Footwear and Barefoot Running

mr podiatry sports podiatrist

Footwear and Barefoot Running

Footwear and barefoot running is something that gets endlessly discussed particularly in running forums.  Every practitioner will have their own views on barefoot running and what kinds of footwear are suitable for their patients.  And every patient will have their own views formed either through reading on the internet, experience, or evidence they’ve gathered from other sources.

There are endless “studies” on footwear, much of it poor quality.  But everyone has an opinion and can find some form of evidence to back it up.  Whether the evidence is useful or even relevant is a completely different question.

So with all of the different footwear that is out there, and all of the different theories on running, how do we know what shoe is best for us?  Every person is an individual, and therefore all feet are different and individual as well.  But in this blog, all information is broad and general in nature.  However, based on experience and knowledge of runners and feet, it will be broadly accurate for 90% of people.

First, a few questions for you.  Are you an elite athlete?  Are you running 70-80kms a week?  Do you have large muscle mass in your legs and feet?  Do you run on soft surfaces such as grass and running tracks exclusively?  If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then barefoot running may be suitable for you.  Barefoot running (or minimalist running) was designed to replicate the running form of our ancestors.  Essentially it mimics the running of early-man who apparently had no foot problems at all (there is no evidence that this is true, but let’s assume it is for these purposes).  However, the vast majority of people are not elite athletes, are not running 70kms+ per week, and run on mixed surfaces including concrete and bitumen.  In which case, an even smaller percentage of people will be candidates for barefoot running.

For the majority of people, we are active without being elite, and are fit without being the fittest on earth.  Therefore, our running habits are largely on mixed surfaces in and around our neighborhoods, which is generally concrete and bitumen.  Hard surfaces.  Humans for the last few hundred years have dramatically changed their environment, which has changed our footwear needs accordingly.  Usually we need to have some form of pressure redistribution and shock absorption to prevent the high impact forces caused by such hard, unforgiving surfaces.  This means our footwear needs to provide it as our bones and muscles are just not designed for such surfaces.

There are literally hundreds of types of these shoes for any type of activity in any type of weather on any type of terrain.  So being specific is impossible.  Therefore, there are a couple of general rules to remember:

  1.  The shoe should be relatively light.  You don’t want to be dragging around any more weight on your feet than is necessary.
  2. The shoe should be relatively neutral.  Big heavy rollbars, pronation prevention, and all the various buzz words about reducing force is often designed to sell a more expensive shoe to you.  There is only so much that can be done with a shoe.
  3. The shoe should be comfortable.  If the shoe is uncomfortable in store, chances are it isn’t going to get much better.  So put it back and try one of the other brands.  There’s hundreds to choose from.

And that’s it.  Pretty basic stuff.  There is no ideology attached to this, and it is pretty straight-forward.  No, I’m not selling you anything.  No, I have no ideology behind my opinions.  And no, I am not trying to attract more business.  It’s basic common sense that you can apply the next time you think about changing your shoes for running.  Enjoy!

Photo Credit:  New Balance Australia