Where did barefoot running come from? – Melina Mirzaei, Kinesiologist

A little bit of history…

Humans have been running for thousands of years. Running used to be straightforward – it was an essential part of everyday life for our ancestors, who were constantly searching for food and trying to outlast predators. Their version of shoes resembled a loose sandal wrapped around the foot, the main purpose of which was simply to protect the sole of the foot from cuts and scrapes.

Fast-forward to the 1970’s, when running surged in popularity as a fitness trend. At the time, running shoes were simple tennis flats. Shoe companies quickly caught on to the general public’s enthusiasm for the sport. This started a multimillion dollar movement which produced cushioned, waffle-soled running shoes aimed at making running more comfortable, and lessening the impact of repetitive training. The success of the cushioned model led to it becoming the standard in the shoe industry, despite the lack of any evidence showing its efficacy to reduce injury.

Current advances in shoe technology still aim to reduce the risk of injury, and to tailor shoes to specific foot types. There are 3 main shoe types found in stores: motion control, cushioning/neutral, and stability shoes. More recently, another shoe type has hit the market: the minimalist shoe. The minimalist/barefoot movement has taken off over the last 3-4 years following the release of Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen and the Vibram Five Fingers shoe. The minimalist approach encourages a return to running the way we were “supposed” to: a more natural, unencumbered stride. This topic is the subject of debate among the proponents of the barefoot movement, the running community, and sports medicine professionals. This has fueled a growing body of research around the risks and benefits of this running style, but there is still a lot more work to be done in this area. There are some findings, however, which can help guide decisions around the use of a barefoot or minimalist type of shoe. For more information about this, see our post on Barefoot Running.






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