Barefoot type shoes are wide fitting, low drop, minimal cushion, and generally minimal support around the ankles and heel. Sounds terrible, right? But there is some logic behind this contrarian approach to shoe design. The other question of "should you be a part of it?" is a maybe, but let us discuss.
Firstly, let's look at the difference between conventional/maximalist and barefoot/minimalist shoes.
Barefoot shoes have very thin midsoles, a zero drop (toe to heel height difference), and a wide toe box.
Conventional shoes have a thick midsole, large heel to toe drop, and narrow toe box.
So, what is the logic behind the barefoot shoe type design?
Wide toe box vs narrow toe box
- If you had never worn shoes in your life, your foot would look very different. Your toes would have a wide spread, and your foot would look more like a ducks foot.
- A wide spread is good because it means you have increased stability, and it will also stop you from getting bunions and deformed toes, which more of us suffer from than you would imagine.
- More stability could prevent other mobility issues and future problems like over-pronation, plantar fasciitis, and heel pain.
- Decreased cushion means that your feet have to work harder and gain strength—the same logic as going to the gym and lifting weights. If you don't lift weights, you won't increase your strength. But there is some caution needed with thin soles that we will write about below.
- Improving the strength of the tendons and ligaments in your foot could reduce future problems with your feet, like plantar fasciitis, but there are many conflicting arguments on this topic.
- A reduced heel to toe drop is another feature designed to take your feet back to how nature intended. Your feet don't naturally have a drop, so why do your shoes have one?
- A large drop could affect your posture and your future mobility. There are discussions around the large heel to toe drops causing over-pronation and other leg and foot issues.
- Mechanically speaking, walking on a raised platform will reduce stability, balance, and as a result, could cause an injury.
- A common injury - the twisted ankle - could probably be attributed to the large heel to toe drops in shoes.
So logically and biomechanically speaking, there are some excellent reasons why barefoot shoes could be a positive for our bodies. But from our own experiences here at Fyous, transitioning from maximalist shoes to minimal shoes, you have to be careful and take it slow. Why?
You likely spent your whole life wearing the conventional shoes described above, which means your feet aren't prepared for the barefoot experience. You will need to take it slowly and gradually reduce the cushioning and heel to toe drop by wearing shoes that offer this.
I went straight from maximalist shoes to very minimalist shoes, and my feet were not prepared, which meant that I had sore calves and heels. If you heel strike when you walk/run, thin soles will highlight this, and your heel will start to hurt if you carry on heel striking with force. Therefore, it is better to gradually reduce the cushion to adjust your running/walking style.
After around six months, my feet felt free, especially my toes. And I was far more aware of heel striking, which forced me to adapt my motion to make sure I landed forefoot first (The forefoot is the middle/ball of the foot). Research suggests that landing forefoot first reduces impact load and minimises injury.
The barefoot experience worked my feet out, and I could feel that difference, but in a good way. It was also nice to feel what I was walking on, the textures, bumps and lumps. My stability and traction increased when wearing minimalist shoes, and you can feel your foot conforming to whatever was under my feet.
I now wear conventional and barefoot-style shoes interchanging them daily, so my feet get a workout and some freedom from time to time, but I haven't fully transitioned. I want something in the middle; the wide toe box makes a big difference, as I have wide feet, but if the soles are too thin, my feet are sore.
Here at Fyous, we develop technology that will allow anyone to customise their fit and what features they would like. Whether it be a slight heel to toe drop, wide fit, or maybe some more arch support, the possibilities are endless.