The Collective Goal of Natural Running. The Gait Guys Opinion.

Is this minimalist shoe trend a fad or is it truly a trend? What is the truth. (What are you not being told ?)

It appears that over the last few years this question is finding its own answer, for the most part.

We believe this minimalist direction has become entrenched enough now seeing the increased work and attention from most companies. We suspect that this is a firm trend which will not be going anywhere soon, although modifications will be likely. The research papers are convincing that there are benefits. However, we feel the industry is not spending enough time discussing the risks and concerns. And we are finding out that there are two issues here on that topic.

1. That discussing the demerits of a product is not likely good marketing.

2. One must know the underlying problems around the product, and more importantly the foot that is going into the product to understand a product’s drawbacks and risks.

None the less, there are issues not being talked about.

The fact of the matter is that some foot types do not, and never will, have any business being in such minimalistic shoes (ie. a rigid flat foot pes planovalgus or a rigid forefoot varus foot type are just a few examples). We remain concerned about the vague existing dialogue that these types of shoes will make everyone’s feet stronger. For some, they will, but many times strength education must be directed (There is a right way to do a squat, and a wrong way. There is a right strategy for toe off, and a wrong one.). With the wrong strategies employed, one can easily strengthen the incorrect motor patterns. Merely putting on a minimalistic shoe does not mean that the correct patterns and strategies for foot strengthening are being instituted. The shoes do not come with a magic potion guarantee. For those with challenged foot types (FF varus, Rothbart Foot, cavovarus foot, excessive tibial varum and/or tibial torsion etc) these folks will likely trend towards local foot problems or injuries further up the kinetic chain (hip, knee, low back etc). Understandably, these are heavy medical terms and conditions but they are very much out there in the running public and with little attention to the “buyer beware” warning when attempting to add a minimalist shoe to their mix. We know these issues exist, we see them daily in our clinic. As we see it, the problem could be that those providing the education often do not have enough clinical background to know what these issues are let alone recognize them or prescribe the right shoe for the combined presentation . So how can they then draw these issues to the surface in educating the public ? As we say in our lectures, “You first have to know what a platypus is in order to identify it. Otherwise it is just a hedge hog with flippers and a duck bill.” This is the elephant in the room that everyone is missing, everyone except us. We get the folks who are running in these minimalist devices and we get to see those who should never have been in them in the first place.

The good thing is that many companies are setting up educational programs to help folks drop down into “minimalism 2.0”. But still, to date, two problems exists in that arena.

1. no one is talking about the elephants in the room, those being those foot types that are too risky to be in the shoes and even more specifically, how to strengthen the foot. But who would admit to those risks, that would be stupid advertising.

2. those teaching the courses and those individuals that rep for the companies and act as an intermediary between the shoe company and the store either do not have the fundamental knowledge to educate the shoe stores about the merits and demerits of the products or they find there is too much of a knowledge gap between the parties so things are left unspoken. You have to be able to see the elephant in the room to address it.

It is at the heart of these issues that we feel we can make a difference. A few companies are finally listening to us on these topics. We are getting more calls, emails and inquiries as to how we can help them bring these issues to light and improve upon their products. Sadly, most companies are not doing the same and we feel they will be left behind. Companies are sharing exciting yet difficult challenges and many are struggling to catch up. Some of them are really on board and doing their homework and are coming to the table with really impressive dialogue. We are excited to work closely with these types of companies so that all runners can reap the safe and effective benefits of better products and more knowledgeable intermediaries. These companies, some big, some small, get a big thumbs up from us because the knowledge behind the product is spot on but more so because the product is excellent and does what it says it is supposed to do and goes beyond what the other products seem to be doing at this point. But there is always someone around the corner pushing the guys at the front.

Our one ‘stick in the mud’ issue is that still no one is talking about the elephants. And we believe its mostly because no one can see them. There is a main danger in doing too much barefoot running too soon. We made this clear initially on Vibram’s website when we wrote the part on how to progress out of your running shoe and down into Vibrams. For us it is, and has always been, about “keeping them honest” and putting out the facts. But don’t expect us not to make mistakes, nor to not own up to them. But do expect us to try to “right the wrongs”. From time to time we try to make the calls on the products that have questionable statements and applaud those that stick their neck out to do the right thing. We do not know everything, but we seem to know much more than many when it comes to the biomechanics of what is going in a product and in knowing when there is a giant tusked animal in the room.

If you put 10 different feet in a product, you will get 10 different biomechanical presentations from the shoe, and that is the difficult truth. So, logically, much of what is being missed is the education of that issues and of what is going on in the shoe, and that is our world. It is usually the problems that exist with the thing you are putting into all of these products, a person. A person who likely does not have the classic middle of the road, ‘Average Foot’ these shoes may have been designed and researched around.

To us, the most important thing is to raise the knowledge and awareness to the public, shoe companies, shoe stores and everyone else in between.

At this point, if this minimalist shoe trend is to survive we believe there must be enough companies that extol the virtues of honesty and education to the end user, the shoe company-shoe rep intermediaries, running form clinic presenters and educators. And, that means talking also about the elephants in the room. Our new, soon to launch, Shoe Fit Educational Program will help everyone get on the same page, and the same elephant.

Shawn Allen and Ivo Waerlop……… The Gait Guys