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Study: Minimalist Shoes Might Increase Leg and Foot Muscles

A recent joint study between the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Harvard Medical School has shown that running in minimalist shoes can increase strength in leg and foot muscles.

The objective of the study was to determine whether minimalist running shoes could be used in rehabilitation and physical therapy programs where patients need to strengthening leg and foot muscles.

Leading the study was Dr. Roy Cheung of Hong Kong Polytechnic’s department of Rehabilitation Sciences who recruited 38 runners for the study (21 males and 17 females) all of whom had a history of running with traditional footwear. The MRS used in this study featured an open-topped upper made of stretchy fabric, five separate toe compartments, zero heel-to-toe drop, no midsole cushioning or arch support, and a uniform 3-millimeter outsole.

Minimalist shoes, like Vibram Five Fingers, are designed to emulate barefoot running by providing very thin soles, cushioning and often fitting over each toe like a glove.

All 38 participants went under a six-month training program to strengthen the muscles in their legs with balance and calf exercises. Twenty of the runners were selected at random to undergo the training in minimalist running shoes while the other 18 trained with traditional footwear.

At the end of six months, the participants who trained with the minimalist shoes showed greater muscle growth in their feet compared to their counterparts, according to the report. The research team was able to measure muscle growth in both teams using MRI before and after the six months.

The research team explains that because minimalist shoes provide little mechanical support, it demands more from the wearers, stabilizing muscles and strengthening the foot core system.

Dr. Cheung hopes the findings for this study can be utilized to treat patients with injuries related to weak foot muscles.