Looking for Minimalist Footwear?

April 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 

Today I received an email asking for help in finding a certain type of footwear. Here’s the email.

I’m looking for new shoes and thought you might have some expert counsel? I’ve loved my New Balance Vibram Minimus for three years and am ready for a true barefoot experience–I think. I keep hearing about the FiveFingers, but can’t find them locally and am reluctant to order a pair without trying them on. I walk and do some cardio at the gym. Got any suggestions?

I told her that I get an email from a minimalist shoe website called Birthday Shoes. They have a free online newsletter with almost 5,800 subscribers. Check them out. Five Fingers are not for everyone. There are other very minimal shoes out there. The birthdayshoes.com website has most of them – and shoe some reviews too. They have 17 shoes companies represented on their website. Each review has a full report and photos of the shoes. Each review has comments from readers, which adds value. Definitely worth reading before you buy.

If you are in the market for minimalist shoes for trail running or just kicking around the yard, check out Birthday Shoes.

BirthdayShoes.com website header

BirthdayShoes.com website header

Is Less Shoe More?

February 23, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Footwear, Footwear Products 

Taken from an article, Less shoe for the money, more bang for your buck? by David Kumagai

From Monday’s Globe and Mail – Published Sunday, Feb. 05, 2012

For runners, the trend away from tricked-out, uber-supportive shoes and toward minimal footwear has taken off in the past few years, turning a fringe product into a roughly $2-billion annual cash cow. The New Balance Minimus, Nike Free, Reebok RealFlex and Vibram FiveFingers are among the slew of stripped-down shoes – flexible enough to be rolled, scrunched and squeezed at will – praised for triggering small, neglected foot muscles.

Now shoe companies are targeting the gym, hoping the success of minimalist running shoes, Footwear readers’ 2011 trend of the year, will translate to the workout crowd.

But as the buzz builds and the industry pitches the shoes as a muscle-building fix for many foot and ankle injuries, there is some debate as to whether it’s a biomechanical paradigm shift in shoe design or a cleverly engineered cash grab.

Proponents of the footwear often compare ultra-supportive shoes with wearing a cast that prohibits muscle growth, while skeptics say there hasn’t been enough research.

Mark Verstegen, who trains some of the world’s top athletes as the president of Phoenix-based Athletes’ Performance, helped design Adidas’s Adipure Trainer, billed as the first minimalist shoe designed for working out. It’s the latest entry into the booming market for footwear with a less-is-more kick. “The shoe offers an almost sock-like environment that gives great mobility so you can turn on all the muscles and joints in the legs,” he said.

Mr. Verstegen holds a master’s degree in sport sciences and said he’s long believed in barefoot workouts. He credits the 2009 book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall for pushing the barefoot-minimalist movement into the mainstream.

The research has been playing catch-up ever since.

Scott Landry, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Acadia University in Nova Scotia who has studied minimalist footwear, has published articles that generally laud the shoes’ ability to strengthen smaller foot muscles.

Shoes with a lot of stability were first designed in the 1970s to reduce injury, but the belief is that injuries haven’t decreased, Dr. Landry said.

He wears minimalist shoes in the gym and explained how students in his anatomy and biomechanics class constantly ask him about the new footwear. “I always caution them, don’t make the sudden jump, introduce exercise gradually, “Dr. Landry said. “… If you’ve got a deformity in the foot, you might need an orthotic.”

Dr. Landry, Mr. Verstegen and Brad Gibbs, president of the Pedorthic Association of Canada, all stressed the need to take it slow.

“My immediate concern would be the lack of stability if you’re doing lateral or side-to-side motion – I think that’s where a minimalist shoe could be a danger,” Mr. Gibbs said. He suggested testing the shoes for “10 to 20 per cent” of your workouts initially.

“If you are starting to develop a small discomfort … go back to your old or conventional footwear.” he said, adding, “Don’t try to work through an injury.”

Mr. Verstegen adamantly opposes a full-throttle switch. “You wouldn’t do any other aspect of your life that way – you need the progressions.”

But even a measured approach has its doubters. Michael Mesic, a doctor of podiatric medicine at the Canadian Foot Clinic & Orthotic Centre in St. Catharines, Ont., is skeptical of the shift away from supportive footwear.

“Most of the hype is generated by shoe companies – they’re creating a new market,” Dr. Mesic said. “… There is that subset of the population with great mechanics who don’t need that extra support, but the average person needs support.”

And yet John Shier, a 36-year-old software engineer from Burlington, Ont., said that after years of suffering from plantar fasciitis, shin splints and knee pain, and throwing hundreds of dollars at orthotics, he hasn’t had “a single physical problem” since buying Vibram FiveFingers four years ago.

When he works out, whether doing squats or dead-lifts, Mr. Shier dons the shoes or opts to go unshod. “I found that wearing cross-trainers, with the amount of cushioning and height off the ground, I didn’t feel that stable.”

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that echoes Mr. Shier’s experience, Dr. Landry said.

What’s your anecdotal story?


Footwear Professionals Speak out on Minimalist Shoes

June 4, 2011 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Footwear, Footwear Products 

I subscribe to the Pedorthic Newswire newsletter. It is useful to keep me in the know about trends in the footwear industry from a pedorthist’s perspective. Here’s my description about Pedorthist in Fixing Your Feet:

Pedorthists work with the design, manufacture, fit, and modification of shoes, boots, and other footwear. Pedorthists are board certified (C.Ped) to provide prescription footwear and related devices. They will evaluate, fit, and modify all types of footwear. A C. Ped. can help find a shoe built on a last (the form over which a shoe is constructed) that best matches a person’s feet, and then construct a custom orthotic that meets his or her particular biomechanical needs and interfaces with the shoe in a way that improves its fit and performance.

In the June 1, 2011, issue of the Pedorthic Newswire, there were six answers to a question posed by a pedorthist. Here’s the question.

Question: I am seeing a lot of patients who are runners, wearing shoes like the Nike Free and New Balance Minumus. For many of these people, these shoes are completely inappropriate and actually causing problems, yet they insist on wearing them. Is anyone else encountering this and how are you handling it?

Now for an explanation about the answers. The first five are from pedorthists. They may or may not be experienced in working with athletes. But they know footwear and physical problems caused by wrong or bad footwear.

Response #1: We have also been seeing a great number of these athletes, as well as those wearing toning footwear that has been well marketed to the populous without consideration of the individual’s biomechanical needs. Video gait analysis has often been the answer. A talking head is quickly muted, and often overpowered, by marketing genius – however the visual of a flexible pes planus (flat feet) with huge torque through propulsion (and the resultant deformation of the foot and ankle in the patient’s eyes) is often the proof one needs to sway their opinion. For the blue Kool-aid runner who insists on wearing minimalist footwear in spite of their biomechanical challenges, assisting them with their training regime, or referring them on to someone who can, may be beneficial. Limiting their use to shorter runs could be suggested, and will keep them in the cool crowd.

Response #2: I would suggest telling your patients to try a pair of the Five Finger shoes or go barefoot when running. This exercises the feet and allows a more natural running gait.  We have seen in our practice that most running shoes, including the Nike Frees, give too much support and cause many tendonitis and fasciitis problems. If your runners usually run 6 or 7 days a week, have them run barefoot about 5 days and wear shoes only once a week for their long run.

Response #3: I like to take some history first. Usually, if we are seeing them, it’s because they are symptomatic in some way. The best approach is not to “attack” the shoe choice right away. Ask about the type of symptoms, the timeline, and what shoes they wore before and during their symptoms. As we know, runners can be some of the most challenging patients as far as treating them “between the ears.”

Some runners will listen, while others will kill themselves with a shoe if some expert, book or coach told them they were the best shoe for them. No shoe or style is a silver bullet for everyone. Unfortunately, like unstable toning shoes, minimal shoes are being presented as a great shoe for a large number of people. I use the eyeglass analogy. If I passed out 100 pairs of 1.75 corrective reading glasses to random people, I would get similar results. A certain percentage would have great results. Others would have marginal results. There would also be a given percentage that would have poor to awful results.

The good thing about eyecare is they have a standardized system of measuring and fabricating that doesn’t exist in our field. Some runners have the flexibility and biomechanics that allow them to adapt to minimal shoes. I may be over-simplifying it, but I chalk that up more to how they picked their parents and their DNA. On the other hand, some runners lack the ability to adapt to those shoes and that style of running. It’s also possible that some of the runners reporting amazing results could have simply been “over-shod.” Not bashing anyone, but about 90% of the runners I see who had an expert evaluate them, are in moderate to heavy pronation control shoes.

My experience with symptomatic runners shows that many of them should actually be in a neutral shoe. Perhaps these minimal shoes are nothing more than getting them closer (by default) to their actual prescription? If the runner is clearly doing harm with a minimal shoe, I ask them in a nice way why they are using them and what they are trying to achieve. Some responses make sense, but often it’s not a very valid reason, especially if it could be contributing to their symptoms. Again, runners can be quirky, so I rarely tell them something they are doing is terrible. If they are smart, they will put 2 and 2 together and make the right choice.

You can also wean a runner on or off those shoes (if they aren’t sure about them, or they are having poor results). One option is to suggest a traditional neutral cushion shoe instead. Some runners become symptomatic in a pronation control shoe with 250 miles on it. Imagine what can happen going from that to a minimal shoe, and one can see how some runners have awful results using these shoes. For the ones who are stubborn, I don’t lose breath arguing or trying to prove how smart I am. You will gain nothing by engaging in a circular debate with them. Wish them luck, and tell them to feel free to contact you if they develop any problems.

Response #4: I wonder what you mean by “inappropriate,” and what problems they are causing. I think the running shoe manufacturers have injured an entire generation of runners by claiming cushioned shoes with elevated heels will propel you further and faster. My personal experience with minimal running shoes is that there is far less internal rotation on the tibia and excessive pronation when you reduce the heel height and softness of the shoe. The acceleration of the foot moving to foot flat caused by heavy heel striking is likely the cause. I agree with Christopher McDougal (Born to Run fame) that the shoe manufacturers are to blame for most of the injuries in the sport. BTW, I do use orthotics in my minimal running shoes.

Response #5: I have been in the footwear industry for close to 30 years, and have seen the “barefoot” versus running shoe debate raised several times. Back during the beginning of the first running boon in the 1970s, only skinny ectomorophic types like myself, too small for football, were destined to be runners. The were plenty of plimsoll shoes to provide the protection needed for our sport of running. The 1970s running boom inspired by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, aerobic fitness studies, and the international success of American distance runners such as Frank Shorter and Jeff Galloway, drew “less gifted” participants into the sport of running. Back then, we egotistical runners referred to them as joggers. However, there was a need to develop running shoes to accommodate to protective needs of the rapidly diversifying running population. The choice materiea during those days was sheet stock EVA. It was light weight, and provided a blend of cushioning but rapid compression under repetitive loads. The only reason that the 24mm heel to 12mm forefoot ratio was deemed optimal was to alleviate Achilles tendinitis, and knowledge that the material compressed close to 50% under impact loads typically experienced during foot strike during running.

The current minimalist running craze has me equally concerned. While I do advocate some barefoot running to help strengthen and “awaken” the intrinsic musculature of the foot and lower leg, minimalistic footwear only addresses about 10% of the running population.  Today’s average runner maybe more athletically gifted, but there are also mesomorphic types who have participated in other sports and are entering the sport for the first time in their 20s and 30s. Minimal footwear does not offer sufficient protection for average larger framed runners. In our Lab we have found that running barefoot does effect footstrike by increasing the angle of plantarflexion at the ankle joint, however there is no evidence that changing footstrike pattern will reduce injury. In fact, we are hearing of more metatarsal stress fractures from runners attempting to adapt to minimalist footwear. Minimalistic footwear has always existed; we called them racing flats. How many average runners can successfully train in racing flats without experiencing injury? A strong voice from the foot care and Sports Medicine professions is needed to tame this fad. Run Healthy!

Response #6: The minimalist footwear movement has traction, and is not going away anytime soon. Many athletes, runners especially, are eager to try these new shoes in the hope it will improve their race times, or simply help them “feel” the trail. For some of these athletes, the shoes work. For others, they cause problems. Most of the time, it is because they buy the new minimalist shoes and try to run the same miles they ran in their older, heavier, and more supportive shoes. Occasionally, there are people who buy the shoes because they want to start running. For all these folks, reducing mileage and starting slow is the best advice you can give. Almost like starting over. You’re right, they see others doing it and read about the movement everywhere, and so of course it will be OK for them. And they are not going to stop.

Many shoe companies are adding a minimalist shoe(s) to their line. New companies are starting up with footwear that may be fine for walking – but not for running. Yet runners see these new shoes and figure less is better so they can run naturally and have a better feel for the earth. Again, reducing mileage and starting slow is the best advice, and to be attentive for possible injuries. And of course, educate them on the warning signs of possible injuries. If you have the opportunity to do a gait analysis, it would be helpful. Last summer I provided foot care at a six-day stage race where a runner ran 115 trail miles in the Colorado Rockies in Vibram Five Fingers. He did fine because he had a high base mileage as conditioning. His feet were in better shape at the end than many runners who wore “normal’ supportive and cushioned shoes.

My response was #6. Could you tell? What are your thoughts?

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