Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fact or Fiction: Minimalist footwear

I had to think for a few minutes about how to title this blog; the minimalist footwear thing is a hot topic right now, and I wanted to choose my words carefully. Calling it a "trend" would imply that I thought it would fade out of the limelight. Specifically mentioning running would imply that I thought this was something that only applied to runners. I wanted to avoid these things, because I truly think that minimalist designed footwear is applicable to every population, in some form or fashion. Honestly, its my personal opinion that actually RUNNING barefoot or in minimalist shoes should be the last stop on that road, rather than the first. Unfortunately, as is the case in this country, people learn about a good thing and just go for the gusto right away, even when they aren't ready for it. We are a country of zealots, and the health and fitness industry is no different. People take a good idea and take it as gospel, thinking that idea is the only right answer. (read: Crossfit, HIIT, Kettlebells, Zumba...etc, etc)

My thoughts on minimalist footwear relies heavily on anecdotal evidence; and it doesn't begin with prehistoric man. Many people will conjure up prehistoric man as their example and say "well, he didn't wear shoes, so why do we need to?" Well, prehistoric man also went everywhere bare-assed and lived in a cave, but you don't see too many people going out to do those, do you? Didn't think so.
Welcome home!

Lets take a look at a few different times in history, and how they relate to this discussion. What did the Native Americans wear? Moccasins, if anything. Not much arch support in those. They weren't having problems with patellofemoral pain syndrome when they were running down Custer and his buddies. What did they wear in the olden days of the NBA? Chuck Taylors where the sneaker of choice for about 40 years; during a time when foot/ankle/knee injuries were pretty uncommon (with a few notable excepts, like Bill Walton and Pete Maravich).  Lastly, the Roman Legions. Surprisingly, they were not rocking Brooks Dynamic Stability Sandals. It was a hard leather sole with straps to hold on to your foot and ankle. I don't recall reading about Julius Ceasar worrying about compartment syndrome when he was sending his troops to conquer the planet.

If our ancestors didn't need to put orthopedic arch supports into their moccasins, then why are there now people who can't walk around in flip flops because they suffer from shooting pains in their feet? Same reason people have thoracic spine and hip mobility problems; de-evolution. Our bodies have evolved over a millenia to work in a specific way, and we are now doing everything we can to ruin the machine.

Minimalist footwear doesn't have to be ballet slippers and Vibram Five Fingers; there are lots of choices that range from nearly a fully supportive shoe, down to what is merely a protective covering.

Nike Free Run+

Luna Sandals

Every shoe manufacturer has a minimalist shoe, and they all serve a purpose. The bones of the foot are intended to be slightly mobile, and to flex and move as the body strides. The toes are evolved to spread and grasp at the ground as we walk. If the foot was intended to move as it does in a fully supportive running shoe, then it would appear more like a stump and less like a foot. I am a big proponent, and i tell my clients constantly, of people doing more activities of daily living in these types of shoes. I truly believe that if people spent more "down time" in these shoes, it would benefit them greatly. All of my clients deadlift in socks, and many of them are wearing free's for the rest of our training. If I wouldn't get shit from my boss, they would be doing their dynamic warm-ups in socks too.

Big clunky shoes really just restrict your ability to feel anything; it takes away all of your proprioception. Your foot is full of nerves and is extremely sensitive (ask Rex Ryan about that), and that would control our natural gait. Putting your foot into a running shoe with arch support and a thick air bubble cushioning every step is like putting thick wool gloves on Eddie Van Halen's hands and then asking him to crank out Eruption; it changes everything. Go out, buy a pair of Free's, Chuck's, Sanuk's, or Samba's and just go walk around. Walk the dog in them. Run Errands. Wear them to lift weights (if your gym won't let you lift sockless). Just MOVE in them, and let your body start to live a little.

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