Sep 26, 2013

“Concavity” is basically the “curve” on the bottom of the shoe along the balls of feet section as pictured in the feature photo above.  Pick up a traditional shoe.  Hold it right in front of your eyes looking down the length of the shoe from toes to heel.  On many shoes, you will likely see the bottom is concaved or “curved” with the lower portion being right in the center.  Now look at the bottom of your own foot.  You will see the natural foot is NOT concaved with a projected or pointed center, but rather, the foot is basically flat along the balls (metatarsals joints) so it can fully contact the ground and stabilize the upper body then propel the body forward in gait.  Since the balls of our feet are designed to be FLAT on the ground for stability, a concaved shoe bottom completely alters position and function of the ball of foot joints as the concavity drops the middle joints down into a hole and out of optimal position.

Behold! The Transverse Arch of forefoot which is curved in the opposite direction of concave shoes!

Behold! The Metatarsal Arch of forefoot which is curved in the opposite direction of concave shoes!

Even more interesting is what is under our forefoot skin at the skeletal level of the foot. We actually have a curve going in the OPPOSITE direction of how most shoes are designed–our upward curve is called the “Metatarsal Arch.”  This arch goes across our foot not lengthwise as with the more obvious arch on the inside or medial part of our feet. While you don’t see this Metatarsal Arch, you can feel it and see it working if you softly place your naked foot on the ground then firmly press down–as the balls of your feet compress into the ground, you will witness your foot “flattening” across the forefoot section as it widens. This part of the foot is critically important for shock absorption yet tradition shoes ruin this part of the foot’s ability to absorb and disperse ground forces! The end result is more force coming up into our knees, hips, back, etc. OUCH! This is NOT good.

Why are shoes designed with concavity?  Tradition and fashion.  Western culture places higher attraction on smaller feet–shorter and more narrow. A concave sole makes the foot appear narrower due to a “winged” effect as the edges are curled and lifted upwards while pulling outer joints away from ground.  In opposition, this “narrowed foot” is not widened like “working class” barefoot peasants.  Sex and attraction win again while feet lose.  Also note the possibility of “inside” concavity as the bottom sole surface of the shoe might be flat while the “inside” of the shoe liner can be concaved from design or from heat and pressure–this is called “creep” and will be addressed in a future post. For more information, visit my “Products Section.”

Sketcher casual shoe with a flat bottom instead of concaved or working against the transverse arch of forefoot

Sketcher casual shoe with a flat bottom instead of concaved or working against the Metatarsal Arch of forefoot

Puma sport casual shoe showing concavity

Puma sport casual shoe showing concavity

Sep 22, 2013

The topic of tread design on the sole of a shoe is yet another fascinating foot fact I learned from Michael Sandler, author of Barefoot Running.   You’d really have to read Michael’s book for the whole story, but basically many tread designs are for motion control purposes.  I did not realize how much motion control was built into tread design until hearing Michael’s explanation.  I thought the tread lines were just for “traction only,” but that is not the case.  Flip your standard running shoes over.  You’ll see “asymmetrical lines” on the bottoms meaning that the lines are not evenly spaced throughout the whole shoe.  The lines are likely curving to track your foot into a certain position—welcome to motion control.  After learning this, I discovered my old trail running shoes had “pivot points” built into the outer edges.  The pivot points are higher allowing the shoe to rotate easier.  While this might sound smarter than a foot—it is NOT!  Feet don’t always belong in neutral or perfectly aligned.  Depending upon terrain and condition, sometimes feet need to pronate, internally rotate, externally rotate, flex, extend, or combinations of the above.  To assume that the shoe should force the foot into a certain “optimal” position is flawed.  The motion control is in your feet—not your shoes!  It’s simple—we need to trust our feet.

Foot-Reece-1

In my featured photo above, both of these shoes are commonly referred to as “minimal” shoes; however, the top shoe (New Balance Trail Minimus) has a very different tread design than the shoe below (Merrell Trail Glove). What is the difference structurally? The New Balance tread is designed for traction control but not much “motion” control while the Merrell has significant motion control lines built into the tread design to “channel” feet into certain positions. The last time I looked at the bottoms of my feet, no deep motion controls lines were etched into them. If you think my older feet might be outdated models, my grandson Baby Reece is only one year old. He has got the new “updated” models, yet his feet have no deep motion control lines–some crinkled fat and nice foot prints though.

Our feet by design have traction control for better grip–but the nerves in our feet working in unison with our brains are the natural motion control–NOT shoes! Keep it simple–trust your feet first.

For more information, see my “Productions Section.”

Sep 21, 2013

“Minimalist” shoes are “supposed to” mimic barefoot function, but don’t be fooled because some so-called “minimalist” shoes are not exactly minimal.  Just because a shoe has a thin sole that is flexible does not make it a “true” minimalist shoe—even though the shoe companies want you to believe the marketing pitch.  If the shoe has a motion control tread design—it cannot truly be a minimalist shoe. The shoes featured in the photo ARE minimalist shoes–none of them have significant motion control built into tread design or other parts of the shoe. Their soles are designed for traction–but not motion control. Big difference.

  • Here’s a tip to expose minimalist shoe “impostors” because a true minimalist shoe will let the foot do the work—even with tread design.  To determine motion control tread design, turn shoe over and look at bottom surface.  If you see tread patterns flowing in “lines” that seem to guide the foot in a certain direction—this is motion control.  Your tread pattern should be symmetrical and for general traction—not “asymmetrical” and forcing the foot back into a certain line or position.  Note that it is not healthy or safe for the foot and ankle to “always be in neutral” depending upon the environment, ground angle, slope, etc.  Let the foot decide position—not the shoe!!!  If the shoe has motion control tread design, heel cup support, toe box support, a heel lift, or other “bolt-on” engineering that is trying to support the foot or alter its shape and position, it is not a true minimalist shoe.  The foot needs to function as close to bare as possible—that is true minimalist shoe design—not hype. 
  • While there are dozens of new minimalist shoes coming out on the market to take advantage of the barefoot running trend, just know that they are not all created equal and most definitely are not all true minimalist shoes.  To some degree, many of these new shoes are still trying to control the foot instead of getting out of the way of the foot, so don’t be fooled by foot foolishness through marketing because your foot knows the difference!

So know you know “the rest of the story” beyond the hype marketing with shoe companies.  For more information, see my “Products Section.”  I would also HIGHLY recommend reading “Barefoot Running” by Michael Sandler of RunBare.com if you really want to learn the details beyond this post. Great read that applies to running with minimalist shoes as well as barefoot.

Sep 20, 2013

The “Prehensile Foot” is an interesting term that was completely new to me after 13 years of college and two decades in the fitness and health business until a couple years ago.  Defined, “prehensile” means “to grasp.”  Toes are basically designed to grasp the ground and assist in balance and throughout the gait process.  Talk to any good martial artist about “root” or base, and they will tell you about the importance of the feet to screw into the ground—or root—rip and grip, or something to this effect.  Don’t underestimate toe power!  One of the best things you can for both health and safety is to let your toes do their job—grasp!  Most shoes basically ruin our ability to grasp with toes because they are too narrow and/or too short.  Over time this alters the shape of the foot and removes the “prehensile” qualities. *See my “Products Section” for more information.  

Sep 14, 2013

From a standing or static stance position, it’s really very simple.  Let’s establish a “baseline posture” and start with standing in one spot—without movement.  We can look at an anatomical model of the foot and clearly see how and where the foot wants us to distribute weight.  By bone design, the larger surface areas along bottom of foot resemble that of a tripod.  The most obvious area to place weight is on the heel bone called the calcaneus (1).  Another bone region with extra density and larger surface area is behind the big toe—the first metatarsal joint (2).  The last leg of the tripod is along the lateral border near the outside balls of the feet—in particular the “Base of Fifth Ray” (3) area has some unique weight distribution capabilities that get completely altered when we wear heel-lift shoes because this important area gets “lifted” up and away from ground contact thus compromising our structural “tripod” of support. The Base of the Fifth Ray is fascinating! Most people have never heard of this important part of the human foot! *See my Foot Products section for more information.

Sep 14, 2013

The notion of “trim ankles” for attractiveness translates—weak ankles!  Ankles that have been immobilized from high heels limit the amount of muscular work and range of motion causing the ankles to appear “trim” or thin.  While some might find that attractive, it’s not a good system for supporting a tall vertical column and transferring large amounts of force for humans.  How do you get strong ankles?  Use them.  Wear shoes that allow for full range of motion in the ankle and Achilles due to minimal or NO heel lift.  Wear shoes that don’t artificially support the ankle, but rather, challenge the ankle to stabilize i.e. WORK to maintain vertical column integrity.  *For more information, see my Foot Products section.

Sep 14, 2013

Wearing sport shoes with air bags under the heels are one of the worst things you can do for your feet and function!  The more you put between your feet and ground—the more you decrease the quality of sensory information coming off the ground into your feet.  This lack of quality information creates a “clarity” issue for your brain and nervous system much like trying to navigate with a fuzzy map—it does not work well.  In addition to limiting sensory input off ground, tall air cushion heels alter the neutral foot/ankle position which challenges vertical column integrity.  Interestingly, studies show increased “heel cushion” increases the force the body puts into the ground in order to get ground feedback through the air sole—in reality even MORE force comes up through the body instead of less like the shoe companies want you to believe.  Please note–the optimal shock absorption is in your feet—NOT the shoes!  *For more information, see my Foot Products.

Sep 14, 2013

FallLineANY heel lift is unnatural for the foot—ANY.  Heel lifts are for fashion and status—not function.  Heels make people taller.  Height is typically viewed as a status symbol.  Historically, wealthy people wanted to literally “look down upon” the poor that were outlawed from wearing elevated shoes—it’s that simple. Interestingly, at some points in history, shoes with heel lifts were literally banned for peasants thus relegating them to an inferior height position so the wealthy “could look down their noses” at them.

Any and all heel lifts will immediately alter vertical column integrity and fall line unless you start compensating.  The less heel lift you have in your shoes, the safer and more efficiently you can walk and run.  Heel lifts also reduce the effectiveness of the Achilles Tendon for propulsion.  The Achilles is designed to stretch out and snap the heel back up to assist in forward locomotion, but when it is chronically shortened by heel lifts, the Achilles cannot fully do its job which creates compensations in glutes, front thighs, and other muscles of the body.  Bottom Line?  It’s not as efficient to have a heel lift.  Our foot does not need a heel lift—if it did, the heel lift would be built into our foot at birth!

For a fun experiment, take your shoes completely off. Stand on flat level ground. Carefully raise heels off the ground about 1/2″ by ONLY bending at the balls of your feet (metatarsal joints). DO NOT change anything else in your hips, spine, upper body, etc.–only bend at the balls of your feet. Get ready to pitch forward and catch yourself before you fall! You will quickly see how delicate our balance is as humans as we are the ONLY mammals that stand completely upright on such a narrow base of support with only two feet. Many other animals have four feet plus a much lower center of gravity. For humans, our vertical column integrity is critical. *See my future posts on “Column Integrity” and “Falling Line” for more information.

Sep 13, 2013

Most people wear shoes that are too narrow because we view smaller feet as more attractive feet. It’s been reported that the most popular width of women’s shoe sold in America is “B” width yet most women have a wider foot. This means women in particular are cramming their feet into shoes too small to allow for proper function—Daaa! Any woman could have told you that!

The forefoot needs room to spread across toe area to increase base of support and stability during static stance and gait. If you bind your foot with narrow shoes, you remove an important part of your safety system below because the foot and toes cannot spread out. Once again, keep your shoe out of the way of your foot so the foot can do its job. *See my future posts on the “Prehensile Foot” for more information.

Sep 13, 2013

If you are serious about barefoot running, read, “Barefoot Running” by Michael Sandler.  It’s a great read for anyone interested in barefoot running and foot fitness.  Not only does Michael have an amazing personal story about how he got into foot fitness and fixed his own feet, but I have met Michael in person and heard him speak.  I believe he is completely dedicated to making the world a better place…from the ground up with better feet.  The book is well documented and supported by numerous medical professionals as well.  Get it now—walk and run better tomorrow!

The book does an excellent job going over the biomechanics and neurology of feet and especially the conditioning aspects of feet and skin of feet.  The book also touches on some related topics which can get away from feet specifically, so it also covers general fitness conditioning, nutrition, and philosophy.  This is a great book for running better whether shod or bare. Michael’s website is www.runbare.com.  Tell him Coach RJ sent you!

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