The Barefoot Movement

In response to gathering evidence that shoes do more harm to our feet and joints than good, there has been a growing movement towards “barefooting”, the practice of partaking in outdoor events without shoes, or in some cases, in shoes that mimic the benefits of bare feet. Several companies exist that cater to the barefoot industry, designing shoes to improve the functioning and health of our feet, as well to put the joy back into walking.

Leaders in the industry of barefooting include MBT (Masai Barefoot Technology), Vivo Barefoot and Vibram Fivefingers.

MBT was designed by a Swiss engineer who found that walking barefoot in the rice paddies of Korea alleviated his back pain. Believing that the hard, concrete surfaces of the modern world are responsible for a large portion of our health problems, he set out to design shoes that would replicate the natural instability of rice paddies or the African savannah. The shoes are intended to teach you how to walk properly again, by forcing you to use long forgotten muscles in your feet and legs.

In the interests of research Adam Sternbergh, who wrote an article for nymag.com, titled “You walk wrong”, wore a pair of MBTs for a few days and can attest to the fact that they do give you quite a workout. He found, however, that the thick, rolling soles make it difficult to judge the actual terrain. He also adds that, while they improve forward movement, they don’t readily lend themselves to dodging obstacles, like slow moving pedestrians.

Ultra-slim soled Vivo Barefoot shoes are the complete opposite of chunky MBTs. The sole is only 3 mm thick and is made of a durable, puncture-resistant blend of rubber and DuraTex. They are designed to allow your feet to feel the surface of the ground exactly as if you were walking barefoot.

Sternbergh also wore a pair of these, and found that although they were difficult to get used to, once he did, they improved his walking experience. First, he had to get used to feeling the hard surface of the ground, which initially hurt his heels. Then he had to adjust the length of his stride so that his feet didn’t thud down and he could roll through each step, as we’re supposed to. Lastly, he had to get used to the weary ache in his feet as they worked in a manner that was completely foreign to them. Eventually, however, he grew to like the new type of shoe, and to enjoy the feel of the ground beneath his feet. He says that they gave him a new appreciation of his surroundings, including the surfaces that he walked on.

FiveFingers footwear is similar to Vivo in that they bring you as close to the ground and being barefoot as possible, without actually taking your shoes off. They are designed to “stimulate the muscles in your feet and lower legs, to build strength and improve range of motion”. They also improve your balance, agility and posture. They are used primarily in a range of activities that are usually done barefoot, yoga for instance, or Pilates and sailing. Their appearance is vastly different from shoes as we know them. They have thin rubber soles, designed with flexibility and protection in mind, and an individual compartment for each toe, like sturdy gloves for your feet. These toe compartments are designed to spread your toes, strengthening the muscles in your feet and leading to an overall improvement in the health of your lower appendages. They come in 4 different models, each catering to a range of specialised activities.

Many people are very attached to their shoes, and consider the health risks of going barefoot to be greater than those attached to being shod. Shoes like Vivo are the perfect option for these people. Their feet are protected from dirt, germs and sharp objects, while still being able to feel the grass beneath their feet, if not literally. They can also be worn by people who like the idea of going barefoot, but are worried about how their naked feet will be perceived by others. FiveFingers shoes are ideal for the more active among us, who also want to experience the benefit of going shoeless.

Barefoot shoes make it easy to embrace the benefits of going shoeless, while keeping your shoes on. Barefoot shoes will help you re-establish your sense of wonder at the world, from the bottom up.

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