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Thursday, September 10, 2009

The problem with minimalist shoes

I've been trying to think of a way to succinctly express why, if you want to learn how to run lighter and smoooooother, going barefoot at the beginning is better than starting with minimalist shoes like the Vibram's. Here's what I got:

Getting rid of the cushioned heel and running on a thin piece of rubber makes it possible to run as if barefoot. But, the rubber sole provides the sensation of "protection," which is bad. If you run like your feet are protected, you will stomp. If you stomp, you'll get injured.

When I'm running barefoot (181 miles as of this morning!), it feels uncomfortable to slouch. It hurts to stomp. So my posture stays erect, my foot landing light. When I wear Vibram's or aqua socks, I have to pretend I'm barefoot. But as I get tired, I slouch. I stomp. In shoes, I don't mind slouching or stomping.

For some runners, getting rid of the heel may be enough. But I'm skeptical (shocking, I know).

Shoe companies tell you that you have either deformity a, b, or c, for which you need specialty shoe x, y, or z. Buy the right shoe, your problems are solved. So when a shoe comes out with barefootery claims, the barefoot curious go out and buy it (myself included) expecting the right shoe to solve their problems, just by virtue of being on their feet. And why not? That's been the (abusive) relationship between runners and their shoes for decades.

One of two things happen: either they run in minimalist shoes the same way they ran in cushioned shoes (heel strike, stomping) and hurt themselves, or they run like they think a barefooter runs (front strike, less stomp) and... hurt themselves. This makes sense; how can you run "as if" barefoot if you've no experience actually doing so?

So much for succinct.


  1. Thanks for the thoughtful take on the Vibrams. I've been considering them as a training aid, but I'm not ready to give up my shoes to the Barefoot Gods yet. Maybe I should just try going barefoot like common sense has told me. Cheers!

  2. To make it easier, go out barefoot on a rest day. There's no obligation to "perform," so you won't feel like you have to get some distance in.