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Sole Searching

By Ninja Master, Mark Fisher

SHOES!  Shoes.

Shoe wear is something fitness folks have spent a lot of time considering in the past few years, and with good reason. Your feet are kind of a big deal. 

Your feet provide your body with crucial information as to where your body is in space. When we spend most of our time in shoes, the body doesn’t get nearly as much feedback. To further exacerbate the issue, most of us wear shoes that are either chock full of “support” and/ or massively elevated heels.

In the case of shoes with support, shoes are making up for less than ideal functioning of the foot musculature. By allowing the foot to rely on shoes for artificial stability, the feet never learn how to stabilize on their own, and then we say our feet our “flat.”

While flat feet do exist, the majority of people we’ve worked with who have “flat feet” in fact have weak feet. We continue to bail our “lazy” feet out not only with supportive shoes, but eventually orthotic inserts.  Much like an underachieving child, we continue to up little Billy’s allowance and he continues to play MarioKart and enjoy unemployment. After all, the why the hell should he work when he’s getting so much “support”?

As for elevated heels, this presents another challenge for good movement.  Since most shoes have anywhere from a little to a fuck ton of heel lift, most of us spend our lives with our calves in a shortened position.  Additionally, as our weight shifts forward, our body makes a number of postural adjustments to not fall forward.  And as you can imagine this doesn’t always bode well for our posture or movement quality.

When you don’t grow up wearing shoes, your toes naturally splay out, providing a better base of support.  Even in your feet… JAZZ HANDS MATTER!!! (TWEET THAT SHIT!)

Should We Just Take Shrooms, Commune With The Earth, And Always Be Barefoot?

Although I may have scared you straight, please don’t throw your Nike Shox in the garbage and go barefoot running on cement.  Although Chris McDougall’s bestselling book Born To Run a lot to raise awareness about our reliance on shoes, as usual it’s possible to get carried away.  In the book, McDougall introduces the reader to the Tarahumara Indians, a Mexican tribe that runs hundreds of miles at a time without getting hurt.  That said, this tribe grew up without shoe wear and run on natural (i.e. not concrete) surfaces.

Like all things in fitness, we want to work incrementally.  While your flat feet may in fact just need to get stronger, if they’re SUPER weak and you decide to live a shoeless life, you may not get the best results by going super minimal right out the gate.  Remember, we’re looking for the correct amount of stimulus to make sure your feet get stronger.  We’re not looking to grind them into the ground and punish them for their insolence and laziness!

Towards Shoe Wear Minimalism

Now that you know the above, we can get into the practical applications for choosing shoe wear for the gym.  As you look to help your feet function better, here are some recommendations!

Spend Some Time Barefoot – If you’re ALWAYS wearing shoes, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start spending at least some time barefoot.  If nothing else, you can spend some time in your apartment rocking bare feet.

Warm-up Without Shoes – This can be a great way to ease into more minimalist foot support.  By only doing the warm-up, you’re not spending so much time in your bare feet that you’ll exhaust your foot muscles.  Plus you it can be a great way to help bring a bit more awareness to your posture as you prepare to enjoy your fitness fun time.

Get Shoes With Less Support Than You Currently Have – Once again, we want to move towards more minimalist shoe wear in an incremental fashion.  If you’re currently wearing Nike Shox with orthotics, we may not want to go right to Vibrams.  I think Nike Frees with a smaller heel lift are a great transition shoe.

If you’re already wearing medium support shoes, we can move on to stronger stuff.  If you want to go more high-end, the New Balance Minimus, Inov-8, and Merrell’s minimalist sneakers are all great.  If you want a budget friendly low tech option, Chuck Taylors are actually a great way to go. And of course the now ubiquitous Vibram 5 fingers are definitely an option for those willing to make that fashion statement. 

Avoid Wearing Running Sneakers For Weight-Lifting – While running sneakers probably still have their place for running (particularly for city dwellers), you definitely want to transition away from them for weight lifting.  Again, the body can’t stabilize in an ideal fashion when you’re standing on marshmallows.

Power lifters often say “you can’t shoot a cannon out of a canoe.”  1) That image is fucking HILARIOUS and 2) this is wise to keep in mind when thinking about shoe wear for weightlifting. 

Let’s Not Hate On Modernity Y’all

As a final thought, I personally am a fan of modern times.  Although it’s true much of our shoe wear presents an issue, and it’s also true technology has sometimes hurt when it’s tried to help us, I still like the Internet.  I like cars and I like mass transportation.  I like iPods and I like house music.

As an eternal optimist, I’m happy to work to address the “dangers” of modern shoe wear because there’s a lot of other awesome shit that goes along with modern times.  So by all means, I encourage you to follow the above advice when it comes to choosing shoe wear. 

But I want to be clear, I’m very very happy heels exist and that ladies wear them.  Let us have our Manolo Blahniks and eat them too!

Drop a comment and lemme know what you’re wearing for training these days!  Are there any brands or styles of shoes I missed that you’ve found helpful for training?

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