All across the country, people are kicking off their shoes and braving streets strewn with broken glass and rusty nails that house tetanospasmin-producing Clostridium tetani, and heaped with endless piles of toxic dog poop. They somehow manage to traverse sidewalks that crumble underfoot at the slightest touch, throwing a person off balance and putting the ankle at severe risk of permanent injury. Podiatrists’ waiting lists grow along with their bank balances with the endless parade of hobbling barefooters nursing crippling foot injuries; they laugh as their coffers fill.
And yet, despite these confirmed dangers and despite the warnings from esteemed experts, the barefoot revolution continues to grow. It’s pretty remarkable. The recent New York Marathon featured more barefooters than ever before, according to organizers, and the Barefoot Runners Society has seen its membership double since 2009. Purely anecdotally, whenever I’m out hiking, I see more and more folks going in Vibrams or even totally barefoot. I don’t get the weird looks as often (I actually kinda miss ‘em) and I’ve even spotted Vibrams in non-athletic environments, like grocery stores or coffee shops. It’s been awhile since a kid has screamed and pointed at my “monkey feet.” Progress!
Vibram, Vivo Barefoot, Softstar, and the other shoe companies making an honest attempt at creating a viable shoe alternative aren’t the only entities capitalizing off the nascent barefoot trend sweeping the nation (and I’m not referring to podiatrists, as much as they like to claim barefoot running will create thousands of new patients). Several shoemakers have taken the barefoot ball and run the opposite direction – down the path of more shoe and more meddling into how the foot works – claiming to have improved upon the near-perfection of the naked human foot with (get this) bulky odd-looking shoes that weigh more than traditional running shoes.
Foremost is MBT, or Masai Barefoot Technology. MBT makes the “anti-shoe,” which is actually an unsteady, unstable shoe with a squishy, conspicuous “rocker” sole. The sole appears to be about 2 or 3 inches thick, and the instability is actually a feature. Yes, the most popular backed-by-internally-funded-science example of barefoot technology is a shoe that forces its wearers to teeter around. Sure, you gain a few inches, but at what cost? Without having tried them (and I honestly don’t plan to), the very notion of simulating barefoot walking by wearing big clunky shoes perplexes and confuses me. Talk about digging a hole to put the ladder in to wash the basement windows! Same goes for MBT’s claim of “natural instability” being the key to “recreating the barefoot experience.” Just what is so natural about being unsteady on your feet? I always figured feet were there to anchor us to the floor and provide stability. In fact, it’s that haptic perception (actually feeling the ground) in our bare feet that gives the brain the signals it needs to distribute shock effectively – tossed out the window now with MBT.
OK, now that I have your attention, I’d like to discuss the idea of you doing your weight-training (Law #4 Lift Heavy Things) with as few “joint support gizmos” (wrist wraps, tape, lifting belts, etc.) as possible. Maybe you already do, but if not…
By now you know how I feel about shoes in general – and workout shoes in particular. Along with grains and statins, they make my list of the top ten mistakes in the history of human health. High-tech, “comfortable” and higher-heeled shoes are probably the cause of more bad backs, bad knees, pulled muscles, hamstring issues, torn cartilage, tendonitis and myriad other lower- and mid-body afflictions than any other single factor. The reason is this: the more we’ve unburdened the important (critical) small muscles of our feet with “forefoot motion control”, “heel stabilizers”, and “rear-foot shock absorbers” – in other words, the more we’ve put our feet in these supportive and restrictive casts – the more we’ve disrupted the intricate biomechanical balance that otherwise naturally arises from using our feet unshod as designed by evolution. And, as a result, the more we can find ourselves on the slippery slope to injury and misery.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had the pleasure to announce three PrimalCon 2010 speakers: Maya White (How to Sit, Stand and Walk Like Grok), Brad Kearns (How to Apply the Primal Blueprint Principles to Endurance Training) and Nicoletta Florio (Green Living and Health). In addition to all the other festivities at this year’s PrimalCon (Primal barbecue dinners, guided sprint and workout beach sessions, mass ocean plunge, local farm tour, ultimate Frisbee, morning hikes, personal massages, organic wine and chocolate sensible indulgence evening, etc.) we’re lucky to have one additional PrimalCon breakout session speaker. PrimalCon attendees will get to participate in a Barefoot Running Clinic lead by Barefoot Ted himself. Read Barefoot Ted’s guest post below and then sign up for PrimalCon 2010 before it’s too late!
I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s all over the news. People are finally beginning to come around to that inconvenient truth about our feet, that dirty little secret that shoe companies would prefer to keep under wraps: barefoot is better.
There has been media coverage of the barefoot trend in the past, mostly intermittent, in running magazines and always taking a patronizing tone. It follows the same formula: more idle speculation on a bizarre fad that a select few crazies are promoting, with plenty of “balance” from stuffy foot specialists expressing doubt that the inherently fragile, gentle human foot could ever withstand the rigors of walking unshod without “serious injury,” than any serious consideration of the merits. But now we’ve got a nice, juicy study to hang our hats (or our shoes) on, and media outlets are falling over themselves to get the scoop.
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