Set Your Feet Free

May 11th, 2009

barefeetI have recently come across a couple of writings advocating a more barebones (or more specifically, barefoot) approach to footwear.  The first is an article expaining how running shoes do nothing to reduce injuries; the second is a blog post by lifestyle design experimenter Tim Ferriss about his experience with Vibram Five Finger shoes.  Both come to the conclusion that modern running shoes hinder natural foot biomechanics and usually lead to foot and/or lower leg problems.  Since our body movement is more of an interconnected kinetic chain than isolated movements, the impaired function of the feet causes other parts of our body to compensate for the dysfunction at the foot.  Ultimately, poor foot mechanics induced by shoes leads to knee, hip, back, and shoulder problems

I’ve written about the overly supportive shoe issue before in a previous blog post, and I have since then become even further convinced that shoes–particularly athletic shoes–are a major reason we have so many foot problems, lower leg injuries, and overall dysfunctional body mechanics.  Thick soled, elevated heel, motion constraining shoes prevent the foot from moving naturally and reduce the feedback we get from our feet about our balance and body positioning.

Over time, our reliance on support from the shoe weakens our feet.  I’ve noticed this in my own feet.  I inherited the flat foot gene that permeates my dad’s side of the family.  My feet were once so flat that I could step on a surface and tell how level it was by the feeling on the soles of my feet.  I also sprained my ankles a lot playing basketball.  After switching to thin soled aqua socks for several months, my feet became stronger, and my balance got better.  These days I suffer far fewer rolled ankles since my feet better sense the ground and can react faster to protect my ankles and my balance.  As an additional pleasant surprise, my previously completely flat feet now have a noticeable arch; not much of an arch, but enough to that my friends and family have confirmed that I’m not hallucinating.

I won’t deny that cushioned shoes are still useful; after nearly a year of my minimal shoe experiment, my feet still hurt after extended periods of pavement pounding.  I’m glad that I no longer fork over gobs of cash for fancy shoes that ultimately do nothing for me other than weaken my feet.  I don’t know if I can win over more converts to the minimal shoe/barefoot lifestyle, but I know I plan to continue minimizing how often I wear my cross trainers.

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