Thursday, May 29, 2008

Shoeless Bliss

A few weeks back Lou Schuler blogged about a study, which indicated, in short, that Shoes are Bad. The evidence is fairly convincing: examining the bones in the feet of a few thousand cadavers, researchers discovered that the feet of indigenous peoples, and others whose footwear was typically minimal, were far healthier than those of Europeans who spent their lives with their feet swathed in stiff leather.

It probably comes as no surprise that high heels are rough on feet, but plain ol’ regular shoes? Who knew?

Because I’m a runner (a fact I will continue to proclaim with pride despite the efforts of some fitness luminaries to brand me and my endurance-athlete brethren with a scarlet ‘EA’ across my chest), I usually wear thick-soled running shoes while training others or working out myself. I mean, how many pair of athletic shoes does one guy need?

But given the results of the study, I was curious. I’ve also been on a ‘rehab’ kick in my own workouts after a year or so of unusually intense pounding in the weight room, so I wondered if going barefoot, or at least minimally shoed, might help to clear up some of the soft-tissue and joint issues I’d been developing as I attempted to add some muscular weight to my frame.

So I ventured out one day in my falling-apart running shoes to a store called A Snail’s Pace, where let it be known the service was terrific: friendly, knowledgeable, and, I discovered after a few pointed questions, on the whole, extremely fleet of foot.

I walked out of the store with a new pair of running shoes and an additional pair of shoes called Nike Frees, which are built with the geniuses at Nike call “barefoot technology.”

Leave it to Nike to latch onto mounting evidence that shoes are bad for your feet and use that same evidence…to sell shoes. Geniuses indeed.

As you can see, though, I completely fell for it. And I have to say: they work. I don’t think I’ve ever had a pair of shoes that I noticed as feeling good, bad or indifferent after two or three wearings. But it’s now been about two weeks, and these babies still feel fantastic. I’ve worn them to work out; I’ve worn them on walks; I’ve worn them training clients, I’ve even worn them doing brief runs. Heck, I’m wearing my Nike Frees right now, sitting in a municipal building waiting for my number to come up for jury service, and they’re making my time here just a weeeee bit less miserable. As a wise man once said, the blog must go on.

Now, I don’t want to come across as a zealot or anything, but I would have to add that I also feel better in general: my back pain has subsided, my knees are feeling better. I’m less creaky. True, I’ve been hitting up the foam roller, and reorganizing my workouts to include more stretching and less hardcore pounding, but I’m convinced the shoes have helped.

It may not be cool to love on the corporate giants (especially ones with some questionable labor practices, which I'm just now finding out about, ugh) but when they get something right, you gotta give them their props. As far as my trotters are concerned, Nike knocked this one outta the park.

As Lou Schuler wrote, Tivo has a shoe called the Barefoot which operates on much the same premise: that the best way to promote foot health is to encourage the foot do what it wants to do naturally. I haven’t tried those yet, but if anyone has, hey, write in and let me know the skinny.


Anonymous said...

which Frees did you get?

Andrew said...

They're called "Everyday" or some such. Not the 3.0 or 5.0's...they only come in black, apparently.

Anonymous said...

Hi Andrew. Good luck at jury duty. Silly question, but what about socks? Do the studies poo-poo the idea of them as well? I tell ya, if I have to go barefoot in any shoes I pity the fool thats around those puppies after a while.

Anonymous said...

BTW, it looks like you got the 7.0. They are the "everyday" shoes. Get used to those and you get promoted to the 5.0 then 3.0. Gives you something to shoot for!

Andrew said...

I don't know what the science says about socks, but even if they say they're worse than thumbscrews, I think I'd still wear them--in the interest of hanging onto family and friends.

Thanks for letting me know what's on my feet--


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Rick Mayo said...

Check out these "barefoot shoes" from vibram and the related post. I have been running sprints and lifting in them. Goofy but they feel great!

Andrew said...

I heard about the Vibrams! Goofy indeed, but in a way, the next logical step.... Glad to hear you like them. Thanks for commenting--Andrew

Andrew said...

I heard about the Vibrams! Goofy indeed, but in a way, the next logical step.... Glad to hear you like them. Thanks for commenting--Andrew

Anonymous said...

The dude at Sports Authority told me the Frees had been recalled, and the next lightest/similar barefoot technology shoe is the "Pre", designed by Steve Prefontaine (whoever that is). I have been wearing mine everywhere for 2 weeks and they are great. People like the look, too. They have some really good barefoot technology shoes for women, too - my wife loves hers.

The Vivo Barefoots are hard to get, especially the cooler styles. I talked to their NY office, and they said they won't have more of certain styles until September. Geesh! But Amazon does have some in most sizes.

Some other companies that have very nice, flexible shoes that *could* be barefoot technology (but are not advertised as such) are Picolino and 1804, both of which I found at ComfortOne but are also available through Amazon and some other vendors.

Across all of these styles, from the Nike to the 1804 and Picolino, it seems you want to order 1/2 size larger than usual.

If you want to try it out without spending $100 or so, try taking a long walk truly barefoot. It can be an eye-opening experience - takes you back to your childhood!


Andrew said...

As I said in my blog, I think it's funny that all the research supporting the importance of going shoeless is being used to sell shoes; ultimately the idea is, yes, go barefoot.

I did some preliminary checking around and can't find evidence that any of the Nike Frees have been recalled--any links on that? It's possible that your SA salesman may have been misinformed...or trying to make a sale!

Speaking of desperate sales measures--did Pre really design a shoe?? And if so, is it any good, seeing as the they must utilise technology that's over 30 years old (Pre died in '75)?

Anonymous said...

Interesting topic and one that generates a lot of conversation. I don't know if the Frees have been recalled, but they are terribly hard to find. I spent the better part of the afternoon yesterday searching online for a pair. Granted, purchasing shoes over the internet is not ideal, but I am becoming desperate. No one seems to sell them, and if they do, they have them in size 6 only! Don't get me started with the whole Free 7.0 / Transformer thing. 85% of my Google results were about that.


Anonymous said...

I don't think the Frees were recalled in the defect-sense of the word. Perhaps it was of a licensing/legal type thing, who knows. But the unavailability itself is proof enough for me that Nike is replacing them with other models (that include barefoot technology). So perhaps the guy at Sports Authority should just have said they had been discontinued or replaced.

The Pre model is kind of retro and is based on sketches created by Steve P. Simple design, flexible and without any air or springs or other technology. They actually show the sketch on the inside of the tongue. I have never had so many people compliment a pair of sneakers though, at least 4 or 5 comments of how good they look. Well, that was before I started getting them dirty!


Anonymous said...

Hi, I need to use shoe lifts. Am I able to use shoe lifts with these kind of shoes? Or are they not necessary? Regards, Ano

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