If the Shoe Fits…

If the Shoe Fits…

 

People ask me all the time what the best shoes are.  I really have trouble answering those questions.  It’s the same way with “What’s the best strength exercise?”  Or “What’s the most important stretch?”

For what? For who? On which day? If there was just one answer to those questions then we could all just do one exercise. Same thing with shoes. Different shoes are meant for different purposes and different shoes are more appropriate for different people at different times.  Sometimes I tell people “thick socks”, but then they are like “Well, I can’t wear just socks to work!”

Sorry.  Let me just get down off this horse…

Thankfully some recent research will help me answer this question more thoughtfully.

A group of 39 heel strikers (people who tend to hit the ground with their heel first when they run) were studied wearing three different types of shoe as well as going barefoot.  What they found was that it didn’t matter which shoe they wore – their basic movement pattern stayed the same.  BUT in order to maintain that movement pattern in all three shoe types, they had to expend more energy in some types than others.  The shoe types that required them to use more energy seemed “less comfortable”.

It seems that there is a preferred movement path for each of the little joints in your foot.  The right shoe for you is the one that allows your foot to follow this movement path in the most efficient way.  That is – it should feel “comfortable” right away.  None of this breaking them in stuff.  And it should feel comfortable as you move around in whatever way you will move while wearing them.  Running if it’s a running shoe.  Walking if it’s a walking shoe.  Shuffle ball change if it’s a tap shoe. What do you do in your “work shoes”?  Stand at the water cooler?  Just sit around looking suave?  I get to wear sweatpants to work….  Just saying…..

The only type of “shoe” that changed the movement pattern was barefoot.  There are many foot scientists out there (is that a thing?) that are arguing that barefoot is our natural state – the way our bodies are meant to operate.  When we encase our feet in stiff padded shoes we remove a whole array of possible stimulation that we could use for proprioception and stability.  We ignore over a third of the bones and joints in our body. And the effects can be felt all the way up the kinetic chain.

I personally feel there is a huge benefit to training barefoot.  It completely changed my gait and allowed me to run again when I was told it would never happen.  I also feel it has allowed me to maintain a decent level of balance and stability even though my autoimmune condition has resulted in sensory limitations in all four limbs.  And it’s just more comfortable.  I wore a floor length dress to prom so that my feet wouldn’t show and I could go barefoot….

BUT it’s not practical or advisable to simply kick off your shoes and violate health codes everywhere.

First of all, it’s almost winter in Chicago.

Second, you wouldn’t pick up 50 pound weights your first time at the gym and you shouldn’t think you can start doing everything barefoot without training all of those muscles and joints first.  And just like gaining strength and control anywhere else in the body – that takes time.

What can you do?  Go to barefoot classes like yoga and barre.  Do some barefoot training on your own – even just simple strength exercises like squats and lunges become a whole different thing when performed barefoot.  And don’t worry too much about your feet being gross.  Believe me when I say your hands are actually FAR worse….

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you?

ellenp@tenandfit.com

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