Sunday, August 14, 2011

Testing the Invisible Shoes (A Review)

I mentioned the other day that I'd been sent some Invisible Shoes to try.  Here is my review

Barefoot is best

Over the past few years on this blog I've often linked to pieces about the benefits of being barefoot.  Our feet are precisely engineered to support our motion, with an elegant arch to provide a great foundation for whatever we do.  Depending on your personal cosmology they have been designed - by God or evolution - to be the optimal solution, the best things that a biped could stand, walk and run on. 

It is not just the engineering either - our feet are full of receptors that feed information to the brain about our body's position in space giving data for your head to work with to keep you balanced and moving efficiently, an idea developed in Becoming Bulletproof.

Shoes interfere with all of this - they mess up the mechanics clamping the complex structures of the foot into a rigid brace and damp out all of the sensory information that should be flowing to your brain.  They ruin gait and lead to injuries.  Incidentally I'd say this goes double for stiff soled walking boots, but that is another argument.

Minimal shoes

I've been reading about this stuff for years now.  I remember reading Barefoot Ken Bob's site about 10 years ago and also reading Gordon Pirie's (free) book which while not explicitly barefoot promoted a style based on barefoot gait.

It has been interesting watching barefoot go mainstream recently prompted I suppose by Born to Run, but also by the recent scientific studies.  Of course as I've said before on this as on lots of other stuff, Phil Maffetone was way ahead of the crowd promoting barefoot or minimal shoes a long time ago in the Maffetone Method and Fix Your Feet.

Vibram Five Fingers also appeared - although for long enough I couldn't find any in my city.  More and more companies are now producing shoes that they claim are minimal or barefoot.  It has become a market....

Interestingly there is also the trend of writers out there saying that barefoot should mean barefoot, that even minimal shoes blunt the sensory data flowing from the feet.  mc covered this in her recent interviews with Mick Wilkinson.

Invisible Shoes

 Anyway enough of a preamble.  What about me?  Over the last few years I've moved more and more towards more minimal shoes - Chuck Taylors for most things, Inov8's for my hillwalking.  I even got a pair of Vibrams which I've been sprinting in.

Then a few weeks ago I was contacted by Gina from  Invisible  Shoes, offering me a pair of their running sandals to try out.  Never one to turn down a free sample (check out my other blog where I am testing stoves, tents and waterproof jackets!) I happily agreed.

After checking that there was no problem in them supplying to the UK, I had to tell them what I wanted:

  • the 4mm “Connect”  thickness
  • black laces
Then I had to give them the length of my foot so that they could supply the right size.

Within a week they arrived - two soles, two laces and a hair grip for threading the lace.   (The photo is in black and white - my feet looked too scary in colour.)

There area couple of things that you need to do for yourself with these shoes.

Create a toe hole - you need to mark a position on the shoe between your first two toes and make a small hole for the lace.  This really needs a leather punch, which I didn't have so I went to a local tailor and they made me the holes for free using the tool for punching holes in belts.

Lace them - then you need to lace the things.  It looks complex but is pretty simple - toe/ankle inside/ankle outside.  In any case there is a superb little video on the Invisible Shoes site which explains what to do.

I actually enjoyed the constructing of the shoes - it feels like you are really making them yourself.

Trying them out 

So that was it!  I've had them on all day today.  Walking about outside, driving to a country pub for lunch, playing in the garden.

It took a few tries to get a comfortable lacing but I am there now.  Also despite thinking that my gait was pretty good, being in things this minimal - they make the Vibrams feel excessive - really forces you to adopt an efficient gait with less heel strike.  Walking about on hard Edinburgh pavements you cannot let your feet get ahead of you, POSE style walking is needed and I was reverting to the ideas of Lee Saxby in his excellent book - Proprioception.  His key principles are:

•    Your weight should move from heel to big toe, but think of it more as a smooth heel stroke than a jolting heel strike;
•    Keep your strides shorter than normal – this will help keep your body in its optimum alignment for efficient locomotion;
•    Try not to look down; in fact, keep your gaze somewhere above the horizon and ‘lead’ with your chest;
•    Keep your stride relaxed, balanced and symmetrical.

Invisible Shoes in action

OK, this is me in the garden.  The video is only via the iPhone, but it gives an idea of me in the shoes walking and running (and please don't criticise my running gait too much!)

What do I think?

These are true minimal shoes.  If you have become interested in barefoot running or minimal shoes via Born to Run and the Tarahumara, these are as close to their footwear as you will get.  As I said, they make Vibram FiveFingers feel heavy and clumpy!  This is as Zero Drop as possible.

Invisible shoes are fun to make!  The construction of the shoes was part of the enjoyment - getting the hoel right, treading them and playing with the lacing.

Invisible shoes are cheap.  OK I got mine for nothing to review, but a kit for under $30 is great value.  Especially when I recently paid over £80 for my Vibrams.

Highly recommended if you want to get closer to truly being barefoot.

For info, here is their Press Release:

New Minimalist Running Sandal Corrects Stride and Heals Injuries : Invisible Shoes® Provide Healthy Option for Athletic and Casual Barefoot Footwear

Invisible Shoes® provide a true barefoot experience but with a layer of sole protection, allowing for complete natural movement, a lighter stride, foot strengthening and much more. Inspired by Christopher McDougall’s NYT bestseller, Born To Run, Steven Sashen created Invisible Shoes as a high-tech upgrade of the huarache running sandals that the Tarahumara Indians fashion out of used tires. Once he started wearing them, his chronic calf, knee and hamstring injuries quickly disappeared. Sashen then launched in November 2009, began selling Invisible Shoes online, and has since sold over 5,000 pairs in 35 different countries. On July 9th, 2011, Invisible Shoes launched the first and only outsoles specifically designed for barefoot running sandals -- the 4mm thick Connect and 6mm Contact. Both products were co-developed with two former lead designers from Nike and Reebok, and feature the exclusive FeelTrue™ rubber for a great barefoot feel with added style and protection.

Why Barefoot Running?

Empirical and anecdotal evidence shows that barefoot running improves running form, prevents and heals injuries, increases  balance and proprioception, improves posture, strengthens feet and ankles and can develop arches in previously flat feet. Research from Harvard’s Dr. Daniel Lieberman and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Joseph Froncioni shows that when wearing a typical padded motion control running shoe with a raised heel, runners land heel-first and with a relatively straight leg. This heel-strike landing sends a shock wave up to six times the body’s weight through the knees, legs, hips, back, shoulders and neck. Conversely, when running barefoot or in a minimalist shoe, runners land on the ball of the foot with a shorter, lighter, faster, easier stride which is cushioned by the body’s natural shock absorbers – muscles, ligaments and tendons. In short, research suggests running shoes are the very cause of the injuries they are supposed to prevent. With over 85 barefoot or minimalist footwear options on the market from over 20 different companies, minimalist running is being embraced by health and fitness-minded people around the globe. Industry analysts project that minimalist footwear will make up 10 percent of running shoe sales in 2011, $500 million of a $5 billion market.

The Invisible Shoes Story

Now injury-free and with arches in his life-long flat feet, at 49-year-old Invisible Shoes CEO Steven Sashen consistently sprints past runners half his age and has secured a spot as a USA Track & Field Masters All-American sprinter. The constant muscle pulls and tears in his calves and hamstrings, relentless burning pain in his posterior tibialis and throbbing knee pain that plagued him are distant memories.

Amazed that such a simple product could have such a dramatic effect, Sashen muses “I shouldn’t be surprised that mankind’s oldest footwear was the answer for running pain and injury-free.”

Invisible Shoes are perfect for running, walking, hiking, yoga, gym-going, or a casual stroll through town. While the average cost of other “natural movement” footwear is $99.82, built with up to a 12mm heel lift and weights of up to 12 ounces per shoe, Invisible Shoes start at $20, have a "zero drop" (no height difference between the front and rear of the shoe) and weigh in at 3.8 ounces per shoe. Comprised of high-performance, flexible FeelTrue™ rubber sole trimmed to perfectly fit your foot and durable, non-stretch nylon laces, Invisible Shoes let you enjoy a barefoot feel in any environment and on any surface. Customers can also feel good about their purchase because Invisible Shoes are made of partially recycled materials. Invisible Shoes also let you express yourself through your footwear, with colored lace options, numerous tying styles, and dozens of decorative add-ons, a la Crocs’ Jibbitz™.

Invisible Shoes Gives Back to the Tarahumara

To bring its Feel The World™ motto to life, Invisible Shoes donates 10 percent of the profits from its custom-made Invisible Shoes to the Tarahumara Children’s Hospital Fund.


Laura Springer said...

I've worn invisible shoes for over a year now and am on my second pair. They are, hands down, the best shoes I've ever had. I only wish they were work appropriate. Darn.

elementai said...

I've used Luna Sandals for about 3 months. Pretty much happy with them. It takes time to strengthen previously unused muscles, which were a bit sore.

I can't add much to this post, except that minimalist shoes are very compact and portable.