Yes this is a site dedicated to the life of the barefoot man but I am a run coach and I will openly admit that not everyone will want that.  I also openly admit that anyone who wants to wind up there probably needs to work toward that goal slowly with a plan in place for the change.  There are some out there who have been able to just leave their shoes behind and never look back.  There also people who can quit smoking or drinking cold turkey but not everyone can do that.  So with that in mind I offer options for the “average” person.

As a coach and trainer I believe that motion control is evil and anyone who uses it needs to take their feet out of the braces they call shoes and start to strengthen the muscles in their feet and lower legs.  By doing so they would no longer need support for their arches or level of pronation.  There are all types of shoes out there and those options can be used to get your feet where you want them so you can make the most of your legs in all endeavors.  If you are in a seriously motion controlled shoe and have the worst feet, ankle, or knee problems imaginable, I say start by first spending time walking around barefoot at home getting up on your toes and flexing your arch, do foot crunches (digging your toes into the carpet and pulling them toward you), and wearing toe socks in your shoes.  All of these things will begin to wake up the sleeping muscles in your feet.

From there I direct all my runners to work their way to a less stable and more neutral shoe that will offer less support and allow these newly awakened muscles the opportunity to work.  A neutral shoe is one that has very little toe spring (the toe curving upward) as well as little to no change in sole thickness from front to back or side to side.  I also like to take it further by getting into shoes that have a very thin and flat sole.  All of these things will give the foot more opportunity to work.

Still not sure on shoes?  Well here are some of the ones that I think are the best and I recommend them to the people I teach.

1. Asics Piranha: A light weight racing flat with a wide toe box.  A lot of professional runners use these shoes in races and they offer a thin sole that allows a fair amount of breathability and movement.  A very good option as a shoe as it is also the lightest on the list.

2. Adidas Adizero PR: Another racing flat that is similar to the Piranha.  The PR is a little stiffer and has a slightly heavier and thicker sole.  It is still a good minimal shoe and for those of you afraid to make a big jump the slightly thicker sole will give you the feeling that you have a little more cushion under you.

3. Terra Plano Evo: This is the most expensive on the list topping out around $160 and is very much a minimalist shoe.  The sole  is very flat, very thin (4mm), and very very flexible.  You can roll the sole up like a burrito from any direction you want.  It is slightly heavier than the racing flats weighing in at about 7 ounces but overall is a very good option for wanting to get minimal but still maintain the normal shoe look.

4.  Nike Free: Pictured is the 5.0v4 and is one of three levels of the free.  The levels at 7, 5, and 3 with each level getting increasingly more unstable as you go down in number allowing you to graduate slowly into the more flexible versions.  It is a nice change up from a regular shoe.  It has deep grooves cut in the sole from front to back and side to side.  The grooves allow the shoe to flex quite a bit compared to other shoes and still offers a normal thickness in the sole.  It takes some getting used to as the flexing in the shoe is not natural but is very comfortable and is a good option for someone who is trying to get started on the road to foot recovery.

5. Aqua Shoes/Socks: You know what these are.  The shoes you buy for $5-10 at just about any store during the summer to protect your feet when you are in the water.  They are usually an easy slip on shoe with a thin flat sole that offers very little protection other than to keep you from getting cut.  I personally like to mix up my running with some Oxide Aqua socks I got for $10 from Sports Authority.  I also could not find a picture of the Oxide.

6. Vibram Five Fingers: Last but not least my favorite minimal shoe is the Five Finger.  It looks crazy but feels wonderful.  Each toe has it’s own little pocket and these shoes in my opinion offer the most minimal experience because of those toe pockets.  The sole is thin and flexible and your foot feels as connected to the ground as it can with a shoe on because you feel things under you and your toes get to spread apart with each step as well as bend and flex in a way that no other shoe can offer.  If you cannot go barefoot then I feel this is as close as you can get.

These along with the aqua socks, Evo, and to a lesser degree the Free all need adjusting time so you should not just slap these shoes on and take off.  If it were the gym you would not just waltz in and do the most extreme workout you could.  Ok maybe you would but you and I know you shouldn’t.  So remember that these are muscles in your feet and they must be treated as such.  Take your time and ease your way into the change.  You will not regret it.

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5 responses »

  1. Ian says:

    BRILLIANT!!!

    Just ordered Asics Piranhas to try.

    Meanwhile enjoying the only flats available locally, “Zinc Shakers” are not really running shoes but they work fine for me – http://i196.photobucket.com/albums/aa121/IanMGSmith/Zinc_Shaker.jpg

    As a natural toe-striker and having done a fair amount of barefoot, I can confirm how the foot can instantly adjust angle and pitch to avoid direct pressure on stones and also to improve purchase on uneven surfaces. Nature makes mockery of over-simplified “shoe science”.

  2. Ian says:

    Asics Piranhas arrived today but sending them back.

    Spongy feel in front (I need to feel the road) and heel too high for me.

    Slight moulded shape (inner heel) tries to roll my heel outward if I allow any achillies flex. Alternatively, I would have to lean uncomfortably far forward in order to get a full foot and leg flex.

    All I’m really after is a second “skin” underfoot for running on tarmac.

    Will let you know if (ever) I find a true flat-sole racing shoe… which doesn’t look embarassingly like a foot glove. LOL (smile)

    Thanks again for a great article.

    • Thanks for the feedback. Flats are not for everyone as they are definitely thicker than minimalist shoes like Five Fingers. You may be interested in Soft Star’s new RunaMoc, and I’ve heard great things about Jingas although I have no personal experience with them.

  3. Ryan says:

    Thanks for the article. Would something like the Saucony Jazz fall into this category? They even have a low pro variety (although that might just be a fashion thing.) I have a pair of VFF’s, but I would like to find something that will let me do more miles (perhaps slightly cheaper than the ones you mentioned.) Thanks.

    • Ryan, I have no personal experience with the Saucony Jazz. I would say the low pro is better than the original because the original has a raised heel and that is a fore foot runners enemy. When I feel like I want more cushion I go to my Oxide Aqua socks from Sports Authority. They cost $10 and are decently padded with the insole in them; thinner without.

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