Image from: http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/products/Five-Fingers-Speed-Womens.htm
When SELF Magazine recently asked me to test out a couple of barefoot-style fitness shoes for their annual Sneaker Awards, I jumped at the chance. I’d been hearing a lot about the benefits of barefoot running – for example, it’s supposed to cut down on injury and rev up running efficiency
Plus, going barefoot – or wearing minimalist shoes without much sole support – is said to make your feet a lot stronger and generally function better. One reason is because your feet get to “feel” more varied terrain, which improves how your foot absorbs shock, so the rest of your joints don’t have to deal with it so much.
Even though the barefoot fitness movement intrigues me, I still wasn’t ready to brave Vancouver’s streets – or the high-traffic treadmill at my local gym – without some form of protection for my usually sheltered-by-shoes feet.
Barefoot shoes seemed like the right solution. As part of SELF’s shoe review process, I spent several weeks working out in two different types of barefoot shoes: cross-trainers (complete with five separate toes “pockets” – these shoes actually resembled bare feet) and running shoes (with only four toe “pockets”; my fourth and baby toe shared a pocket).
Once I was able to wiggle my feet into the shoes – it’s harder than you might think to get each toe in its corresponding pocket – I quickly got used to wearing shoes that felt, well, like I wasn’t wearing shoes! There’s virtually no sole support so you really feel the ground with each step.
I’ve always gone barefoot in yoga, but I began to see – or rather feel – the advantages of more high-impact barefoot exercise, too.
For example, I felt more connected to the treadmill when running. And it seemed as if I had a better foot “grip” on equipment or the floor when using a BOSU Balance Trainer or stability ball.
I don’t know that I’ll ever run or walk outside completely barefoot. But I might do it in barefoot shoes when the weather gets nicer. That way, I don’t have to worry about sharp rocks, glass or whatever gross things might be lurking on the sidewalk. In the meantime, I’ll be preparing my feet for more barefoot exercise by continuing to wear minimalist shoes with little sole support.
If you’re curious about exercising in barefoot shoes, it’s wise to train your feet for the experience: Go for very short walks or jogs first; walk around at home in barefoot shoes; strengthen your feet on balance equipment; and consider softer terrain, such as grass or a rubber running track. (Note: Not everyone is suited for barefoot exercise; consult with your doctor and a fitness expert to determine if it’s right for you).
Have you already tried cross-training or running either barefoot or in barefoot shoes? Are you sold on it, or not?