Barefoot Shoe Companies please take note. Barefoot-Natural Running: Fad or Trend

One question still remains, is this whole barefoot “thing” a fad or is it truly a trend that is here to stay ? The Gait Guys believe it has become entrenched enough now, in reputable research journals, that this is a firm trend that will not be going anywhere anytime soon.  The studies are just too convincing that there are benefits. However, Dr. Waerlop and I feel that there are risks for some folks.  Those mainly being that some foot types do not, and never will, have business being in such minimalistic shoes. We remained concerned about the misleading advertising, that these types of shoes will make everyone’s feet stronger. For some, they will, but most of the time strength education must be directed, so why would it be any different here ?  For example, there is a right way to do a squat, and a wrong way and merely doing more of them without guidance does not guarantee that the intended and proper motor patterns will be achieved. We all need direction when it comes to difficult things, like proper foot function.  Thus, merely putting on a minimalistic shoe does not mean that the correct patterns and strategies for foot strengthening are being automatically instituted. We see plenty of folks who are in minimalist shoes and yet still display toe hammering and clenching behaviors which are clearly not seen in strong feet, to the claims that these shoes will do it all are just not true.  And, for those that have challenged foot types and lower limb torsional issues (ie. FF varus, Rothbart Foot, cavovarus foot, excessive tibial varum and/or tibial torsion etc) these folks will likely trend towards local foot problems or injuries or issues further up the kinetic chain (hip, knee, low back etc).  Understandably, these are heavy medical terms and conditions that are very much out there in the running public. We know, we see them daily.  The problem could be that those providing the education do not have enough clinical background to know what these issues are let alone recognize them.  So how can they then draw these issues to the surface in educating the public ?  As I say in my lectures, “You first have to know what a platypus is in order to identify it.  Otherwise it is just a hedge hog with flippers and a duck bill."  These underlying anatomic issues are the elephants in the room that everyone is missing, everyone except us.  We get the folks who are running in these minimalist devices and we get to see who never should have been in them in the first place.

The good thing is that many companies are setting up educational programs to help folks drop down into "minimalism 2.0” but still, to date, no one is talking about the elephants in the room, those being those foot types that are too risky to be in the shoes and even more specifically, how to strengthen the foot.  Merely putting the shoes on and wearing them does not mean the end user who already has challenged feet will begin to engage the correct muscular motor patterns.  But who would admit to those risks, that would be stupid advertising and product risk.  With 36+ clinical years we feel this is where we have some pull and can help.

Someone needed to be talking about the elephants in the room.  We finally decided that we had enough experience clinically, and with runners and shoes, to be that person. Agreeably, there is a danger in doing too much barefoot running too soon. We made this clear over the past few years as Biomechanics Advisory Board members for one of the big players in this game.  For us it is about “keeping them honest” as we like to say now. We are trying to make the calls on the products that have questionable statements and applaud those that stick their neck out but whom take our critique well.  We do not know everything, but we seem to know much more than most when it comes to the biomechanics of what is going in these products.  If you put 10 different feet in a product, you will get 10 different biomechanical presentations from the shoe. So, much of what is being missed is the education of what is going on with the parts that are in the shoe, and that is our world.  A major part of the barefoot or natural running trend are the problems that exist with the thing you are putting into all of these products, a person. A person who likely does not have the classic middle of the road, ‘Average Foot’ these shoes were designed around; that foot that all these companies base their research and dialogue upon.  To us, the most important thing for us to do is to raise the knowledge and awareness to the public, shoe companies and shoe stores that there is likely a ~10-15% standard deviation off of that average foot where their products will work as they claim.  Those other 70%, well…….they need us and they deserve to have us help them see the elephants in the room that no one is talking about.

If the collective goal of the natural running movement is to reduce injuries then the education MUST continue into educating the fabricators and running public of all of the issues at hand (or “foot” in this case) which should include talking about the elephants in the room.

Please help us get the message out. Wouldn’t it be great if this message went viral ? Send this to your friend who just bought a pair of “barefoot or minimalistic shoes”. Send it to your shoe store owner, your coach, your trainer, your doctor, therapist, your running club colleagues, your brother etc.

Lets educate everyone so this positive trend does not have a dark undercurrent that no one speaks of.

Shawn Allen, Ivo Waerlop………with almost 4 decades of clinical experience…..we are,  The Gait Guys