FOR the past few weeks I have been taking part in an experiment to test the benefits of MBT shoes – the ones with an almost boat-like curvature on the sole.
I asked Adam Jones, a personal trainer at Everybody’s Gym in Spalding, to apply some sports science to the test to give it a more systematic approach.
If you’ve never seen them, the shoes look – and feel – almost as though they have no heel and when I first put them on at the new outlet shop at Springfields the manager Dale Digby supported me as I started to wobble backwards.
He explained that MBT stands for Maasai Barefoot Technology and that the shoe’s design is intended to simulate the natural barefoot walk on sand of the Maasai tribes people.
The idea when walking is to make the heel the first point of contact before rolling forward on to the toe.
Dale recommended breaking them in gently in 20-minute sessions for two to three days and gradually increasing the time they are worn.
He pointed out: “You are not breaking the shoe in but breaking yourself in. Normally, by the end of the second week you should be more than capable of wearing them all day, which is the ideal.”
I actually started off with 40-minute walks and was initially conscious of the top of the shoe feeling as though it might rub – a change to thicker socks sorted that problem. I was also aware, for the first time in a long while, of a slight discomfort from an old injury in the pelvic bone area, but that passed and I put it down to my skeleton being in a slightly different position.
From the start, though, I really enjoyed the sensation of rolling along in a natural, rhythmic walk, and at a fair lick as the shape of the sole seemed to propel me forward with each step. I also felt the shoes were giving me assistance when going up inclines.
I tried out the shoes on a rough surface and didn’t enjoy the same benefits – these are definitely best for hard surfaces.
The shoes are intended to improve balance, posture and muscle activation and the only way to test this was in the gym where Adam devised exercises for me to do both before I started wearing the shoes and after I had been wearing them for four weeks.
These included things like squats, using the bosu wobble ball, bench step ups, balancing exercises and a wall test to assess the natural curve of the body.
Even Adam was amazed at the results: I had improved on every single test, even the one I found most difficult of all, the standing stork test.
In that one the flat of one foot rests on the inside knee of the other leg and you then go up on tip-toe.
In the first test, we gave it three attempts on each foot and I could only manage two seconds on the right leg and three on the left. After having worn the shoes for four weeks this had extended to four seconds on the right leg and an amazing 11 on the left.
“That is such a hard test,” admitted Adam. “Any improvement is amazing and for such a hard test that is a massive improvement.
“Overall, I would say that was a massive success because everything has improved.”
I will certainly continue wearing my shoes for town walks and would have thought they would be perfect for people who spend a long time each day standing or walking on hard surfaces. However, they will remain exercise-only shoes in my wardrobe as they are not things of great beauty, although other styles and colours are available!