Why Barefoot or Arch Support Shoes?
On today’s episode of the Open Sky Fitness Podcast, Devon and I are tackling the ultimate clothing question: Is it better to walk or exercise while wearing barefoot, minimal shoes are shoes with tons of arch support?
Either way, why did we even begin to wear shoes in the first place and what makes barefoot or arch support shoes so important to our foot’s health?
Not only will we be discussing the pros and cons of either shoe, but also:
- Anatomy of the human foot
- The structure of a shoe
- Traditional shoe problems
- How to transition into wearing barefoot shoes
- Some of our favorite barefoot/minimal shoe brands
- How to heal the foot
Anatomy of the Human Foot
“The arch structure is only as strong as where it’s connected to the ground.” – Rob Dionne
The human foot has three different arches:
- One on the inside of the foot (medial – longitudinal arch)
- An arch on the outside of the foot (the lateral – longitudinal arch)
- A third that spans across the pad of the foot (anterior transverse arch)
Sometimes a pair of shoes that has good arch support isn’t necessarily the best purchase choice for everyone.
Why Wear Shoes?
The first shoes were introduced when our ancestors created Moccasins. Made out of animal hide, these shoes were meant to protect our feet from the outside elements.
Since then, so many different types of shoes have been marketed to our desires. Shoes for perfect alignment, to improve our bodies appearance (I’m looking at you Skechers Shape Ups which have no beneficial value), or for work.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic shoe that can help our bodies. We have to work on our own to strengthen our feet and body.
The Structure of a Modern Shoe
The modern shoe has three key parts:
- Soft toe box
- Heel lift
- Arch support
A soft toe box with lots of padding is supposed to help improve comfort and shock absorption. A heel lift in the back of the shoe is meant to help align the body. For those who need it, the arch support is meant to help weak arches and to help keep the integrity of the arch.
Traditional Shoe Problems
“Your foot is designed with all of these different, small bones that help you balance and support your entire body. By wearing arch supports, your shoes are doing all of the work that the arch is naturally supposed to do and it weakens the foot.” – Devon Dionne
If the toe box is too narrow, then it won’t allow for the expansion of the feet. Your feet shouldn’t be crammed in your shoe. Instead, you should be able to comfortably open and close them. The toe box might also be too soft and therefore it doesn’t support the arch of the foot.
When a shoe has an excess amount of arch support, it simply makes the foot lazy and weakens the arch. It keeps your foot in one position instead of allowing it to flex and move.
Shoes with poor designs can also negatively affect our bodies.
By constantly wearing shoes with little support such as flip flops, sandals, wedges with no heel back, or heelless shoes can harm the foot’s health if they’re worn regularly for long periods of time. In fact, these shoes change how we walk because we need to clench our toes to grip the shoe. Each step forces us to change our feet to be in a fixed, improper position.
Foot Strengthening with Open Sky Fitness
Pros and Cons of Barefoot Shoes
“Because there’s minimal padding between your foot and the ground, you have as much contact as you need to activate the feet’s arches. When the feet make direct contact with the ground, it sends stronger signals to the brain. The foot and brain connection is more sensitive because it allows for more nerve waves to talk to each other.” – Rob and Devon Dionne
Barefoot shoes like Vibrams and other minimalist shoes offer zero to minimal padding so that you have full contact with the ground. There’s just some rubber and a bit of fabric that makes up the bottom of the shoe for comfort. This allows for all of the muscles in the foot to stay engaged and therefore it for forces the arch muscles to stay active. By relying on your feet to balance your entire body, you also become fully aligned and don’t have to solely rely on the shoe to help stabilize you.
However, you have to take it very easy when wearing barefoot shoes for the first time. Unlike regular shoes, there is no heel cushion which forces the wearer to strike on the ball of their feet when they walk or run. These can easily harm the foot if a person doesn’t change their gait.
How to Transition to Wearing Barefoot Shoes
We can’t stress it enough, but it’s vital to have a slow transition to wearing barefoot shoes. You don’t want to wear them all day or to go for a hike when you first wear them because your feet and calves will be in so much pain the next day.
Instead, start by wearing the shoes for short periods of time. If you want to run with them, practice with a walk-run routine for 5-10 minutes by walking with them for 5 minutes, 1 minute jogging and so on.
Recommended Barefoot and Minimal Shoe Brands
Some of the different brands of barefoot or minimal shoes for walking and running that we recommend include:
Nike Free has more padding and a bit softer and is a great transition shoe for full range of motion and wear those for 6 months to get used to them and THEN start that process over again with minimalist shoes.
Make a slow transition and be smart about it as well as patient.
Arch Supported Shoes Pros and Cons
“Our feet have such an incredible design. The way that the arches are designed allows us to absorb impact with each step, run, or jump. Our feet relate to our entire body’s structure – how our knees bend, how our hips bend; it’s all connected.” – Devon Dionne
The main reason why some people need to wear shoes with arch support is because it picks up the slack for our feet’s weaknesses. Many doctors will also say that it can help our body’s alignment and improve pain management.
However, the external support can create weakness and muscle atrophy because you’re not allowing your foot to do its job to support the body.
How to Heal Foot Problems
We can heal our feet by focusing on opening and strengthening the muscles. Some easy tools can include a foam roller as well as a lacrosse or tennis balls to help roll out your foot and relax the muscles. Golf balls are also great to stretch out individual toes.
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What You’ll Hear on This Episode
00:00 Open Sky Fitness Introduction
1:15 Opening comments with Rob and Devon
1:30 Check out last week’s episode –OSF 161 Joe Stout: Goat’s Milk vs Cow’s Milk – Which is Better?
2:20 About today’s episode on barefoot running shoes vs traditional arch support running shoes.
2:50 Learn more about our Open Sky Fitness Facebook Group
4:40 Fill out an application for One-On-One Coaching Sessions with either Rob or Devon
6:10 Barefoot Shoes vs. Arch Support
7:35 What is an arch?
9:50 Why do we conventionally believe that we need shoes with good arch support?
12:00 Cons of arch support
15:00 Our feet’s connection with the rest of our body from walking to jumping.
21:40 The structure of a modern day sneaker
25:40 Traditional shoe problems
36:40 Comparing arch supported shoes with barefoot shoes
39:00 The non-existent heel cushion in a barefoot shoe
42:20 The flexibility of the barefoot shoe
44:20 The problem with how some shoe designs can negatively affect our bodies.
47:55 What do shoes provide and why do we even wear them in the first place?
52:00 Why and how to strengthen your feet.
57:30 How do we transition into barefoot shoes?
1:02:30 Different brands of barefoot shoes for walking and running
1:08:45 How to heal your foot problems.
1:14:30 Closing comments with Rob and Devon
1:15:55 Open Sky Fitness Closing
RESOURCES MENTIONED DURING THE SHOW:
- Leave us an iTunes review
- Join the The Open Sky Fitness Podcast Group on Facebook
- Contact Rob and Devon to apply for One-On-One Coaching Sessions
- Check out last week’s episode – OSF 161 Joe Stout: Goat’s Milk vs Cow’s Milk – Which is Better?
- Listen to OSF 51 – Learning Parkour with Dan Edwardes
- Buy your own copy of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
- Check out our recommended barefoot and minimal shoe brands:
- Heal your feet with Yamuna foot wakers
- Strengthen and stretch your feet with TheraBand products
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Thanks for listening/reading Episode 162 – Barefoot vs Arch Support Shoes: Which is Better? We hope you have gained more knowledge on how to be a healthier you.