Minimal shoes came into popular culture and on the market within just a few years. Do you remember seeing these? Did you own them? Wear them? It is a big conversation that we consistently have at Muscle Activation Fitness.
Does this mean that those toe shoes or minimal shoes are bad for people? The blanket “yes” or “no” are what people want to hear. What most of my clients learn when they ask me this type of question is that it is usually followed by me saying “it depends.” In this case, it depends on the individual thinking about wearing the shoe. When someone wants to wear a pair of minimal shoes, like the FiveFingers, I usually assess their feet to see if they have adequate foot mechanics to wear shoes that force your foot to work harder than it possibly ever has. If a person has very weak and rigid feet, I will not recommend that they run or do strenuous activity in those shoes. I will also implement corrective modalities like Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) and corrective exercises for their feet and help them progress to as minimal footwear as they can tolerate. If someone has very strong and flexible feet, I will advise them to slowly progress how much they wear the shoes and then to start with very low run mileage and progress slowly as well. In the strong foot case, I will also utilize MAT to make sure that they are not causing or overworking the muscles of their feet and create problems.
If a person with strong or weak feet does not slowly increase how much they wear these types of shoes, they run the risk of injuring themselves. This happens because the muscles and bones in the feet are not used to the impact that is now being imposed on them when they wear minimalist shoes. That is why I make it a priority to continue to check in and assess the mechanics of their feet to try and prevent any harm that could occur.
What shoe should you wear if you are trying to improve your foot mechanics? Thanks to Vibram, almost every shoe company has come up with a minimal shoe line. Some of the most minimal shoe companies (and my personal favorites) are Vivo Barefoot, Skora Running Shoes, Altra, Innov-8, and many others. Other companies like Nike Free are what I might call a beginner minimal shoe as well.
The reason so many people have been trying these shoes, despite them being so odd looking, is because more and more research has started to show that motion control technology common in shoes today actually increases the stresses placed on our joints.
[How many bones are in your foot? 26]
There has been more than enough research done to show that modern day shoes are not helping to decrease or prevent injuries that occur from daily living or exercise. A recent study published in the PM&R Journal explained the effects of running shoes on the lower body versus running barefoot. The results showed that running with shoes increased stress at the knees by 36-38% and in the hips by 54%. The study concluded by stating that the increased stresses were due to the motion control technology that is common in modern day running shoes.
This does not mean that these shoes, or being barefoot, are what is right for everyone. Our feet need to be progressed slowly from what we are wearing today to a lesser motion control shoe. Our feet need to be strengthened and need time to adjust from being in shoes that control motion for us, to us being able to control the motion on our own. There are a lot of different shoes that have varying degrees of support, but the only way to know where to start is by going through an assessment with Muscle Activation Techniques to see how strong and mobile your feet are today, and being put on a fitness program that directly addresses your needs for stability and mobility that go hand in hand with attaining your goals.
Do not forget, if your hips are weak and unstable they are going to add greater pressure and force down on your feet. When looking and assessing your feet, we must take your whole body into consideration.