop the experience necessary to make a concrete decision on whether to go barefoot or stay with minimalist shoes.