Growing up a dancer, I’ve been a barefoot mover for my entire life. As a fitness instructor, when I kicked off my shoes for my group exercise class (in 2000) I was called rebellious. My host club, Equinox, (NYC) supported my barefoot walk on the fringe – since all gossipy chatter brought publicity to their clubs. As a result, I’ve been teaching people foot fitness for over a decade. I know how to teach people to exercise barefoot, safely and effectively.
Christopher MacDougall brought the subject into the pop culture spotlight in his best selling novel Born To Run. Now, barefoot has now become a public debate on a global scale, and minimal shoes are a controversial subject with running coaches, personal trainers, athletes and doctors. This EyeWitness News Report is a great one. People are freaking out. I’m loving it!
As far as I’m concerned, though, there is nothing to debate: it’s a simple concept. In a “traditional” fitness shoe, (the type that has been around for, hmm, 35 years) your foot is cushioned, controlled and supported, and your foot is treated as if it’s got one joint: the ankle. Folks: the foot is not one big bone!
Let me explain: Let’s say you break your arm, and Doc puts you in a cast. Your arm, (and possibly shoulder, and wrist) are immobilized, right? Eventually, your arm heals, and the cast is taken off. By then, your muscles have atrophied, and your joints have become stiff. Then it’s time for physical therapy, right? (Exercises that rejuvenate and strengthen). The PT sessions are uncomfortable, requiring patience, practice and perseverance. Eventually your arm is restored to it’s healthy state.
Well – modern athletes (and non-exercisers as well) have essentially put their feet in casts…. but never taken the cast off. (!!) Each day, you put on a pair of “good shoes” in which the 33 joints in your foot don’t move. Your muscles (due to non-use) get weak, and become un-coordinated (can you wiggle each of your toes independently of one another?) When the function of the foot is stunted, so is overall movement. Your posture declines, your balance falters, your push-off becomes powerless. Your entire kinetic chain (from the ground up) is effected.
So: the minimal shoe idea should be a no-brainer, but you need to be smart about it. Allow your feet to move, and stretch and strengthen. Take your time (you’ve been wearing cushioned support for 10, 20, maybe 35 years). It could take you a few months or even years to fully adapt, but honestly – aren’t you trying to be healthy and injury-free for the long haul? Please don’t buy a minimal shoe and expect to be a great minimal runner overnight. You’ll end up an injured statistic. Exercise your feet first. Patience, grasshopper.
Do you need more direction? There are thousands of people using my Sole Training® video, which is a smart pre-hab and rehab method. Practice these exercises while you are adapting to minimal shoes. It makes sense: you’ve got to wake up and strengthen your feet before running on them.
As a Foot Fitness Pro for over a decade, it still took me 8 months to reach 5 miles in my Vibram FiveFingers. But guess what? I’ll be running for the rest of my life, and I plan to do it injury free.