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Do Barefoot or Minimal Shoes Hurt or Help?

The New York Times blog recently posed the question: Are barefoot shoes really better?

Barefoot or minimal running has been the hottest thing to happen to running in a long time. Proponents swear that it’s better for you. That your body will correct your foot strike and you will be running the way nature intended.

According to the New York Times blog, this isn’t necessarily true. They report that The American Council on Exercise recently conducted a small study (16 healthy women joggers) at the University of Wisconsin. They had the women run in Vibram FiveFingers three times a week for 20 minutes a day. The researchers analyzed their form, foot-strike patterns and force while wearing regular running shoes, Vibram FiveFingers and running barefoot.

“The researchers found that half of the women who switched to barefoot running or minimalist sports shoes failed to adjust their form, resulting in more wear and tear on their bodies, not less,” says the New York Times. “The study showed that when the women were wearing traditional running shoes, they all used a rear-foot strike, meaning they landed predominantly on their heels. But when the women switched to barefoot running or the Vibram FiveFingers, only half of them adjusted their form, as recommended, to a forefoot strike pattern, which entails landing mainly on the ball of the foot.”

The women who corrected their form did experience less impact while running wearing Vibrams or barefoot. However, the other 50% who didn’t change their form (and kept striking on their heels) had impact forces that were twice as high.

It makes sense. If you’ve been running in shoes for, oh, your whole life, it’s going to be a hard transition. If you want to wear Vibrams, you have to transition slowly. Read the Vibram website and learn how to make the transition from traditional running shoes to minimal running shoes.

So, if you are a runner who is able to change your form or who experiences a lot of injuries then you may want to try (slowly) Vibrams. However, if you are doing fine in the shoes you’re used to, you may want to consider just staying with what works.

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