99% of the Earth’s Surface is Covered in Broken Glass! (… and 101 other myths about training barefoot)

5 Jul


Logic such as this has had your over protective mother shoving your feet into some variation of a shoe since probably before you could even walk (where’s the logic in that!) Add in the social stigma that feet are nasty, disgusting things that should be hidden from sight and your pups may never be freed from their dreaded synthetic leather and polyurethane prison.

“But what on Earth does this have to do with health and well-being?”. Probably a lot more than you’ve ever considered.

Someone much more eloquent  than myself once said, “ You can’t build a tower without a strong foundation”… except much more eloquently…. Did you know that 25% of the bones in your body are in your feet? This network of bones, tendons, and ligaments is one of the most complex in the body. Millions of nerve ending send feedback to the brain which makes fine adjustments for balance, propulsion, etc. It’s really quite impressive. That is, until you put on your sneakers.

Ah, the wonderful, magnificent shoe. Without this glorious invention humans would not be capable of venturing into the great outdoors for fear of its beer bottle tops and the glass shards. We would be forever confined to the plush carpet prison known as our living room. Shoes provide “support” for the foot, act to cushion the impact of movement ( which can exceed 500lbs. per foot when running!), create a barrier to prevent accidental penetration when kicking ass, not to mention protect the tender soles of your feet from hot sand, rusty nails and gravel parking lots. Those shoe things sure are fantastic!

Yeah, but not really….

Modern Humans have been walking this planet barefoot for nearly 2 million years and many still do so to this day. Strapping your foot into restrictive, over padded, inflexible foot wear is essentially placing your foot in a cast. Remember that ridiculous song someone forced you to sing in order to learn basic human anatomy? “ The shin bones connected to the knee bone, the knee bones connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bones connected to the hip bone….” So on and so forth….Well, it turns out it’s a little more than just a goofy song, it is the perfect analogy for understanding how wearing shoes can really get you out of sorts. Wearing shoes forces you to walk and run with an unnatural gait. Observe.

As the rather boring gentlemen pointed out in the video, running with shoes causes you to strike the ground incorrectly with the heel landing first. This stresses the joints and ligaments and really can create a whole mess of problems. Feet ache? Knees hurt? Hip pain? Lower back pain? These ailments are virtually unknown to barefoot cultures. As are knee replacements, hip replacements and degenerative vertebrae in the lower back. Your body is designed to operate without shoes. Take a minute to parade around in your shoes and take note of how you are walking. Now take off your shoes and walk a bit. Feel the difference? When walking barefoot you should be “reaching out” for the ground with the ball and middle area of the foot. This acts as a shock absorber for your stride. Running makes the difference painfully obvious. Try land heel first running barefoot and your body will immediately let you know that this is NOT how things are supposed to work! Perhaps the most compelling evidence to ditch the kicks comes from a 1905 study on barefoot walking cultures. This link will take you to the Abstract. The study is available as a PDF download at the bottom of the page. A must read as far as I’m concerned.The images are absolutely shocking! Hobbit feet anyone?

Ok, so maybe I’ve been successful in convincing you that shoes are not in fact the savior of our species, now what? I’ve been training barefoot for nearly six months now and I still have a way to go before I will be completely comfortable barefoot. It takes time to undo a lifetime of atrophy! There are lots of muscle fibers down there that haven’t been recruited for many, many years or perhaps even a lifetime! When is the last time you’ve sprinted on an uneven surface barefoot? Probably been a while. If you want to join in on the barefoot madness, definitely take it slow. The first day I got my Vibrams (awesome barefoot running shoes), I went for a 6 mile run. Well, a planned 6 mile run…. after 1.5 miles I was cramping so bad I nearly had to crawl back to the car! I could barely walk for a week! Learn from my stupidity. Start with walking around inside barefoot. When your ready, take it outside (but don’t tell your mom it was my idea or she won’t let us be friends anymore) Start in the grass or on a sidewalk and gradually work your way up to walking on uneven ground, in the woods (pinecones suck at first), and eventually on gravel.

For those awkward moments when society requires shoes (or in public restrooms, yuck), invest in something minimalist such as a pair of Vibrams. Anything flexible, loose fitting, with a flat bottom will work. You’ll get all the benefits of walking barefoot (minus the bio feedback) without actually walking around barefoot (imagine that). Heres some tips on picking the right pair of shoes. And while training barefoot may kick ass, barefoot ass kicking is NOT recommended. You have been warned.




One Response to “99% of the Earth’s Surface is Covered in Broken Glass! (… and 101 other myths about training barefoot)”

  1. Jess July 6, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    I consider myself pretty lucky to have been wearing primarily Chuck Taylors for the past decade or so, and I pretty much go barefooted wherever there isn’t a sign prohibiting it. I even walk barefooted to get the mail every day, even though my driveway is as hot as molten lava. For some reason, it still seems preferable to putting on shoes. All that to say: I agree with you. Chris and I bought New Balance Minimus (Minimuses?), and I love them. Holla.

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