The newest twist in fitness footwear is going "barefoot."
More runners are slipping on shoes designed to simulate having bare feet. The shoes, which are more like gloves for your feet, have individual slots for your five toes and a thin rubber sole. They are designed for athletes who prescribe to the barefoot running method, which many believe helps runners find their natural stride.
Dr. Meisha Abbasinejad, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist in Fayetteville, says that's why she bought her first pair of the barefoot shoes. It took time to adjust to wearing the shoes, she said. Her legs were sore for the first few weeks but once she got accustomed to going barefoot, she said, she felt as if she was getting the most from her workout.
"It just feels much more natural," she said. "(The barefoot shoes) conform to your feet."
The barefoot movement gained a following after the release of the bestselling 2009 book, "Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen," according to the Los Angeles Times. The book advocates running barefoot as a way to prevent foot and knee injuries.
What began as a small following has turned into a worldwide phenomenon with companies such as Vibram FiveFingers specializing in the "toe shoes," as some call them. If you've been to the gym in the past year, you've most likely seen someone wearing a pair.
Kate Rivard, manager of RedPoint Climbing CrossFit MMA on Raeford Road, says the shoes are so popular the facility has a hard time keeping them in stock. RedPoint carries FiveFingers by Vibram, an Italian shoe manufacturer. FiveFingers is the most prominent brand of minimalist shoes, though other companies such Merrell have introduced similar "glove-like" footwear.
Rivard says the FiveFingers are a hit in Fayetteville because of the active military community who enjoys staying fit and being on top of fitness trends.
"They're doing really well here," she said. "Because there are so many active individuals here and they've heard so many good things about them, and then you have a lot of people who want two or more pairs for different activities as well. So that makes it harder to keep them in stock."
Rivard owns two pairs of the barefoot shoes herself. She wears them for running and crossfit training. The shoes are designed for different purposes so she owns a pair for each the activities. Rivard said she was drawn to the natural aspect of the shoes as well as the research that shows wearing the shoes strengthens muscles in your legs and feet that normally don't get a workout with tennis shoes.
"The shoes are designed to emulate your foot as if you were barefoot," said Rivard, who bought her first pair about a year ago. "I felt a little uncomfortable wearing in them in public at first. I just thought they looked so goofy. But after I awhile they become so comfortable I just stopped caring. I wear them mostly to work out."
Abbasinejad, who has ran six marathons, also trains as a fitness competitor. She also was hesitant to the try the barefoot shoes, she said, because of their odd appearance.
"Quite truthfully, I used to make fun of them," she said. "They looked funny."
But a friend who encouraged Abbasinejad to run her first marathon convinced her to try a pair. She has been hooked since and now owns three pairs.
"I like to be barefoot. I feel like I have a better control of what I'm doing," she said. "It just feels much more natural. When I'm sprinting, I feel like I get better spring. When I'm doing jumping type activities, I just feel like I get more power."
Steffanie Hodge, a Spring Lake woman married to a Fort Bragg soldier, is working with Fayetteville personal trainer Chris Kenon to get into shape. Hodge says she bought a pair of the barefoot shoes because she is starting a running routine.
"My husband got me started on these shoes," said Hodge, who is 20. "He was deployed, and his platoon leader was looking at these shoes and she bought some and got him interested in them."
Her husband, Nathan Hodge, was sold on the shoes after doing research and learning that running barefoot encourage runners to land on the balls of their feet. This action, Hodge said, helps to prevent shin splints and knee problems. Since using the shoes, Hodge said, she has noticed that her calf muscles are more defined.
"I decided that if I'm going to start running. I want to start running the correct way," Hodge said. "They are the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn. I could go walking for hours and not feel pain."
Staff writer Amneris Solano can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3521.SHOES TO TOES
Want to make the switch? Here are some tips for transitioning from tennis shoes to toe shoes.
For the first two to three weeks, run no more than 10 percent of your typical running distance.
After two to three weeks, gradually increase mileage by 10 to 20 percent for every couple of weeks
Stop if you ever start to feel pain during a run.
Don't run two days in a row for the first month.
Be sure to stretch before and after each run focusing on calves and feet.