In general, health starts with your feet. This is the only part of your body what is in constant contact with the ground, with the Earth. First of all, there is an energy exchange between the human body and the ground. This is how an electric current can pass through you, when you get shocked by the 220V outlet.
When you are walking barefoot, there is a positive and negative ion exchange going on. Well, this actually why outdoor rock-climbers are most often very healthy. Outside of the constant exposure to natural elements like fresh air, sun, dirt, wind, rain, altitude, they are in contact with the rock all the time !
If you missed out on this your whole life, yes you would be compromising your health ! Unfortunately there are many people on this planet, who never ever spent one single minute of their life, standing barefoot on real ground. Not pavement, not concrete or basketball court, but real dirt. Desert, mountain, beach but even snowy and icy plains.
There are now actually businesses, to enhance this contact by using conductive materials. Sandals what protect your feet from sharp elements, but keep you in connection with the ground using special copper wiring in the laces connected constantly to the Earth. They are called Earthrunners. Earthing or grounding mats, what also act like you were sleeping on the bare earth and blocking out non-essential and disturbing resonances and electric pollution in the meantime.
So yes, your feet and your entire body’s health start with your feet ! Get connected time to time. A 20 minute barefoot walk on dirt every day will enhance your life as a human ! No woowoo here, these are facts ! Guess what, it is even great against jet-leg. To really step on the ground of your new current location.
If your feet are screwed, your body is screwed ! Fact ! Good news though, you can change this. Bad news, it takes time. Depending on how you messed up, it can take from 1year to 10 years. Yes, some of you might have 40 to 60years of feet abuse behind you. It can take very very long to reshape your feet to a functional level. You might not have a nice feet ever again, but still could obtain a functional one, what will support the weight of your body and causing you no pain !
Wearing pointy shoes can totally distort the form, size and position of your toes. These are bony, ligamental and brutally unhealthy near-permanent physiological changes. The thing is, that I see very often young 18-20 years old athletes with completely messed up feet, but as young as 10 years old patients crossed my eyes too. Like obesity in children, damaged feet at that young age is child-abuse. The law always says, that not knowing the law itself, doesn’t free you up from it’s obligations and consequences. Just because you didn’t know that giving those brand new Run DMC edition ‘didas shoes to your “baby”, will make their feet, knees and back hurts later on in life, it is still your fault, parents ! There is a big chance that you, mother and father, are who set up your child to a lifetime of misery ! Harsh ? Yes it is ! 18 years of child abuse, what can have a life long effect if the grown up adult doesn’t get on with the education on posture and feet !
Personally I was lucky. I am 6’6″ and have a size 13US. When you buy any pair of shoes at that size, generally they are quiet wide and roomy. In addition to that, more than 10 years ago, I changed to zero drop round shaped toebox shoes.
In the early age as a teenager, we have less calcification, more flexibility, so actually the feet grow into the shoes. Our body and our body-parts are like a cockroaches. They adapt to whatever you throw at them. They try to survive however they can.
So yes a round shape toe box, what completely accommodates your toes is the first and most important factor. The big toe should follow the foot-line, giving you stability. Yes, you. Not only your feet, but it protects your whole body ! The body has it’s constant torque going on, to create you, your stand-up posture. Your big toe is the first of your toes what grabs the ground, to help create and resist against this torque. If it was in a valgus position, pointing externally, this constant tension is non existent. We can see collapsed arches, knees caving in, hip and back misalignments. Have you ever seen those chubby kids, with the short slipping up between their quads ? Yes, their x-legs make their quadri’ squeezed together and that chaffing makes the short slip up. It is because they have collapsed arches and their knees are forced on the inside. Obesity and damaged feet already at the age of 5 ? Who’s responsibility is ? The educational system ? The parents ? The teachers ? The shoe companies ?
Round shape toe box, what can accommodate all of your toes, without touching them !
The shortened posterior chain
The thickness of a shoe counts. The difference between the height of the forefoot and the height of the heel counts even more importantly. This is why Hoka shoes can be an intermediate cure for many. Not a long term solution though ! While they are way too thick for proper foot and ankle function, they are “flat”. They provide a person with as little drop as 2 to 4mm. They reduce impact and because of the rocking profile, they provide the body, knee and above, with a sensation of a “kind of correct” running/walking form. They reduce impact over a traditional shoe, while keeping a heel strike, I have to state ! Having a nice forefoot form, with correct posture and breathing pattern, will be way less impactful, but that takes time and a lot of invested thoughts to it !
Personally, Hoka shoes make my back, knees and ankles hurt ! I don’t use them anymore. I have been over the transitional phase for 10years now. To start though, they might be a good idea !
While, I do not necessarily recommend them, there can be models with a wider toe box, or if you had a very thin feet, they can be a great short term transitioning solution. Why ? Because some of you might have perfectly aligned toes, but a brutally over-calcified achilles tendon and a very much shortened posterior chain.
Having a raised heel, shortens and diminishes the elasticity, therefor decreases the complete function of the achilles tendon. When somebody says, that “my achilles tendon is week, I cannot run forefoot”, I have to laugh. Would you please type in to google “The strongest tendon in the body ” ! Yes on the top of the podium in case of strength, but probably elasticity as well, is a healthy achilles tendon. It has it’s natural length while standing flat on the ground. When standing and living in standard shoes, having 12 to16 mm of height difference between our fore-foot and heel height, this elevated platform shortens the achilles tendon. Did I say the human body is a cockroach ? It adapts ! Yes it becomes a very much near-permanent shortening. It becomes even more brutal, when staying seated as even the whole calf and hamstring region shortens, while pressing on the gluts and putting your spine into an unsupported position. When somebody gets fat around a certain region of his or her body 99% of the time has nothing to do with genetics. Thin legs and spider belly ? Moving a lot but eating crap ! Giant ars, but thin legs ? Lot of constant seated time, but lot of walking too ! Big bum, big quads and big calves ? Loads of sitting and no moving. Yes, lack of circulation, blood, limph and water pooling and abuse of body parts will determine how your body deposits it’s fat. Fat is not only fat, but it stores toxins, what cannot be excreted. This is why, new detox and health experts often adjoin a detoxification regime to a weight loss program to avoid liberating too high quantity of toxic byproducts into the body in the meantime ! Even this can be partially depending on your feet !
Back to our subject, a raised heel. In addition to all the above, when your heel is elevated, it shifts your body forward. Did you ever try standing on a slippery angled surface ? Yes, you’ll slide forward and downward. This is what happens in shoes. What blocks you from that slippage ? The front of the shoe ! What happens when you slide down on the ramp and there is a wall ahead of you ? You bang your head in it ! Same in the shoes, the more pointy your toe-box is and the more your heel is raised, the more you jam your toes into it. Do it long enough, and see what happens ! Have a look at your grandmas / grandpas feet !
To continue with this analogy. When you lift the heel up, your body wants to fall forward as a normal reaction. Magic happens, it does not ! Because you adapt. A microscopical bend in the knee and a hip tilt appears. Bang, your spine is straight again ! Not neutral though ! Straight ! Being in this position, pulls your gluteus muscles under you and flattens your lower back. If it doesn’t and you still stick your butt out, cause your abs and core are weak, or on the contrary, strong (it depends), you put an enormous pressure on the lower back ! Either ways it is damaging ! This is why lazy women wear high heals, instead of doing front squats, deadlifts and sprinting. They have a flat bum ! Actually, long term, wearing high heels makes their bum looking even flatter, while standing feet flat on the ground!
The human body is tall and standing upright. This is because of torque ! How, what, why ? First of all, lay down on your back on the ground and totally relax. Did you realise that your feet opened up sideways ? Yes, you released tension. Even if you did not realise, you were under tension !
The human muscles contract spirally. They do not just elongate, but twist too. To create this torque, this tension, you need a platform to work against ! Did you ever try standing on a skate board and pushing agains an object ? Instead of moving the object, you push your self backward ! Another example closer to our subject, is open chain exercises. Kneeling on a stability ball and doing barbell curls. Bench press with knees up. Hamstring curl machine or the leg-extension machine.
If it was impossible to create that torque on the body part you want to train, it becomes an open chain exercise. To understand this, you must believe a little bit in the human fascia theory. However if you do some light demonstrations to it, instead of believing in something invisible, you will understand it !
Did you ever do the twist, the rock and roll dance ? Well, you place your feet flat on the ground, parallel with each other, shoulder width apart. Stand tall, upright and normal. So now slowly but forcefully turn your feet outwards, like you do the twist. If you wore socks and you were on a slippery surface, your ankles would turn out to a duck-like posture! Step 2. Try doing this in-between two walls in the hallway, to block your feet, to stop them from turning out. Just twist them outwards. You cannot move, but you still isometrically contracting. Do you feel this tension in knees and hips ? Yes, this is the screwing motion and inner torque I am talking about. When blocked from both left and right side, instead of turning your feet outwards, it torques your muscles inwards, pulling back the bone-ends to it’s joint-capsules and creating intra-articular pressure to protect the joints. In the meantime, this inner torque prepares the muscles for movement. This should be second nature for each human in harmony with breathing. We should be able to screw our feet into the ground, without the two walls on the side. Yes, screwing your feet into the ground ! To align knees and hips, therefor diaphragme, therefor creating intra articular and intra abdominal pressure and consequently aligning lower and upper spine, neck and shoulders too !
What is the very first element in this torquing motion ? What blocks our feet to be turning out and grasping the ground for the sake of that torque ? Yes, the big toe ! BIG TOE ! This is why I absolutely do not understand any doctor checking a postural / pathological issue from knee up, who does not start with the feet and the big toe !
We can say, that the patient is not breathing well, so anytime he lifts something, his timing is incorrect and he often hurts his back. Possibly he cannot even create that proper inner pressure and muscular tension, because his thoracic cage is misaligned making his diaphragm totally useless ! Yes he has valgus big toe and knee !
Maybe there is 150cm distance between your big toe and L6 vertebrae, but don’t think that there is no correlation !
We don’t here about a lot, but actually a many endurance and outdoor athletes and coaches focus on performance breathing. Brian McKenzie and Wim Hof work with all type of athletes, including the sport of triathlon, mma and running. Liard Hamilton does his underwater workouts, the yogis deep belly breathe all the time and now psychologists use it too to treat stress situations, insomnia, emotional cramps, depression and so. Caroline Kramer came out with the PowerBreathe long time ago and there is well over 10years of research behind it.
When your body is out of alignment, proper diaphragmatic function is altered, therefor not optimal. This is your major breathing muscle ! When your posture is compromised and heel strike in the meantime, your diaphragm has to have a lot of additional work to stabilise your trunk to protect your spine, by providing extra intra-abdominal pressure. You overwork this crucial muscle, you get short of breath or side stitches. In addition you imprint bad breathing patterns and it can cause later on anxiety and all type of diseases (Most Probably !). There is no research on this, but if the human’s main breathing organs are the nose, diaphragm and the “stomach area”, what happens if we breathe through our mouth and only by using the upper-chest and the thoracic cage for a lifetime ? No-one makes the connection between this phenomena and diseases yet, but it surely causes some abnormal states in the body ! We know that nasal deep belly breathing stimulates the vagal nerve and can calm the human body, for instance. There are so many other benefits to certain breathing and breath-hold techniques to achieve different bodily states. Excitement, preparedness, mindfulness, calming and more.
Keeping the body aligned, connected to the ground and flat on the feet in a correct alexander position, will keep your diaphragm in check and in an optimal and functional position.
Recommandations and shoes
I am not endorsing here brands, nor am I a barefoot running bum. However I can recommend some with training advices.
For me the most important is living barefoot. If you ran with traditional shoes 6 or even 16hours a week, despite that it might be not optimal at all, you could still totally counterbalance it with the 152hours what rest in a week. So living barefoot and in flat shoes with the least cushioning possible is crucial for me. I love Vivo-barefoot, but there are many out there like the VFFS, Xero shoes, Lem Shoes, OTZ boots, FeelMax, Freet and so.
Secondly, training and running performance has nothing to do with health ! Running naturally on an unnatural surface makes no sense. Therefor, if I wanted to run fast and long, 10 to 100km on the roads, I would recommend a cushioned shoe, like Altra ONE, Merrell Road Glove, Topo footwear, or some of the Brooks Pure shoes, if they still go as natural as at the beginning.
The same goes for trail running. It is not natural to run all out for 3hours on a brutal rocky terrain. I like the Superiors from Altra, but the Merrell Trail Gloves are great too. This means that some cushioning and some protection is necessary in non-ideal circumstances !
For both situations of road and trail running, in case of a reduced pace, Vivos, trail gloves and VFFs are great as general training shoes, but be careful with those sharp rocks. Your eyes must be open and you should be sensing everything. No walkmans for barefoot trail runners !
We will not see anybody winning technical mountain races in deep fields using these shoes. Why ? First of all it is too cold up there and temperatures can change from +20 to -10° in 24h. We might go through snow and wet patches. Secondly, after 15hours of running and free-scrambling, descending on chains and ropes, the last thing you want is a rose-bush-thorn under your nail or a broken meta-tarsal.
This is not the point of barefoot lifestyle and barefoot style running either though ! It is a tool for health and a tool to become a better athlete !
However, I have to state that, zero drop, super thin barefoot style shoes or sandals can be worn to win races. You just have to choose the correct competitions in perfect conditions !
Options to heal
Well, I am not a doctor but I can definitely point out some techniques used by doctors and self healers. You have to know, that isolating your feet and trying to align only your toes, will not work ! You must work on proper total body function, while still focusing on your running, feet and toes.
What I mean to say, that doing 5 minutes of toe exercises 4 times a week and applying shock-wave therapy to your bunion to break down calcification will not work all alone. Making your big to function by doing some deadlifts, squats and later on skipping roping and long distance barefoot walking, will do ! (bit more complex than that, but you grasped it !)
When feel tension, contrast showers, ice-baths, sauna, direct infrared therapy, poultice (cataplasm) , EMS therapy, massage with special oils. Comfrey root and arnica ointments, nettle tea. Joint supplements and so.
Transitioning takes time. If it’s done smartly, it might still cause some muscular stiffness and achilles tightness, but no injury ! It can easily start with 5minutes of barefoot walking 3 times a week and by slowly adding in multiple 5minutes through out the year. This will totally work and by the time you reach December, these adjoint 5minutes will accumulate to a whole day. It might not be as sexy as high heels, but only for the blind eyes. On the beach, everything is revealed ! How calves, quads and gluts shaped, how that flat stomach is formed by correct breathing and how shoulders are aligned to arrive to a confident alexander position !
Did I say anything new outside of the same old notion, I have been preaching for more than a decade now ? Live naturally ! Look for natural in everything. No immediate solutions, but life long choices ! The human body is a cockroach, it can adapt to good as well as to bad !