MBT Shoes may be goofy-looking and pricey, but they really work. By mimicking the unstable natural environment we lived in before paving over everything, the shoes strengthen your feet and improve your gait (other claimed improvements include posture and even weight loss, but I can only attest to foot strengthening, and also that I’m more aware of my abdomen and posterior muscles – you have to tighten them a bit as you walk). The MBTs (Masai Barefoot Technology) aren’t meant to mimic “barefoot” shoes like the Nike Free, Vibram Five Fingers or the VIVObarefoot. These are a great option for someone with compromised feet (or ankles) who might have problems going the barefoot route at first. Also, they aren’t really meant to be worn off paving as they intentionally cause instability that isn’t appropriate for hiking (though they do come in a “hiking” boot and other styles).
A rounded midsole creates the “pivot” of the shoes. This curved bottom makes it so that your heel and toe cannot hit the ground at the same time. As you walk, you step on your mid-foot, not the heel, and roll over the pivot. This not only distributes pressure with each step, but also trains you to focus on balancing. When I’m standing around I’ll find myself pivoting back and forth on them, which I imagine must also help your back and legs as you change angles. Standing up on the subway in the MBTs is quite challenging sometimes. The best way I’ve found to stabilize myself is to keep one foot flexed forward on the toes and the other back on the heel. I wouldn’t want to run full out in them, but you can jog a bit to catch a light before it changes. When I started karate a few years ago I began having pain in my feet, which I eventually attributed to plantar fasciitis (an inflammation of the thick tissue that supports the arch). I went to a podiatrist who prescribed custom orthotics, but I felt they were just treating the symptom, not curing the problem. Eventually I found the MBT shoes, bought a pair and went to an hour-long training class. The class isn’t necessary, but it helped me understand why and how the shoes should work (the shoes also came with a DVD, which wasn’t as informative). I learned there are several muscles along the bottom of the foot, and they weaken from lack of use over time, causing the foot to lengthen and flatten, and eventually causing a pulling of the fascia. The MBTs require you to use those muscles again (and even cause your foot length to decrease somewhat), which alleviates strain. I’ve had my shoes two years. I wore them much of the time for a couple of months, and now I wear them a few times a week. They’re still going strong, and my foot pain has disappeared. This fall I tried a 5-mile hike barefoot for the first time ever. While my feet were a bit tender, they felt strong the entire way.