Minimalism: The Shoes.

So I’m a barefooter.

Footwear doesn’t get much more minimalist than that.

However, occasionally I must or should wear shoes. I met a lot of disapproval in school when barefoot but didn’t care. I meet none at church from my peers, but my mom showed intense disapproval in that same situation. Barefoot hiking is surely awesome, but the ROCKY in “Rocky Mountains” isn’t a figure of speech. Hiking barefoot in the Salt Lake Valley is uncomfortable, to say the least.

In case you don’t know the benefits of going barefoot, read here to begin some research:

For when I cannot or should not be barefoot, there are minimalist shoes. To sum up a lot of information as to why barefootness/minimalist shoes are preferable:

– arch support = BAD.

– squished toes = BAD.

– heel drop (the shoe holding your heel higher than your toes) = BAD.

– heel padding = BAD.

Your arch is meant to support itself. Imagine if you put your arm in a sling and left it there for years. When you tried to use it again, it would be weak and possibly even painful to use it because it had atrophied. You could be more likely to injure it, and a physical therapist’s guidance in rebuilding strength safely might be recommended. The same goes for your arches. If you’ve been wearing shoes for years, especially shoes with arch support, your arch has atrophied and is weaker than it needs to be to support your weight and help you balance and walk correctly.

Toes are meant to splay, working in sync with your arch to help you balance and walk correctly. Shoes deform feet by squishing toes together, similarly to chinese foot-binding. Thankfully, the damage is nowhere near as extensive. However, it still throws off balance and proper alignment. This leads to various joint pains and injuries. Squished toes prevent the proper strengthening of the arch. Common misconceptions in favor of arch support have arisen because of cases where footwear with squished toes and no arch support led to fallen arches.

Heel drop aggravates the issues caused by both arch support and squished toes, but brings its own set of problems. Knee, hip, lower back, upper back, and neck issues are all often caused by shoes where your heel is higher than your toes. This includes but is not limited to heels. Mens’ professional shoes, tennis shoes, and really most conventional shoes all have various amounts of heel drop. For some people, less than 5 mm is little enough drop that they don’t mind. I insist on ZERO drop,  because even a few millimeters is enough to give this 18-year-old the knees of an old woman. Shoes with heel drop also encourage heel-striking when walking or running, which is a leading cause of running injuries.

Heel padding also encourages heel-striking by removing the main incentive to not do it. Have you ever tried heel-striking while walking barefoot? It HURTS! A heel strike is when your heel hits the ground first while walking or running. Heel striking injures or strains the body whether or not you have padding to protect your heel when you do it, and yet I distinctly remember my eighth grade gym teacher instructing me to heel-strike! I obeyed, and that semester of school encompasses all of the most painful running experiences I’ve ever had. Personally, I prefer no padding at all in my shoes, but my KSO Treks do have a bit and my Lems are a bit squishy. Both pairs of shoes are still zero drop, so I don’t tend to heel-strike in either, but the padding still drives me nuts and messes with my alignment because I can’t feel the ground.

If this is your first exposure to the idea of minimalist footwear, I encourage you to make it your obsession for a little while to learn more. Maybe even pick up a transition-friendly minimalist shoe. Or just go barefoot more often around the house.

I might not be a total minimalist yet, but I’ve got the footwear down pat. My feet do get sore, even swollen and tired and achy, but my knees and hips are no longer in constant pain. I’ve had significantly less back pain (and now that I think about it, fewer headaches) since I’ve made the transition to living mostly barefoot, wearing minimalist shoes when necessary.

And yes, I love feeling the (dirty, uneven, sometimes hard and sometimes luscious) ground beneath my feet.

3 thoughts on “Minimalism: The Shoes.”

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