Whether you love or hate the way these ultra-popular barefoot-style running shoes look, they’re a sign of the times–and for some, a status symbol of sorts, signifying their desire to live a more natural lifestyle. But when people become too focused on the fad–and not enough on the technique or potential for injury–they can get hurt in a hurry. Is it bad for you? No. But while barefoot and minimalist running is great for some people, it comes with more than a few caveats.
Declared the “most popular footwear trend of 2011,” runners in barefoot and minimalist shoes (defined by those with next to no support or incline) have begun cropping up on trails, in gyms and just about everywhere else. Many were encouraged by Born to Run, a wildly popular 2010 book about–you guessed it–barefoot running, while others have jumped on because they wanted to know what the hype was about.
Long-time runner Ryan Holiday, a strategist for the likes of Tim Ferriss and Robert Greene and director of marketing at American Apparel, has eschewed the barefoot running trend, despite the fact that he’s passionate about evolutionary fitness, for exactly that reason: the hype. For Holiday, running naturally makes sense, but for many, it seems more about a statement than a style of running.
I understand it. I understand the science. The worst pair of running shoes I ever had was the Nike Shox, because it’s about the least natural thing you can imagine. But I think to go the other direction is more about status or attention, and not about what’s best for the foot or best for running.
The Shox that Holiday mentions were part of a long line of ultra-cushioned kicks that were super-popular in previous decades, and that trained a lot of people to run heels-first. But those unnatural shoes have slowly been disregarded as unnecessary–and potentially problematic. Holiday, who sticks to a paleo diet and attends evolutionary health and fitness conferences, says he tries to be as close to what’s natural as is possible (i.e. by not wearing giant, shock-absorbing shoes), but says he also understands that we’re not exactly in the cavemen era anymore:
I live in New Orleans and in Los Angeles and you see people not only running in Vibrams, but without shoes at all. And it makes me wonder–what is natural about running on this grass, or even on concrete, that’s full of trash and glass? Being natural is important. But we also live in 2012.