Which ever you’re using I hope you’re looking after your feet!
Blog by Rich Green
Barefoot, Flat Sole and Minimalist Shoes are growing markets with more than ever available now. Bare foot running is making a come back in the USA and is growing in popularity in the UK too. People are realising that landing on the front of the foot reduces potential injury, as this is what the foot is designed to do; where as placing the heel first creates continual impact shocks in the feet and legs. At least thats my take on it. I’d love to hear from anyone with experience either way on this topical blog where I may play devils advocate.
To be honest, as a personal trainer in the gym, I’ve never liked the treadmill for the simple reason of foot placement. Becoming qualified, PT’s are taught to teach a heel to toe action. The treadmill and raised cushioned shoe soles some how demand a heel to toe action .
Placing the heel first is like putting the brakes on!
This causes impact, first in the ankles, then in the knees and hips.
This a partly the reason to have cushioned heels and soles, to cushion that impact. However, do cushions successfully achieve this? Is the design down to marketing and fashion?
The foot is like a spring that generates motion and absorbs shock. The easiest way to experience this is to run or jump barefoot aiming for placement on the ball of the foot. Human feet have the same design as animal’s feet, only scaled down. Landing on the ball of the foot allows the arch to straighten out and spring back into shape.
Flat sole v cushion sole
Ankles sustain 1.5 times the body's weight in impact with every walking step, and up to 8 times the body's weight with each step when running or jumping.
Knees experience pressure equal to approximately 3 times body weight walking and approximately 5 times body weight running.
Is the man made cushioned soul better than nature's barefoot at dealing with such impact?
Cushion soles often have raised heels and arch supports which stop the natural spring in the arch by forcing a heel first placement. Heels of any kind shorten the achilles tendon and calf muscle; which in turn inhibits your range of movement and flexibility and can cause postural problems in the knees and hips. This can also, weaken the tendons and muscles of the foot.
As well as this, cushion soles raise your ankle and sole off the ground making them less stable and prone to rolling and sprains.
A flat sole engages your muscles and tendons, which strengthens them and puts a natural spring in your step.
There are around 200,000 nerves in each foot which thin soles allow your brain to provide you the sensory feedback you need to move with skill.
Thick cushioned soles don’t allow your feet to feel the ground, reducing sensory feedback to the brain resulting in clumsy, unskillful movement.
Studies from the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation resulted in increased joint torques at the hip, knee, and ankle being observed with running shoes compared with running barefoot. This could explain why there is such a high proportion of knee osteoarthritis sufferers.
People are simply designed to walk and run; feet are designed accordingly. The body, legs and feet are designed to achieve this with no resulting injury.
Children and bare feet
Dr Mick Wilkinson, sport and exercise scientist advises parents to give their kids the best start in life with the bare feet and good old plimsole, so children learn to run naturally. Once they learn to run in fashionable cushioned heals, it’s difficult to unlearn the process. According to Dr Wilkinson, up to 20 per cent of runners using modern running shoes will develop injuries associated with the repetitive impact of striking the heel on the ground, such as stress fractures in the bones of the foot and leg.
Be conscious! Theres loads of contrary opinion on this highly debatable topic. Make informed choices about purchases, what you wear on your feet and why. Also, very importantly, be aware of how you walk and how your legs and feet actually move. Try different footwear to make comparisons and walk in bare feet whenever you can.
As a side note, make a special effort to take care of your feet. It’s obvious that certain trends in footwear can cause discomfort and cause problems and damage, so please do avoid them. Our feet are capable of carrying a heavy load yet at the same time are capable of making all types of movement possible. Spend time in bare feet, have a foot massage and even massage your feet yourself. Take care of them - they truly deserve it.
As I mentioned, Barefoot, Minimalist and Flat Sole Shoes are growing in popularity with more than ever companies producing them, so there is a healthy choice available.
Vivobarefoot is my personal recommendation if you’re interested in flat sole footwear. Their whole ethos is based on being as close to barefoot as possible. They have a complete catalogue for women, men and children, ranging from training, running, trecking to smart and casual wear.
Merrell also produce some very good flat sole shoes and know minimalist shoes. Their Bare Access is my favourite multi-sport shoe, Trail Glove caters to off-road adventure, the Road Glove is great for tarmac running, while Vapor Glove appeals to distance running.