I wrote this article for AFE last year, and am reposting it for you to enjoy.
Less Is More
Are there benefits to training in minimalist footwear? Studies have demonstrated that training while wearing minimalist shoes results in enhanced performance, due to greater foot pliability and a closer approximation to a barefoot stance. Since our feet adjust to wearing raised heels over time, it can be incredibly challenging to keep our heels on the ground while performing exercises like deep squats. Proponents of minimalist footwear may even argue that barefoot is best for heavy weightlifting, but the risks of exposure to microbes or hazardous fragments of glass, metal, or rocks, make minimalist shoes a much more feasible choice while at the gym.
Dysfunctional movement patterns become established throughout the body over time. Conventional athletic shoes can often contribute to ankle and foot dysfunction because they inhibit natural foot action. If you don’t believe it, then try to perform some of your physical activities barefoot and see how well, or poorly, you perform. Chances are that the impaired mechanics in the feet and ankles will make it difficult at best to perform those activities. By gradually switching over to minimalist footwear, an athlete can essentially correct improper foot mechanics and optimize kinetic feedback throughout the body during movement.
Benefits Of Minimalist Shoes
Conventional athletic footwear features a cushioned heel which also can compromise power. In contrast, minimalist footwear features little to no heel, and the soles are very thin and malleable, so they allow the joints in the foot to move and adjust to weight loading movements. In addition, the heels and midfoot make solid contact with the floor, causing more activation in the glutes and hamstrings. Studies have demonstrated that people who wear minimalist footwear develop greater strength in their legs and feet, since more power is transferred from the working muscles, through the feet, and into the movement. Plyometric movements and sprint power will also be enhanced while wearing minimalist shoes.
A 2011 study by Squadrone and Gallozzi assessed the ability of experienced runners to estimate the degree of inversion, eversion, dorsiflexion, and plantarflexion, of a slope surface board placed under their right foot while standing. They found that the degree of proprioceptive feedback which subjects received while wearing Vibram Five Fingers® was much more accurate than in subjects who wore a standard running shoe. In conclusion, cushioned shoes conferred a distinct disadvantage when compared to minimalist shoes during assessment of foot position awareness.
How To Transition Into Minimalist Shoes
Anyone who is transitioning from conventional athletic shoes to minimalist footwear needs to do so gradually, since the body has to adjust to radically different proprioceptive input. There have been cases of metatarsal stress which developed after converting too quickly to minimalist shoes. However, once the transition is made, noticeable strength gains should occur. Try spending about 15 to 30 minutes, twice a day, wearing minimalist shoes around the house. After about a week or two, you can try them out at the gym one to two days a week until you become accustomed to the feel of the shoes. Be aware that your gait and foot stance will probably change as you acclimate to this type of shoe.
1. Squadrone R, Gallozzi C (2011) Effect of a five-toed minimal protection shoe on static and dynamic ankle position sense. J Sports Med Phys Fitness Sep;51(3): 401-8.