I have been very interested in barefoot running (rather minimalist running) since I heard of of it about 4 years ago. A little over two years ago I bought my first pair of minimalist shoes, Vibram Five Fingers. I have since graduated to Merrell's barefoot model, and apparently the Nike Frees I recently purchased are a minimalist shoe (I beg to differ).
I was very excited to get my Vibrams a couple years back. I wore them everywhere. To track meets, to the store, at the gym, when hiking, when working in the yard... When I wore them conistently I did notice some really cool things, like jumping higher without working on my jumping or having a little more spring in my step when I first started running, or even having a little more explosion when doing some olympic weightlifting. I like to attribute these movements to the shoes, but I have no proof. They could have been because of many other factors, or, even worse, psychosomatic. However, I really do attribute those unqualifiable gains to the shoes.
Notice in the above listed activities that I never mentioned distance running. Not to say I've never used them for distance running, I just don't really remember enjoying it. I could use them on a treadmill, on a soft trail, or on grass, but they were terrible to run in for any distance on sidewalks and streets. I could feel the onset of problems in my feet, like stress fractures, that are mentioned in the video.
It's been two years and I've tried some different forms of these shoes, and my feelings are still somewhat the same. Once my initial excitement for these shoes dampened a bit, and I could look at them a little more fairly. I've decided that most people are going to get different uses out of them, find different qualities, and have varying levels of pain. For instance, I can use mine all day walking around and feel no ill effects, but I cannot stand to run in them. When coaching football in the fall, on the turf there are no shoes that I want more than my minimalists, but when competing in most anything these would be the last shoes I pull off the shelf. What do I love minimalist shoes for the most? Hiking. They don't provide a ton of support or protection, but they really do allow me to feel the trail and the generous, flexible grip gets me up tough inclines like a young goat. I will take a few stubbed toes for increased step efficiency any day (and I should mention their weight is so much better than any hiking shoe I've ever had).
The questions I have for track are: what disciplines would benefit most from barefoot running? If one trained barefoot consistently prior to a competitive season what benefits would they see? Would it help across disciplines from distance, to sprints, to jumping, to throwing.
I would recommend the following shoes for those that are interested...
- Vibram Five Fingers- these shoes are goofy as all hell, and there is no masking that you are wearing them, but in my mind these guys are the "originals" and their product is the best.
- New Balance Minimus- I do not own these but from what everyone says these are a great shoe, and probably give the Five Fingers a run for their money.
- Merrell Trail Glove- A terrible shoe. I initially liked them, but then noticed how roomy the ball of the shoe was. A very knowledgeable shoe guru told me Merrell's shoe engineers thinking: the toe box is really roomy to simulate barefoot running by providing an oversized strike zone to land on. So basically, the ball of the shoe is made to simulate a wide, flat expanse such as a street, sidewalk, path, or patch of grass....Fantastic, thinking Merrell! Just save me the money next time you have a poor design scheme. Oh, and apparently they made this decision after putting the kibosh on copying Vibram's design of those wacky toe-fingers (which begs the question, did they come up with the name "Trail Glove" before they had the design, and shouldn't it be now "Trail Mitten?).
- Nike Free- If you have worn any of the above shoes, and then tried this "barefoot" running shoe, and can draw any comparison then your brain is mush. You have no sense of touch, or feel, any longer. I've heard people with this generally don't live very long. If this is you, stop reading and go live. Go, by the time it's tool late!
- Beware of impostors wanting your dollar...I love Adidas more than any other brand, but I noticed they now have a barefoot Five-Fingers-esque shoe that is clearly an attempt to not miss out on some potential revenue without the appropriate research or testing.
That's all on that,
Run, jump, and throw