There has been a popular movement as of late regarding the minimalist-type shoe for cross-training, sports performance, and general public use. Like many products released for consumer use, it falls under the “shoot, ready, aim” category where the shoe brand will say that they have done numerous research studies (totally unbiased) and claim wonders for the near future—remember sketcher shape-ups??
Personally, I like to have my athletes choose a minimalist type footwear for their performance training, depending on the structure of their foot. Mostly, I prefer to have them use the minimalist footwear with single-leg work, mobility/stability drills, and for movement prep. The impact is lower on the system, and it also enhances the individual’s proprioception through the lower extremity. I’ve written a previous article about this here.
In a recent research article released this June (2015), researchers were studying the acute effects of footwear on jumping performance. There was a difference in the peak propulsion, horizontal ground reaction force, average muscle activity, propulsive duration, and duration of muscle activity during countermovement. But, participants reported feeling more comfortable in cushioned shoes…shocking (1).
In August 2014, a study was done looking at mechanics of running on the foot using barefoot or shod conduits. Bottom line of this research, when barefoot, individuals demonstrated more range of motion. Not only did they demonstrate greater range of motion, it was range of motion in ideal ranges. At foot strike, it is optimal for the foot to be pronated so that it is flexible and can absorb the impact forces (2).
May 2015, a study looking at loading response in barefoot vs. shod running found that there is less hip adduction, internal rotation, and opposite hip drop at impact and at a later point. Increased adduction, internal rotation, and opposite hip drop is associated with knee injury giving another great reason to introduce barefoot style training to our athletes (3).
Many of the studies written about barefoot/minimalist training versus supported training/running are weak at best, in violation of some sort of error typically. The studies I’ve cited here have a fair number of participants, however, it doesn’t fix the many extraneous variables that may have an impact.
Even with all of this information presented, I am not an extremist and don’t believe that it is all or none. For instance, if you work on your feet all the time, maybe wearing some sort of support on your feet is a great idea. If you’re a competing powerlifter or Olympic lifter, wearing appropriate shoes for your sport is necessary (outside the movement prep). If your feet ache, wear some sort of support to relieve the soreness, just don’t come to rely on the support as the potential for the small muscles of the feet weakening, therefore, increasing the potential for injury.