Some of you are not going to like what I have to say today. I know this because my reader has recently been speckled with more and more posts about Vibram Five Fingers and the benefits of barefoot running. My quarrel is not so much against barefoot running or those funny little hobbit shoes but more against the argument used to promote it which goes something like this: ‘Barefoot running is more natural and therefore better.’ I’m not buying it.
We’re supposed to believe that primitive man ran barefoot and so it’s the best way to do it, but you know what? There are a lot of things that came naturally to primitive man that we no longer do and I, for one, am happy about that. For example, do you know how primitive man trimmed his toenails? He didn’t! The toenails just wore themselves down from all that running around barefoot or broke off when they got too long or when he stubbed his fat little toes on rocks. In fact, I postulate that primitive man only ran barefoot as a means of toenail control and that had he owned a pair of nail clippers he’d have been hunting down behemoths in Nike Waffle shoes long before the 70s.
Just because the human body does something naturally doesn’t make it better or more efficient. As evidence I offer this heartily abridged list of things that are fake (not natural) and are vastly improved because of it: Meat Paste, Demi Moore’s face, Pamela Anderson’s chest, Cool Whip (interesting that this would be the next thing that came to mind after Pam Anderson, no?), Cheez Whiz, *breaks into song* ‘these are a few of my favorite things.’
If you played any kind of sports growing up then you have experienced a coach showing you a better way to throw, hit, shoot, etc. (followed by sobbing into your pillow at home if you’re like me) because your body doesn’t always naturally do things the most efficient way. As my son has been learning to play baseball his natural inclination was to throw with his feet firmly planted perpendicular to his line of throw. He had to be coached to step with the opposite foot when he throws, but now that he has learned this behavior he is able to throw with much more efficiency and effectiveness.
Even if natural was better, I’m not convinced that running barefoot is more natural than running in shoes. The human body is incredibly adaptive. When your parents first put shoes on your feet and you began walking and running, you didn’t make a conscious effort to change your stride, your body ‘naturally’ switched up your foot-strike pattern. Your body was smart enough to recognize the innovation of the shoes and adapt to them. Couldn’t you argue then that the way you run with shoes on your feet is also pretty natural? You could, because I just did. It doesn’t really matter though since I’ve already established that natural isn’t necessarily better.
To sum up: 1) Natural doesn’t necessarily equal better. 2) Running barefoot isn’t natural. That might seem a little contradictory but this is the kind of circular logic that I like to employ because it’s very hard to argue with. Go ahead and try arguing with me *sticks fingers in ears* “la la la la la la I can’t hear you!”
For actual scientific analysis of such matters I point you back to this article by Science of Sport. They agree with me... at least I think they do. I didn’t fully understand everything they said due to their use of big sciency words. We get it guys, you’re smart.