The search for the right running shoe is fraught with confusion over whether you need a high pronator, normal or under. Add the choices of brands, price points, uses (e.g., cross country, cross-fit, track) and now add barefoot running shoes. Yes, it sounds like a story from the “Onion,” with these new shoes to add to the endless choices.
So, what’s the big deal about barefoot running, let alone barefoot running shoes? We took to the roadways and the high performance running shops to have a look. Here’s what we discovered.
The concept of barefoot running came to light when a study by Harvard scientists was touted in the Chris McDougall book “Born to Run.” According to the scientists, when you run barefoot, the impact that the foot and the overall body takes is lessened because the forward portion of the foot comes down first, rather than the heel. Fewer injuries result and it is more efficient.
Of course, practicalities aside, such as running on rough surfaces, frozen sidewalks, hot pavement, or sharp debris- strewn streets, most people haven't begun en mass to run sans cushioned shoes. However, the shoe manufacturing industry saw a portion of the market that was truly waiting to be undressed – the naked foot market. Today, there is a large segment of the shoe market dedicated to the barefoot runner.
With the choice to actually run without shoes or find some type of minimal foot covering, the majority have voted with their feet and are opting for what has been termed as either “Barefoot running shoes” or “Minimalist Running Shoes.”
So how do you determine what type of barefoot running shoes to purchase? Here are a few tips:
1. Location, Location, Location – where do you typically run? What surface area are your feet hitting? Do you run on pavement, concrete sidewalks, a sandy beach, or a rocky trail? There are shoes that are designed for cross country/off-road runs and there are shoes that are best for urban runners. Trail shoes provide tread with more traction features and additional supports to protect against abrasions to the feet. The more urban or street shoes offer soles that will help to avoid slippage on wet pavement or concrete. Other designs are more of the crossover variety that are great for running, but also excellent for other sports such as gym workouts or yoga.
2. Shoe Design within Reach -- So, there are the two choices --
Barefoot Running shoes or Minimalist shoes. Which do you decide to purchase?
Barefoot Running Shoes
Soles are bare minimum with little padding for the heel or much layering between the shoe surface and the skin. They all offer a zero drop from the toe to the heel, which is the essence of barefoot running. In regular running shoes there can be a drop of 10-12 mm from back to front of the foot. These often feature actual toe cut-outs in the shoe themselves for greater feeling while running.
The hybrid design that has a very light shoe base with little to no padding, minimal arch support and extra room in the toes so that they can be used to grip and enhance balance while running.
3. The Price is Right -- The next tip is not to skimp on price. If you are going to be running and you want to have the feeling of running with no shoes, make sure you buy a quality pair of shoes. If they aren't high quality, there's a chance they won't do more harm to your feet than if you really did run barefoot. Do your research, read up on various brands and styles before you decide to lay down the cash.
Finally, either way, whether you run naked in the streets or wear a highly-cushioned pair of sneakers at the gym -- stretch, relax, and enjoy your exercise!
-- Kevin Feather
Kevin is the Lifestyle Editor and a contributing writer for LuxuriousPROTOTYPE. He is also a contributing writer for the Examiner.com. He can be found on Twitter @Kfeat and also on Google+.