Should You Barefoot It?

Next month, I've got a fun weekend trip to NYC planned with my sister, A. She is an RMT and health/fitness fanatic so we end up chatting about health, nutrition, science, etc. quite a lot.... particularly when the wine is flowing and the current events chat has been expired. She convinced me to to join her in a Barefoot Race, although I'm not really a barefoot runner. I do exercise in bare feet and teach our Belly Bootcamp classes (which can be quite high-impact at times) in bare feet when we are indoors, but I don't run barefoot. Barefoot running has become really popular in the past couple of years and has been linked with the Paleo movement; both trends are based on the philosophy that we should return to our ancestral habits to optimize health.  I'm still on the fence about the Paleo movement, although the Paleo diet is quite similar to the way I normally eat... watch for an upcoming blog with my final decision soon!

You don't see a lot of barefoot joggers in the city... long distances + concrete - shoes = YIKES!  What you might have noticed (or tried yourself) are the plethora of barefoot-simulating footwear. The most popular brand is the Vibram FiveFingers... one of our very own Belly Bootcamp trainers, Oonagh, teaches her classes in FiveFingers and she loves them! Shoes like the FiveFingers (or the Nike Free, the Vivo Barefoot, etc.) simulate barefoot running but with the protection of a thin sole to protect our tender 21st century feet from rocks, glass, sticks, and people's discarded chewing gum.

I've been a little skeptical, as switching from a traditional running shoe to a minimalist running shoe (or barefoot) requires a change in your running style; specifically, you cannot land heavily on your heel as your foot strikes the ground as you don't have the ability to absorb shock in minimalist shoes or bare feet as you would in a traditional runner.  There is some controversy in the running world as to whether a runner should ever attempt to change their running form and foot strike, or whether one should always run naturally.  I've never tried a minimalist shoe and I still cringe at the thought of a weekend warrior heading out for a 10K on Toronto's concrete paths with just a thin sole of rubber to protect her.

But, if used properly, the minimalist shoe might actually allow for better running form, lower impact and fewer injuries.  Does this mean the average runner should toss out her Asics (my shoe of choice for over 10 years, by the way)?

Recently, the American Council on Exercise studied female runners using traditional shoes, Vibram FiveFingers and no shoes at all.  Their findings were a bit mixed; overall, ACE recommends minimalist running only for certain runners... and generally, if traditional shoes have never caused you trouble, ACE suggest you stick with what works rather than risk injury for the sake of experimentation.

Check out the complete ACE study here to see how Vibram FiveFingers compared to traditional shoes in testing!

What do you think?  Have you embraced the barefoot running trend?  Or are you an advocate of the Paleo lifestyle? Think it's all just another fad? Let us know!