Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Build your posture on a strong base

I think I need to start a series about how wearing a barefoot shoe fixes everything.

Disclaimer: We're an affiliate of Xero Shoes, so we get a (very small) cut from purchases that originate from our website, and I love the company so much I invested in them. But, I really do believe in the product, that's why I write about them so much!

When talking about feet, it's probably best to start at the bottom - your arches are the support for the rest of your body. In a properly built masonry arch, the more weight above the arch, the stronger it becomes. The load actually locks the arch in place, and a precision cut arch can actually be built with no mortar.

When you wear supportive shoes, particularly ones with "arch support" you are effectively lifting up the middle of the arch. In the bridge above, if you lifted up the stones in the middle, the whole thing would collapse.

The weight of your body pushing down on your foot is supposed to strengthen your arch muscles through repeated use. There is no set of bones called "the arch", it's just the muscles down there hold your foot in an arch shape. When you spend years in a supportive shoe those muscles turn off and you no longer have a natural arch.

The arch of your foot is there to be the structural base that supports the rest of your body. If you no longer have that stable base, you force your other joints to take up the slack - your knees will collapse in, your hips will become misaligned, and so on.

Look around next time your out and see how many people walk with their knees collapsing in (valgus knee).

Normally, as a strength coach, I should only run into things like this when teaching folks to squat, but it's so prevalent now that regular people have misaligned knees just walking around. I attribute that to weak/non-existent arches.

Why do I blame the arch for the valgus epidemic? Because when I get people to think about their arch the problem goes away. I read a lot about how to coach different movements, and the squat is one of the most written about exercises. There are a million different cues out there to get people squat without collapsed knees, and there are another million different excuses given why people's knees collapse. But I'm not sure I believe most of it. I've tried all the cues: "push your knees out", "screw your feet into the ground", "push your heels into the ground".  And I've seen all the silly corrective work with bands and such prescribed. All of it has some effect, but it doesn't cure the problem like when I tell people to "make fists with their toes".

When you think about making a fist with your toes you are learning how to active those long-turned-off "arch muscles". As soon as you have a solid base, you can now squat with perfect posture. I can cure valgus knee in just about everyone with that cue. Making a strong base sets you up for success on everything else.

By switching to a barefoot shoe, you are telling your foot muscles that they can't just be lazy and sit there all day in a supportive shoe - they need to start getting strong and providing a solid base for you. And a solid base will fix just about anything that ails you. All your strong base belong to us.

Just being in a barefoot shoe all the time, I walk better now. My knees track straight, and my feet are strong enough for me to have absolutely no collapsed knee, even with 360lbs on my back. If your arm was in a cast all day long, how strong would it be - think of your supportive shoes just like a cast for your feet.

The shoes at the top of this post are the ones I wear to work. Working as an engineer in Boulder, these are sufficiently dressy.


row 500 / run 400
crawling lunge
10 KB swings or snatches
double KB overhead lunge
10 TGUs or windmills
10 goblet squats
5 pull-ups or push-ups or dips


front squat 5-3-2-3x2


2 TGUs between strength sets

Group Workout

8 rounds
3 heavy deadlifts
20 swings
rest 2:00
(this is a long workout, get started early!)

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