As February approaches and we begin to make plans for our winter steal-away, if you’re anything like me, you’ve been wondering what new outdoor adventure can we tackle on this year’s vacation.
When I think of outdoor adventure, I always think of hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking and you know, climbing a mountain or volcano—nothing too rigorous or strenuous, right? —A girl can dream, can’t she?
But in doing so, I always seem to envision myself being as close to the earth as possible, trying to really tune-in to nature, if you will. (There really are health benefits to this, too!)
So naturally, beach running and being barefoot nonetheless, has been on my radar.
Those super minimalist shoes have also captured my curiosity—the other-worldly-looking, foot glove-like ones, you know what I’m talking about. They have held my interest for some time now and having a pal who runs regularly with them, I thought I might consult a couple local experts to get the health scoop behind the fad.
This week, I have sought out two podiatrists to learn more on why we should or should not take to the sandy shorelines in search of exercise without shoes.
So while packing for your mapped-out sunny oasis this winter, here are some things to consider before you grab your minimalist shoes and toss them into your duffel bag or take off pummeling the ocean sand for miles with bare feet.
Zeeshan Husain is a podiatrist in Rochester who says the best way to look at the topic of barefoot running is through common sense.
“The bottom line that everybody wants to know—is barefoot running better for you?” he said. “The simple answer is we don’t know.”
The way that shoes—or the lack of shoes in this case—affect human gait is an understudied area of research, Husain said.
But scientists have examined and measured the amount of pressure delivered through stride with and without our sneakers on.
“You end up putting less pressure on your feet when you’re barefoot running as opposed to wearing shoes,” he said.
But is going bare really beneficial?
One of buzz topics surrounding barefoot running and minimalist shoes is accessing the full use of our foot and leg muscles for strength.
“You definitely utilize more of your intrinsic muscles when you are running barefoot as opposed to wearing shoes,” Husain said. “If you were barefoot, all the muscles and tendons would have to work together at the same level.”
But like other podiatrists, Husain worries that with more use, there is more “wear and tear—you’re going to pay the price,” he said.
The other argument is that barefoot running improves your form “and you learn to run better,” Husain said.
Whether there are studies out there supporting or attacking barefoot running, Husain dispels this particular notion.
“People that run barefoot have shorter stride lengths,” he said, “Which in terms of racing, that would actually be a problem.”
Take professional athletes for example—better yet, professional runners.
“These individuals will do anything that they can to shorten their times,” Husain said, “And none of them run around barefoot.”
Which brings us to the final concern, and one of the biggest hazards surrounding the fitness fad, where would you even run barefoot?
“You’re going to end up stepping on something that’s going to cause serious problems,” Husain said. “If you’re going off-road running, you [have] to wear something, you can’t be out there on uneven gravel and surfaces and expect your skin on the bottom of your feet to hold up, it’s just going to be a bloody mess.”
Jeffrey Frederick, a podiatrist in Berkley also recommends wearing shoes even when it comes to running on the beach.
“I believe beach running is not the best running experience for yourself, in fact, it’s a bottom of the line simply because we give more ankles strain on a beach from running than any other thing we see.”
“I see a lot of people walking on the beach because they like that idea but running,” he said, “absolutely should be in shoes if you’re serious.”
Frederick also recommends lightweight running shoes if you plan to kick start a running campaign but to also consider customized shoe inserts or orthotics.
“If I were to give any advice to a runner as a podiatrist, if you’re not wearing a customized orthotic—I’m not talking about the kind you buy over-the-counter—You’ve got to be crazy, because it can help them so much, it’s unbelievable,” he said.
Typically costing $300 to $400 and lasting around five years, orthotics take the cushion and prevent a runner’s muscles from fatiguing, making your run all the more efficient.
“We’re after your muscles being able to function at 100 percent efficiency,” Frederick said, “Less fatigue and less wear and tear on your body. The more the muscle has to function outside of its efficiency, the more [you’re] apt for injury.”
If you’re going to go barefoot
“Barefoot running in itself sounds like a great idea,” Frederick said. “It just sounds [good]—we’re not born with shoes.”
But all in all, Frederick is against any barefoot running.
Husain said proceed with caution if you plan to jog with naked feet.
“If you’re young, you’re healthy and it’s not creating any problems, I would say go ahead, go for it,” Husain said.
Be certain to limit the time you spend doing it and if you plan to take your run to the beach or through the woods nearby, it’s probably a good idea to wear shoes.
Both suggest finding a pair of the lightest-weight running shoes on the market to achieve the closest to barefoot jogging experience as possible.
“The runners that were wearing minimal shoes [in a study he read], those were the runners that ran more efficiently than even the barefoot runners,” Frederick said.
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