The human foot is pretty complex: it has 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles, and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments. Like the rest of the body, healthy feet need to be stimulated and exercised.
Many experts believe the shoes we wear virtually cast the foot in a coffin and weaken our foot and leg muscles, leaving them underdeveloped and more prone to injury. And while there are many times where traditional footwear is important for protection, it is just as important to counter the time we wear stiff shoes by exercising the foot in a more natural state. Stimulating muscles in your feet and lower legs will not only make you stronger, it improves your balance, agility and body awareness.
Despite their marketing suggesting otherwise, no manufacturer has ever invented a shoe that is any help in injury prevention.
In modern years, between 65 to 80 per cent of all runners suffer an injury. At Stanford University, two sales reps from Nike were watching the athletics team practice. Part of their job was to get feedback from the sponsored runners about which shoes they preferred. Unfortunately, it was difficult that day as the runners all seemed to prefer... nothing. 'Didn't we send you enough shoes?' they asked head coach Vin Lananna. They had, he was just refusing to use them. 'I can't prove this But I believe that when my runners train barefoot they run faster and suffer fewer injuries.' the well-respected coach told them. Nike sponsored the Stanford team as they were the best of the very best. Needless to say, Nike was a little disturbed to hear that Lananna felt the best shoes they had to offer them were not as good as no shoes at all. When Christopher McDougall, author of “Born to Run” was told of this he wasn’t surprised. He'd spent years struggling with a variety of running-related injuries, each time getting more expensive shoes, which seemed to make no difference. He'd lost count of the amount of money He'd sports-injury clinics - eventually ending with advice from his doctor to give it up and 'buy a bike'. And he wasn't alone. Remember, every year anywhere from 65 to 80 per cent of all runners suffer an injury. No matter who you are or how much you run, your odds of getting hurt are the same. It doesn't matter if you're male or female, fast or slow, chubby or lean, your feet are still in the danger zone. But why? What abut the Tarahumara tribe, the best long-distance runners in the world? People who live in caves without running water, and run with only strips of old leather thongs strapped to the bottom of their feet. On race day, they step to the starting line and just go for it, ultra-running for two full days, sometimes covering over 300 miles, non-stop. For fun! One recently came first in a prestigious 100-mile race wearing nothing but a toga and sandals. He was 57 years old. It’s as if the facts MUST have been recorded wrong. Shouldn't we, the ones with state-of-the-art running shoes, have the zero injury rate, and the Tarahumara, who run far more, on far rockier surfaces, in shoes that barely qualify as shoes, be constantly hospitalized? The answer, McDougall discovered, will not be easy to swallow for the $20 billion running shoe industry.
The modern running shoe was essentially invented by Nike. The company was founded in the Seventies by Phil Knight, a University of Oregon runner, and Bill Bowerman, the University of Oregon coach. Before then, the modern running shoe didn’t exist. Bowerman didn't actually do much running. In between writing and coaching, Bowerman came up with the idea of sticking a hunk of rubber under the heel of his pumps. With the heel raised, he reasoned, gravity would push them forward ahead of the next man. Bowerman called Nike's first shoe the Cortez – Ironically, after the conquistador who plundered the New World for gold. Bowerman's partner, Knight, set up a manufacturing deal in Japan and was soon selling shoes faster than they could come off the assembly line.
Since then, running-shoe companies have had more than 30 years to perfect their designs so, logically, the injury rate must be in rapid decline by now. Adidas has come up with a $250 shoe with a microprocessor in the sole. Asics spent $3 million to invent the Kinsei, a shoe with 'multi-angled forefoot gel pods', and a 'midfoot thrust enhancer' – whatever those are. Each season brings an expensive new model for the average runner.
But at least you know you'll never limp again. Or so the leading companies would have you believe. As you know by now, running injuries have drastically increased since the invention of the “running shoe.”
Runners wearing top-of-the-line trainers are far more likely to get injured than runners in cheap ones. This was discovered as far back as 1989, according to a study led by Dr Bernard Marti at Switzerland's University of Bern.
Dr Marti's research team analyzed over 4,000 runners in a 9.6-mile road race. The runners filled out an extensive questionnaire that detailed their training habits, injuries and footwear for the previous year. What surprised Dr Marti was the fact that the most common variable among the injuries wasn't training surface, running speed, body weight or weekly mileage. It was the price of the shoe. Runners in shoes that cost more than $95 were more than twice as likely to get hurt as runners in shoes that cost less than $40.
Follow-up studies found similar results. For double the price, you get double the pain.
But WHY is running barefoot so much better? Not only do thick soles restrict our feet, keeping them weak and changing our natural posture, but cushiony shoes change our stride. When you run barefoot you are more likely to land towards front of your foot, whereas running in thick trainers will cause you to have a heel strike. If you run barefoot, your very smart body will tell you if you are doing something right or will send pain signals if doing something wrong. Try running barefoot on your heels. It hurts. Your body is sending these pain signals because it’s just not a good idea. The cushion in trainers absorbs the impact so you don’t get these natural cues from your body yet you’re still putting pounds and pounds of pressure up the chain in a far less than optimal gait. Watch Jesse Owens run: his only shock absorption came from the compression of his legs and his thick pad of midfoot fat. Thumping down on his heels was not an option.
If you decide that being barefoot is the route for you, take one step backward and realize you are most likely in the process of rehabilitating your feet and legs from years of being restricted. All the padding and support has led to weaker feet. Barefoot running is not about blocking or pushing through pain.. It is about tuning-in to what your body is telling you..Listen to it. Adjust and advance accordingly. I’ve been wearing my vibram five fingers for 3 years – the closest to barefoot I can be in my world – and I have never felt better.