Do you remember how good it felt to be barefoot as a kid?
As with any post on this blog, I am merely sharing my own personal journey in health. I am NOT making any advice as a professional, but rather sharing my own personal experiences. If you would like to set up an appointment with me for medically supervised wellness coaching, please contact me or Apeiron Center for Human Potential so we may work together either in person, or through this magical internet thingie! :)
Below is a partial list of resources for natural foot health and reclaiming your natural human gait. I'll continue to update this list as I learn more about what options exist.
I have spent the last several years re-thinking what makes a proper shoe, what goes into maintaining foot health, and what creates a natural gait while walking and running.This major shift eliminated my chronic knee and foot pain completely... before I even started exploring nutrition and exercise!
If you'd like to watch a video "Grace in Every Step" explaining many of these ideas, CLICK HERE. (The first 13 minutes gives the most pertinent information.)
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)
I also fully support the use of Dr. Ray McClanahan's product "correct toes" which (along with some VERY good shoe options) are available through www.naturalfootgear.com He has a quick overview of what to look for in a shoe here.
Do you think you have plantar fasciitis? The please take a moment to Look at this video.
This little self massage tool for the feet is $13 well spent! I use one at my computer workstation, and it has held up nicely.
Do you ever wonder how shoes became "standard" for most people in society?
"Whole Body Barefoot" by Katy Bowman is a great introductory text for anyone wanting to regain natural foot function.
"The Barefoot Book" by Daniel Howell, PHD is an older book, but offers a pretty good summary of how I look at foot health and it's affect on full body health. I agree with most of what is in this book, except his recommendation of flip-flops, and a few details on stride. In my opinion, anyone dealing with even minor bunions should avoid shoes that make us grasp the first and second toes together. Also, I'm not as "anti-shoe" as he is. Below are a couple of key photos from this book showing how shoes deform our natural foot shape:
I'm not a competitive runner, but I have managed to fully regain a functional, natural, gentle, JOYFUL human gait!
If you want to RUN with proper technique, PLEASE learn to walk barefoot first!
I offer direct one-on-one instruction in natural human movement, (as well as genetically based human potential coaching) both in person and online if you'd like to schedule a session, more info can be found here.
Also, I highly encourage anyone to read "Barefoot running step by step" by Ken Bob Saxton BEFORE running even a single step in minimal/ "barefoot" style shoes. Otherwise, many people end up trying to "ease" their way into minimal shoes, and still end up with foot injuries.
I now see running as a fun skill to master, and a great form of play and/or transportation. However, I see it as an inefficient form of exercise, and highly unnecessary for most people. (Unless, of course, they enjoy it, which I really do.)
For helping reverse bunions, or hammertoes, one might consider working with me or someone else towards wearing foot friendly shoes and read this article
These are a few of my other favorite shoe brands and websites:
Fae Moon Wolf Designs has great etsy shop for hand made moccasins for kids and adults: (Adult options start at a very reasonable $70!) I am still quite happy with my pair of moccasins after a year of use.
www.softstarshoes.com These folks make moccasin- like shoes and sandals for any size or shape of foot, including kids (and even super-wide hobbit paws like mine). These are what I wore for over 4 years while working at a local spa... Comfortably... ON STONE FLOORS! Did I mention that technique is more important than technology?
Amazon has some inexpensive DIY kits for a basic leather moccasin. For about $20-$30 you can make your own shoes. These are pretty flimsy leather, but offer excellent ground feel and are a fun little project.
Astral footwear loyak is a good minimalist option with a reasonably wide toe box. This Asheville based company makes quality stuff! Sadly, the Loyak is currently the only shoe I can recommend for healthy biomechanics. (EDIT: Another good loking option! -Soon to be released! They now offer the HIYAK) With enough demand (ask for it, and they might make it!) I am hoping they will offer more minimalist options in the future.
Altra running offers a wide variety of "Zero drop" running shoes. Unfortunately, most are far too squishy for my liking, but they do have some "kinda" minimal options, and all of their shoes offer a wide toe box and no heel elevation. If you are already a runner, and not ready to run truly barefoot or in very minimal shoes, you can probably find something from Altra that offers padding similar to your current shoe without the tiny narrow toe box and elevated heel.
Carson Footwear is a small 100% USA made company that offers a line of shoes built specifically for trail running. They are light weight, minimal, and have no heel elevation. The toe box also appears to allow normal toe splay. At 10mm thick, the sole is more than I typically like in a shoe, but offers enough padding that someone who is used to "normal" shoes can still allow more natural use of their feet while still maintaining some degree of cushioning. Again, I must stress that technique is MORE important than equipment when running.
www.xeroshoes.com offers an ever growing list of options including some sandals that DONT go between your toes. (I know for some folks, the "toe wedgie" is a deal breaker... You might consider the "Z-trek" or "Z-trail" option) Their "DIY kit" is by far the cheapest, most durable "barefoot shoe" option on the market. These (along with soft stars and merrell barefoot shoes)are one of the few options available for kids that meet my personal criteria for healthy footwear.
If you need serious cold weather winter boots that still allow natural foot function, look here: http://www.manitobah.ca/
Chronology Men's dress shoes (Formerly known as "The Primal Professional") While there are some good dress shoe options out there, for men who must wear a suit to work, these seem to be the ONLY top-tier shoe I can recommend. Though I have yet to see a pair in person, I've read nothing but glowing reviews from numerous sources.
Japanese Jika-tabi are an option for zero drop "boots". I have the Soukaido i-98 spike. They are not great for daily wear, but I have found them useful for running a weed eater, and for serious wintertime usage.
If you're a GOLFER, or need waterproof shoes (or just want some semi- normal looking zero-drop shoes)... Check out TRUE linkswear. I must admit, I've never seen a pair of these in person, and the toe box looks a little tight to me.
ZEM footwear seems to have lots of options. I have never seen their stuff in person, but the kid shoes look great!
Primal Evo is a small Polish shoe company that seems totally in line with how I like a shoe to "function". I've yet to see a pair, or even hear from someone who has, but they are certainly worthy of consideration.
For anyone who wants a military-style boot, I think the Belleville Mini-mil is their best option to exist so far. I've yet to see a pair in person, but they look very well made, and Belleville is a highly reputable company.
If you're willing to cough up the dough for a seriously well made, one of a kind custom set of boots, look into elf mountain boots. I have seen several pairs of these in person, and they are very nice!
www.birthdayshoes.com (reviews of almost every minimalist shoe made)
All this, and we haven't even started to discuss the effects of grounding (also known as "earthing") yet! Grounding (being connected to the ground, like that third prong on an electrical outlet) sounded like "lunatic fringe" wacky stuff at first... I'm beginning to think there could be something there.
OK... Now go outside and play! Much love, Mo the human.