At LiftYourWay, we do not advocate any style or brand of sports shoe. The only thing we can ethically advocate at the present time, given the scientific knowledge available, is your own feet.

Of course, true barefoot running is not practical for most people. For road running along glass-strewn urban streets, shoes are a necessary evil. Similarly, for team sports such as football or rugby, a player wouldn’t get far without a pair of boots. However, it’s important to note that scientific studies so far have shown that the more ‘sophisticated’ and expensive the running shoe, the more likely the wearer will be to suffer from injury. So when we do stock sports shoes here at LYW, we try our best to choose those we genuinely feel will help our customers. The Adidas Adipure range, for example, is very minimalist when it comes to padded heels or pronation correction, or any of the other bells and whistles found in other shoes. Instead, these trainers fit to and work with your foot, as nature designed it.

Fewer injuries before the modern athletic shoe

“Until 1972, when the modern athletic shoe was invented by Nike,” Dr Leiberman is quoted as stating, “people ran in very thin-soled shoes, had strong feet, and had much lower incidence of knee injuries.”

This quote comes from ‘Born To Run,’ hailed as “a bible for the barefoot running community” (Ben Fogle, Telegraph), which sets aside a chapter to digress from the overall storyline and paint a pretty damning picture of the major sports shoe brands. Author Christopher McDougall claims that such brands know that their shoes do more harm than good, but sell them anyway, making Nike et al. at least partially complicit in the Western world’s cardiovascular disease crisis and the physical inactivity that eventually results from recurrent foot, knee and back injuries suffered in their shoes. Indeed, they are painted as almost as much the “bad guys” as tobacco companies, pitching not just unnecessary but downright harmful goods to young adults and children.

At this point – the one at which McDougall holds running shoe manufacturers responsible for people’s lack of running - his strongly political message possibly goes a little too far. How many inactive people can seriously trace their lack of cardiovascular fitness back to a running injury so debilitating as to prevent them from further participation in exercise? As McDougall states himself, “that’s a staggering amount of guilty to lay at Nike’s feet,” not to mention a gross oversimplification of the problem.

However, what definitely is true is his statement that “if more people ran, fewer would be dying of degenerative heart disease, sudden cardiac arrest, hypertension, blocked arteries, diabetes, and most other deadly ailments of the Western World.” Slight query over McDougall’s understanding of the term ‘degenerative heart disease’ aside, the desire to encourage more people to get running is certainly a positive one.

Indeed, running is good for not only our bodies, but also our minds. A recent study by Alloway et al. (2016) found that, so important is it for us to be able to run and feel the ground beneath our feet, that working memory was significantly improved after just 16 minutes spent barefoot running when participants combined their bodies and minds to feel and respond to the texture of the ground (in this case, using poker chips as targets). Other studies have found that when we are prevented from feeling the ground by padded shoes, our bodies actually automatically overcompensate. We adjust by hitting the ground harder, in an attempt to ‘feel’ the ground through the shoe, ultimately hitting our joints with even greater impact – and that’s not even going into the mechanics of how the running shoe is actually preventing us from landing as nature intended.

Barefoot is not just for running

Barefoot running is not the only anti-shoe movement in the sporting world. Many bodybuilders, too, advocate performing deadlifts and squats without shoes, to ensure better form and prevent injuries. The logic is sound; our feet are packed full of nerve endings, designed to feel the ground and adjust our posture instinctively. Pad them up, and in many ways, you’re running (/deadlifting/squatting) blind.

 

 

References

Alloway, R., Alloway, T., Magyari, P., Floyd, S. (2016). An Exploratory Study Investigating the Effects of Barefoot Running on Working Memory. Percept Mot Skills 122(2), pp. 432-43.

McDougall, C. (2010). Born To Run.