Snack Hacks # 6 Minimalistic footwear and exercise 

Aand a warm welcome back for another What Supp Blog snack hack! 

The hacks presented in the snack hack series are simple and actionable tips and tricks that help to optimise physical and mental health and performance.

Today we will take a look at the minimalistic footwear that is the five finger shoe and its use in physical excersice.  

The classic piece of footwear, and one I have consistently used, are the Vibram five finger shoes. I started using Vibrams initially just in the gym when I was doing weight based workouts. With recommendations for doing the squat and dead lift barefoot rife, I noted these as the simple middle ground that would not cause offence quite like my bare sweat smelling plates of meat likely could and would.

They certainly aided me feeling more connected to the floor and over the course of a couple of years I transitioned from doing all gym work with Vibrams to longer distance running and eventually, sprints. Purely antidotally I have seen calf splints completely disappear, with far greater movement and flexibility in the arch of the foot and the toes. 

So as you can see, I’m an advocate. But similarly, I’m not blind, and somewhat shamefully, do still occasionally get self conscious when I get the odd side glance and giggle. With this in mind, I want to explain what the five fingers do to make the change worth your while whilst generating a beaming smile of smugness to angle right back at any would be detractor! 

The flexibility of the Vibram sole is the key winning element to the design. It has a very thin and flexible sole that encompasses the foot very closely and ensures the foot fully connects with the ground upon impact. As such this allows for the 60-odd joints in your feet to function as they were originally intended. 

This is opposed to a regular shoe, where they can be constrained so much that they aren’t allowed or needed to move. As the body works on the least energy principle, this means that if something doesn’t have to work, it pretty much shuts down.

Think about in regards to the knees, ankles and hip. If any part of this kinetic chain starts to shutdown, the rest will get overworked in trying to create stability. For example, commonly seen ankle problems occurring in runners whom trainers facilitate an absence of the natural ability to have the toes and ankle work as a team, thus causing additional stress on a smaller radius area, being the ankle. Think also how a built up heal will not allow for full extension of the Achilles thus causing tightness,  strain and a clearer potential risk area for injury.

If we take running or walking, when the foot functions in the way it was designed, your foot strikes the ground, the arch pronates (rolls in), creating a rotational force around your knee, your hip, your lower back and up into your opposite shoulder. This rotational force winds up not only the connective tissues and fascia of the leg, but also your lower back, your upper back and your shoulder.

The angle of the facet joints in the spine is such that as you step forward, 50% of the connective tissues around the facet joints are on stretch and the others are relaxed at any one time. When that stretch is released, it creates kinetic potential, something like a rubber band.

The very act of walking, and your foot striking the ground, creates a ground reaction force that is harnessed by your connected tissues and actually used to unwind you into the next phase of gait. You literally spring yourself forward, and dissipate that load throughout the whole of your body.

The more cushioning you have under your feet, the more out of sync this whole process becomes. Therefore you aren’t as effective at dissipating those loads throughout the whole of the body, and you end up with knee, ankle and hip injuries as the muscular system takes more of the heavy lifting. 

Now changing gears a little, there was a 2012 court case against Vibram for making the following claims regarding research backing up that their five finger shoes. Vibram claimed the five fingers will;

(1) Strengthen muscles in the feet and lower legs 

(2) Improve range of motion in the ankles, feet, and toes

(3) Stimulate neural function important to balance and agility

(4) Eliminate heel lift to align the spine and improve posture

(5) Allow the foot and body to move naturally

Now, Vibram opted to settle this out of court which of course insinuates a arguably clear degree of guilt and could discredit their minamalistic running revolution. However, what needs to be kept in mind is that whether the five finger shoes did or did not improve the said points was never up for debate, only whether the research legitimately proved it. In short, it didn’t, but many factors could influence that as well as the clear one, did the research exist prior to releasing the product? 

This all dose not discredit the use of five finger shoes of course, nor plain old barefoot excersice and running. What are legitimate cons to training in five finger shoes are however that the risk of puncture wounds increase and any transition to five finger shoes takes time. Any rushed efforts will likely result in aggravating old or potential injury. Similarly, poor form will not be solved by any amount of barefoot or minimalist shoe excersice or running. In fact if the form is poor, impact injuries will likely be increased by wearing Vibrams.

So in conclusion, there is a strong argument to use five fingered shoes as they will increase the overall stability and strength of not just the foot but the whole kinetic chain involved in an activity such as running. 

If you are planning to transition over, do it slowly and build up the amount of time you exercise in five finger shoes. If you aren’t quite ready to experience their benefits in every day life, do try to reduce the use of wearing any shoes/trainers with built up heals. A perfect option for anybody is the Converse Chuck Taylors. 

Ok, well thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this piece, please share, like and comment. Your thoughts and feedback are always much appreciated! 

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