For feet, a lifetime spent in “normal” shoes is a little like a lifetime spent with no exercise and a bad diet. You can get away with it for a while, maybe a long while, but eventually it will catch up with you. For feet, this means that eventually you might experience plantar fasciitis, hammer toes, or Bunyan. Maybe all three. Approximately three million Americans have Plantar Fasciitis. To avoid the fate where it looks like your big toe is reaching across a crowded table to try and give your pinky toe a high five, it is best to allow your feet to operate the way they know best. Naked. Foot on ground, toes allowed to roam, sole allowed to flex.
But we live in a civilized society with sharp things on the ground and one of the requirements of this is that most of the time we must keep our feet covered and protected. And we must try to look good and mostly normal to others. Fortunately, as I intend to point out here, this need does not necessarily doom you to a future of regular NSAIDS, orthotics and podiatry visits.
The fitness industry is full of people selling things, and a lot of it is garbage. It can be difficult to tell what is garbage and what is not. For example, I am sure that some supplements can be beneficial. But I have a very difficult time knowing which ones and for what. Yet, I find that a lot of fitness “professionals” seem to sell supplements, regardless of whether or not these supplements fit with the other stuff the fitness professional is doing and saying. It doesn’t make much sense that a whole foods advocate would sell Berry Blast Powdered Pre-Workout Fuel, for example. The selling of supplements makes me immediately suspicious and drives me away. I have a strong feeling that these people make a lot of “free money” on these supplements even though they may be garbage and the buyer may not have much of a reason to buy them except that they are for sale by someone who looks like they want to look and it’s easy to drop them into the virtual shopping cart and feel like you’ve done something for your health.
I wear barefoot shoes and only barefoot shoes and have for many years because it makes sense to me and aligns with the other things that I do and talk about in the name of health and fitness. The purpose of this article is to tell you why barefoot shoes are best for foot health and to bring you the good news (which has been a long time in coming, I might add) that they don’t all look ridiculous. In fact, some of them look pretty darn good. After I tell you why barefoot shoes are best for feet, I’m going to show you three examples that are good for feet and also look good. I have an affiliate relationship with two of the three companies making these shoes. This means that because I like them and believe they are good for health, you can use my link to buy some if you want, and if you do so I get a small commission. So while I’m not selling you something directly, I’m helping you to understand why you might want to buy it and if you do, I get a small reward for spreading the good news.
In order to be healthy and strong, feet need three things. They need room for the toes to spread and support the movement, stability, and activity of the body. They also need to remain flat on the the ground rather than with the heel constantly elevated and the Achilles tendon and calf muscles constantly flexed. And finally, they need to feel the ground beneath them in order to bend and flex in adaptation to the terrain and how the body needs to function in the world. Standard shoes do not allow any of this. Standard shoes jam the toes together, prevent the sole of the foot from feeling and flexing, and elevate the heel, thereby keeping the associated tendons and muscles contracted. This is referred to as “support” and is believed to be essential in footwear. Such “support” is not only not essential, it’s damaging.
You may be tempted to say “Oh, I’ll just wear my Vans or my Chuck Taylors.” Sorry. I wish. I love the look of Vans and Chuck Taylors, and they are certainly sparse in the “support” department. But sadly, they still jam the toes together and elevate the heel.
What Your Feet Need
You need shoes with three main characteristics: a wide “toe box”, “zero drop” and a flexible sole. A wide toe box makes the shoe is foot shaped and allows your toes to move around and spread to support the body. A zero drop means that there is no drop in elevation from the back of the shoe to the front (the heel of the shoe, by the way, was developed to keep the shoe in the stirrup and then this became a status symbol). And a flexible sole is generally thin and pliable so that the sole of the foot is allowed to flex and adapt to the terrain.
But Barefoot Shoes Are Funny Looking
I’ve often thought that most barefoot shoe styles look like something that someone from the 50s would think that someone from the future would wear. I have to think that because barefoot shoes are so far out of the mainstream that many makers consider this a badge of honor and deliberately make them look very strange. Take, for example, Vibrams. The foot-glove. I. Just. Can’t.
Some Barefoot Shoes That Look Normal, Even Good
To me, the Bramford by Birchbury is the best looking casual barefoot shoe available. It works in a business-casual office or for a night out. And I can definitely picture a pair on a skateboard. Here is my affiliate link to the Bramford.
And my absolute favorite of all, given that I am a Vans and Converse fan, are Muki Shoes. These are made in Portugal, of canvas and rubber, like the shoes of my youth.
How to Transition to Barefoot Shoes
If you’d like to give barefoot shoes a try, your feet will need a gradual shift. For starters, try going in sock feet or barefoot around your house for a half hour at a time. Once you are used to this, you can try to spend more time without shoes on. Pick up a pair of your favorites and then wear them in the house for increasingly longer periods of time. Once you’re used to this, put them on and wear them outside for a walk or a short trip to the store or something like that. Don’t try to wear them for long periods of time right off the bat. Your feet will need time to adapt.