Walk into any sports store or clothing retailer and nine times out of 10, you’ll see a wall lined with colorful (and often expensive) shoes. These so-called ‘high performance’ trainers have become successful because of two simple factors:
- Aggressive Celebrity-Based Marketing and Hype.
- The Western perception that shoes MUST be worn as soon as you leave the house…regardless if you’re running the 1500m at the next Olympics or simply doing the weekly grocery shopping.
Look down at your feet right now. I bet you’re wearing shoes while you’re reading this aren’t you? Sure, so what? They keep your feet warm, protect them from the hot pavement or random sharp objects lying around, and they’re often the central topic of discussion among most fashion gurus.
All this seems innocent right? You bet. However, what if told you that some shoes, particularly sports trainers, can influence our gait (walking/running style) and not necessarily in a positive way…
You may have noticed a growing trend emerging from the running fraternity. Barefoot running has become a relatively small but fiercely committed community of people who have ditched their expensive running shoes and replaced them with the naked biomechanical wonder that is the bare human foot.
Well, the first reason can be seen in the following article featuring Professor Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard University. Our natural running stride involves landing on the ball of each foot or at least the middle of each foot, instead of the heel. This ‘heel-strike’ is experienced by as many as 75 percent of all Americans who regularly run as part of their fitness regime.
For those of us who grew up in Western countries, we’re used to wearing shoes…especially when running. It should therefore come as no surprise that modern running shoes are designed to make heel-striking easy and more comfortable. The padded heel cushions the force of the impact, making heel-striking less punishing.
We’ve become conditioned into thinking that running barefoot is a painful and unnecessary method of torture. However, if you look at the physiological make-up of the human foot you’ll see that it is actually perfectly suited for barefoot running, whereby the landing area of each foot is comprised of a complex myriad of muscles, tendons and ligaments that not only work together in spreading the sudden impact force of each stride…they also make running more efficient and engaging the right leg muscles do work how they should.
Misleading advertising for sports shoes may in fact be increasing the risk and frequency of stress-induced injuries as a result of running. This study looks at the plausible data that argues why advertising of protective devices may lead to a public health hazard and may soon have to be regulated.
Now, barefoot running may sound appealing for those who enjoy ‘legging it’ as opposed to cycling, swimming or other exercise activities. However, if you’re new to this concept, Neil Sharkey, Penn State professor of kinesiology, says that switching over from shoes to barefoot too suddenly may risk both pain and injury.
Runners need to start with small gradual adjustments over a course of a few weeks and months, in order for the the soles of the feet and lower leg muscles to adapt.
Sharkey says: "It's perfectly legitimate to run barefoot where you're certain there isn't anything that could damage your feet.” He suggests running in a safe place where hazards can be easily spotted, such as athletic facilities like a university track or football field.