Walking Isn't Just Walking--Part 2
Updated: Jul 3, 2019
Walking Isn’t Just Walking—Part 2
I hope Part 1 of this series was useful in laying down important fundamental principles about our natural makeup to move in our bare feet and feeling the world. In this second part of the series, I’ll compare being barefoot to wearing shoes.
Our Bodies Are Made To Move!
As explained in Part 1, natural movement is about using our body in ways it’s made and meant to move. By letting our feet bend, flex and feel, and letting the built-in spring-like mechanisms we have (particularly in our feet, ankles, legs, hip, and back) do their job—we are able to walk, hike, run, stand, skip, jump, etc. easily and enjoyably. Footwear can prevent us from moving freely and even cause injuries when it doesn’t encourage natural movement.
Authors of a 2004 article published in Nature, Humans Were Born To Run, Bramble and Lieberman, suggest that our body structure was significantly influenced by the fact that we had to run for survival.
Regardless of why we began to run, our species clearly began running, and there is no data reflecting running injuries in our early Homosapien populations. Ironically, since the development of the modern running shoe, up to 79% runners/marathoners are injured every year, yet modern athletic shoe companies claim their products improve performance and reduce injury.
How Do Shoes “Fit” In This Scenario?
The earliest example of footwear, constructed of a flat surface of woven sagebrush with strapping to keep them on, was discovered near Fort Rock, OR, and dates back to over 10,000 years ago. Their function was to simply protect the bottom surface of the foot from the rough terrain.
Footwear eventually evolved and the earliest running shoe was developed in the 1890s by J.W. Foster and Sons. Prior to the early 1970s, running shoes were thin soled, light and flexible—they lacked elevated heels, arch supports, cushioned midsoles, and stiff, supportive heel counters.
Most walking/running shoes that we’ve seen over the past 50 years are basically structured exactly the same—they have tiny toe boxes that crowd toes, they elevate the heel, have thick padding, prevent you from feeling the ground, and they’re not flexible—same shoe, just differences on the kind of cushioning (different material, for cushioning) and thicknesses of the cushioning.
So, if we as a species have indeed evolved to walk and run and now have shoes that cushion and control our feet, why are we getting injured?
Feet—The Foundation Of Our Body
One-quarter of the bones and joints in our entire body are located in our feet and ankles. When our feet are prevented from doing their job (move, bend, flex, feel the ground), that function moves up to the ankle, knee, hip, and back which are not designed to perform that function thereby causing strain and stress to these areas of our body.
Being barefoot can help to minimize and prevent low back pain because walking/running barefoot engages our gluteal and hamstring muscles by landing with a forefoot strike resulting in a shorter stride and the front leg placed in a biomechanically stronger position.
By using your glutes and hamstrings to move you forward, and placing your foot nearer your center of mass instead of swinging your leg forward — you’ll be supporting your lower back… and your knees, and your hips, and even your ankles. Also, strong gluteal and hamstring muscles protect your back from being strained.
When you think about staying on top of your feet, and using your glutes and hamstrings, you’ll intuitively discover easy and efficient ways to walk in any situation. From your own experiences, you’ll understand it from the inside out.
Ironically, modern walking/running shoes force you to overstride and heel strike; and landing on your heel is unstable, which is why you then need to correct this with motion control, and that overstriding leads to landing with your arch flattened out and weak, which is why you then need to add arch support (which just weakens your feet more). In other words, most of the technology in shoes is there to correct for a problem that the original shoe design seems to have caused.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has changed their stance on recommendations for running shoes—they now recommend a running shoe with a minimal heel-toe drop, neutrality meaning the shoe doesn’t contain motion control or stability elements, and lightweight (<10 oz. men size 9, <8 oz. women size 8). You can find more information on this here.
Walking and running are the most fundamental forms of exercise we have. Evidence supports that we were designed to run, and did so as part of our survival. Most of our evolutionary history was spent moving barefoot, and modern running shoes have only appeared in the last fifty years. Therefore, it's not a stretch of the imagination to think that running in heavily cushioned and controlling shoes is actually unnatural and contributes to the high rate of injuries that modern runners experience today. Clearly there are biomechanical advantages to walking/running barefoot (forefoot striking) versus shoed (heel striking) that promote health and natural movement, the way our body is made and meant to move.
To explore natural movement, you will eventually want to take off your shoes and connect with the ground. One way to begin transitioning to barefoot is wearing barefoot shoes. There are several good ones on the market but I prefer Xero Shoes because they’re legit barefoot shoes that are also stylish—from hiking to running, and walking to casual closed-toed and sandals. You can find a link for Xero Shoes at my shop page www.PrimalPrescribed.com/other.
I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to contact me with questions or feedback. Next in this series on Walking, I will discuss Transitioning to Barefoot Movement. Until then, be well and live awesome!
All of the information in this writing is for educational and informational purposes only. We are passionate about leading a healthy lifestyle and aim to share that passion with you through coaching, blogs, readings, chats, social media, etc. Primary sources to ensure accurate and current content, including studies, scientific references, and statistics, are found below:
Steven Sashen (2019) The Movement Movement
Allison R. Altman, PhD, and Irene S. Davis, PT, PhD (September/October 2012) Barefoot Running: Biomechanics and Implications for Running Injuries, American College of Sports Medicine, Current Sports Medicine Reports, Volume 11 & Number 5