I like to be naked.
Mainly my feet. When they run.
I grew up in Hawaii, so naked feet was the norm. We would either go barefoot or wear totally unsupportive rubber slippers! In fact, we had slang for our tough feet:“Kanaka feet.”
Today, barefoot running is all the rage, which I find funny, because it’s been here all along. The first running shoes that were made and sold had hardly any cushioning at all. They were basically minimalist shoes! As time went on, the big companies emerged selling shoes that were supportive, cushioned, and had Über stability.
Like a cast for our feet.
We are consumers who conformed to the new standard.
What happens when you cast a body part?
Our feet, which were made to roam the earth’s surface sans shoes, became weaker, delicate, and forever protected.
All those barefoot, slipper wearing, Kanaka feet Hawaiians, were told that they would ruin their bodies if they didn’t have stability or arch supported shoes! Flat feet? GASP! You should NEVER wear slippers!
I myself, have flat feet and have had orthotics in my running shoes since I was 13 years old. It was supposed to help my knee issues. It didn’t make it worse, but it also didn’t help. I dutifully wore them anyway, despite the fact that they were as hard as rocks.
So, what’s the deal? Is barefoot running all it’s cracked up to be or just a fad that is leading our delicate feet to more injury?
I had the hard conversation with an expert on the topic.
Matt Walsh is a running expert and a Physical Therapist with Rebound Clinic in Vancouver, Washington. He has been a huge advocate of barefoot running for years based on old research and what he has seen in his patients as of late. He gave me his expert opinion on barefoot/minimalist running.
Here is our interview:
Selena: What do you think about the latest fad of barefoot running?
Walsh: It is a new approach to old solutions to the way we move. The logic is there and it does help your body to improve your foot strike, however, we don’t know much about the long-term effects.
Selena: Foot strike. Let’s talk about that. How should our feet work when we run?
Walsh: Most people rely on a heel strike when they run. This puts the stress on the bony structures of our body. When we run “barefoot,” we rely more on the soft tissues and the muscular system.
Selena: Well that sounds great!
Walsh: Except that most people no longer have the strength in their Achilles or foot tendons for this, and thus, it causes problems. We may end up seeing Achilles tendonitis and metatarsal stress fractures.
Selena: Have you seen any improvements of injuries?
Walsh: Yes. Runners with recurrent stress fractures or patellar-femoral pain are seeing a decline in these issues.
Selena: I myself have had patellar-femoral syndrome and have flat feet. I have worn orthotics since high school. I have started weaning myself to less stable shoes and now run almost exclusively in minimalist shoes. I have never had a season without an injury…until now.
Walsh: In running, it’s really more about the motion of the foot versus the position. We want the foot to work within a certain range of motion. Stopping the foot from hitting the “end range.” The same goes for pronators and supinators. It’s about the range of motion and timing of the foot motion relative to the motion of the rest of the body.
Selena: Yeah, I already was mostly a toe runner, even in my stability shoes. But I can feel the difference when I start to roll to my heel too far.
Walsh: Yes, hitting that “end range of motion.” Changing the technique changes your foot strike. The faster you run, the better your strike.
Selena: I totally agree! It’s quite hard to sprint and heel strike at the same time.
So what do you tell people who want to try barefoot running? Do you give them some direction on how to go from stability shoes to minimalist shoes?
Walsh: Improving their foot strike is a healthy, wise choice. Sometimes any change is good change. The body will adapt. The question is, how long will that adaptation take AND will the body compensate instead? There is a ‘breaking-in’ process that has to happen.
Selena: For sure. It took me about 4 months to move from 5 min – 35 min of minimalist running.
So do you promote minimalist or barefoot running to your patients? Do you give them the go ahead when they ask for your opinion?
Walsh: It depends on the person and their running history. Some runners adapt, some compensate. Whatever type of shoe you choose, we want to see kinetic synchronicity: load and stability properly at the right time.
Selena: Sounds like technique practice and ‘breaking-in ‘time is key.
Thank you to Matt Walsh for his time to enlighten us on this “new” trend in running.
Are you sold? Can you throw out your orthotics?
You need to take your time in this transition. For some, the transition is very easy, especially if you already have the proper technique. For others, changing from heel strike to forefoot strike will be awkward and possibly painful.
Find yourself a reputable running store in your area. Have them do a gait assessment and discuss your options for the transition to minimalist shoes. Take your time. Don’t rush the process!
As for me, I am running ‘naked’ almost exclusively and walking ‘naked’ in my rubber slippers. My Kanaka feet are happy once again.