The Paradox of Barefoot Footwear by The Foot Whisperer

by Randy Eady
(Delray Beach, Florida, USA)

Writer's note: As promised, an evaluation of the Adidas Minimalist shoe:

Dec, 2011: Announcing from the Pac. NW, Adidas AdiPure is launched in Portland, OR. Expanding in the US market where rival Nike dominates, it is the latest athletic company to capitalize on the small but burgeoning market for so-called minimalist shoes. These shoes are a fraction of the $27 billion N. American athletic shoe industry, but sales of them have more than doubled in each of the past two years.

In Ancient Walking to Primal Rhythms programs (AWPR) we're talking about having a strong and rooted connection to the earth - physically, spiritually and in homage to the primal animal that inhabits each and every one of us.

Personally, as a practicing Nature Therapist, I ponder how technology over the last century has worked to make, modify and break our bodies.

Does modern technology in footwear, its cushioning, its material composition and design make us stronger or ultimately more dependent on artificial support?

As many know, when spotted sporting my Fila SkeleToes, Vibram 5fingers, Adidas AdiPure or mostly barefoot, it's to do more with bio-mechanics and balance than making any fashion statement.

Shoes with toe sleeves have definitely graduated from being a niche fitness item to a full blown approach to train the body how to respond to barefoot movement again. Promoting dexterity, balance improvement and increased strength; the notion of minimalist shoes encourages the soles and the toes to be more integrated in the walking and balance process.

Those, naturally, are the key features I steer toward in any evaluation:

1) How thick and stiff are the soles?
(Stiffer and thicker limits the nerve sensors in the feet.)

2) Do the toes feel comfortable, aligned and engaged?
(Some styles slightly displace, limit range of movement and generally agitate the toes.)

While this can be a "good thing" when, for example, I'm dealing with the application of a non-surgical bunion correction protocol -- it's not what a wearer wants to deal with day in and day out.

Adidas, who jumped into the fray with the new AdiPure Trainer has basically designed a Vibram-like training shoe to mimic being barefoot, with a little extra protection for the soles of the feet and quite a bit more stability through the heel area.

Here's a direct comparison of the two with "natural movement" and "harnessing the body's natural mechanics" in mind:

Being stiffer than Vibram I have worn, they do allow for a very good base of support and, in fact, create the feel of a well-designed, customized light orthotic.

At the opposing end of the foot is where these shoes standout: the toe sleeves.

With the Vibram, many people I've fitted, tell me the toes can feel slightly "de-aligned" and/or awkward, or they cannot actually get all the toes to slip in the pockets. With stretch textile material in the AdiPure, they do improve ease of access and permit foot movement (naturally in all directions) and, quite effectively, engage muscles from the toes, up the calves, legs and into the lower back.

Minimalist they are not, but one thing's for sure: with a shoe giant like Adidas on the "barefoot block" a lot more people will experiment with, and appreciate the benefit of, training feet to be more bare.

Foot Whisperer (aka: Randy Eady) is a BareFoot Doctor, practiced in a progressive technique using acupressure and bio-mechanical realignment of the foot to remove accumulations of metabolites (uric acid/oxalate crystals and calcium bicarbonate) to assist in non-surgical bunion and mal-adapted toe correction. A former Prof. and Course Chair of Cultural Anthro. @ the USAF Academy, he was awarded the Academy's "Outstanding Behavioral Science Instructor Award" for innovative/creative treatment with behavioral approaches to trauma recovery. Randy has seven years experience with U.S. Defense Dept. positions as a trauma therapist/counselor for combat veterans with PTSD, movement and physical mobility challenge conditions (such as amputee phantom pain phenomena and Parkinson's Disease).

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