You can spot a proponent of barefoot-style running a mile away, thanks to their hideous neoprene “shoes” with a separate space for each toe. Sometimes you can hear them from a mile away, too, ranting and raving about how the foul footwear has changed their lives.
But we’ve always been a little dubious. Something that looks so bad can’t be that good. Most people’s down-there digits just aren’t fun to look at. Attractive, traditional footwear not only covers those puppies up, but also can protect your toesies from disease and maiming.
So it’s gratifying to learn that real, live scientists have determined that toe-shoes like Vibrams might not be all that great for your gait.
The barefoot-style shoes are supposed to cut down on injury and improve running form because their lack of heel padding promotes a forefoot landing, The New York Times explains. Whether or not landing on the front of your foot is actually healthy, though, is what scientists have been wondering.
A study in last month’s Journal of Applied Physiology looked into the efficiency of forefront-running, having 37 runners alternate between forefront and heel-striking running. The results might send marathoners scurrying back to their old-school chunky sneaks. From the Times:
“‘In the end, this data showed that heel-striking was the more physiologically economical running form, by a considerable margin. Heel strikers used less oxygen to run at the same pace as forefoot strikers, and many of the forefoot strikers used less oxygen—meaning they were more economical—when they switched form to land first with their heels.”
So, the study says, those who use the forefront-strike style tend to tire out more quickly. Also, about a third of runners who’d used barefoot-style shoes said they attributed injuries to the glorified ’90s toe-socks. This doesn’t mean that barefoot-style running is bad for everyone, per se. It just shows that wearing super minimalist footwear may not be the cure-all that its devotees claim it is.
Anybody who walks around in cheapo plastic H&M flats can vouch for that.