The great shoe debate of Barefoot versus Minimalist Footwear versus Fully Shodden versus Maxi shoes has intensified in recent times. As Physiotherapists & Podiatrists we see many of the results of the shoe revolution.
At the moment there is not a great volume of well researched literature regarding this
issue & there are always many factors that may contribute to an injury with footwear just one of them. Some studies indicate less reported injuries with barefoot running, others indicate more. When more injuries are reported there is a mix of both compression injuries from heel-strike as well as traction injuries related to forces absorbed by the calf muscles & tendons.
One consideration when running barefoot is the terrain in the modern built urban environment including the temperature.
We believe that runners who grew up as runners are usually able to introduce training faster & with less injury than a novice even if there has been some time since they trained. In a similar vein of thought we believe that a runner who has a significant foundation of barefoot running is more likely to be able to introduce either barefoot running or minimalist shoes at a faster rate.
There will always be some runners with more ideal biomechanics, posture & running
form who will be easily be able to change their footwear style. For most others the introduction should be done more slowly.
We recommend barefoot running be initially used as a training aid. There are many ways of introducing barefoot running to your training. You may choose to consult a podiatrist who may assist you in progressing to more minimalist shoes over a few pairs of shoes. You choose to train in different shoes depending on the session. A conventional shoe has a pitch of 6-8, with barefoot at a pitch of 0. The podiatrist can advise on a slow progression to minimalism.
You might choose to consult your physiotherapist during the transition to commence some functional & specific strengthening & balance work. At least 6 weeks of training including transitioning to barefoot or minimalist footwear for warm-ups would be ideal for developing strength.
We recommend choosing to start barefoot running with:
- Speed sessions – as your style when running faster is more likely to involve mid to forefoot strike
- One session per week initially
- Pick your terrain both in terms of surface & hills. A grassy oval might be a
good option. Discuss with your physio or podiatrist the introduction of hills
- Decrease the distances that you do in that session initially.
- Your Physiotherapist can help you with a strength programme to assist.
People with forefoot biomechanical abnormalities or a history of conditions requiring
orthotics should consult with their podiatrist to determine if a transition to barefoot is feasible & for assistance in adapting their footwear appropriately.
During the transition spend some time in non-minimalist footwear to recover & treat long run soreness with icepacks and compression. You may require Physiotherapy treatment during your transition to assist.