Minimal footwear, or 'barefoot shoes' have been gaining popularity in recent years, and this time it's more than just and instaliving hashtag. There are loads of benefits to wearing less on your feet, and these shoes are designed to protect you while giving your toes space to spread out and your feet the ability to mvoe and flex naturally.
What is a 'barefoot shoe'?
The main diferences for a truly barefoot shoes will be
1. WIDE TOEBOX - your toes should have space to 'splay' inside the shoe.
2. MINIMAL PADDING - there may be a removable insole in there, but the idea is that you're close to the ground
3. FLEXIBLE - ideally you can roll this shoe up and twist it so you foot can flex as you move.
4. NO HEEL RISE - this is what puts you off-balance. Event your 'flats' will have a 1-2cm heel at least.
Why does it matter?
Load of parents are super aware that clunky big shoes being less than ideal for kids foot development, but then we don't really think about the impact those same issues might have on our own wellbeing (hmmm, do I see a picture forming here?!). Less flexibility in the shoe means less flexibility of your foot, and your feet are the foundation of your movement. It's a whole self health movement, right? So how your feet are set up will impact your knees, pelvis, back and neck as well as the muscles that are impacted by the bony structures (oh, hello pelvic floor).
The human foot is a complex structure made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Why would it have all those joints if it wasn't designed to move and flex? That's how feet have evolved to carry us. They're incredible really!
Studies have shown that wearing minimal footwear can also improve balance and stability, as well as reduce the impact forces that are absorbed by the feet and legs while walking or running.
Quite often you'll find barefoot shoe brands also have great eco-credentials, maybe because they're more grounded? Who knows, but it's a good thing by me!
Transitioning to minimal shoes
If you've been wearing padded and heeled shoes with squishy toe-boxes for most or all of your life and you suddenly try to switch to something completelly different overnight, guess what? It probably won't feel great. Shift slowly, add insoles to begin with if you need to. Little and often and accopany with some toe-yoga and foot care (massage, rolling and sock-freedom) that will help those years of tension to gradually unwind.
If you're in-between, think about shoes that have SOME of these features, like saltwater sandals. They don't have full splay or flexibility, but they are more flexible, a little wider and more flat than most. Obviously, that's more of a summer shoe!
Also consider toe-socks. They are great for starting to get your toes to spread gently, wear them inside your shoes or at home. Some of the yoga brands make nice grippy ones (and Tiger sometimes sell them too if you're after something low-cost to try).
* disclaimer! This isn't medical advice. It's ideal if you can find a barefoot-aware foot health human to help you if you have specific stuff going on.
Brands and how to fit them
These shoes are an inestment, but realistically much cheaper than years of ostoepath and chiropractor appointments (much as I love both, prevention is ideal). You can learn a whole load about your foot shape and the fits and styles of different brands on the glorious interwebs. I'd recommend starting with Anyas Reviews here.
It is a normal referral code and I do get a credit, but have more of those than I could use as these shoes really last! In fact, you can buy re-newed and revived shoes from them - or send yours in for a new lease of life. I have been wearing their shoes for over 10 years, this is a personal recommendation and not an ad!
I also have a couple of pairs of Xero shoes - I especially love their sandals, the trail shoes look brilliant but were a bit narrow for me.
I'd love to know how you get on! Drop me questions or comments in the box below.
I'll be making a tip-top-toe tips video soon, so subscribe below if you'd like to see it.