Tag Archives: barefoot running

Improve Your Body by Repairing Foot Function

painful foot jokeYour feet are probably dysfunctional. A life-long addiction to shoes and chairs has trounced your tootsies and likely set off a chain of negative events on the rest of your body, from faulty movement patterns to migraines. 

In 2005, after the book “Born to Run” became a best seller, barefoot running and minimalist shoes rose in popularity. Unfortunately so did injury rates. Physical therapists and podiatrists were overjoyed with their spike in business. The main problem is most of us are clueless when it comes to regaining the foot and ankle function of our youth. Look at how a 4-year-old picks up a ball: flat back, knees bent, butt to the ground and lifting with the legs. Watch them running in the park: forefoot striking, upright posture, forward feet etc.  Most toddlers and little kids have perfect posture and fantastic biomechanics until…we strap them into sneakers and chairs. Multiply a whole bunch of years in tight fitting shoes with a sedentary lifestyle (sitting for more than 6 hours per day) and you’ve got a mess on your feet. Continue reading

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The Most Important Toe

in-home trainer nycOur big toe, sometimes referred to as the great toe, the first MTP (metatarsophalangeal joint) or simply the hallux, plays a critical role in dynamic balance and forward motion during a gait cycle (AKA running). It is arguably the most important toe for normal arch functioning, particularly when it comes to propulsion and shock absorption. Without your big toe, running would be nearly impossible. In addition to bearing the majority of contact pressure (60-65%) during movement, this tough little joint is unique in many ways: 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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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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Squatting in the Third World

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Can you do a 3rd world squat?  I’ll be the first to say this is not the most politically correct name for an exercise but so be it. As youngens, all of us once had the ability to perform this squat but lost it due to our comfy 1st world chairs, sofas, toilets and overall lazy lifestyle.  It’s a shame really because this exercise movement is one of the best functional things you can do to improve:

  • Ankle, hip, knee and back mobility
  • Firing patterns (sequence of contractions) of your legs and back musculature
  • Overall muscle activation of the lower limbs specifically your glutes
  • Walking and running gait
  • Back pain and discomfort
  • Bowel movements (more on that later!)

A 3rd world squat (sometimes called a 3rd world chair) is a deep comfortable squat, almost butt to the ground. Millions of people of all ages across the globe, sit in this position to eat, play games, talk, wait on line, or use the ‘facilities’ (of by which I mean a hole in the ground).  It is not uncommon to see a group of senior citizens shooting the breeze while sitting in this ‘invisible chair’.  When was the last time you saw a 90-year-old sit in this position, for any amount of time, and then get back up unassisted?  In America that nonagenarian is Bigfoot riding a unicorn….it just doesn’t exist. People sit like this for a variety of reasons: lack of chairs; it feels good/normal; sitting on the ground is not an option because it is dirty and filled with nasty bugs that will bite you or worse; it can be done anywhere; etc.

When it comes to joint range of motion, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.  Sitting this way on a daily basis will ensure your joints stay limber and well ‘oiled’.  Rather than going through less beneficial static stretches (activating a single joint at a time), I have my clients perform this squat as a functional flexibility pattern.  While engaging in this movement your joints will be taken through a full range of motion while naturally stretching your hips, lower back, ankles, and knees.

As we age we move less and sit more. Living this way causes a host of problems that unfortunately yet frequently culminate in early disease and death. Much of the 1st world structural bodily damage is caused by disuse, misuse, and laziness.  Medical science understands the human body needs regular movement to thrive both physically and mentally.  Humans were not built to sit in chairs for 8-10 hours per day. The average American sits for more than 12!  Chairs have ruined our posture and health.

Fitness magazines are fond of saying “don’t squat down below parallel because it is bad for your knees”.  That is just plain silly advice. The average toilet height in the U.S. is 17 inches, which for most people requires squatting below parallel.  Going deeper than this is troubling for lots of individuals due to compensations, injury, tightness and/or pain.  Typically when I ask an average chair sitting adult to do a deep squat they will lift their heels, jut their knees forward, excessively flex the spine and wobble a bit while trying to hold the position. The hips and ankles are immobilized and because most of the force is relegated to the quads, the effect of the posterior musculature is minimized with the glutes effectively shut off.  Not good.

  • Can you do a 3rd world squat and hold it for at least 1 minute?
  • Can you get up without falling over or using something to grab onto?

If not, you will need to practice this squat at least 1x per day for a minimum of 1-2 minutes.  At first, you may need to hold onto a desk or chair in front of you.  If you can’t go very low (don’t fret), go as far as you can and then bounce a little up a down (just a few inches, not like a kangaroo) to increase your depth.  Hold for up to 2 minutes and repeat at least 1x daily.  I prefer you to do this without shoes because they block your foot/ankle mobility.

Focus on dropping deeper into the squat each day.  Here are some other general rules for the squat:

  1. Position your feet forward and a little wider than shoulder width – some people may need to turn their toes out a bit.
  2. Stick your butt out (like you are working the street) as you begin the decent – some individuals may need to hold onto something to prevent falling over.
  3. Bend your knees as much as you can while you sink your butt all the way down until it rests on your calves…or close to them.
  4. Let pain be your guide.  If you are experiencing more than discomfort don’t go any deeper and check your form or discontinue.

TMI- Too Much Information Section:

A little less than half of the 7 billion people on this planet go to the bathroom without actually going to the bathroom.  According to the U.N., 1.1 billion people defecate in the open and another 2.5 billion people use a hole in the ground sans the western porcelain god (aka the toilet).  Savages you say?  Without TP, maybe so.  However, anatomically speaking the 3rd world squat position makes for much easier evacuations.  This position actually changes the spatial relationships of your intestinal organs and musculature, optimizing the forces involved in defecation.  Sitting on the ‘throne’ requires you to apply additional force (straining), which has some unwanted biological effects, including constipation, hemorrhoids incontinence etc.  The squat actually straightens out your rectum (rectal-anal angle) and makes for a quicker less strenuous time in the bathroom.

Before you go try to squat on a toilet seat and risk falling off and breaking your neck, take a look at some the consumer products that enable a safe experience.  These stools and platforms retrofit onto your throne to assist the squatting position. Below is one of the most popular brands on the market:


1. Slate: Don’t Just Sit There

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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:


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
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