What do you need to consider when choosing footwear for fitness? The answer lies in understanding how our feet function and how various types of athletic shoes can affect that function.

The foot has two basic functions during locomotion: acting as a shock absorber as the foot strikes the ground and as a rigid platform to allow the body to propel forward. Our feet also provide proprioceptive feedback about our body’s position in space.

Over the years, traditional fitness shoes have evolved to offer four key features:

1) Postings (Arch support) – dual-density material on the inside of the shoe that stops the foot from collapsing inward or moving too much.

2) High Heels – the heel is about two times as high as the forefoot.

3) Cushioned Materials – softer surfaces designed to absorb shock.

4) Narrow Toe Box – designed to improve fit and control.

Recently, a remarkably different footwear option has been developed; minimalist shoes. Minimalist footwear is designed to be light with a flexible platform that provides minimal support. Benefits include improved balance, proprioceptive awareness, and increased intrinsic muscle activity of the feet. Instead of relying on the shoe to provide support and assist with shock absorption, the feet take back the responsibility.

There has been debate comparing the effectiveness of traditional footwear vs. minimalist footwear, with no conclusive evidence in favor of either side. Although there seems to be unique benefits to the minimalist shoe, do not ditch your trusty sneakers if they work for you and keep you pain free. If you decide you want to switch to a minimalist shoe, consider the following tips:

  • Talk with your trainer or find an expert who can watch you move and provide an appropriate shoe for your specific needs.
  • Slowly incorporate minimalist footwear into your routine. Try wearing your minimalist footwear for an hour each day in normal activity around your home. As you become more comfortable, start gradually working them into your fitness routine.
  • Be progressive. There are varying degrees of minimalist footwear.

Are you setting your body up for success with your footwear? Is it appropriate for your fitness program? If you need help or have questions, be sure to talk with your trainer.

Copyright 2011 Fitness Consultants Inc. All rights reserved.