Transition safely


Understanding how BAREFOOTSCIENCE™ can help you transition safely from over cushioned and "medicalised" shoes to minimalist footwear.



The whole concept of minimal shoes is to give the runner an experience similar to what they would get if they were actually barefoot. However for the purist barefooter this is an oxymoron. As soon as you introduce any type of foot covering you are not going to be barefoot. As nit-picky as this seems it is true and should really cause one to open their eyes.


One of the main things about being truly barefoot is the concept and maximisation of proprioception, in particular the valuable sensorimotor information we receive from the foot/ground interface. However, as the purists say, as soon as we introduce a layer between the sole of the foot and the ground we have added a layer of sensory insulation and have thus muffled this valuable biofeedback. With all of this having been said we take this as the opportunity to look at the probably the most ignored yet, based on this premise, the most important aspect of the shoe – the insole layer. This is the layer that is the immediate point of contact with the foot.


Insoles have traditionally been broken down into 2 main categories; cushioning products and support products, and now recently a new category, foot strengthening or biofeedback.





The cushioning products will throw around terms like shock absorption, energy dissipation but the basic premise is that the material, through physical changes in the material properties and /or material breakdown dissipate harmful impact energy and thus, provide the cushioning or shock absorption feature.


The top of mind leaders in this area tend to be products like SofSole and Spenco. Insoles in this category are very soft and cushioning, or use materials with viscous properties. The visucus property materials tend to be heavy and are thus counterproductive for the minimalists. In both cases the softness of the product alone is a like a muffler and dampens our interactions with the support surface. This is certainly not the desired effect minimalists are looking for.





The second main category is insoles that are based on supporting the foot, and most commonly the foot’s medial arch.


Variations of these insoles exists which also may feature some wedging effect to also increase pronation control. The basic design concept in these insoles is based on mimicking the custom orthotic concept in generic applications.


Variations of these insoles also exist wherein you can heat form the insole to match your foot, bringing it even more in line with the custom orthotic concept. Notably products in this support category come from the likes of Sole, A-Line and Superfeet, and in many cases the brands offer devices that both support and cushion.


Another device that needs to be mentioned here is of course the prescription orthotic. Although typically not sold at retail, virtually every shoe retailer has a percentage of consumers who come in and must ensure that their orthotic will fit into their new shoes. The underlying philosophy is simple, take a foot with mechanical issues which is also probably atrophied through years of bracing, make a cast to represent the weakened foot, and make a support to brace the weak foot. Let the foot continue to weaken and make another pair in a year.


The very premise of taking the foot, which is really just soft tissue and bone like the rest of the body, and asking it to become reliant on a brace or support is counter intuitive to those wanting to strengthen and rehabilitate so the foot can become a self supporting structure.


As more runners are inspired to go barefoot, or at least desiring to be minimalist, there is a conundrum at hand:

  • we want to feel the earth but we don’t want sensory insulation
  • we want as much freedom of ROM as we can get for our foot
  • we certainly do not buy into the bracing concept



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