Foot biomechanics play a crucial role in determining how we run, walk, and move. How our feet move can contribute to issues we feel in other parts of our body such as knee, hip, and lower back pain. Barefoot and minimalist shoe running has gained significant popularity in recent years, with advocates claiming numerous benefits for foot health and performance. Let’s consider the pros and cons of this running approach, examining its potential advantages and drawbacks.
Pros of Barefoot Shoe Running
Strengthening Intrinsic Foot Muscles:
One of the primary advantages we regularly hear about of barefoot/minimalist shoe running is that it stimulates and strengthens the intrinsic foot muscles. The intrinsic foot muscles are small but strong muscles that play a major role in maintaining the arches of the foot and provide stability while we are in motion. They aid in balance and also help work with the plantar fascia to absorb load. As a result, regular barefoot or minimalist shoe running may help reduce the risk of foot injuries caused by weakness in these muscles.
Proprioception, otherwise known as kinesthesia, is your body’s ability to sense movement, action, and location. Sensory feedback from our feet to our brain is increased with barefoot running thereby increasing our proprioceptive awareness. This may make us more efficient in adjusting gait and strike patterns while running which in turn may reduce the risk of landing with excessive force and allow up better reaction time to uneven surfaces.
Improved Biomechanical Efficiency:
Proponents of minimalist running make the argument that this running style allows for a more efficient and natural running gait by removing the restrictions from a traditional running shoe. It may encourage mid or forefoot strike patterns which are more energy-efficient and less impactful on the runner’s joints.
Reduced Risk of Overstriding:
Overstriding is when a runner’s foot lands too far in front of their body when running. This can be a common issue for runners especially if they haven’t spent time developing good running form. With an over stride, you land with your foot in front of your knee which effectively acts as a break. Your stance is less stable when your foot is out in front of you, so your upper body has to catch itself with every step. Minimalist shoes are thought to help minimize this problem by promoting shorter and quicker strides. It is thought to promote a more balanced and injury-resistant running form.
Cons of Minimalist Shoe Running
Risk of Overuse Injuries:
Strengthening the intrinsic foot muscles can be beneficial. It is important to remember that overdoing it too quickly can lead to overuse injuries. This is no different than starting any new workout routine. Transitioning to barefoot or minimalist shoe running can take time and in some cases months to get to a place where you can do your full distance, regular intensity run. A gradual adaptation period to allow the foot muscles, tendons, and ligaments to adjust properly is recommended. This could be working towards a minimalist shoe by choosing running shoes that are less structured but still add some support and over time, continue to reduce this support. It could also mean changing your training routine to shorter runs and walks while your body adapts to less support. Sudden changes in footwear may increase the risk of conditions like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, and stress fractures.
Lack of Protection:
Running barefoot or with minimalist shoes offers little protection from sharp objects, rough surfaces, and extreme weather conditions. The risk of injury may be higher from debris or uneven terrain.
Not Suitable for Everyone:
Barefoot or minimalist shoe running is not suitable for all individuals. People with pre-existing foot issues, such as flat feet or high arches, may find it difficult to adapt to minimalist running. In fact, they may find it uncomfortable or even harmful which aggravates or contributes to the development of new injuries. The adaptation may be challenging for some and easier for others based on their foot structure and health history.
Limited Applicability in Competitive Running:
While minimalist running may offer some advantages in terms of foot strengthening and gait efficiency, it might not be the best choice for competitive runners who aim for peak performance. Traditional running shoes have advanced cushioning and support technologies. They are designed to enhance performance and reduce fatigue during long-distance races. That being said, many elite athletes do incorporate barefoot or minimalist running into their training regiment.
Strengthening intrinsic foot muscles, improved proprioception, and biomechanical efficiency are among the possible benefits of barefoot and minimalist-style running. However, it is important to consider the individual risk factors that could contribute to overuse injuries. And injuries related to lack of protection. Looking at the pros and cons as well as speaking with your healthcare team at CURAVITA, can help runners make informed decisions that align with their foot health and running goals.