Should you ditch the trainers?

A lot of us wear padded trainers to work out in.  These cushion our feet.  Some of us also wear shoes with an unnatural shape and that have a high heel.  I have recently decided to try wearing minimalist shoes and thought I would discuss with you the benefits and possible disadvantages with daring to go bare. 

There are 30 muscle and 26 bones in the human foot making up 1/4 of all the bones in our bodies  When wearing minimalist shoes our feet get the chance to flex and splay so they can re-align and re-strength.  Wearing barefoot or minimalist shoes can strengthen your feet and legs to help avoid injury.  Wearing these types of shoes can also activate the muscles in your feet, ankles and lower legs resulting in better balance. 

However, it’s not just our feet that change from wearing a more minimalist shoe, our whole body can change. Because almost all normal shoes contain an elevated heel, our posture changes, our Achilles tendon shortens, our lower back joints become compressed and our neck becomes overly flexed. 
In the long run, this increases the risk of bulging discs, plantar fasciitis, head and neck pain, amongst other things. 

Women seem to have more foot problems than men and this may be down to the shoes women wear.  I have been wearing my minimalist shoes at work and while training and it was interesting how it affected my balance when I first put them on.  I haven’t been brave enough to try barefoot running yet. Nor would I suggest it straight away, instead just get comfortable walking and performing low impact exercise with them on.

There are some dangers to consider with barefoot running.  Modern running shoes provide support and cushioning.  Wearing barefoot shoes provide little protection from debris on the ground such as sharp objects and can also provide grip when the ground is icy.  The bottoms of our feet are likely to be very soft and tender and running in barefoot shoes may increase plantar pain and blisters.  The lower the heels are to the floor, the harder the Achilles tendon will have to work and may increase Achilles tendinitis and calf strains. 

There is also a lack of arch support.  Having said all this running in minimalist shoes can encourage a midfoot or forefoot strike rather than heel striking which can have the effect of braking each time you strike the ground.  A midfoot or forefoot strike is optimal for distance running.  I would recommend a cautious approach to this if you start running with trying short distances first and building up slowly.  

What are your thoughts on going barefoot?