Merrell Barefoot Bare Access Review

The Merrell Barefoot Bare Access is a zero-dropped "transition" shoe from Merrell intended to be used as an intermediate tool to go from regular, heel-lifted and more cushioned running shoes to a more minimally soled, cushion-less shoe.
The Merrell Barefoot Bare Access is a zero-dropped "transition" shoe from Merrell intended to be used as an intermediate tool to go from regular, heel-lifted and more cushioned running shoes to a more minimally soled, cushion-less shoe.

What's the role, if any, of a transitional shoe for learning a natural or barefoot-style running form?

Is there room for a "transition" shoe in the toolbox of the would-be natural or barefoot runner? Is the shortest distance to learning barefoot-style running going straight to full-bare feet? Or is there room for shoes like the Nike Free or the Reebok RealFlex?

While many are likely to decry transitional shoes with a loud, angry "No," I'm not sure the answer is so black and white. Actually, given that so many people dive into learning natural running wearing five-toed shoes, I'd say that most are already on the "transitional shoe" thought-train — after all, a few millimeters of rubber is still a far cry from the incredible sensation of going "full bare." Indeed, I wonder how many minimalist footwear advocates ever go full-barefoot.

And if you're already assuming some shoe to educate your running form, perhaps the better question is just how much shoe do you need? And how much is too much?

And that's where things get pretty grey; perhaps you can learn to run with a barefoot-style in the pretty thickly cushioned and elevated-at-the-heel Nike Frees; perhaps you need more feedback and have to pick up some huaraches. If there's one truth to the barefoot running movement, it's that human beings are complicated enough that a one-shoe-fits-all approach is certain to fail.

The devil's in the details — how much physiological change needs to take place before your Achilles' tendon can stretch to handle the repetition required in a forefoot or midfoot landing without an elevated heel? How much ground feel do you need to provide that sensory input to quite literally rewire your brain, lighten your landing, and re-learn that your foot is a dynamic, functional appendage, and not just some static club?

This is a very, very hard question to answer, no matter what new research is being passed about. Barefoot may be best, but if you've been spending years or decades in biomechanically busted footwear, taking off or drastically reducing your footwear to something more anatomically correct is only the very first step towards rehabilitating your feet, your gait, and your entire body. I'll save further comment here for a later post.

My point is that perhaps there is a place for transitional shoes. They can be but one more tool in the toe-box ... there I go again. Of course, is the Bare Access a transitional shoe? I'm going to do my best to answer that question today — let's just get to the review!

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