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A bit more on barefoot

After my last blog on barefoot running, I continued to think about the topic and started to think a little more about barefoot training. The sight of vibram fivefingers  is a common one (and I’m sure the new adidas adipure coming next year will be too) in many gyms and I have no problem with this. I’m not anti barefoot at all, all I’m doing here is making a few postulations and raising a few questions surrounding their use.

The first is surrounding proprioception and balance. I’m not going to get into a debate here about definitions of the 2, for the sake of argument let us just lump it all together as both are related to barefoot training. Barefoot shoes establish a closer contact with the floor than a standard training shoe and in theory gives more cutaneous feedback aiding joint position sense. When in a training shoe you are elevated off the floor on a lump of EVA foam which compresses, creating an unstable surface increasing the challenge of maintaining balance. Does that increase the proprioceptive activity further up the kinetic chain? Is a barefoot shoe making training easier?  Or shifting more focus to the foot and ankle?

The next question I have is what are we using it for? Surely they increase foot strength, although I’m not sure how this has been measured. And if this is true, to what degree? The foot doesn’t switch off once it is in a shoe and switch on when you put a foot glove on, so the difference may not be as huge as perceived. No doubt loading of the architecture of the foot will increase though as you take away the shock absorbing abilities of a training shoe. How well does this cross over to sports performance, particularly if the sport you play involves wearing a training shoe? And will removing that shock absorbing capacity have other impacts?

It would be interesting to track injuries associated with barefoot training. This is more likely to be an issue with those embarking on barefoot running and doing so in an urban environment. I think that there’s definitely potential for an increase in impact injuries to the sesamoids particularly with poor technique and other biomechanical deficiencies. Having raised these questions though, I personally quite like barefoot training, particularly during warm ups where possible, however if I can get away with doing it in socks and keep the £125 a pair of vibrams costs in my pocket I will. For me, for now, it remains another tool in the toolbox rather than a full time pursuit. That might change after the barefoot debate at UKSEM, after which I’ll be quite prepared to eat my words if necessary.

Neil Welch

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