I am GAGGING to wear my new (in November) barefoot shoes, but it’s mostly been too cold or wet still. I’ve been in training for walking barefoot for a few years now, so for me it’s super comfortable and I can really feel my leg muscles working better. I’m all a bit out of practice after the winter, though.

Our shoes are a horrible constriction that stops the feet and legs being active. Muscles atrophy when they’re not used, so forces from walking are not absorbed down in our legs, instead travelling up the spine to muscles not designed to take it. Problems develop (I can tell you!). It was amazing to me when I realized I wasn’t using my leg muscles to walk! Holding all my weight up from above instead. I didn’t even realise this was possible.

Walking barefoot is how we’re designed to walk, as all the tiny muscles in the feet do all the work they should do, and it engages leg and bum muscles properly too (want a pert bottom? Walk barefoot.). It can take a while to get the brain to use the proper muscles and build full strength after a lifetime of walking on flat surfaces, in cushioned, heeled and narrow shoes, but when the legs do most of the walking work, the pelvis and spine are free to maintain stability rather than also create locomotion. As a physiotherapist told me once, it all starts with the feet and their solid connection to the ground.

This is one of the things (she’s written a whole book on the subject) my favourite biomechanic, Katy Bowman, says about it:

Improving intrinsic muscle use in the foot can drastically impact a human’s physiology. Nerve health. Bone density. Osteoarthritis. Pelvic floor disorders. A child’s physical and mental development…

I started with some stretches and walking round barefoot indoors as much as possible. Then I got some ‘minimal footwear’; a few manufacturers exist but it’s still quite niche, ugly and expensive. Worth it though! The characteristics of minimal footwear are:

  • the sole is very thin, light and flexible so you can feel what you’re walking on
  • it’s non-restrictive at the front of your foot so your toes can spread
  • the sole is completely flat, no heel rise of even 1mm
  • it is fully connected to your foot so your toes aren’t working to hold the shoe on, ie no [evil] flip-flops

I’m certainly not at full foot agility yet, and I’m not sure how to achieve all this in the winter, but summer’s coming and I can be barefoot until September at least. Yay!

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