People are getting back to the basics with Paleo diets and minimalist shoes. Eating and walking like cavemen is the latest trend. Vibram, Merrell, Nike and many other companies make shoes that have little to no support. It’s quite the change from the overly supportive shoes that have dominated sneaker design for decades.
For awhile sneakers seems to be getting larger and larger each season!
Going from a highly supportive shoe to one with minimal support can cause injury when not done properly. Progression is key. First, identify where you fall in the shoe continuum. How different is the shoe you’re currently wearing from the barefoot shoe you want to purchase?
Take your sneaker off and twist it. Does it move a lot, a little or not at all? If it doesn’t move at all, you’ll be safest to transition into sneakers that are halfway between the old and new ones. Your feet and body will thank you!
High Heel Sneakers?
Your sneakers might actually be high heels. If your shoe is higher in the back then the front, you have yourself a pair of heels, even if you’re a man. This design originated to cushion the foot as the heel strikes the ground. Because the heel is lifted up about an inch in this type of sneaker, it causes the achilles tendon to be in a shortened position. This also shortens the four lower leg muscles that it anchors to.
Muscles need to lengthen to contract, so when these “calf” muscles are shortened with a high heel shoe, they can’t do their job adequately. This causes other muscles to compensate and can have effects all the way up to the neck. Every joint has a given range of motion that it’s capable of. When it loses that motion, other joints pick it up so that the body can function optimally. Over time this compensation can lead to injury.
Coming Back to Earth
If you’re ready to become more natural and try minimalist/barefoot shoes, do it gradually. Work your way from the high heel into a slightly smaller heel for a few months and keep doing that until you get down to the minimalist shoe. It sounds tedious, but is the safest way to re-introduce your lower leg muscles to full function. Set aside your impulse to buy the latest style of sneaker and think long term.
Dating Your New Shoes
If you’re too impatient to progress or haven’t been wearing a highly supportive sneaker, you can buy those attractive barefoot shoes you’ve been eyeing. Only wear them for 30-45 minutes at a time around the house at first. Eventually, take them for a casual walk and then wear them to the gym. Save running or jumping in them until you’ve had them for a few months.
Think of this like dating. Don’t do everything on the first date. Work your way in slowly.
The Benefits of Barefoot Shoes
Once you’ve become acquainted with your new minimalist shoes, your body will start to change. Your feet muscles will gradually become stronger and start doing their job again. Add foot exercises into your exercise routine to facilitate this. Wearing supportive shoes allows the muscles to take a break, but when this is done for prolonged periods of the time the muscles can become lazy. See a fitness professional or exercise specialist for help ideas.
Barefoot shoes bring us back to the mechanics that we were born with. Shoes were originally created to protect our feet from the ground. Somewhere along the line they evolved into “crutches” for our feet. Maybe it’s because our understanding as a species has evolved over time or because the shoe industry is always looking for some new technology to implement.
Either way, it’s nice to see the shoe industry coming back around to the basics, even if it is a trend. Hopefully, this one will stick around, it seems to make good sense.