The former boss of the rubber-soled and barefoot running company Vibram – Tony Post, has come up with yet another revolutionary idea for trainers. You may remember the extraordinary five toed trainers that took the athletic world by storm last year, and the man behind the odd looking shoes is back with yet another look, but this time, instead of slipping your running feet into five toes, there are only two compartments.
His new range of ToPo Athletic trainers are less like gloves for feet and more like hooves, as they separate the big toe from the other digits. All very well and good if you don’t mind looking like Mr Tumnus when you are out running, but Post insists there is science behind these shoes, as even the best fitting shoes can be bad for your feet.
Nike sent a team of researchers 2001 to watch the Stanford University team train and were dismayed to see them doing so without shoes. “I believe when my runners train barefoot they run faster and suffer fewer injuries,” the coach said, as Christopher McDougall recounts in his book Born to Run. “We’ve shielded our feet from their natural position by providing more and more support.”
And veteran marathon Richard Felton, who works as a fitness coach and footwear manager at Profeet, agrees, saying: “The big toe is the most important mechanism in the foot. You want your big toe to move but retain stability from the rest of your toes. On landing, say, the big toe effectively curls upwards, pushing the ball of your foot into the ground and giving a stable pivot point from heel to forefoot. Barefoot shoes can improve strength and flexibility. It’s like having dumbbells for the feet.”
Post has always advocated the separation of the digits, and showed off a new look when he ran the 1990 New York marathon wearing pair of leather dress shoes made by Rockport, where he was vice president. But Post cannot claim to be the inventor of split toed trainers, as they were already popular in Japan, where tabi socks and, later, jika-tabi shoes have been worn by everyone from Ninjas to builders for centuries.Nike Air rift
Nike, chief trainer pioneers, developed the cloven Air Rifts in the late 1990s but the shoes failed to catch the customers imagination. And when Vibram launched their FiveFingers range, they did help to create a minor boom in running barefoot or in minimal trainers, but sales have since fallen off.
Even Post admits the FiveFingers range have been hard to sell. “Let’s face it: nobody wanted to buy those shoes,” he said. “We had to break in the market.”