'Barefoot' runners sock it to sport shoes
Humans have run barefoot throughout their evolution and Dr Lieberman says this means we should be able to ''run easily on the hardest surfaces without discomfort from landing''.
''If you want to try barefoot running or minimal shoe running, don't be afraid. It's what our bodies evolved to do,'' Dr Lieberman, a professor of evolutionary biology told The Sunday Age.
Some shoe companies, including Nike, are cashing in on the trend with ''barefoot'' shoes, which can cost up to $200. The shoes have separate toes and protect feet from stones and glass without the padding of a normal running shoe.
The owner of Kew's Runners World, Neil Ryan, said sales of barefoot shoes had jumped since the end of last year.
A convert is Richmond based personal trainer Ben Belling, 33, who spends more than 12 hours on his feet most days. In January, he started wearing Vibram's barefoot shoes to ease chronic tension through his calves and back.
He noticed an improvement within days. ''They are the only shoes I now wear,'' he said.
Mr Belling recently put his old running shoes back on and said they felt like a pair of gumboots. He missed the ''dexterity, balance, and stability control'' of his barefoot shoes, and doing exercise felt like ''trying to solve a Rubik's cube wearing a pair of welding gloves''.
Vibram partially funded Dr Lieberman's research. However, he told The Sunday Age his study was independent, in compliance with Harvard's policies.
Sports medicine specialist and doctor to the Socceroos, Peter Brukner, has suggested some of his patients use barefoot shoes.
''I see a lot of runners as patients, and I've always been concerned about the use of all these very expensive running shoes that don't seem to have resulted in any reduction of injuries,'' Dr Brukner said.
He said his patients ''were all a bit hesitant initially, because we've all been convinced by the shoe companies that weThe Australian Sporting Goods Association estimates that in the past year, Australians spent $365 million on running shoes.
But despite all that expensive padding, Monash University Accident Research Centre says up to 70 per cent of runners sustain over use injuries every year.
Dr Brukner said more tests were needed to prove the benefits of barefoot running. Those wanting to try it should ''build up slowly to enable the body to adjust''.Shoe manufacturer ASICS Australia spokesman Jay Choma said that he did not recommend running barefoot.
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