Picking shoes that fit your needs.

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A Finnish radio channel has organized a naked running event in the last few years. At least fifty people ran around one block in the middle of Helsinki wearing only shoes and socks. Sounds very interesting and there might be some performance enhancing aids in these events, but I wouldn’t go that far yet. Shoes I would be willing to take off, because barefoot running seems an interesting way to improve results.

The ideology about barefoot running is very interesting. Scientific research has been published about this topic, and at least middle-aged people and older still remember Olympic gold medalist from Rome 1960, Abebe Bikila. I wanted to try Mr. Bikila’s way last summer, and so bought myself a pair of so-called barefoot shoes. It was very interesting to try them out, and ended up going well. No pain whatsoever during or after running. I walked one week in Barcelona, multiple kilometres per day, with these shoes and came up with no problems whatsoever, if it doesn’t count that most of the other athletics fans and locals were pointing at my feet and whispering to each other and smiling all the time.

Barefoot running has been recommended for many years as additional training for runners. Barefoot walking and running enhances proprioception and muscle function, because there is no outer support from shoes. Actually, the human body has superior impact protection of its own, but because we are so used to wearing shoes, and many times very highly cushioned shoes, it doesn’t work properly. Research has shown signs that arch supports and orthotics may interfere with shock-moderating behavior and probably hinder the shock-absorbing downward deflection of the medial arch on landing.

The latest traditional style running shoes also include technology to enhance normal foot motion. I got myself shoes which promise to work as my feet want them to; give support when it’s needed and allow normal motion. With these shoes I haven’t seen too drastic changes yet. They feel ok, but I guess I have to try them through a marathon to see what the real result is. So, now I should finally check next year’s marathon calendar and decide where to go running. The Helsinki City Run in May is the first phase to see where my speed will lead me this year. Last years injuries and, as the most important reason, laziness, didn’t get me very fast through the streets of Copenhagen.

In Copenhagen I spotted a guy who ran the whole race with barefoot shoes. He seemed to be doing very well without any shock absorbance. Having seen and experienced positive things in barefoot running, I challenge all runners interested in enhancing their running performance to include barefoot training and running in their schedules. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the article and please, comment on this article and give some feedback on how you are doing in barefeet!

Aki-Matti Alanen

Physiotherapist & FAF kouluttaja

References:

Anttila S. Paljain jaloin teräväksi. Juoksija;5:2009.

Häyrinen R. Paljaat jalat haastavat kenkäteollisuuden. Juoksija;8:2010.

Warburton M. Barefoot running. Sportscience; 5(3):2001.

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