Why Minimal Footwear?
If you think about it, our society basically shares a belief that we need to wear supportive footwear all of the time. In other words, we believe that our feet are not good enough. Our shoes have progressively been getting more and more cushioned, with more and more arch support. Orthotics are becoming extremely common. Here at Unshoes, we have a hard time believing that we were all designed with defective feet. Our bodies are capable of functioning as they were meant to. Although people often think of feet as ugly, helpless appendages that cannot function without the aid of overly padded shoes, the human foot is an amazing piece of engineering that is perfectly capable of walking and running. Leonardo Da Vinci once wrote that, “Human subtlety…will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature, because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.” Here are just a few of the benefits of transitioning to minimal footwear:
Shoes have altered the natural gait of human movement. Rather than landing on the forefoot during running, shoes create the tendency to heel strike. When the heel takes the main force of running, the shock is absorbed by the joints rather than muscles and can cause ankle, knee and back problems. Likewise, shoes cause us to exaggerate the natural walking gait and extend our feet too far in front of us then fall on them. We should be taking smaller, smoother steps and landing gently on the heel (closer to the midfoot) as we use our legs to propel ourselves forward. Minimal footwear supports a natural gait pattern in both walking and running.
Any shoe with a raised heel will pitch the body forward. To stay in an upright position, the user must adjust their natural body alignment. This change in alignment can put extra pressure in joints and other places that are less equipped to hold the weight of the body. Improper alignment in a car will make the wheels wear out much faster. Why should the body be any different? Tires are a lot easier to replace than body parts! Wearing minimalist footwear doesn't automatically correct bad alignment but it gets out of the way so the correction process can begin. For more information on body alignment and footwear, we highly recommend the book, Whole Body Barefoot by Katy Bowman.
Although most people don't want to feel what they are walking on, there are some major benefits. Our feet are loaded with nerves that send instant feedback to our brains when our foot makes contact with the ground. This feedback alerts our brains of what we are stepping on and our bodies can alter gait, weight distribution, and balance depending on what specific terrain is underfoot. Often the body can react to terrain before you even know what is happening!
Our awareness of our feet have become numbed because they are always protected. Many people have reported that they are much more aware of their feet in space and in relation to other objects as a way of protecting them. As you become more aware of your feet and the nerves wake up and start working for you, you may find that you are more capable of avoiding things that injure your feet.
Minimal shoes are lightweight and make walking and running more efficient. Any extra weight will alter your natural gait pattern. They are easy to pack along and take up much less space. Unshoes are a fraction of the weight of most sport sandals.
Not only are your feet allowed to breath and move in a natural way but you are liberated from the need to always wear cumbersome shoes.
As your feet work and flex as they were meant to, the muscles get stronger and stronger. At first your feet may become sore just like any muscle that is being worked out. Remember that your feet have probably been protected in shoes all your life and have become weakened. We suggest starting out with small amounts of barefoot time and slowly adjusting. The key is to stay just beyond your comfort zone. If you are comfortable, it probably means that you’re not adapting, however, if there is pain, it means that you’ve done too much. Ease into it!
As your muscles become stronger your balance improves. Your feet are able to read the terrain that you are walking on and are more empowered to react to keep your center of gravity where it belongs. This doesn't happen overnight but give it time and your balance can improve.
As your feet strengthen and return to their natural shape you may notice some strange things happening. First, your toes will spread out. Some people have been surprised at how quickly this happens. Most shoes do not provide ample room for the natural anatomy of the toes. Things like bunions, corns, plantar fasciitis, and achy feet are often caused by your shoes. It makes sense to remove the cause of your pain even if it means getting out of your comfort zone a little bit.
Once you leave behind your traditional, overly protective shoes, you may find that you feel lighter and it's just more fun to move! Relax, and enjoy your newfound freedom!