Feet are Neat: Do barefoot activities behoove you?
by: Nate Burrous
When you take time to think about it, feet are pretty neat. The feet and ankles possess more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, 33 joints and a whopping 52 bones. That is more than 25 percent of all the bones in your body and nearly 30 percent of its joints. All of these structural components, when healthy, act in concert to stabilize and propel our bodies over any terrain while signaling proper alignment against the forces of gravity. Feet are also distinct in other ways. They have more sweat glands than any other part of the body at nearly 125,000 per foot and can sweat up to a pint of fluid per day. They also have more sensory nerve endings per inch than any other place on the body.
Artists famously paint hands and scientists marvel at their complexity and abilities. Meanwhile we stuff our equally amazing feet into shoes and step on them all day. Of course we are having a little fun with that but it is definitely worth some discussion as to how our behaviors and footwear selections can affect foot health. Choosing the word ‘discussion’ was very intentional. Barefoot activities are a hotly debated topic with passionate people on both sides.
Fitness Trends: The buzz on baring your soles.
The premise that is in dispute is simple and logical. That doesn’t mean it’s correct, but it’s intriguing. This is the heart of it: Feet are designed to operate without shoes. Shoes allow our bodies to move in ways they otherwise would not. Therefore shoes are responsible for the deterioration of our movement, are evil and must be destroyed. The casting off of footwear will restore our relationship with these complex extremities and return our movements to their pure forms.
‘Born to Run,’ a bestselling novel by Christopher McDougall, brought the barefoot running trend to the forefront of American running culture. Barefoot running has grown in popularity to the point that all major shoe manufacturers have responded to the theme of less is more when it comes to active footwear. An ultra-marathon (or simply ultra) is a footrace most often covering a distance of 60-100 miles, usually over rough and mountainous terrain. Some competitors actually race barefoot, but what is most common is to race in shoes that resemble techy slippers more than a traditional running shoe. They have little to no padding under the heel. This shoe style allows the runner freedom and mobility in the foot and ankle but does not support a heel strike. The front or mid foot makes first contact, allowing the complex structure of the foot, in cooperation with the Achilles tendon, calf and leg muscles to act as shock absorbers. This spares the knees and hips from punishment, allowing the runners to cover great distances.
This isn’t to say you should shed your shoes and take off running. Most of these Ultra runners are incredibly fit people who have been running most their lives, train often and most likely have a favorable genetic inheritance. The American Podiatric Medical Association’s (APMA) position statement on barefoot running is simple. There is a lack of science based evidence to draw a conclusion on whether it’s hurtful or harmful. There is a plethora of anecdotal evidence of people inspired by these feats who embark on a liberating shoeless journey only to return with a broken metatarsal or torn Achilles tendon. Others train successfully for months before developing plantar fasciitis. There are also many athletes and a growing number of programs (Including Stanford track and field) that have achieved sparkling results and reduced injuries. The Ultra runners are a part of this discussion because they are an example of what is possible.
Another trend gaining momentum is the strange sounding ‘Earthing.’ Earthing, or grounding, simply involves spending time, every day, walking or standing barefoot on the ground. The theory behind this activity is that our feet receive electromagnetic, or vibrational, energy from the earth which ‘tunes’ or upholds our bodies own bioelectricity. Does this sound bizarre? It could be some hazy, new age, cosmic woo-woo dogma. It could also end up being supported by physicists and doctors alike. Whatever comes of it, the practice is certainly benign provided you aren’t earthing with your eyes closed through a field of Cholla cacti.
The last trend we will touch on (sorry fire walkers) is barefoot training. This simply involves taking your shoes off for whatever your current training or exercise regimen involves. You’ve probably noticed several of the trainers at BodyBasics strolling around barefoot or in those funky toe shoes. The level of stress your feet endure will obviously fluctuate with your activities. Jumping and quick lateral moves (think agility ladder) pose a high level of risk while activities like body-weight squatting are safe for most.
This is the sticky part. The topic is thought provoking. Some podiatrists claim too much time spent barefoot can cause fallen arches. It’s interesting to look at early childhood development and what it has to say about this. A baby has fully formed feet after about 8 weeks in the womb (although the toes are often still webbed). They don’t develop arches until age 2-3. So we actually develop our arches (the most stable, strongest form in nature) through early attempts at walking. If you’ve watched a baby around the house it involves a lot of tip-toe maneuvering. Standing and walking high up on the forefoot.
When it comes time to actually decide what barefoot activities may be appropriate for you, there are many things to consider. First and foremost is your current level of foot health. Do you wear orthotics? Do you have club toes, fallen arches, extra bones or any other number of issues that commonly develop in the feet? If you are currently or ever have been under care of a professional for any foot or ankle problems you should clear any barefoot activities you may be scheming prior to beginning.
It’s also important to consider your age and history with footwear. If you have been wearing bulky shoes with the most support possible for 50+ years, switching to toe shoes or nothing at all could cause injury. Switching to a lighter shoe first could be a good step. Flexing and extending your arches and toes and rolling your ankles while sitting is a great way to get started. Sitting with cotton balls between your toes or rolling your arches over a tennis ball are also helpful. The goal is to get your feet moving. Movement is vital to health without exception. Look at your toes. If they don’t have hair this could be a sign that they lack circulation. Regular movement can help that.
Pain is like a good friend that will always tell you the truth. “Yes, that dress does make you look fat.” “No, the waiter is right, you did order that dish.” If pain is telling you that your barefoot activities aren’t good for you guess what… it’s telling the truth. So don’t be a hero. Pay attention to your toes, arches, heels and ankles. Artificially supporting your feet until they operate like blocks of wood is not healthy. Neither is barefoot soccer. Make sure you scale your activities. The goal is to get more circulation, range of motion and strength. If you want some ideas, ask a trainer next time you are at BodyBasics.
Video: Squat Progressions
by: Amber Stazenski
Recipe:Sweet Potato, Quinoa, & Kale Casserole
By: Nate Burrous
- 2 dry cups of Quinoa
- 4-6 medium sweet potatoes
- 1 large bunch of Lacinato Kale
- Juice of ½ a lemon
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 3 cloves of garlic
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 cups of chopped raw walnuts
Rinse Quinoa and add to 3 cups of boiling water. Cover with a tight fitting lid and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove lid and fluff with a fork.
While Quinoa is simmering… chop and boil potatoes, rinse and chop kale leaves.
When potatoes are soft, add to a large bowl with the quinoa, lemon juice, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, garlic (minced or pressed) and chopped Kale.
Mash with a potato masher and scoop into a baking dish lined with a thin coating of coconut (or whichever…) oil.
Pour the chopped walnuts on top of the potato mix. Bake on 350 for 15-20 minutes. Enjoy!
Aline Goodman is an incredibly hard worker. She came to BodyBasics to improve her balance and get stronger. She has done both through diligence and perseverance. She works with her trainer, Maureen, twice a week at the studio and faithfully does her at home exercise plan during the rest of the week. Aline brings her sense of fun and adventure to every workout. She’ll try any exercise once and again and again until she masters it. Aline is now dead lifting over 80 pounds easily and is the enviable role model to all who see her workout. Aline, you are such a pleasure to work with and we’re so thrilled by your progress.
Chris, Kris, Mike, Maureen, Nick, Amelia, Amber, & Nate