Up until the running blast of the 1970s, running shoes used to be downright simple. They were generally flat, thin, and without all the padding and support features found in most modern shoes. The reason behind barefoot shoes is to allow the foot to have a real-life experience, just as if you are walking or running shoeless.
Feet are said to be “flat” when they have fallen arches and, subsequently, have inward pronation. It is a fairly common condition resulting from an injury or physical issue, wearing wrong footwear, hereditary, a combination of genes, and other lifestyle factors.
Everyone’s feet are different to some extent, but having flat feet doesn’t always mean that your feet can’t be strong or stable enough. Strong feet, for the most part, are less likely to cause pain or have restricted movements. Orthotic inserts restrict feet movement and flexibility and sometimes weaken the muscles of the arch.
The most important thing is how you walk and run and not really how flat your feet are. Barefoot basically means utilizing all the muscles and tendons in your feet in the most natural way, including the arches. Walking barefoot and wearing barefoot shoes means you’re bound to have a better step when running or walking.
Reports on Barefoot Running Benefits
There isn’t enough research showing that modern cushioned running shoes prevent injuries. In fact, it’s suggested that cushioning and support features present in most modern footwear can actually do more harm than good.
While barefoot running grew in popularity, narrative reports showed up on running forums from individuals saying they developed better arches/curves from running shoeless. In view of these testimonies, it would appear that barefoot running can be beneficial for flat feet.
However, apparently not for everyone. I also came across a post from people revealing that they didn’t note a difference. After all, anecdotal reports come with various trust issues. It’s not that agreeable to draw inferences from anecdotes on whether barefoot shoes help arches to develop. This is where controlled research can help figure things out.
Unfortunately, there are not many studies or studies that focus on flat feet and barefoot running.
One study revealed a positive impact on the arches of persons who increased their barefoot performance. The study was not based on running but barefoot activities in general. Another research showed that barefoot running prevents pronation in runners.
Other studies have also demonstrated a lower incidence of flat feet in persons who are often barefoot. However, there were few studies that showed no difference in the arch height between barefoot and shod runners. Thus, more research is needed for more conclusive evidence.
How Barefoot Foot Shoes Might Work
A few reasons have been brought out supporting how barefoot running might improve the height of the arch. When the feet are free from the enclosure of a shoe, it is suggested that muscles in the foot get stronger. Stronger foot muscles may help develop a better arch shape.
People generally tend to adopt a different running style when they run barefoot compared to running with shoes on. Barefoot runners mostly land towards the front of the foot- known as a midfoot strike or forefoot strike.
However, when running on their shoes, most runners land on their heels. Properly cushioned shoes allow such people to land on their heels even when jumping or running on hard surfaces.
With a midfoot or forefoot strike, the front of the foot lands before the heel. This puts greater force on the lower leg and foot, which over time, might help for a better arch shape.
Barefoot Shoes Features To Look For
Real barefoot shoes, irrespective of the manufacturer or the brand marketing it, must have certain features. These include:
Zero Drop Soles
Zero drops simply mean that there should be no heels on the shoe whatsoever. Some shoes marketed as barefoot may have a slight heel and others even more pronounced. A good example of zero drop shoes is the Vibram Five Fingers and Xero shoes.
Wider Toe Box
This is the area of the shoes where your toes live in. In barefoot shoes, this part needs to be a bit wider compared to other regular shoes. This will ensure room for your toes feels unrestricted when running.
The protection you get from barefoot shoes will vary from brand to brand. Nonetheless, the basic premise is simple. Your shoe must have enough underfoot protection to avoid puncturing the sole with sharp objects, especially when running on rough terrains.
Barefoot shoes with lightweight construction will grant you a natural running experience. One of the benefits of wearing barefoot shoes is the natural sense of experiencing the ground. Also known as the sense of balance, this aspect goes side by side with the underfoot protection. The underfoot protection should not be too thick that you lose your connection with the ground.
Look for those barefoot shoes with washable liners. Note that barefoot shoes tend to get stinky with use, just like any other footwear, particularly when you’re not wearing them with socks. So keep that in mind when shopping and you’ll be glad that you did.
The uppers should at least be breathable. Make sure that your feet are able to breathe and get good airflow during your activities. This aspect is especially important if you want to develop an awful odor and bacterial build-up.
Quick lacing System
You don’t want to spend all the time to have your barefoot shoes’ laces done. For the best part, go for the most convenient one for you. One common issue with shoes with laces is that the laces tend to come undone now and then. Therefore, having a quick lacing system is imperative.
When making any purchase, the best thing is to make sure you get value for your money. And the same case applies when shopping for barefoot shoes. The pair need to tough to bear all the beating throughout. Speaking of durability, it’s good to mention that putting your barefoot shoes in the washer can compromise their longevity. If you want to machine wash them, then do so at low temperatures. Otherwise, the gluing, delicate constructions, and other works will drastically fail, and the whole shoe will come to part.