"Barefoot" running has hit race tracks, gyms and streets across the country as well as here in the Delaware Valley. While a few daring soles may actually attempt to train without any shoes at all, many are choosing the latest fashion: minimalist footwear. "Walking and running barefoot has been around since the beginning of time," says Michael Ross, MD, a non-surgical sports medicine physician at the Rothman Orthopaedic Institute. "Running shoes became popular in order to avoid injury and protect the feet. Now runners are trying to mimic running barefoot by wearing minimalist footwear, also called barefoot running shoes."
According to Dr. Ross, use of minimalist shoes can help develop strong calves, quicker foot turnover and more efficient form. For people with forefoot stress fractures, previous calf tears or neuromas, barefoot shoes may not be ideal. Anyone considering a switch to minimalist footwear should first consult a physician. For those who have been cleared to run in this footwear, Dr. Ross offers a few tips for getting started:
- Acclimate feet to the shoes by standing on gravel, walking and then running a short distance on sand, grass or rubberized track
- Concentrate on striking the ground first with the mid-foot
- Land on the foot under the navel
- Practice gentle landings on the outside front one-third of the foot
- Don't over stride – quickly lift the foot off of the ground rather than pushing off
- Ease into the shoes by gradually increasing distance
- If you develop pain in the calf muscles, you are landing too far forward on the foot
"If you are going to use minimalist footwear, test them out first," advises Dr. Ross. "And if you experience any pain while wearing them, stop and return to traditional footwear."