Looking back at my kids' early physical development and knowing what I've learned since then about early-stage alignment, I would have changed everything about their shoes!
My family humors me every day when I remind them to sit on their sitting bones or ask them to walk instead of riding a bike. And when it comes to shoes, I am incredibly particular about what they wear.
A little over five years ago I began to understand how shoes impact the human body in ways I'd never considered. That's when I started transitioning myself and my kids into minimal shoes.
Minimal shoes have flexible soles, a wide toe box, zero heel elevation, and no arch support. They allow for as much natural movement of the foot as possible when walking and running.
“Our feet form the direct connection through the entire body to challenge gravity.”
My daughter was six when she started going barefoot more frequently and wore her first pair of minimal shoes.
Over the years, she’s gotten questions from her peers and been told by other kids that they could never wear the shoes she wears because they are too flat and don’t have enough support.
The other day she asked me to explain why the type of shoes we wear matter so much and I could tell she truly wanted to understand for her own knowledge, and so she could respond when people ask her questions.
I was elated because, normally, when I start talking about alignment, feet and sitting bones, her eyes glaze over and she quickly changes the subject!
I recognized this huge window of opportunity and didn’t want to blow it with too much technical information. While there are a million reasons why the type of shoes you wear matter, I decided to give her three.
The three reasons really resonated with her and so I thought it would be fun to share them with you too!
Problem #1: Your Foot is a Twisted Plate Designed to Move, But It's Blocked
Your foot has 26 bones, stabilized by 56 ligaments and these bones are designed to move. When functioning optimally, these bones spiral in opposition to one another, creating a twist in your mid-foot that winds and unwinds with every step you take.
This spiral in your foot sets off other naturally occurring bone spirals in your ankles, knees, pelvis, and spine.
A stiff sole in a shoe and/or arch support block this natural spiraling motion from happening. When your foot spiral is blocked, your body comes up with other strategies to move by compensating in your knees, pelvis, and low back.
Blocking your foot spiral also leads to less mobility in your feet, which leads to less proprioception and sensation in your feet. This can ultimately lead to more difficulty with overall balance while walking, standing, or just putting your pants on for the day.
The exercise in this video helps you sense your foot spiral and is fantastic for building it back into your body.
And this foot exercise will help you release and hydrate the bottoms of your feet and wake up sleeping proprioceptors.
Problem #2: Heeled Shoes Literally Shorten Your Calves
Shoes with any kind of heel worn frequently enough literally shorten your calves. And I’m not talking ladies' high heels here, but any heel elevation at all—even the minor elevation in men’s shoes, kids' shoes and most running shoes is enough to cause this shortened calf problem.
Your body has this amazingly efficient ability to adapt to how you use it the most.
Shoes with a heel, even a tiny heel, worn on a daily basis keep your heel lifted higher than the ball of your foot. This elevation puts your body in a perpetual incline or downhill state. (Note this perpetual incline opens a whole other can of worms when it comes to heeled shoes and alignment, but that’s not in today’s list of three, so I’ll save it for another day!)
When your heel stays lifted higher than the ball of your foot, it puts excess pressure on your toes and mid-foot and sends the message to your calves and soft tissue that you don’t need the muscle length required in your lower leg for your heel to go all the way to the ground.
Your body, being the crazy efficient system that it is, shortens the area through a process called sarcomerolysis.
If you've been wearing heeled shoes, this muscle shortening means you'll need to transition slowly into shoes without heels.
When your body has adapted to wearing heels and, all of a sudden, you stop wearing them, it can create pain and other issues because your body has adapted to your heeled shoes.
The body uses a process, called sarcomerogenesis, whereby it regenerates muscle, but your actions have to send your body the signal to start this process.
To start sending the new signal to lengthen your calves (as opposed to the old signal which shortened them), start wearing shoes that have less heel, but aren’t completely flat and then start stretching your calves on a regular basis.
Make the calf stretch exercise in this video a priority when it comes to making the switch to minimal shoes and sending your body the new signal to regenerate lost muscle tissue.
Problem #3: Shoes Squeeze Your Forefoot and Toes Together
Most modern shoes have a narrow, often lifted toe box. This means the shoe itself is more narrow than your foot. So, you have to squish the bones of your forefoot and toes together to get them into your shoes.
I thought my shoes had a wide toe box, but when I first started wearing my Correct Toes™, I was shocked to discover just how narrow they actually were!
Your foot is made up of three flexible arches created by the bones and the tension formed by the soft tissue and muscles in the bottom of your foot.
When the bones of your forefoot and toes get pressed together, it has a negative effect on these arches.
Your big toe in particular is crucial to optimal foot alignment. When it gets pushed toward the midline of your body by shoes, it contributes to bunions, collapsed arches, pronated ankles and runner’s knee.
Toes spreading exercises like the one in this video, combined with Foot Alignment Socks and/or Correct Toes, are perfect for starting to realign your forefeet and toes.
There you have it in a nutshell!
I hope my list of reasons (and there are actually many more!) has piqued your interest about the importance of the shoes you’re putting on your feet every day.
I can’t emphasize it enough though—if you've been wearing shoes with heels, arch support and/or stiff soles, it’s important that you transition slowly, with a specific protocol, into minimal shoes.
If you wake up one day and throw on Vibram Five Fingers after wearing modern shoes your whole life, you could cause more harm than good and may even wind up thinking that minimal shoes are bad for you.
The exercises I’ve provided in this post are perfect to get you started. I also highly recommend Katy Bowman’s book Whole Body Barefoot.
Feet and footwear are one of my favorite topics to discuss, so if you have any questions, post them in the comments below.
As of the date of this post, I'm at a workshop in San Francisco for the whole week, so it may take me a little longer than usual, but I will definitely respond to your questions.
See you in the studio,
P.S. – In case you’re wondering what kind of shoes I wear, my favorite shoe companies are Vibram Five Fingers, Lems and Un-Shoes!
- On high heels and short muscles: a multiscale model for sarcomere loss in the gastrocnemius muscle.
Zöllner AM1, Pok JM1, McWalter EJ2, Gold GE3, Kuhl E4
- Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman, Pages 69-70
- From Foot to Core Ability, Discovering the Strength Beyond, Marie-José Blom, HTTP://WWW.PILATESINSPIRATION.COM
- Dr. Ray McClanahan, https://nwfootankle.com/correct-toes/149-youtube-videos