Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Let's talk about feet

Which kind of shoe is the best choice?
Today is the first of my rants on being weird (okay, nonconformist), and it starts right at the ground. Your feet. It's time to kick conventional wisdom to the curb and start taking care of your feet.

Your feet are not just blocks at the end of your legs. They are complicated structures with many interacting muscles, bones, nerves, and tendons. They anchor you to the ground when you're walking, running, jumping, lifting, carrying, balancing, bending, and reaching. The worst thing we can do is to encase them in cushioning and thick soles and block their ability to move flexibly and receive feedback. The fancy running shoes that absorb shock at your feet don't eliminate that shock; they pass it on to your knees and your hips. Do you find that you often trip or lose your balance? It is likely happening because you are not feeling the ground and getting feedback for your whole-body balance. You need your feet to tell you what the terrain is like so that you can move appropriately.

Cushioning is not the only problem with shoes. Heels. Small heels, kitten heels, stiletto heels, platform heels, wedge heels: they're all bad. Even most men's shoes have some kind of heel lift. The problem with a raised heel is that it places your ankle in an unnaturally extended position, which, over time, reduces ankle flexion. Ankle flexion is key for proper squatting form, but beyond that, limited ankle flexibility affects your whole posture, leaning you forward and putting you out of alignment. That can have all kinds of downstream effects, including chronic pain, injuries, and even pressures on your connective tissue and internal organs.

I want to encourage you to take a good hard look at the shoes in your closet. How many of them have heels? How cushioned are they? Do you have a pair of flat, minimalist shoes to work out in? How about the ones you wear to work? For a day of walking around? The best choice is really to be barefoot as much as possible. I'm barefoot whenever I'm in my house, and I'm lucky I get to be home a lot. But since the ground is gross and there are sharp tetanus risks, the next best thing to barefoot is minimal, flat shoes.

When you take the plunge and switch to flat shoes, your feet will hurt at the end of the day. This is good! The soreness is the muscles in your feet finally loosening up, the connective tissues moving, the nerves getting feedback from the ground and waking up. Think of it like the soreness from a workout - an indicator that you did some good work to get stronger. Over time, your feet will get stronger, and they will spread out. They will learn to grip the ground, sense changes in terrain and shifts in balance. You will stop tripping and falling.

I switched to flat shoes a few years ago, and my feet have actually changed. They used to be quite narrow and stiff, and now they are flatter, wider, more box-shaped. They grip the ground when I walk and I feel stable and responsive. Here is a pic of my feet and Mike's feet. (I don't have a before photo.)

Mike's feet are not that small - he has on giant pants.
I encourage you to reconsider the way you treat your feet. Conventional wisdom says to cushion your feet, but this is not the way we're meant to move. You may be the only one at work not in Danskos or New Balance, but remember, it's okay to be weird.
Workout
strength - add weight from last time (more info) 

Squat 3x5 

then

Press 5-5-5-5

Push press 3-3-3-3
Jerk 1-1-1-1

Start light and add weight each set.