What Would Our Ancestors Do? Run Barefoot!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Photo: Courtesy of Artie Boutin

Everyone has their own gym attire, but most of the time you see the same work out gear; shorts, a t-shirt and sneakers, but while at the gym recently I noticed something a little more unusual. Instead of sneakers, a girl was wearing shoes that were so unlike sneakers they looked like toe socks. The thin fabric covering her feat outlined each toe and was being held on her foot by a Velcro strap. Is she really going to run in those? I thought to myself. Having learned and studied how to buy the right shoe for your activity and foot type, all I could imagine was how there was no cushion, no support, no stability! I decided to look into this new style shoe and discovered that its purpose is to mimic that of running barefoot.

Sure enough, I found a slew of new articles proclaiming running barefoot was the new trend and came along with multiple benefits. How could running barefoot really be better for you? Wouldn’t you be putting yourself at risk for straining your arch, over-pronating, and cutting you feet to name a few of the dangers? While reading an article written by one of my favorite running magazines Runner’s World titled “Should You Be Running Barefoot” I discovered that the weight of running shoes results in your running speed and time 5% less efficient than it would be if you were running barefoot. Now, this seems irrelevant to those of us gym-goers who are merely trying to stay in shape, not training for a world record but I did learn an interesting concept on how running barefoot affects the brain. When running barefoot “your body precisely engages your vision, your brain, the soles of your feet, and all the muscles, bones, tendons, and supporting structures of your feet and legs. They leap to red alert, and give you a high degree of protection from the varied pressures and forces of running.” Who would have thought that by lacing up each day before a run you are actually tricking your brain into thinking you are protecting yourself when in reality you are doing very little to minimize shock absorption and control stability. 

It is amazing that all we need is to put a little more trust in the ability of our bodies. It makes perfect sense, our ancestors had no sneakers when they were Neanderthals hunting for food, so why should it be any different for us. Trusting our bodies, our minds and muscles will move as one, protecting ourselves, making us stronger and more alert. NPR also posted a great article with a video that shows how different we run when we learn to exercise with shoes on versus without shoes. The shockwave of the person without shoes is significantly different that the way the person wearing sneakers has learned to run. 

Now, are you thinking about trying out running barefoot? I am, and imagine it would be remarkably different and free feeling so I decided to look for where the girl at the gym found her funky, barely-there shoes. I found one site called Vibram FiveFingers that sells a number of these shoes for different forms of physical activity ranging from running to yoga to trail hiking. Shoes will cost about as much as a regular pair of kicks depending on what style you choose but take a look…maybe this new trend of the past is the way of the future!

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