Now I'm not trying to convince anyone to go barefoot all the time. There are plenty of times and places where shoes can be quite useful. However, I think it's time we started re-evaluating what constitutes a proper shoe, and how we might benefit from a little more time "au naturale". Over time, exposing our feet to the proper stimulus can be quite pleasant and beneficial to our entire body. Eventually, many folks can reclaim their natural human gait and walk with a fluid, graceful stride rather than the pavement-pounding stride that most of us in the "civilized world" have.
Depending on your current foot health, this process will take some time. For some a few weeks, for some a few years. However, this can be a very enjoyable journey!
Those of us who have spent most of our lives in shoes, however, are in need of a serious "software update" to take advantage of our feet. Once we learn how to feel our feet, we can then move on to building the necessary strength and flexibility to take full advantage of our truly amazing and capable feet. From this platform, we can begin building "foundation" which is a key component in properly integrated core strength. Bunions, hammer toes, plantar fascia issues, knee pain, and even back pain can improve tremendously through carefully training and regaining a natural human gait.
Studies (Like this one) have shown that walking barefoot can reduce dynamic loads on knee joints.
If you have any interest in "finding your foot foundation", consider the "Efficiency exercise" as a careful first step into an exciting new journey.
Expect this to be a joyful, but possibly very slow process. Different people learn at different speeds. Approach this as if you are gardening. You cannot force a plant to bloom. As such, do not force your feet or brain to adapt too quickly. Let this be a short time you take every morning to experience the sensation you brain has been hungry for since childhood.
Finding Your Natural Human Gait Step 1
The “Efficiency” Exercise: Teaching Your Brain to See with Your Feet
- Start completely barefoot on a flat, hard, smooth surface such as a wood, tile, or concrete floor. Begin this exercise with the 2nd toe (the one next to your big toe) of each foot facing directly forward. Depending on your habitual gait, this might feel "pigeon toed" at first.
- Stand for a moment and gently shift your weight from foot to foot without lifting either foot off the ground.
- While looking forward (not down) with a soft gaze and a tall relaxed spine, begin lifting each foot very slightly, then gently placing it onto the ground before you slowly lift the other foot.
- With a soft, relaxed ankle, place one foot just barely in front of the other foot. SLOWLY lower the front foot and feel the ground, then wait for the front foot to “invite” your weight onto it. This will involve some gentle contraction of the Gluteal and hamstring muscles in the back leg.
- Repeat at a slow, gentle pace. Imagine that with each foot reaching forward you are checking to make sure nothing sharp is underfoot. If you are “thumping”, slow down.
- Try the same movement walking backwards. Notice the sensations in your feet.
After some time, you may wish to experiment with some different textures: rough surfaced concrete, dirt, etc… eventually even gravel. This should NOT be painful at any point. Do not rush this. With patience you can avoid possible injury as you slowly regain a very gentle and joyful gait. In time the muscles, tendons, and bones of the feet will become stronger as your brain-foot connection becomes “smarter”.
If you would like to arrange for human potential coaching, please contact the Apeiron Center for Human Potential and our team will do all we can to help you live to your fullest potential.
When it comes to foot self care, and re-learning a natural human stride... One might also start with the Vibram Fivefingers education site by clicking here.
After over 5 years of daily use the admittedly odd-looking Vibram Five Fingers shoes are still my favorite shoe for many occasions. Even if you don't buy any five finger shoes, their site is quite useful for making the slow and careful transition to a more natural stride while walking...
I must emphasize the importance of a SLOW and CAREFUL transition! This process is not just strengthening the atrophied bones, muscles, and connective tissues of the foot and lower leg, but actually re-educating the brain-to-foot connection and completely re-learning how to walk and run. Another look at this process from the creators of xeroshoes sandals can be found here.
Lems shoes (Click HERE) is a great option for "normal looking" shoes and boots that allow natural foot function. All of the shoes they offer are light, flexible, zero drop and offer ample toe room for most normal width feet. They also seem to hold up quite well over time. My wife has been quite satisfied with the "primal" (a lightweight fabric sneaker-like option) for several years now. I have seen several clients quite happy in the all leather "9 to five" as a casual office shoe. The "Boulder boot" functions well for anyone wanting a higher boot for hiking or cold weather.
Click here to visit Vivobarefoot (and get a discount code for $15 off any order). This is a great company that offers a wide variety of foot friendly shoes. (even kid shoes!) They have casual, athletic, and sandal options, all of which feature zero drop, flexible soles and a wide toe box. Their "Jing Jing" is one of the office appropriate work shoes that many women love. Unfortunately, if you have an abnormally wide foot like me, most vivobarefoot products will probably be too narrow. Even with "normal" feet, some of their products can crowd the toes just a little too much for my liking.
One of my favorite sites is www.naturalfootgear.com Not only do they offer a wide variety of truly foot-friendly (and somewhat non freaky-looking) shoes, but this site is also a wonderful resource filled with great ideas.... For instance, they sum up my well worn objection with the ever-popular clog pretty well.
If you like the idea of hand made sandals with a grounded connection, I highly recommend Earth Runners! (Enter code "Mog10" for 10% off) These have become my go-to shoe for most occasions lately, even running in snow! (see below)