ENHANCING SPORTS PERFORMANCE
Although barefoot shoes have been developed for a range of sports (including trekking, water sports and even yoga), the following will focus on their application to running.
Mechanism of Barefoot Running Shoes
Unlike any traditional running shoe, barefoot shoes claim to ‘reset’ the runner’s biomechanics through enhanced proprioceptive feedback and a more natural postural alignment. It is the shorter stride that barefoot shoes encourage which create a more efficient gait pattern, in turn delivering less stressful heel impacts and greater stability and balance (www.merrell.com). A study by Leiberman and colleagues in 2010, confirmed that the absence of heel elevation that barefoot running shoes provide, encourage a more plantarflexed foot, and as a result, smaller collision forces (see Figure 4). More specifically, barefoot running shoes provide a more natural and injury-reducing alternative to the traditional running shoe by stimulation, alignment and strengthening mechanisms (www.merrell.com).
Benefits of Barefoot Running Shoes
There are numerous reported benefits of using barefoot running shoes, either in conjunction to your current footwear or as a complete replacement (Ryan, 2010).
Overall, barefoot running shoes claim to provide the following benefits (www.vibramfivefingers.com):
1. Strengthen lower leg and foot muscles
2. Improve ankle, foot and toe ROM
3. Improve balance and agility through stimulating neural function
4. Improve posture by eliminating heel lift
5. Encourage natural foot and body movement
It is through the above mechanisms and benefits that barefoot running shoes provide, that runner’s from grassroots to those competing at an elite level can enhance performance. Through stronger muscles, tendons and ligaments, heightened proprioceptive feedback, less damaging and torque-related impacts on the lower-extremity joints and a more efficient running form, much can be gained (Rixe, Gallo, & Silvis, 2012; Ryan 2010).
See Merrell's interactive learning guide for further information.