By: Dr. Phoenyx Austin
Gym Bunny: Hey doc, what’s up with those funny looking shoes you’re wearing?! Well actually, they’re kind of cute with the little toes and everything! So what are they, some kind of special orthopedic shoe?
Me: Haha! No, they’re not special orthopedic shoes. These are Vibram FiveFingers barefoot running shoes, and I LOVE them!
Like the many folks that stop me in the gym on a daily basis to ask about my cool Vibram kicks, I also came across barefoot shoes many moons ago while working out in the gym. I still remember like it was yesterday… I was on the elliptical, in the zone, headphones blaring. And just as me and Missy were about to bust out the second verse of I’m Really Hot, I noticed a pair of pink, mini-gorilla looking feet pedaling away on the elliptical next to me. I’d never seen anything like it before, and I was so mesmerized by those mini-gorilla feet that I immediately put Missy on pause so I could talk to the person attached to those funky looking shoes.
Say hello to Vibram FiveFingers! Style: The Bikila®
An Intro to Barefoot Running Shoes
Some people consider barefoot running shoes a new, faddish thing. But fact is barefoot style running shoes have been around for over 10 years. It’s only within the past few years that these shoes have gone mainstream and there are many types of barefoot shoes to choose from. Vibram FiveFingers, like the ones I wear, are just one brand of barefoot running shoes and you can find many other major brands, like Nike, that make barefoot shoes too.
So why are barefoot shoes becoming more popular now?
Well, several reasons. But it seems that most people try barefoot shoes after a) randomly running into someone that’s wearing them (like I did) or
b) after they’ve endured some sports related injury that’s forced them to look into other footwear options. That said, and after so many inquiries into my barefoot shoes, I thought I’d take this opportunity to spread the word about them and how you can get in on this style of running- if the barefoot spirit moves you.
What does it feel like to run in those shoes?
I get this question a lot and to put it plainly, running feels drastically different when wearing barefoot shoes. Your feet feel significantly lighter and if you’re the average heel-striking runner, your running style will change to something of shorter, more powerful strides and
you’ll start adjusting to land gently
on the balls of your feet, rather than on your heels- like most of us do when we’re wearing traditional, thicker soled sneakers. FYI, it’s been widely hypothesized that landing on the balls of your feet (or your forefoot), instead of your heels, may reduce the risk of typical runner’s injuries like stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and runner’s knee.
For a demonstration of how barefoot runners run, check out this video by author of Born to Run
and barefoot enthusiast, Chris McDougal
How to Transition to Barefoot Running
Ok, so you’ve watched the video above, done a bit more research on Google and Youtube, and now you’re all excited about barefoot running. You’ve even picked up a cute pair of shoes from
your local sporting goods store. So what’s next?
Running of course! And here’s how…
Final Thoughts from the Doc…
Take it slow. Most of us have grown up using thick soled sneakers, and, like I mentioned earlier, running with a heel strike motion. Because of this, certain muscles in our feet and legs have become weaker over time due to lack of use. But when wearing barefoot shoes, these weak muscles (most especially the muscles in your feet) will start to engage more. And if you push these muscles too hard too soon, at the very least you’ll end up with a case of wicked post-workout soreness- or at the very worst, you’ll wind up with a serious injury. To avoid either of these scenarios, start off by simply walking in your barefoot shoes or by just doing a bit of light jogging for 10-15 minutes at a time. No sprinting and definitely no long distance running in the early stages. Eventually, after a week or two, you can upgrade to your normal running routine.
Go soft. In the beginning, avoid running on concrete, asphalt and rugged hiking trails since they might be too hard and bumpy. Instead run indoors or on well-groomed dirt trails if you can. These softer surfaces will be more gentle on your feet.
Stretch. Make sure you stretch those muscles out before and after each walk and run. This will help reduce soreness you’ll naturally feel in the earlier stages as your feet and leg muscles build up strength.
Use the Heel & Hips running style. When running, keep your back straight, hips dead under your shoulders and dead above your feet. *Chris demonstrates this perfectly in the video above.
- Last but not least, HAVE FUN!
Being a doc and the meticulous person that I am, I combed through tons of research for and
against barefoot running. After weighing the pros and cons, I took the plunge. That said, I also encourage you to do your research before going barefoot too. Overall I’m a HUGE fan of barefoot running because I love the natural feeling of it and because it has improved my ability to run long distances without fatigue or leg pain. Plus these shoes just look so dang cool. And what woman doesn’t want to throw in a lil’ fashion with her fitness.
Do you prefer barefoot running shoes or traditional running shoes? For all my barefoot runners, what’s your favorite brand of barefoot running shoes? Let me know in the comments! – Dr. Phoenyx
Dr. Phoenyx Austin is a physician, author, owner of Dr. Phoenyx’s Beauty & Body products, and creator of DrPhoenyx.com, afitness & lifestyle blog. Check out her awesome natural hair care book If You Love It, It Will Grow - available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes. And don’t forget to say hello to the doc on Facebook and Twitter!
For more info on how to pick the best minimalist shoe for you and about barefoot running in general, check out the links below:
– great tips on how to run barefoot
- the brand of minimalist shoe I wear, but you can also find minimalist shoes by many other major brands like Nike
- an interesting read from some very smart folks at Harvard
REI’s Guide to Choosing Barefoot/Minimalist Shoes
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