Barefoot living, as the argument goes, is the most natural way of moving around. Before the proliferation of cushioned shoes in the 20th century, humans walked this earth either barefoot or in minimally padded shoes; from hundreds of thousands of years ago on the African savannah to just over a hundred years ago in Bromley. Instead of improving affairs, modern shoes have resulted in little but weakened and injured feet, ankles and spines – so the argument goes.
It’s fairly convincing, in this writer’s opinion at least. Sure, shoes are a huge industry and, particularly when it comes to athletic performance, are the source of huge research and development efforts – clearly, they’re not without their merits. But that doesn’t compare to the millions of years of evolution that resulted in our feet (pretty much) as they are now. Most shoes are too narrow, distorting the foot’s natural shape and atrophying its muscles and tendons, and their cushioning disrupts natural movements that lead to a heavier, clumsier gait.
Ditching your shoes seems to be the obvious solution then, right? Well, not so fast. For a start, you’d raise eyebrows strolling into work au natural and, more importantly, simply kicking off your kicks will likely result in injury. As physiotherapist and founder of Physio & Therapy UK, Paul Hobrough, observes, most people these days have been wearing cushioned, narrow shoes since before they could walk. Your foot muscles and soft tissue aren’t prepared for the rigours of barefoot living.
Full or partial barefoot living is a route worth pursuing. It’ll strengthen those weakened muscles, revitalise nerve pathways in your feet’s soles and open the door to healthier, surer movement. But before you walk that path, there’s a few things you should know.
Learning to move barefoot or in minimalist footwear, like Skinners should be a gradual process, not a spontaneous, all-in decision. Stop wearing shoes while walking around the house and the garden for a start, then try your hand at yoga or pilates to start challenging your feet’s tendons and ligaments in less stable positions. If you’re keen on running, keep the distances short to begin with – a slow 800m is the most you should attempt at the start. Trying too much too soon will more than likely result in injury, calling time on your barefoot transition before it begins in earnest.
Nor do you have to be completely barefoot. Skinners offer a shoe-sock hybrid that’s perfect for everyday life, workouts and the outdoors, and brands like Vivobarefoot produce minimalist shoes fit for formal events and casual wear in the city. Footwear like this offers all the benefits of barefoot living without the accompanied chill and stigma that shadow the latter. We still recommend losing the shoes for a while when you’re outdoors, though – it’s a refreshing experience.
Yoga will help to strengthen your ankles; ‘toega’ is the remedy that your feet need. We are not joking. These movements from Vivobarefoot will test the strength and stability of the soft tissue in your feet, building foundations that will alleviate the risk of injury. Perform these while cooking, between sets at the gym or waiting for the kettle to boil at work; regular practise will yield the biggest results.
Minimal living is, in our opinion, something to aspire to, and removing a barrier between you and the earth is a pretty good place to start. Just make sure you’re prepped to receive maximum benefits.
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