Focus Point of the Week: Footwear for Fitness
By The One on One Team
What do you need to consider when choosing footwear for fitness? The answer lies in understanding how feet function and how various types of athletic shoes can affect that function.
The foot has two basic purposes during locomotion. First, it provides a rigid platform to propel the body forward while the leg muscles contract. Second, it adapts to the underfoot surface, supporting bodyweight during mid-stance. In addition to these physical functions, the foot also helps to inform the rest of the body about its position and balance. Feet are filled with proprioceptors that sense information about the body’s position. For example, research has shown a direct link between the soles of the feet and the lower back, which can be in danger of injury during upright exercises.
For decades, conventional fitness shoes have worked to mimic the two main functions of the foot, providing a semi-rigid sole for propulsion as well as support and traction to protect and enhance grip on the underfoot surface. In doing so, however, these conventional shoes have diminished the effectiveness of the foot’s proprioception. By providing artificial support and elevated heels, these shoes sometimes cause unnatural movement and dull the sensory feedback loop from the feet. Ultimately, this may cause the muscles around the foot to weaken, which may lead to further compromised movement and even injury.
Recently, a remarkably different option has been developed: minimalist shoes. Unlike conventional shoes, minimalist shoes offer a flexible platform and little support. But because of these features, the foot is better able to sense the ground and the body’s position. Ideally, this means that an individual’s gait will be self-correcting. The evidence for wearing minimalist shoes everyday is inconclusive; most studies reveal that there is no difference in distribution of forces between walking with normal shoes and minimalist shoes. Minimalist shoes do, however, seem to be better when used for exercise and dynamic movement, and some athletes find them much more effective than conventional footwear.
Does this mean that you should ditch your trusty sneakers for the newest trend in minimalist footwear? Not necessarily. If you’re interested in changing or improving your fitness footwear, we recommend the following:
- Find an expert who can watch you move and provide an appropriate shoe for your specific needs.
- Ask the expert for recommendations about everyday footwear as well as your fitness shoes.
- Think about your footwear progressively: ultimately, your goal may be to work towards needing less support and developing increased biofeedback. In that case, a minimalist shoe may be right for you!