The basics of switching to barefoot footwear
What is barefoot footwear?
You would think that all shoes are designed to be healthy for your feet, posture and movement……FALSE. Most modern shoes prevent our feet from functioning as they were designed – humans evolved to be barefoot and that’s how our feet function best. They splay nice and wide when we’re upright, the muscles of the foot should be strong and active to support a stable arch in the foot and our ankle muscles are plenty capable of absorbing the impact forces of activities like running. Barefoot footwear lets your foot act like its barefoot while providing a single important benefit: protecting the sole of your foot from damage.
Why should you care about switching to barefoot footwear?
When most people hear of someone walking around barefoot they think of little kids or hippies. Yes a lot of “hippies” are commonly barefoot and they’re onto something (no offense to hippies, they live a type of life more people need to strive towards). Going barefoot is about escaping the crappy footwear that dominates the global footwear market today and includes wearing shoes that let your feet act as they would if you were unshod (completely barefoot).
Poor footwear is a major contributor and in most cases the direct cause of problems with our feet. Most shoes are too narrow (the main cause of bunions), have a lifted heel (which shortens our calf and limits ankle mobility), have supportive arches (which weakens your natural arch forming muscles) and steal away the ability of your feet to sense the ground below you because of a thick layer of cushioning (which isn’t necessary and in fact is harmful to how we walk and especially run).
If you have foot pain (including bunions, sore feet, foot cramps, plantar fascitis or osteoarthritis to name a few) and are not currently using barefoot shoes you can guarantee its a big reason why you have the pain. Second only to hip problems caused by sitting and their effect on foot stability (will touch on this later), what you put on your feet literally determines your foot health and the quality of your movement. Modern footwear is killing our feet and the biggest part of changing that is understanding your feet and how they should function. Don’t prioritize fashion at the expense of your foot health.
What’s so bad about the shoes I’m wearing right now?
Most people think a cushioned, supportive shoe is good for their feet and its how poorly we understand foot mechanics and how much advertising power the athletic footwear industry has. Arch support (aka “motion control”) in a shoe weakens your natural arch forming muscles and is a major cause of flat feet. Cushioning in a shoe inhibits proper sensory feedback from the ground below us that guides optimal movement. In the case of running, heel cushioning is the major reason why people adopt the harmful heel strike gait pattern – a technique largely responsible for why 80% of runners today get injured once a year.
You might not have foot pain or issues with your feet right now but if you regularly wear footwear that has an elevated heel, arch support and a tapered toe box then its only a matter of time before problems develop at your foundation. High heels might look great on women but accumulate enough time in them and it changes the structure of your foot and results in major problems as you can see in the image below.
The danger is in the dose: Just like putting salt on a meal is fine (an in fact good for you) but eating a pound of salt will kill you, the danger is in the dose. Same thing applies to footwear – you can wear those cute heels or narrow dress shoes on occasions without much consequence but wear them as your primary footwear for long periods of time and major problems develop.
My feet don’t hurt so why should I switch?
Most people with dysfunctional feet have zero foot pain…….Yet. If the arch of your foot has flattened out you can guarantee that after enough time on your feet they will start to hurt. Why? Because the arch of the foot is the key to a stable foot and indicates that the intrinsic foot muscles are working to create stability and protect the fascia from being over-tensioned. The more time you spend in supportive, stiff footwear the more likely you become to start getting foot pain.
Just like it wouldn’t be very smart to wait until your car starts falling apart to fix it, waiting until your feet start being painful is a poor way of treating your body. Fix the issue before it becomes a problem by learning about your feet, working on foot strength and mobility, spending more time barefoot and making the transition to barefoot footwear.
Getting started on the journey to reclaim foot health
Spending years in traditional footwear with built up arch support, thick cushioning and a narrow toe box changes the structure of our feet and causes them to become stiff and weak. A big part of the solution to resolving foot problems and preventing them in future is switching to barefoot footwear that lets your feet become mobile and strong again.
For many, switching cold turkey can mean foot pain, knee issues and discomfort at the feet so our TFC team have put together this page to help guide you on making the change. Barefoot shoes strengthen your feet, gradually improve foot posture, and help your brain get the important sensory signals from the ground below you that are crucial for optimal movement.