„Is it the shoes? It’s gotta be the shoes!“

I cannot remember the last time I visited a sporting facility without having a thorough overview of which sport shoes and clothes people around me are wearing. 10% of that interest can be explained by simple feminine curiosity but 90% is pure professional interest. The other day I was surrounded by at least 6 not very athletic people who wore the latest models of Nike Free’s. In recreational sports, the shoe-focus has shifted from being a performance enhancer to an appearance issue where the brand states it all. Another thing that has changed is that the days when no-one cared what and when you were wearing it are over: shooting some hoops on a concrete court and chasing the football on the grass later in the same shoes is not an option anymore.

We have shoes for basketball, tennis, soccer, wrestling, baseball, boxing, volleyball etc. Although it is not completely necessary to have a different shoe for every single activity, knowing the movements and the characteristics in specific sport is decisive. Going for a run in basketball shoes could be a bad decision for the body. During this fancy production rage we keep forgetting that the main function of shoes is to protect our feet from the environment and specific injuries. We also tend to abuse the existence of 24-hour complete foot support and forget our primary movements.

In one of our previous blog posts, Aidan Jones wrote a blog entry about barefoot running. Now, I am not a crazy fan of the barefoot concept – people should be reasonable with this activity and not take things to extremes – but I completely agree with Gray Cook who introduced the sport world to self-limiting exercises, where barefoot running is one of the basic tasks. It makes perfect sense; that there is a huge difference comparing how long one can run without shoes and running in cushioned shoes. Nike’s first big advertisement line was: „There is no finish line“. And that is true when you have a good footwear: ultramarathoners prove that point perfectly. But if we take away the shoe then the only thing that should be limiting our movement is the technical correctness and quality not the quantity, failure or fatigue. The athlete then becomes aware of the physical state and balanced and controlled movements. Our feet have so many sensory nerves and the importance of the feedback from the feet to our brain is crucial – why interrupt that system?

Barefoot running is just one aspect in the shoe-movement discussion. A very recent study about Vibrams’ Five-Finger shoes found that they can increase the formation of foot bone marrow edema. It supports the notion, that people should not rush into things but have a smooth journey and try different options. All the leading sport brands have minimalist shoe lines which can make the transition more effective.

Every athlete and dedicated exerciser also should take some time off from conventional shoes and do sports (and I am not only talking about running) barefoot, in socks, All-Stars, morning slippers or whatever comes to mind. But remember: safety must always come first! Naturally, jumpman shoes are priority to a basketball player but the athletes should not be too reliant on them. In addition, there should be diversity, even within one sport: our body is good at adapting to changes, therefore changing between different pairs of footwear is beneficial for training the body differently. Beying loyal to one brand is nice but we all need some variety.

In order to enhance performance and find the perfect shoes, we have to know individual biomechanical strengths and limitations (such as a high arch) and we must know the sport characteristics. Instead of putting too much focus on the brand, it would be better to ask help from experts. Unavoidably, shoes get worn out: do not forget to replace them when the time is right. NBA players wear one pair of shoes around 5-10 days, Michael Jordan wore a different pair of shoes in every game. In basketball, the proper time to change the footwear is considered to be every 60 hours of usage time, in running the range goes from 400-800 km. However, the best indicator for replacing a sport shoe is the athletes’ own perception of the foot, the shoe and the movement. Our bodies will let us now when it is time for a change but if we do not listen, problems like cramps, muscle soreness, joint stiffness, shin splints and back pain may occur.

„Is it the shoes? It’s gotta be the shoes!“ is a famous commercial from 1988 where Spike Lee keeps asking Michael Jordan his secret of success. After asking for the 5th time „ Is it the shoes“? Michael says „no“. The answer in 2013 is still „no“. The days when athletes competed nude are over and in elite sports, the right shoe can make a difference during the competition. But everything else that happens before the start is crucial. It is not possible to do elite or serious recreational sport without the proper footwear. However, it is important to keep in mind that we have to step out of these shoes from time to time and explore what else is out there.

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