PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Have you seen those strange new athletic shoes that look like you’re running barefoot?
They are all the rage among athletes, but there are two schools of thought about whether they are better or worse for your body.
“There’s nothing better than going barefoot. But frankly, I don’t want to stub my toe or step on a piece of glass,” Self Fitness Director Meaghan Murphy said.
Now, no one has to thanks to the hottest trend in sneakers.
All the major manufacturers are making them. The lightweight, minimalist shoes mimic the feel of barefoot running, but protect your feet.
“They let your foot move the way they were made to move. Your body does what it’s meant to do naturally. So, there’s less impact on your joints,” Murphy said.
Barefoot running has been around for years.
The new sneakers have flatter soles, so you feel closer to the ground. Less padding frees the feet and lets them move in multiple directions.
“There’s a lot more flexibility in the foot than people first realized. So, the idea is to allow your shoe to move exactly as your foot’s designed,” Bill McInnis of Reebok said.
There may be another benefit as well.
“These let all of those little tiny muscles activate and start doing the work. You’re burning a few more calories. You’re getting a more natural forefoot strike,” Murphy said.
Veteran runner Carlos Rodriguez said he experimented with barefoot running for several months to ease his knee pain. Now, he’s switched to the toe shoes.
“It’s pretty much the same. This just gives me protection from rocks and anything you find in Central Park,” Rodriguez said.
Running in the minimal shoes takes some adjustment. Instead of landing heel-to-toe, the forefoot lands and the heel never fully touches the ground.
“Here you’re rolling. You’re always moving across the ground. There is no breaking motion. Once you get the lean and proper technique, you almost feel like you’re just flying,” Rodriguez said.
Some runners believe the movement is less jarring to the joints.
However, podiatrist Dr. Christopher Ferguson said the shoes may cause other problems.
“Stress fractures, bunions, hammertoes, tendinitis, problems like that. Some people are even touting that it might even increase the impact in the forefoot. But, we don’t know. There’s no studies on it yet,” Dr. Ferguson said.
Experts suggest transitioning into the shoes and even doing exercises to strengthen the feet.
“You don’t put them on and go for a 10-mile run. There is certainly a learning curve. Your body needs to adjust,” Murphy said.
Researchers are conducting studies now to compare injury rates between the new minimalist shoes and standard sneakers, but the results are still a couple of years away.