Lets talk about feet, that is the things you stand on all day.
Yes, I know some people love them, some hate them, many are ugly, but when you think about them, you realize they are one of those things you “just can’t live without.”
My cousin and I just finished a 5-mile run, with the last part right up a steady mile long hill to where our vehicles were parked. As we cooled down, he asked, “How long have you had those shoes?”
I replied the usual, “I don’t know, a little over a year.”
It really sunk in what he was telling me. I was sacrificing my feet and knees because I was being cheap!
Sneakers are expensive, so I would buy them cheap and wear them to the ground…even when they started feeling uncomfortable. Many times I would start getting shin splints with old shoes during runs, and perpetually any white part of sneakers were conveniently dark yellow.
That day my thought process changed, and I decided to get new shoes that fit well and were of quality material.
I did a little research, went to a running store, and tested out a few and the difference was astounding. I have continued to take my shoes seriously ever since, and update them whenever I have significant mileage on them or start to notice a lot of wear and tear.
But most importantly, I started pay attention to my feet.
There is a book called “Born to Run” and it speaks of how our ancestors would run everywhere. It is a great book especially if you like to run!
However, I thought about it and our ancestors didn’t only run everywhere, they did so with minimal footwear, most of the time bare feet. And tribes today still do so, and they have great feet!
Huh? But we have science and modern technology, so shouldn’t our feet be somehow improved?
My thoughts exactly, so let me explain.
Understanding Modern Shoes
The supportive shoe (a.k.a modern shoes) is a modern invention to fix common foot issues, but the industry has gotten carried away to say the least!
Orthotics to fix plantar fasciitis, arch support to support the arch, increase cushion to provide comfort, pronation, supination, and the list goes on!
And though a select few people actually need support, the vast majority of those using these shoes do not.
Originally, the shoe was to help protect the feet, as you can see in things such as sandals in Jesus’s day, or moccasins with the Native Americans in the 1800, or the boots Daniel Boone wore when he explored the frontier.
These shoes had a clear purpose and did it well.
The Issue With Modern Shoes
We as a modern society have developed shoes that don’t only protect our feet, but overly support our feet. Many shoe manufacturers and people are putting “foot-casts” on perfectly healthy feet, virtually taking away your foots ability to support itself.
We have lost our purpose of protection and have stumbled into providing our feet so much support that our feet can’t even do their job properly.
We no longer need to fully use our feet to balance and walk anymore, because the shoe does it for you. An arch support works so your arch doesn’t have to work hard to keep itself in place, and ankle support works so your ankle doesn’t have to work to stabilize itself.
This is the issue, if you are born with healthy feet, your foot is fully capable of functioning by itself.
The human foot has 29 muscles which were meant to work together and be used. Your foot was designed for natural movements, i.e. walking, running. Etc.
When a shoe starts replacing certain foot and ankle muscles, those muscles become weak and this creates imbalances and other issues. The good news though, is that just like any muscle in your body, you can weaken a muscle, but that means you also can grow and strengthen it.
We as a society have overshot the usage of shoes. Our feet have muscles and they need to be used. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Work with your feet, don’t avoid them altogether.
Simplified Benefits For Wearing A Better Style Of Shoe!
Enough about negatives, the benefits are what is important too.
Luckily, the benefits are simple, minimalist shoes create a balanced foot muscularly, and drastically improve balance. Walking on foam beds is a lot harder than walking barefoot. Try balancing on one foot on your bed vs on the floor! So you can expect your foot health, strength, and balance to improve.
Also, because your body’s contact with the earth starts with your feet, a lot of other body parts are improved, such as knee pain and back pain.
And for me the bonus is a deeper connection to the earth, I feel connected to my environment because I know what I am stepping on, which is relaxing in my opinion.
What Are Minimalist Shoes?
So now think, what protection do my feet need when choosing shoes?
And this is a question you can ask yourself as everyone is different and has different lifestyles.
For example, moccasins provide protection on rough or hot terrain and help deduce wear and tear on the skin of your feet. In today’s world for most people, including me, unlike many tribes or our ancestors we do a lot of walking and running on asphalt, which is quite hard and does not have very much give, such as the normal ground does.
For me, my feet need different protection on different surfaces. On asphalt/pavement, I usually choose shoes that will provide a little cushion for me, just satisfying what I need and not overdoing it. This allows my foot to do its job, but I also give it some help from the elements without sacrificing function.
When running on a trail, I use shoes that have traction if I need it and provide a little cushion. And when just relaxing on the lawn or going for a leisure walk I go for the thinnest sole that brings me closest to the ground comfortably.
So toes shoes?
Those are not the minimalist shoes I am talking about! I care about fashion too!
The minimalist shoes I am talking about have three properties, 0-4mm heel to toe drop, wide toe box, and flexible sole.
First, they have a 0-4mm heal to toe drop (preferably a zero heel to toe drop, but a 4mm and below is still low enough for the foot to be basically flat).
A heel to toe drop is the difference in height of the shoe as you travel from the heel to the toe, preferably this should be zero or as close to it as possible. In your average sneaker, the heel of the shoe is slightly elevated in most shoes to provide comfort, usually having around a 6-12 mm drop.
Next, the wide toe box of the shoe provides the ball of your foot and toes to fully expand and grip the ground as you walk.
And lastly, a flexible sole allows your foot to flex and conform with the terrain.
The Plan: Plant Your Feet on Solid Ground
Take switching to minimalist style footwear slowly. Remember minimalist shoes use more muscles of the foot than modern footwear. Build your foot muscles slowly and carefully by increasing the time you wear minimalist footwear. Don’t injure yourself by trying to transition too quickly (think of it as lifting weight, you don’t want to go too heavy too fast).
- Don’t wear shoes and go barefoot whenever it is appropriate. When I am in the house, I don’t wear shoes and many times when I am in the yard relaxing, I don’t wear shoes. There is just no reason to wear them…besides, your feet need a breather.
- Wear minimalist shoes when you walk, hike, trail-run, play, relax, etc. I wear minimalist shoes, when I go for walks around the neighborhood, runs, and hikes and have found it is quite a bit more enjoyable to feel the ground. In addition, my feet have a tired, but great feeling especially on long hikes.
When I trail-run I wear minimalist shoes with some cushioning and good tread, but when I run on asphalt I do go for a more cushioned sneaker. Walking I go for whatever minimalist shoe I want.
- Just because I prefer minimalist shoes, doesn’t mean I never wear traditional shoes. Because fashion is as important to me as the next guy, or gal. I realize, you gotta look good! So when I go out, or need to dress for an occasion I wear any type of shoe that fit me well and are in good shape. Remember above all you should always be wearing proper fitting shoes!
4 Tips For Picking General/Minimalist Shoes
Tip 1. For any shoe you buy, go for a good quality shoe that won’t break down and will provide you with a good fit and protection. This is most important to me, trust me it’s worth the extra few dollars. And always get a good fitting shoe, you will know a good fit when you try the shoe on. It should feel like part of the foot, not squeezing or rubbing.
Tip 2. Picking a minimalist shoe, keep your activity in mind. Do you need cushioning, more grip, or can you use a shoe that is as minimal as possible?
Tip 3. Minimalist shoes must have three properties: 0-4mm heel to toe drop, wide toe box, and a flexible sole. Sometimes a shoe might be called minimal though it may not be fully minimal and lacking in one of the three properties.
Tip 4. Minimalist shoes can be made cheaply so try to get good quality material, which means you probably won’t find them in normal stores made from the popular brands. Also, since minimalist shoes are not fully mainstream, most minimalist shoes will most likely have to be ordered online as the big box brands don’t quite carry them yet (except Merrell has a few and your local running stores should have some in stock also).
The brands to look for, are Lems, Natural Footgear, Vivobarefoot, Merrell (some styles), Xero, and Altra. These I have found are generally of good quality, good looking, and most functional. (You can check out my favorite shoes on my channel)
Wear What’s Best For Your Feet!
In summary, what you put on your feet is important. Quality, well-fitting shoes are much cheaper financially and physically than knee replacements or custom orthotics. Plus, you get to avoid all the foot pain associated with unhealthy feet!
I wear minimalist shoes (0-4mm heel to toe drop, wide toe box, and flexible sole) when I just need some protection, when I exercise, and for non-formal activities.
However, when I dress up or want to look particularly suave and stylish, I pick a traditional shoe that is clean, fits well, and completes the look. I don’t like to over complicate things, and I hope this will bring you back to basics of healthy, functioning feet and body, and make your life simpler.
When choosing footwear, just be truthful with its purpose, and remember to ask yourself “What do my feet need?” You want to protect your feet, but not restrict their natural use.
Move with a bounce in your step because you can! Be smart out there!
And of course, if you want to hear more from me and ideas that I think are worth sharing, check me out on Youtube at Reason with Leif Carson. I am always trying new things and learning new ways to live better and smarter.
Thank you for reading! Leif Carson