When you buy tyres for your car, what are your criteria for selection?
For some people, they will choose the cheapest tyres, because tyres are tyres. Others will go for the most expensive version because more money means better quality and they last longer. Others will ask the salesman about performance and which tyres they need to be able to take corners better or get better fuel economy.
Well, it wasn’t that long ago that buying a pair of running shoes was very similar to this. Back then, you walked into a shoe store and chose your shoes based on price, what the salesman said you needed or perhaps by the pretty colours they came in.
Those days are gone.
Our shoe choices are now based on a more informed and perhaps even philosophical bias. By this I mean we are steered in our decision by questions such as, ‘motion control’ or ‘neutral’, ‘lightweight and breathable’ or ‘heavier and hard wearing’, ‘4ml drop minimalist’ or ‘standard 14ml+ drop’, ‘zero drop barefoot style’ or ‘extra cushion (aka Hoka One One)’.
For those of us that may not have spent hours reading the literature and research or doing your own testing of different styles, the choice can be daunting and the default decision is likely to go back to the shoe store attendant, price or colour. And why wouldn’t you be confused? For decades the shoe companies have been telling you that you need more support, more cushion, more stability. Now some of those same companies are telling you that a flatter, less supportive shoe with less inbuilt “technology” is the way forward. Couple that with a flood of literature telling you that barefoot is best and shoes are the devil; then a well regarded Podiatrist comes out and states that barefoot running is dangerous, should be avoided and will cause injury.
It’s enough to make you want to take up swimming, right?
We at Brewsters Running have a very strong opinion on shoe selection and this is based on some solid research. This research has come from three places.
Firstly , we have been running road and trail races (short distance to Ultra-Marathons for over a decade) and have spent time in both the supportive shoe and the minimalist/barefoot camps.
Secondly, as a Sports Injury Therapist, I’ve seen what certain shoe choices can do to a person and then how changing that choice can dramatically change their state of their body.
Thirdly, the topic of my Master’s degree research was the effects of barefoot running on the bio mechanics of the foot and ankle.
And what have we learned from all this…?
Less Is Better.
Without the shadow of a doubt, shoes that provide less support, less motion control, less cushioning and generally have less of an effect on the foot’s natural movement, are better for your feet and your body.
However, this advice comes with a disclaimer – and that is any dramatic change to what you wear on your feet, especially if you are running, can be catastrophic if it is done too quickly.
There are of course some cases where the person may be suffering from a particular structural fault or injury, and in those cases, some additional protection in the shoe may be warranted. There is also a lot of evidence to say that barefoot activity can actually change the structural state of the feet and strengthen the feet to avoid or overcome injury. Whatever your situation, if you decide to take the more natural path, be sure to choose a shoe in the beginning that is not vastly different from the ones you have been wearing, or alternatively, try going barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes for short bursts of time over a period of months.
I can’t argue with the fact that some people can wear traditional supportive shoes and have little or no problems with injury, but in most cases, this comes down to them have a naturally (or well trained) efficient style of running. For most people, an efficient and safer running gait is hindered by thicker soled shoes and therefore less shoe means better efficiency.
What about the terrain surface? Aggressive rocky trails can wreak havoc on an unprotected foot. Though, minimalist and barefoot trail shoes are now are being produced with protective rock-plates built in without compromising normal foot motion.
What if you over-pronate or have flat arches? How are you supposed to absorb all that shock and not get injured? Try less supportive shoes or regular barefoot running and watch your feet literally change shape over time and strengthen as an adaptation to the extra work they are doing.
I could go on for pages, but I won’t. What I will do is say that for the sake of your feet, your knees, your hips and your spine, consider giving barefoot or at least a more minimalist shoe a go.
If you would like some advice on shoe selection, tips on more efficient running technique or if you just don’t know where to start, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to get you moving in the right direction.