High Tech Shoes, Low Tech Feet

What shape are your feet?

Does the shape of your feet resemble the shoes on the right or the shoes on the left? Which shape do think is more natural?

Minimal / barefoot shoes next to normal shoes.

There are more than 700 nerve endings in each foot communicating information to the brain and body to help with balance and posture. One quarter of the total number of bones in the human body are in the feet helping them act as natural shock absorbers. The feet are a complex system of evolutionary engineering but your choice of footwear can seriously impair their correct function.

If you are unsure about the previous question as to which shape is more natural, here is a picture of some feet that have never seen shoes.

Feet that have not worn shoes.

Form vs Function

Conventional taste has decided that small pointy ballet dancer type feet are more attractive than the hooves in the picture above. But at what cost to the function of these perfect pieces of nature’s engineering?

Biomechanist Katy Bowman has written about the concept of ‘casts’. When we have a broken bone we place the injured body part in a protective cast while it heals. When the cast is removed there is muscle atrophy and weakness so physiotherapy is usually required for the muscles to return to correct function. However we sometimes create casts for our bodies through repetitive movements and positions e.g. sitting or wearing weirdly shaped shoes.

Heel Elevation

Could your high heels be giving you a back ache?

“For every inch of Forward Head Posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds.” -Kapandji, Physiology of Joints, Vol. 3

Elevated heels force the pelvis forward causing compensations throughout the body and moving the centre of mass forwards. We’re not just talking about stilettos, any elevation requires compensation.

Effects of heel elevation on posture.

Running shoes often use the level of padding and shock absorption they provide as a selling point. Running in padded sports shoes vs barefoot running is a subject in itself, suffice to say most runners have terrible running form. If you don’t have good running form, padded shoes can allow you to run in a hard heel-striking action which can put repeated impact stresses on the body. Better running form is to land on the mid or forefoot allowing the structure of the foot to act a shock absorber. If you’ve been wearing shoes all your life your feet probably don’t have the strength to do this. Running long distances on hard surfaces, shod or unshod, is a terrible idea for most people as a means of improving health.

Duck Feet

I think some men walk like this to make themselves appear generally bigger and more alpha. Habit can be a cause of duckfeet as can weak foot arches or lack of ankle mobility. The body finds a position to compensate for the weakness or restriction it senses and to prevent you falling flat on your face.

Take a look the position of your own feet and other peoples’ feet around you. Most people have some degree of duck-footedness (men especially) while women tend to wear more elevated heels. High heels and duck feet together? Not a good look.

What you can do

If your feet have been in a cast (shoes) for a long time then it’s going to take a while for them to return to normal function.

Walk barefoot as much as possible. At home, in the garden the park, or in the gym.

Wear minimal or ‘barefoot’ shoes as much as possible. There are a handful of brands selling this type of footwear now. Transition slowly into doing strenuous activities in them. Your whole body may be aligned differently when wearing minimal shoes to how it has been previously and your feet probably are not strong enough to withstand a lot of forces.

Less restriction of your feet will allow them to do what they are supposed to do and they will become a little stronger. You will likely also need some more proactive strengthening measures:

Books –

Whole Body Barefoot – Katy Bowman
(This is a very quick read, designed for the layman.)

Becoming a Supple Leopard – Kelly Starrett
(This book provides a wealth of information for improving mobility as well as technique for basic training moves like squatting and deadlifting. Written for trainers or trainees.)

Title: “Hi Tech shoes, low tech feet.” – Ido Portal.