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To run barefoot, or not?

Barefoot running is getting a lot of attention these days. Should you retire those well-worn shoes and go 'au naturel'?

Seems like more and more runners, including a fair few trail runners, are making the switch to barefoot running. Most aren't exactly running completely 'au naturel', but instead are choosing the latest foot attire from well-known manufacturers such as Vibram, VIVOBAREFOOT, Nike and Merrell. Indeed, there's quite a difference between the different models, and some you'd hardly call 'barefoot models' - Nike in fact talk of 'barefoot-like running' and still seem to place quite an emphasis on putting a bit more rubber (and cushioning) between your feet and the trail. Vibram (at least styling-wise) appear to have bought in most to the concept: the look of the fivefingers models are not for everyone!

Vibram also seem to have cottoned on to the fact that some runners experience a little discomfort when adapting to the new shoes. They've produced a handy FAQ section on their site, which you'll find here. That said, there are some genuine concerns as to whether the switch to minimalist shoes is the right step - or leap - for everyone. You'll read on the websites of the manufacturers that the new models all help you run 'more naturally', with 'a closer connection to the ground'... but we should remain conscious that, after all, they're also trying to shift new shoes in an already crowded market. The move to minimalism represents a great opportunity for Nike et al to encourage everyone go out and buy yet another new piece of kit. This is where science steps in and raises a few questions...

A new report published in February adds to the ongoing debate. This latest research, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, suggested that some runners are ill-suited to adapting to the barefoot-style shoes and develop new aches and injuries. Conversely, others found that the more minimalist shoes didn't hamper their running technique and had no impact on raising their exposure to running-related injuries.

These results represent just the very start of the ongoing research into barefoot running equipment and running techniques associated with the new shoes. The researcher, Dr. Sarah Ridge, is now reviewing additional data about the volunteers in the programme and analysing information about each runner’s mileage, running form, body weight, etc. She noted that the results don’t necessarily mean everyone switching to minimal footwear will court foot injuries, just that in making the transition you'd do best to do so slowly. Be cautious and listen to your body (as always!!!).

Julia

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