The Best Shoe For You

  I’m sure many of you have seen the new Lebron Nike ads.  Like them or not, no one markets as well or as innovatively as the guys from Oregon.  It got me thinking about a lot of their other campaigns and their effect on the fitness business.  The Nike Air has been a HUGELY successful footwear product for decades.  It has evolved into other products like the recent Nike Shox.  While I respect Nike from a business and marketing view, I’m questioning more and more everyday how detrimental an effect these shoes have had on athletes and everyday people alike. Why all the bitter hostility?  Well, the modern running shoe claims to be improving the health, safety, and performance of everyone who laces them up.  Yet the numbers would indicate otherwise.  Knees, lower backs, Achilles and plantar fasciaitis, ailments relatively uncommon prior to the running shoe revolution are now standard diagnoses.  Fifty percent of endurance athletes will be hurt this year.  There are definitely a few factors in play here; as I’ve often said, sedentary adults who decide to hit the pavement out of nowhere WILL be injured.  You need to be in shape to run, you can’t run to get in shape.  The force absorbed by the body in a typical jogging stride is 1.5x bodyweight.  Multiply that by about a thousand strides in a mile run and you can see how breakdown will occur.  So lack of physical readiness definitely has a hand in injury. But this is post is about shoes, or more accurately, what’s inside the shoe.  The foot is the next frontier in performance.  It’s been largely ignored in Western exercise research for years, but in most sports it’s the ONLY thing between us and the ground.  The foot’s design is a marvel of engineering.  An intricate web of bones and muscles unlike any other area of the body.  It is perfectly suited to handle normal human movement, things like squatting, jumping, running, and climbing.  It hasn’t evolved to handle the demands of skating or sports requiring cleats yet, so special equipment to handle those movements are probably warranted.  But putting a clunky heavily cushioned running shoe on completely changes the dynamics of how the foot interacts with the ground.  A heel full of air, gel, or whatever space goo they shove in there allows the running stride to lengthen and land on the back of the foot.  Try this barefoot and see how it feels.  You won’t do it for very long.  But the modern shoe lets us do this pain-free, at least for the moment.  But farther up the body, knees, lower backs and hips aren’t as lucky. Beyond the changes in running technique, these shoes are causing other problems.  We literally live with shoes on these days from our first steps onward.  If I strapped a cast onto your arms for years at a time, what would they look like if we cracked it open?  Our feet are suffering the same fate.  Even worse, women wear heels constantly, leaving the ankle with a serious mobility deficit.  Our feet need to get stronger. So, what are better alternatives for athletic footwear?  Surprisingly, Nike’s entry in the minimalist market, the Free, is a good mix of function and style.  For those looking for an even better yet slightly stranger option, the Vibram Five Fingers looks like a glove for the foot.  I can personally say that these work extremely well.   One word of caution though, take it easy when starting a barefoot or minimalist shoe approach.  Your feet are likely deconditioned and will be pretty sore if you try to do a lot of training right away.  Also, use caution where you are training.  Although we were never designed to wear shoes, we were also never designed to run on unforgiving man-made surfaces like concrete or asphalt either.   BH