- I tend to believe "less is more." I want to think about how the foot moves without any modern technology. Just the old-school foot doing what it is designed to do in its most natural state. How does a bare foot move without shoes? Without a shoe, the foot reacts very differently. It will grip, stabilize, and attempt to claw the ground to stabilize the rest of the body. The foot will get strong doing all this because it's a lot of work! With shoes, the foot has artificial support, and the muscles and tendons tend to get weaker. With running shoes, the more developed the shoe, the less work the foot has to do which means the body works too hard above the foot in ways it does not want to work. Put huge air bags under the foot? The foot is not happy because it really wants "stability" and not soft squishy instability. It's hard to "claw air" or root yourself into the ground if you have soft shoes. Many of our movement problems today can be traced back to our feet--the first things to hit the ground with forward locomotion--our bases of support from which everything else is stacked.
- A few years ago, Nike and other shoes companies started picking up on the trend to go back to barefoot running. The research is out. With more technology in running shoes, injuries got WORSE--not better...and yes, these shoes cost more too! Enter the Nike Free and some other options. Enter the Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs) I've been talking about lately. Also enter other shoes with very different designs claiming to work more muscles like the MBT, etc.
- MBT and Toning Shoes: These shoes are gaining in popularity. They claim to make a person work harder in the calves, hamstrings, glutes, etc. I'm sure they do because the shoe is curved in many of them--or somehow less stable due to design which requires one to work much harder to stand upright and move forward; however, the MBT shoe is curved in the opposite direction of the "natural curve" found in the arch of the foot. I go back to less is more and what the foot looks like naked. Less shoe--more foot fitness. Less shoe--more natural biomechanics. Some of the new toning shoes have very thick soles that radically alter how you walk if barefoot. More emphasis is put upon the "heel-to-toe" stride which is the opposite of how you would walk while barefoot. The trend I've been following with "Chi Running," barefoot walking/running, and shoes like the Nike Free or Vibram Five Fingers is more of the mid-foot strike--not the heal-to-toe strike. The support system (arch) is in the middle of the foot--this is where we should be striking--not exclusively on the heel itself. As shoes got better, we put more load on the heel because we had more padding, but this changed our gait and biomechanics away from a "natural" stride and foot strike; hence, more "running" injuries and more foot/ankle problems.
- I guess we have to go to root cause of movement/gait problems which seems to be pointed more and more at the actual feet. We have lots of problems today with fundamental biomechanics starting with foot/ankle then up to knee, hip, and back. Many of these problems can be traced back to the feet being too weak which then can make the ankles get too stiff as a compensation for lack of foot stability--and the compensations can travel all the way up into the neck and shoulders. Some of the new toning shoes talk a lot about fitness gains "above" the foot, but I have not heard as much about the actual fitness in the foot itself. Go back to root cause. Think FOOT fitness first--then worry about the calves, hamstrings, and glutes later. The feet--they hit the ground first and stabilize everything up the chain of movement. When your feet work well, the rest of your movements up the chain will also be better. If your feet have problems, so will the upper body.
For now, this is my direction with foot fitness and shoes. Using "less" shoe or at least shoes with harder soles seem to be making my feet stronger and happier. If the new toning shoes work for you--great! I had a few people tell me personally that the MBTs helped both diabetic feet and plantar fasciitis foot conditions--I have no reason to doubt them. I'm glad they got relief. Keep thinking about the naked foot though and what can be done WITHOUT any shoes or any technology to make you move better.
Here are a couple of related links if interested in above:
- Born To Run Book (great research on feet, running injuries, & running shoes!)
- You Walk Wrong (fascinating overview by New York Magazine on evolution of human feet, shoes, & injuries)
Keep it simple. Keep it cost effective...and keep your feet happy and fit.
In Foot Fitness!