Category Archives: barefoot

Sensitive Soles Perform Better

personal training nycFactoid: Activating the small nerve endings on the plantar aspect (bottom) of the foot prior to exercise or sporting endeavor will not only make you faster and stronger but will also increase the intensity with which your core muscles react. Wake up your soles and perform better!

Do you want to move optimally, increase strength and decrease your injury potential? Start with your foundation: turn on your feet and optimize your soles. In order for the foot and consequently lower extremities (including the core musculature) to work properly, our brains need to ‘feel’ the ground. This is why the soles of our feet are jam packed with nerve endings and touch receptors (mechanorecptors). They create a sensory feedback loop between the brain and foot, driven by an estimated 200,000 nerve endings on each sole. Being barefoot stimulates the brain and wakes up innate sensations. According to Nigg and colleagues these plantar aspect nerve endings are crucial for: Continue reading

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Barefooting Prep

best trainer nyc Do you ever feel an urge to kick off your shoes and run barefoot like you used to when you were a carefree child?  If you’ve been wearing shoes all your life, odds are your feet are in terrible shape and not ready to go au naturel. Long term shoe wearing is linked to an impressive list of ailments, most of which are not present in barefoot communities. According to The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, the vast majority of foot pathology is directly caused by shoe wearing and has little to do with hereditary factors, arch height or size. Wearing shoes has altered the shape of our feet and is closely associated with these unfortunate conditions: Continue reading

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Untimely Circumcision and Marathon Running

running and circumscion

Why do Kenyans dominate the sport of distance running? Take, for example, Kenyan Wilson Kipsang -in the 2013 Berlin Marathon, he ran the fastest time in history: 2 hours, 3 minutes and 23 seconds. That’s an average of 4:42 per mile.  8 of the 10 fastest marathons on record were won by a Kenyan.  Since 1988 there have been 20 Kenyan male winners of the Boston marathon alone.  In this year’s NY Marathon, Kenyans were the victors in both the male and female divisions.  There have only been 17 American men in history of our large powerful country to run a sub 2 hour 10-minute marathon while 32 Kenyans had no problem completing this feat in one single month – October 2011. What makes them such outstanding and dominating distance runners?   Continue reading

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Don’t Run Barefoot You’ll Step On Glass or a Rusty Nail!

Walking, hiking and running barefoot present very little danger to one’s feet.  In fact, performing these activities barefoot may actually strengthen your feet and help to improve your posture and general kinematics. Fears of puncture wounds, lacerations, simple cuts and infections surround the practice of barefoot exercise but are largely unfounded. People often ask: “Aren’t you afraid you will step on some glass?” Barefoot runners get this question a lot. I’m much more concerned about stepping in dog, deer or bear poop than broken glass.  Glass shards (which are quite rare due to the high use of plastics) on the street are usually lying flat and it’s actually quite difficult to slice the sole of your foot when running or walking properly.  If you are shuffling along barefoot through a field of broken glass bottles, that’s another story. I have been hiking and running barefoot for over 5 years and have never sustained a debris injury.  The skin on the plantar surface (sole) of the foot gets thicker the more time you spend exercising barefoot. It is also much more resistant to abrasions than the rest of your skin. Continue reading

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Free Your Feet – Barefoot Exercise & Such

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I get it, barefoot running may not be for you (it is not for everybody), but do yourself a favor and kick off your shoes whenever possible. You don’t have to run. Walk, stand and workout barefoot…your feet, knees and back will thank you. Shoes disrupt your natural and wondrous anatomical engineering.  Our feet are very much like our hands.  Imagine wearing tight leather mittens for most of your waking hours, for the majority of your life.  How long do you think it would be before you lost a good chunk of your fine motor skills?  Dexterity? Strength? Sensitivity? Flexibility?  Your shod feet live in a sensory deprivation prison akin a war crime violation – hyperbole at its worst.  Free your feet.

Modern footwear was constructed over 500 years ago to protect the foot from the elements.  However our feet are perfectly capable of dealing with most terrains and tasks like running, walking and standing without shoes. Though walking barefoot in the snow or through a field of broken glass is not recommended.  A 1949 study of Asian barefoot rickshaw ‘coolies’ showed a surprisingly low rate of injury and no pathologies despite running all day on cobblestone and jagged roads.  The researchers concluded, “shoes are not necessary for healthy feet and are the cause of most foot troubles.” Footwear seems to induce more harm then good. Today we wear shoes for fashion, supposed performance enhancement, protection and/or cultural obligation (No shoes, no shirt, no service!).  When was the last time you walked outside (and not at the beach) barefoot? Have you ever exercised barefoot?

Fact: Long term use of shoes will deform your feet changing the boney and muscular structures within.

Shoes Can Cause All Sorts of Nasty Problems:

  1. Shortens your Achilles tendon and calf musculature
  2. Decrease the flexibility, strength and dexterity of your feet and toes
  3. Eliminate sensory feedback between your feet and brain
  4. Negatively alter the position of your ankle, knee, hip and spinal joints
  5. Reduce the stored energy spring like action of your arches
  6. Cause bunions, hammer toes, neuromas, ingrown toenails, corns and increased fugal issues
  7. Plantar fasciitis
  8. Deformed toes
  9. Increases chances of knee arthritis especially in high heel wearers
  10. Ligament laxity causing flat feet

In barefoot societies the above issues are mostly non-existent (granted, such cultures are poorer and less likely to visit their local podiatrist to complain).

Many people believe they can’t walk, run or exercise barefoot because it is too painful.  Many individuals have feet that are so screwed up from shoes, its hard to go barefoot. Their soles are like delicate delicate baby bottoms, soft and hardly used.  Have you ever walked on a gravel driveway barefoot?  It hurts, right?  Your brain is sensing pain because your tootsies are accustomed to the posh cushioned lifestyle of living in a shoe. Habitually barefoot people enjoy the feeling of gravel underfoot.  Its like a massage because they have adapted to regular stimulus and woken up their nerve endings on the bottom of their feet.  These nerve endings are as plentiful in your feet as they are in your hands yet effectively blindfolded by donning shoes.  We need these nerves to communicate with our brains about how hard to step down, where to position our joints and which muscles to contract and when. A shoe, especially a heavily cushioned one,  muffles these senses so you actually hit the ground harder and unevenly.  In order to stay upright and balanced your brain needs to feel the ground during locomotion. In a padded shoe it is forced to tell your muscles to hit the floor harder causing greater impact forces up the kinetic chain.  Not good.

Surprisingly, there are no federal or state laws prohibiting people from going barefoot in the U.S.  And yes, you can drive barefoot too! Although many private establishments require their customers to wear shoes for fear of being sued due to injury.  Yoga, karate, Pilates studios are some prominent exemptions.  But why can’t we workout at the gymnasium in our barefeet?  Gym owners will tell you it is a liability in case you drop a weight on your foot. But really, how much will a thin piece of leather or vinyl protect your foot from a 20lb dumbbell tumbling down upon it? Maybe you are worried about contracting someone’s foot fungus? Congenitally barefoot individuals may have dirt on their feet but rarely if ever have fungus.  In order for fungus to grow, you need a warm, dark and damp environment.  A sock and shoe offer the perfect environs for such fungus to proliferate and stink! Take it all off the next time you workout or go for a hike barefoot and see how it feels.

Warning:   Don’t throw out all of your workout shoes just yet.  It may take a little time to transition into barefoot workouts and such.  Go slow and listen to your body.   At first your balance and joint stability may seem off due to years of adaptation to the ‘crutch’ of footwear.  Your feet may seem extra sensitive and weak because of their lack of use.  Take baby steps before you jump.

Working Out Barefoot Is Better

  1. Aligns your joints and weight to their natural position
  2. Strengthens your ankle, knee and foot musculature and other surrounding soft tissue
  3. Increases foot dexterity and flexibility
  4. Increases shock absorption of the arch
  5. Decreases abnormal forces on the knee and ankle joints
  6. Allows you to feel the ground and improve your sense of balance & proprioception
AHH-NULD!.

Here are some transitional things you can do to strengthen your feet, better your posture and improve your prorioception:

  • When you get home take off your shoes and socks  (the fabric prevents some function)
  • Practice standing on one leg while brushing your teeth – barefoot, of course
  • Roll a golf ball on the sole of your foot – video
  • Practice these four toe/foot exercises regularly
  • Take a short barefoot walk outside for 10 minutes – the more varied terrain the better
  • Buy a pair of minimalist shoes
  • Limit your time in heels (many sneakers even have 1-2″ heels)
  • Attempt to pick up pencils and knickknacks with your feet
  • Practice the toe-spread-out exercise – with your foot on the ground lift all your toes up and then place only your little toe down and out, while it is down place your great toe down and out (keep the other three toes up)
Doug Joachim – NYC
www.JoachimsTraining.com
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Shoes are Dangerous for Kids

The children’s shoe industry has been around for over a century and represents almost 20% of the 60 billion dollar U.S. market.  Yet, many experts agree children’s shoes do more damage to the growing foot than they do to protect them . Kid’s shoes are cute, clever and quite corrupting.  At best a child’s footwear will protect their feet from getting dirty and at worst it will permanently deform their foot, promote faulty posture, produce an unnatural gait and decrease brain development.  

Children’s Footwear Myths:

  1. Shoes need to be a snug fit: This doesn’t allow for the elastic movement of the foot and toes to work as they are meant to function.  Furthermore, the tightness can reshape the cartilage and change the actual shape of the foot!
  2. Heel support and lift is needed for protection: look at your child’s shoe.  Is the heel higher (and thicker) than the the toe?  If so, and it probably is, this will adaptively shorten their Achilles tendon and calf musculature…this can be permanent. 
  3. Pronation protection: Pronation is normal!  Overpronation is quite subjective and has been seen to dissipate while walking or running barefoot.  Let their little cute ankles get stronger by moving through a full natural range of motion. 
  4. Leaving room in the shoe for their little feet to grow (or being too cheap and buying a size up thinking they’ll grow into it):  When they are running around and suddenly stop their tootsies get slammed up against the front of the shoe causing ingrown toenails and worse the beginning of hammer toes and bunions.   

Ever try to put a shoe on a baby or the even the family pet? They can hardly remove the offending shoe or booty fast enough. It is actually quite funny endeavor to watch. This is a message about our instinct to be barefoot. In fact, studies show barefoot children learn to walk more quickly and have less falls than their shod counterparts. Until about age 10, most children still have soft, malleable feet.  Not to mention they are getting larger all the time and literally pushing up through the seams. Kids’ feet are not just smaller versions of ours; they tend to be wider across the toes and mostly cartilage (which is gradually replaced by bone). Children’s footwear is modeled to be smaller versions of adult ones. Some manufacturers make high heels for kids! 

Most shoe companies design shoes with pre-defined shapes and overlook the natural architecture of the human foot. This is especially true when it comes to shoes for kids. Rigid and malformed shoes directly effect how a child’s foot bones and arch will shape. Our toes are supposed to be spread out, almost in a “v” shape.  Instead most of us have crunched and smooshed in feet with little or no independent control of our toes. Our feet become the shape of the shoes we wear. 

The soles of our feet and toes contain over 200,000 nerve endings that serve to tell our brain about our environment in order to balance the body, know where and how hard to step down and provide it with accurate information regarding proprioception.  The foot brain connection is vital for equilibrium, gait, and dynamic/passive stability.  The sensory blindfold of a thick soled shoe confuses the entire connection. A congenially shod child will never properly develop this brain foot connection and will suffer from functionally weak and under-performing feet, unnatural gaits and faulty postural skills.   
For a variety of reasons, sneaker companies are always convincing us to buy snug fitting shoes for our toddlers (and us). A growing child’s foot will get all of its developmental requirements satisfied by simply playing, jumping and running without shoes. 

When my son isn’t running around barefoot, he rocks a pair VIVOBAREFOOT minimalist shoes.  When he does wear shoes, he hardly ever bothers with socks because he likes to feel the ground (socks provide one more layer of foot/toe tightness and distance from the earth).  He also wears “zero drop” sandals like Huraraches or scuba socks.  In looking for shoes it is important to find a pair that has no heel, thin soles, lightweight and a big toe box.  Let your child’s feet feel the ground and function like they have evolved to move and work.  There is nothing like being a kid and running barefoot through the grass…interesting research and reviews of shoe wearing children:


Udaya B. Rao, Benjamin Joseph, (1992) “The influence of footwear on the prevalence of flat foot: A survey of 2,300 children”, Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Vol. 74‚ No. 4. pages 525-527.
  • Findings: An Elevated heel of any height on a child’s shoe shortens the Achilles tendon. This marks the beginning of permanent tendon shortening.  Flat foot was most common in children who wore closed-toe shoes, less common in those who wore sandals or slippers, and least in the unshod. The study suggest that shoe-wearing in early childhood is detrimental to the development of a normal longitudinal arch.  

Staheli LT, (1991) “Shoes for Children: A Review”, Pediatrics, 88(2):371-375. 

  • Optimum foot development occurs in the barefoot environment. 2. The primary role of shoes is to protect the foot from injury and infection. 3. Stiff and compressive footwear may cause deformity, weakness, and loss of mobility. 4. The term “corrective shoes” is a misnomer. 5. Shock absorption, load distribution, and elevation are valid indications for shoe modifications. 6. Shoe selection for children should be based on the barefoot model. 7. Physicians should avoid and discourage the commercialization and “media”-ization of footwear. Merchandising of the “corrective shoe” is harmful to the child, expensive for the family, and a discredit to the medical profession.  

The NY TIMES (Aug. 14, 1991): Children with the healthiest and most supple feet are those who habitually go barefoot. Studies of developing nations show that non-shoe-wearers have better flexibility and mobility, stronger feet, fewer deformities, and less complaints than those who wear shoes regularly. When a child must wear a shoe, it should be lightweight, flexible, shaped more or less quadrangularly, and above all, should not have the arch supports and stiff sides once deemed necessary to give the foot support. Many pediatric orthopedists strongly oppose “corrective” or “orthopedic” shoes for straightening foot and leg deformities like flat feet, pigeon toes, knock-knees, or bowlegs. Dr. Staheli and others contend that there is no evidence that corrective shoes correct anything, and that most of the supposed deformities correct themselves in almost all cases.

“The Pilbara Times”, Australia (31 Jan 1980). “Care For Kids Then Care For Their Feet”: Edited extracts from an interview with the president of the Australian Podiatry Association:

“[Children’s] bones are soft cartilage, easily compressible, and they don’t feel pain until the damage is done,” said the president of The Australian Podiatry Association.   “The effects of childhood foot damage can show up in posture and gait in the early twenties,” the president said. “The inability for a person to stand for any length of time without stress can also be attributed to early foot problems. Shoes must take a lot of the blame for claw toes, under and over riding toes, bunions and ingrown toe nails, not to mention corns and callus.  Australian children probably have broader feet now than they did ten years ago, because so many go barefoot. Between the ages of 7 and 12 years, growth is fairly rapid. Don’t hesitate to let them be barefoot. It won’t spread or flatten normal healthy feet as the foot only grows as long as the ligaments allow anyway. The majority of foot damage is preventable if parents take proper care of their children’s feet by allowing them to grow naturally – barefootedly.”

 For more barefoot information click Here


Doug Joachim – NYC In-Home Personal Trainer
www.JoachimsTraining.com
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Got Foot Strength?

screaming feet

“I hardly use my toes, why should I strengthen them?” stated the dimwitted big-biceped gym rat.  It may seem insignificant but the inability to control the stability of the foot and toes has paramount implications on the entire body.  As you step down your foot is the first part of your anatomy that has to overcome all ground forces.  Depending on how your foot falls it will negatively or positively affect the integrity of your knee joints, lumbopelvic hip stability and the rest of the translated forces up the kinetic chain.  Most of us wear shoes all day long and barely spend anytime barefoot. I fear to say that many people spend no time barefoot except for when they are sleeping.  Just to be clear, when I say “barefoot” I mean just that: naked feet sans shoes, slippers, and socks.  Shoes are ruining our feet and additionally causing lots of unmitigated knee, hip and lower back pain.  Most footwear quietly over time wreaks havoc on our anatomy.  The foot coffins we don, although maybe sexy, have been shown to cause:

  1. Bunions, corns, and blisters
  2. Fallen arches
  3. Hammer toes
  4. Ingrown toenails
  5. Increased chances of ankle sprains
  6. Foot disfigurement
  7. Athlete’s Foot (bacterial and fungal infections)
  8. Hallux valgus (inward turning of big toe)
  9. Shortens and weakens the Achilles tendon and calf musculature
  10. Plantar fasciitis

Shoes provide us with a form of self-imposed neurological and muscular blindness.  They prevent us from feeling the ground and using the muscles in our feet correctly.  A shoe works in a similar way to a cast.  It protects us from the environment and holds the architecture of the foot rigid yet our feet crave freedom.  Shod individuals have blindfolded and bound their own feet in order to protect against the elements.  If the foot was a person, it would scream “torture” (AKA: enhanced stressed positions).  Research shows going barefoot improves alignment, strengthens the foot, increases flexibility and promotes better balance and proprioception.

Did you ever see Daniel Day-Lewis in “My Left Foot”?  His character lost the ability to use most of his body except, you guessed it, his left foot.  Anyway, with only one limb working, he became very adept at using his foot to paint, eat, write etc.  Many babies and toddlers have this same ability.  The main reason we lose our natural lower limb dexterity because we stop using our feet and toes and begin wearing shoes.  In congenitally barefoot societies the breadth of foot strength and dexterity is simply amazing by our standards.

Let’s see how much control you have over your toes and feet. Try these 4 things to improve your foot’s dexterity, strength, and balance.

1. Stand up and push your big toe down into the ground (but don’t bend/flex it) and lift your other toes up while keeping your heel on the ground (make sure not to roll the ankle in or out).

2. How about lifting your big toe up and pressing your other four toes down (but don’t bend them) while keeping your heels grounded?

3. Try standing on one foot, not shifting all your weight to that side, and balance on 3 points: big toe, heel, and Ball under the small toe.  Hold for 30 seconds.

4. Janda’s Short foot – a great micro-movement that strengthens your 1st MTP and arch:

 

The 1st MTP (big toe) supports the weight of your body while walking and running.  It also serves as the push off point during locomotion.  However, most running sneakers have a narrow toe box that is flexed upwards (industry standard is 15 degrees…high heels are much more), putting all your toes in extension and preventing the 1st MTP from properly flexing down and propelling you off into the next step.   During the landing phase of walking/running, the big toe helps raise the arch (medial longitudinal arch) and thus locks the bones of the foot causing temporary stiffness which allows for propulsion.  In shoes the 1st MTP is immobilized like a fish in a tin can preventing the arch mechanics from properly working.  Most congenitally shod individuals have weakened toes and potentially inhibited foot muscles from all that shoe wearing.  We develop compensations from these weak links and our knees, hips and back suffer for it.  As often as you can kick off your shoes and walk around (uneven surfaces are great) and practice the above exercises to regain some of your innate foot dexterity and balance.

Sources:

1. Influence of Footwear on Flat foot
2. Rossi, William A. “Why Shoes Make” Normal” Gait Impossible.” Part 1 (1999): 50-61.
3. Janda Foot Exercise
4. Walking Barefoot Decreases Knee Pain
5. Lumbo-Pelvic Hip Stabilization and Foot Strength From Dr. Emily Splichal
6. Shoe Design Manipulates Human Movement

Doug Joachim – NYC
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High Heels Hurt: What to Do?

personal training in-home nyc  

High heels hurt and wreak havoc on the body.  But why do woman endure the pain?  Here are some reasons I’ve heard:

  1. They raise my butt up and make it look better. The JLo effect.
  2. They instantly increase my height and give me more power.
  3. Lots of men like them and think they are sexy.
  4. They make my calves and legs look more sleek and developed.
  5. They cover my nasty gnarly looking toes
  6. I feel sexier wearing them. 
  7. They complete my outfits. 
  8. I just like them.  

So does the benefits of wearing high heels out weigh the costs?  For most women the answer is a resounding yes!  I know I’m never going to get women (or men) to stop wearing them.  My goal is to limit the  the amount of time you spend in them and perhaps reduce/prevent the associated pain.  

FYI: Most men’s shoes and athletic sneakers have heels.  Some are over 2″ higher than lowest part of the foot!

Reasons to rethink the high heel:

  1. An elevated heel of any height shortens and weakens the calf musculature and Achilles tendon. 
  2. Prolonged use causes permanent Achilles tendon shortening.
  3. Excessive strain on the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon.
  4. A body weight shift forward changes your natural upright posture and causes muscle fatigue and compensatory movement patterns.
  5. Increased impact forces on all of your joints specifically your knees, ankles and toes.
  6. Increased knee, hip and spine pain due to the unnatural posture and gait.
  7. Increases the severity and frequency of headaches.
  8. Reduces the shock absorbing and elastic properties of your arches. 
  9. May cause hammer toes and other toe deformities.
  10. Increases the chances of ingrown toes, corns and bunions. 
  11. Increases the possibility of Morton’s neuroma (painful). 
  12. Increases risk of ankle sprains, breaks and strains. 
  13. Decreases the proprioceptive function of the toes and foot. 
  14. Strongly linked to arthritis in the knees.
  15. Puts undue stress on the lumbar spine and exacerbates lower back pain (or causes it).

Limiting the wear time of high heels and being barefoot (or wearing flat shoes) as much as possible will do wonders for your feet.  And due to the excessive strain high heels put on the inside of the knee (causing osteoarthritis) it is a good idea to strengthen your gluteals (which rotate your leg outwards, taking stress off the medial part of your knee) and VMO (vastus medialis obliquusthe tear dropped looking muscle on the inside of your thigh which contributes to the correct knee tracking).  Stretching your calves on a daily basis for no less than 1 minute will also be helpful to counteract the excessive shortening.  Lastly,  I recommend a “Strassburg Sock”.  This attractive knit sock can be worn to bed or while you are reading this blog.  It is primarily used to alleviate plantar fasciities  but it also strengthens your arches and keeps your foot in dorsiflexion – this position passively stretches your ankle complex and the soft tissue of your calves.  Using this sock on a regular basis  is a good way to prevent or alleviate foot, knee, back pain from a high heel. 

The Strassburg Sock:

 

Doug Joachim – NYC
www.JoachimsTraining.com
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Barefoot Vs. Shod NYT article review

I’d like to address an article in the March 27th 2012 edition of The New York Times called “Making the Case for Running Shoes”:

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/21/making-the-case-for-running-shoes/

The abstract from the journal paper titled “Metabolic Cost of Running Barefoot versus Shod: Is Lighter Better?” cited in the NYT article, is below.

 

The first thing I’d like to state, is what is meant by “better”?   The researchers wanted to test whether running barefoot has a lower energy demand then running in sneakers.  In this case they found that running with shoes is “better” because it was shown to exact a lower metabolic demand on the body.

So if we are to believe this study (and I do have some issues with its design and results) then running barefoot burns more calories then being shod.  Is that such a bad thing?  

Here are some issues and thoughts I have with the research and NYT article:

-all of the running was done a treadmill which (as you know) is much different than running outdoors — running down vs. running forward

-the sample size was quite small (12 individuals)  and no women (women’s bodies and gaits are different)

-weighted lead strips placed on the top of the foot does not equal a shoe weight which is equally distributed

-when running barefoot the increased amount of force is dissipated by the large muscles, which is a good thing….not bad

-the study does not state whether the shod runners were forefoot or heel striking (which would make a huge difference)

-the barefoot runners (with questionable “substantial experience”) were using a mid-foot strike pattern– which has been shown to be less efficient and more deleterious than a forefoot strike

-the “barefoot” runners were wearing socks which confines the toes and will prevent some of the natural toe spread that should occur during the gait cycle

-I wonder if Nike funded this research….just saying

Not all of us are good candidates for barefoot running, but if done correctly it has been shown to reduce chronic (running) injuries in many.   Running barefoot may very well take more energy but then again it connects your body to the ground, increases your foot strength, proprioception, agility and maybe your enjoyment.

Running is a very complicated biomechanical activity and it is different for everyone.  The science of barefoot running is still evolving.  Do what feels natural and good but above all have fun.  

For more info on barefoot running check out: Barefoot Or Not?

Metabolic Cost of Running Barefoot versus Shod: Is Lighter Better?

Franz, Jason R.; Wierzbinski, Corbyn M.; Kram, Rodger

Published Ahead-of-Print
Collapse Box

Abstract

Purpose: Based on mass alone, one might intuit that running barefoot would exact a lower metabolic cost than running in shoes. Numerous studies have shown that adding mass to shoes increases submaximal oxygen uptake (V[spacing dot above]2) by about 1% per 100 grams per shoe. However, only two of the seven studies on the topic have found a statistically significant difference in (V[spacing dot above]2) between barefoot and shod running. The lack of difference found in these studies suggests that factors other than shoe mass (e.g. barefoot running experience, foot-strike pattern, shoe construction) may play important roles in determining the metabolic cost of barefoot vs. shod running. Our goal was to quantify the metabolic effects of adding mass to the feet and compare oxygen uptake and metabolic power during barefoot vs. shod running while controlling for barefoot running experience, foot-strike pattern and footwear.
Methods: 12 males with substantial barefoot running experience ran at 3.35 m/s with a mid-foot strike pattern on a motorized treadmill, both barefoot and in lightweight cushioned shoes (~150 g/shoe). In additional trials, we attached small lead strips to each foot/shoe (~150, ~300, ~450 g). For each condition, we measured subjects’ rates of oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production and calculated metabolic power.
Results: V[spacing dot above]2 increased by approximately 1% for each 100 g added per foot, whether barefoot or shod (p<0.001). However, barefoot and shod running did not significantly differ in V[spacing dot above]2 or metabolic power. A consequence of these two findings was that for footwear conditions of equal mass, shod running had ~3-4% lower V[spacing dot above]2 and metabolic power demand than barefoot running (p<0.05).
Conclusions: Running barefoot offers no metabolic advantage over running in lightweight, cushioned shoes.
(C)2012The American College of Sports Medicine

 

Doug Joachim – NYC
www.JoachimsTraining.com

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To Be Barefoot, or Not?

Why kick off your shoes and run/walk barefoot?

Humans have been running/walking barefoot (and in minimal footwear) for about two million years. It is our natural state. Our feet evolved to function without footwear. Shoes often abuse our poor misaligned, claustrophobic feet.  It is almost hard to believe we treat the foot, which literally unites us to the earth, so badly.  I admit, some of us go through lots of hoops drawing attention to our feet. With pretty pedicures, high-end heels (4 inch Christian Louboutins) and trendy sneakers that cost over $500 (think Prada) our feet would, on the surface, seem pampered. Not the case by a long shot, so say I. We jam shoes on our children the minute after they take their first steps. From that point on, we barely take them off until the day we die (and some of us are even buried with shoes!).

 
 

Ever try to put a shoe on a baby or the even family dog? They can hardly remove the offending shoe or booty fast enough. It is actually quite funny and frustrating to watch. It is an instinct to be barefoot.  Until about age 10, most children still have soft, malleable feet.   Not to mention they are getting larger all the time and literally pushing up through the seams. Kids’ feet are not just smaller versions of ours; they tend to be wider across the toes and mostly cartilage (which is gradually replaced by bone). Children’s footwear is modeled to be smaller versions of adult ones. Most shoe companies design shoes with pre-defined shapes and overlook the natural architecture of the human foot. This is especially true when it comes to shoes for kids. Rigid and malformed shoes directly affect how a child’s foot bones and arch will shape. Our toes are supposed to be spread out, almost in a “v” shape.  Instead most of us have crunched and smooshed in feet with little or no independent control of our toes. Our feet become the shape of the shoes we wear.

For a variety of reasons, sneaker companies are always convincing us to buy snug fitting shoes for our toddlers (and us). A growing child’s foot will get all of its developmental requirements satisfied by simply playing, jumping and running without shoes.

Udaya B. Rao, Benjamin Joseph, (1992) “The influence of footwear on the prevalence of flat foot: A survey of 2,300 children”, Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Vol. 74‚ No. 4. pages 525-527.

  • Findings: An Elevated heel of any height on a child’s shoe shortens the Achilles tendon. This marks the beginning of permanent tendon shortening.  Flat foot was most common in children who wore closed-toe shoes, less common in those who wore sandals or slippers, and least in the unshod. The study suggest that shoe-wearing in early childhood is detrimental to the development of a normal longitudinal arch.

Dr William A Rossi, (2002) “Children’s Footwear: Launching Site for Adult Foot Ills”, Podiatry Management, pages 83-100.

  • Findings: Slimmer and more flexible children’s shoes do not change foot motion as much as conventional shoes and therefore should generally be recommended for healthy children.

When my son isn’t running around barefoot, he rocks a pair of pink or aqua blue VIVOBAREFOOT shoes.  He also wears “zero drop” sandals like Huraraches or scuba socks.  In looking for shoes it is important to find a pair that has no heel, thin soles, lightweight and a big toe box.  Let your feet feel the ground and function like they were evolved to work.

I really love this next video.  It is a grainy copy of Alan Watts, an intellectual eastern philosopher from the 70’s (and yes, he did like his LSD), pontificating on ideas of work and play in relation to running:

Americans do very little without shoes. Lots of people even take showers with shoes! We have been conditioned to be afraid of the dangers of being barefoot. However the majority of those fears are unfounded. To give one example, the chances of getting a bacterial and/or fungal infection is increased exponentially by wearing socks and shoes. A dark, moist, warm environment, that a shoe provides, is a perfect breeding ground for such infections.  Contrary to popular belief, habitually unshod feet are rarely malodorous and/or subject to infection.  Many of our foot problems can be traced back to our obsessive shoe wearing; bunions, hammer toes, plantar fasciitis etc. I believe a barefoot person’s feet will be stronger, more agile, balanced and less prone injury/infection than the shod foot.
Skilled and habitual barefoot runners will land on their forefoot first and then heel plant (except for sprinting which has no heel strike). This is how most animals run in the wild. Athletic shoes tend to compromise our gait. Wearing modern shoes influences us to run and walk in an unnatural form; landing hard on the heel, taking extra long strides, and integrating a rolling action to the toes. These movements are compromises and it is quite painful to progress this way barefoot.  Its the body’s way of telling us not to do it, whereas cushioned shoes confuse and change our whole locomotive pattern.  Running can essentially be distilled into a series of one-leg jumps. Stand up, go ahead and do it….I’ll wait.   Find a hard surface (not carpet) and hop up and down on one leg but be sure to land directly on your heel (like you do while running in sneakers). Feels wonderful, right? Of course not!  It has been shown that heel striking will increase the forces upon one’s foot and lower leg while running. Analysis show that even on hard surfaces, barefoot runners who forefoot strike generate smaller collision forces than shod heel-foot strikers.
Graphs provided by Harvard’s Barefoot Lab
 

The modern running sneaker and walking shoe has wrecked havoc on the human foot. They have several common construction features that pose potential dangers. In my opinion, these three features listed below are the most pernicious.

1- High thick heels (most sneakers have 1/2” to 2” heel above the lowest part of the foot) may lead to:
  • Shortened and weakened calf musculature
  • Excessive strain on the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon
  • A body weight shift forward which changes your natural upright posture
  • Increased impact forces -because you have to step down harder in order to feel the ground
  • Longer strides in front of your center of gravity which increases the shear forces on your knees, hips and ankles
  • Reduces the shock absorbing and elastic properties of your arches
 2- Curved up narrow toe boxes (toe springs):
  • Toes cannot naturally splay out (a function for balance and proprioception) when you step down
  • Toe joints stay in an extended position which can lead to adaptive shortening
  • Toe dexterity is weakened
  • It may lead to hammer toes and/or bunions
  • Crowds toes which in time may cause permanent faulty alignment
  • Flexing motion (gripping) of the MTP joints are weakened (specifically the big toe)
  • Toes are meant to grip the ground. The curved “toe springs” hold your toes up preventing most gripping action
  • The first MTP (big toe) is restrained from doing its natural push-off and in turn causes a “roll” off the forefoot and/or pivot on the smaller MTPs.
 3- Arch Support:
  • Prevents natural pronation
  • Inhibits normal function of your arch
  • Increases compensatory patterns, which may weaken the foot and knee
  • Increases your chances of spraining an ankle

Since the advent of the modern running shoe in 1972 (Nike) we have not seen injuries rates go down, in fact some studies have shown they have gone up. Yet somehow sneaker companies have been spending billions of dollars on marketing, research and development to make “better shoes” (Honestly, I don’t believe in a grand conspiracy by the shoe companies to hobble society….their motives are more simple, produce shoes that turn a profit). In a paper for the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2008, researchers revealed there are no evidence-based studies that demonstrate running shoes make you less prone to injury. Not a one! In fact, there are some studies that show heavily cushioned expensive footwear causes more injuries than their inexpensive less cushioned counterparts! The impact on your joints while running can be several times your body weight and a heel cushion will do little to ameliorate those forces. “You can cover an egg with an oven mitt before rapping it with a hammer, but that egg ain’t coming out alive.”- Christopher McDougal author of “Born to Run”.

Steven E. Robbins and Gerard J. Gouw. “Athletic footwear: unsafe due to perceptual illusions,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 23(2), 1991, pp. 217-224.

  • Findings: Wearers of expensive running shoes that are promoted as having additional features that protect (e.g., more cushioning, ‘pronation correction’) are injured significantly more frequently than runners wearing inexpensive shoes (costing less than $40)”.
S Robbins, E Waked. “Hazard of deceptive advertising of athletic footwear”. British Journal of Sports Medicine (1997);31:299-303.
  • Findings: Shows that runners who wear top of the line shoes are 123% more likely to get injured than runners in cheap shoes (which have less cushioning and support).

The pictogram below shows the correct way to walk barefoot.  When you walk with shoes your gait changes.  However, you can learn to walk better in shoes by re-learning some basic skills:

According to research by Harvard professor Dr. Dan Lieberman,  humans evolved into expert barefoot endurance runners out of necessity. His research makes a cogent argument for the normalcy of human barefoot running. As animals we are pitifully slow sprinters. This is how we compare:

Cheetah – 70 mph

Antelope – 61 mph

Deer – 30 mph

Cat – 30 mph

Greyhound dog – 39 mph

Horse – 55 mph

Usain Bolt – 27 mph (fastest human on record but most of us are topping out at the blistering speed of 14-17 mph)

Due to our anatomy and bipedal nature we are exceptionally capable of endurance.  It is widely accepted that humans are the best long distance runners in the entire animal kingdom.  Our survival as hunter-gatherers depended on our ability to outwit, chase and catch prey. Moreover there is scant evidence that shows humans used projectile weapons until fairly recently (about 50k years ago). Therefore, we most likely used our bigger brains and better endurance skills to catch prey. Persistence hunting (which seems totally insane on the surface) is the practice of running down and tracking prey, usually over long distances, to the point of the animals’ total exhaustion.  In some cases the animal drops dead of fatigue or submits to capture.   A few tribes around the world still practice this skill. Obviously this was not our only way (or even primary way) of getting food. Lieberman’s theory shows how barefoot humans probably ran long distances to survive. The ones who were most successful hunters and least injured lived to become our ancestors.

Running barefoot is not for everyone. If you have foot abnormalities and/or dysfunctions you may not benefit from being barefoot. Perhaps you are one of the few, lucky, avid runners who are injury free? If that is the case, I wouldn’t change a thing. Stick with what works.  On the other hand, if you are interested in running barefoot you will need to stick to a progression schedule and re-learn the skill.  In my next post I will document the process.

Check out these three slo-mo videos of barefoot running vs. sneaker running:

I have a love affair with skepticism and contrarianism thus compelled to detail the primary arguments against barefoot running. Until more research is available, it’s hard to prove sneakers are outright harmful for most people. Here are the pros and cons often discussed and observed in regards to barefoot running/walking:

Cons:

1- Just because barefoot running and walking is a “natural” part of human locomotion doesn’t mean it is good. The animal kingdom is rife with examples of animals that evolved detrimental traits. Including Homo Sapiens and our damned appendix, wisdom teeth, male nipples etc.

2- There is a lack of research showing barefoot running is less injurious than shod running. In fact some studies show that barefoot running (and heel striking) can be more deleterious.

3- Debris and sharp objects may bang up and cut your feet (this is why people wear minimal shoes).

4- My feet will get dirty and callused. I can definitely attest to this one.

5- Barefoot running hurts. (If you are taught correctly and break in slowly, it should not hurt  but a little discomfort is expected).

6- It is just a fad (albeit a two million year old fad).

7- Due to deformities and or prior injuries some people will not benefit from barefoot running/walking and may in fact cause themselves further injury.

8- Habitually barefoot feet are much different looking than our pampered western feet. The foot is usually bigger, with no discernible arch, splayed toes, leathery soles and all around Hobbit-like.

Pros:

(The research on the benefits of barefoot running/walking is inconclusive yet below I list some anecdotal and scientifically observed advantages of natural barefoot running):

1- Strengthens the foot’s arch and toes

2- Helps elongate one’s calf musculature and increase the flexibility in the ankle complex

3- Improves the foot’s dexterity

4- Improves the lower leg and foot’s proprioception

5- Can help people improve their running times

6- It costs less energy (the weight of the shoe can drastically change your gait and increase your metabolic demands) and therefore may allow you to run longer

7- It helps you become more aware of your surroundings (and closer to nature) and improve the tactile feeling in your feet

8- Less bad forces put upon your lower leg and foot

9- You can spread and expand your feet more, giving greater control to the foot musculature

10- Foot ailments like bunions, hammertoes, ingrown toenails and neuromas may be prevented by living barefoot

11- Balance and coordination may be improved

12- Societies that live barefoot enjoy almost injury free running and suffer very little from common Western foot ailments (BUT, these societies tend to lack Park Avenue sports medicine doctors and podiatrists—remarkably there are very few complaints of ingrown toe nails (etc) and the medical data is even more uncommon!).

13- It is just more fun and so cool to be barefoot! (this is, of course, a peer-reviewed scientific fact 🙂

In the case you are a data wonk, listed for your perusal are a few more important studies documenting the benefits of barefoot running (and yes, I could also provide you with studies depicting the advantages of athletic shoes — but most seem to be sponsored by Nike, Reebok, Asics, etc.):

1- Robbins, S; Hanna A (1987). “Running-related injury prevention through barefoot adaptations”. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 19 (2): 148–156.

  • Findings: Analyzed the longitudinal (medial) arch of 17 habitually shod runners and how it changed when they trained barefoot over a period of 4 months. It was found that this arch decreased in length by an average of 4.7mm. Authors contend this change is due to activation of foot musculature when barefoot that is usually inactive when shod. They maintain that foot musculature allows the foot to dampen impact and remove stress from the plantar fascia.
2- Kerrigan, D. Casey; Franz, Jason R.; Keenan, Geoffrey S.; Dicharry, Jay; Della Croce, Ugo; Wilder, Robert P. (2009). “The Effect of Running Shoes on Lower Extremity Joint Torques”. PM&R 1 (12): 1058–63.
  • Findings: Shows that compared to running barefoot, running in conventional running shoes increases stress on the knee joints up to 38%, although whether this leads to higher rate of heel injuries is still not clear
3- Lieberman, M Venkadesan, WA Werbel. “Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners”, Nature, 2010.
  • Findings: Kinematic and kinetic analysis show that even on hard surfaces, barefoot runners who forefoot strike generate smaller collision forces than shod rear-foot strikers. Forefoot and mid-foot-strike gaits were probably more common when humans ran barefoot or in minimal shoes, and may protect the feet and lower limbs from some of the impact-related injuries now experienced by a high percentage of runners.
4- C Divert, G Mornieux, P Freychat, “Barefoot-Shod Running Differences: Shoe or Mass Effect?” Orthopedics & Biomechanics, Int J Sports Med 2008; 29(6): 512-518.
  • Findings: Stride frequency, anterior-posterior impulse, vertical stiffness, leg stiffness, and mechanical work were significantly higher in barefoot condition compared to shod. Net efficiency, which has metabolic and mechanical components, decreased in the shod condition. The mechanical modifications of running showed that the main role of the shoe was to attenuate the foot-ground impact by adding damping material. However, these changes may lead to a decrease of the storage and restitution of elastic energy capacity, which could explain the lower net efficiency reported in shod running.
5- Kerrigan DC, Franz JR, Keenan GS, et al. The effect of running shoes on lower extremity joint torques. PM R. 2009;1(12):1058-1063.
  • Findings: Increased joint torques at the hip, knee, and ankle were observed with running shoes compared with running barefoot. Disproportionately large increases were observed in the hip internal rotation torque and in the knee flexion and knee varus torques. An average 54% increase in the hip internal rotation torque, a 36% increase in knee flexion torque, and a 38% increase in knee varus torque were measured when running in running shoes compared with barefoot.

Check out Harvard’s Barefoot Lab: Lab
Great web Site comparing minimalist shoes: Minimal

Doug Joachim – NYC personal trainer
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Best Barefoot Shoes

Many of you may already know I have always been interested in gait and foot anatomy. After all, once your foot hits the ground, depending on position, foot fall, arch, surface, forces etc. it will effect your entire muscular-skeletal static and functional anatomy. Most shoes, depending on their shape, can negatively affect your posture and put undue stresses on your body, specifically tightening your calves and your entire posterior chain all the way up to your occiput. This is why high heels are a big culprit in headache production! There is abundant research stating that those of us who wear shoes or live in a shoe society have a lot more foot problems than those who reside in a barefoot community:

1- Shakoor N, Block JA (2006). “Walking barefoot decreases loading on the lower extremity joints in knee osteoarthritis”. Arthritis Rheum. 54 (9): 2923–7. (found that shoes may increase stresses on the knee and ankle, and suggested that adults with osteoarthritis may benefit from walking barefoot).

2- Rao UB, Joseph B (1992). “The influence of footwear on the prevalence of flat foot. A survey of 2300 children”. The Journal of bone and joint surgery. British volume 74 (4): 525–7 (found that children who wore shoes were three times more likely to have flat feet than those who did not, and suggested that wearing shoes in early childhood can be detrimental to the longitudinal arch of the foot).

3- Staheli LT (1991). “Shoes for children: a review”. Pediatrics 88 (2): 371–5. (found that barefoot walking supported optimum foot development, and the best use of shoes are to protect the foot from injury rather than for correction of problems).

When one is barefoot it stimulates your foot’s proprioception, balance, dexterity, flexibility and strength. A shoe, especially a tight one with a big heal (this includes men as most sneakers or dress shoes have at least a one inch heel) occludes your feet from feeling the environment which effectively handicaps them. Moreover, your brain wants to feel the ground beneath you and cushioned shoes make that more difficult so that when you step down you must use more force which in turn puts increased stress on your joints. Because most babies/toddlers don’t wear shoes, they have 3 to 4 times the foot dexterity and relative strength compared with an adult. That flexibility, strength and dexterity diminish precipitously once they start wearing shoes. Due to the extreme flatness of most ground surfaces in our concrete world, our feet and gait are rarely challenged. This problem is compounded by wearing sensory-depriving, super-cushioned shoes (effectively dumbing down our sensory motor units). If you do not challenge the tissues of your lower leg (or any neuromuscular system of your body) on a regular basis it will not adapt and in fact will get weaker! That being said, if you have serious structural abnormalities such as leg length discrepancies or congenital skeletal conditions, orthopedic aids or other interventions may be necessary. I know it is not practical or advisable to walk around NYC barefoot, yuck, but there are some alternatives. As a side note, I have a non-existent congenital arch, a few hammer toes, moderate pronation and big feet to boot. You could say my feet are not perfect. But over the last few years I have not had any pain or issues with my feet. I think this is largely due to the fact I have spent more time barefoot and been wearing barefoot shoes. There are now lots of companies making minimal shoes these days; including Nike, Reebok, Merrill, New Balance and Vibram just to name a few. I have tried all of them (except the god awful looking “Vibram 5 Fingers”). Not one of them is perfect, some have too much cushioning, a tight toe box, elevated heels, a curved shape, too much support etc. However, there is a small company called VIVOBAREFOOT that I believe makes the best “barefoot” shoe on the market. They are not perfect yet but they meet all my needs and feel the best. Here is the link:

http://www.vivobarefoot.com/us/

In case you were wondering I do not get any sort of kick back for recommending these shoes.

 Also Check out my article on the pro and cons of barefoot running: BarefootOrNot?

Doug Joachim – NYC
www.JoachimsTraining.com
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