What kind of shoes are you wearing? And I don’t mean what brand. Do they have a small toe box, a cushioned heel, arch support, or lateral support, meant to stop you from pronation, some shocks on the back?
The reason I ask, is because you may be wearing TOO MUCH SHOE.
Over the last 40 or so years, there has been a lot of time, money and technology poured into running shoes. It’s a billion dollar industry. Breathable uppers, various foams, gels, and air for underfoot padding, lateral support, no slip shoe laces, blah, blah, blah, the list goes on.
When was the last time you thought about strength training for your feet? More specifically, when was the last time you went barefoot?
Over the last few years, as I listen to more runners talk of injuries like shin splints, Plantar Fasciitis, and various Achilles Tendon issues, I’ve come to the conclusion (and I’m not the first), that what most people are lacking is a strong foundation.
Tell me if you’ve ever seen this. You walk into your local Globo Gym. Lots of buff dudes walking around in shirts that are so tight, it looks like they bought them in the boy’s department at Academy (…guilty!), checking themselves out in the mirror as they lift (…guilty, again!). These same guys have defined, muscular torsos and legs, but as you look at their feet, they wearing shoes that are built like Humvees. They have more material in their shoes than their entire outfit!
“Well, you see, I have to wear these because I have high arches,” or “flat feet,” or “Plantar Fasciitis,” or whatever they may say.
If you’ve said these things, then join the party, because I’ve said them, too.
But if we want to correct these problems, we need to take our shoes OFF!
What happens if you break your arm and have to wear a cast for 6 weeks? The muscles in your arm begin to atrophy and become weak. After 6 weeks, you will notice a difference in size and strength, even if it is your dominant arm.
Now imagine what wearing supportive shoes has done to the muscles of your feet. They are atrophied and weak. They need to be strengthened. But how?
Simple answer? Go barefoot.
Now, I’m not advocating for you to throw away your shoes and get kicked out of convenience stores (no shirt, no shoes, no service?), but I am suggesting that you should start being a little more deliberate about NOT wearing shoes.
Does this mean barefoot running?
Yes… and no.
Barefoot running is a lifestyle that some embrace, and if you can do that, more power to you. You just saved yourself a ton of money on running shoes! However, to me, barefoot running is a TOOL, or TECHNIQUE to help build better run form and stronger feet. My take is that if you run on any man made surface, you should probably wear a man made shoe. Save the barefoot running for grass fields and drill work.
However, I am suggesting that when you are at home, or maybe behind the closed door of your office at work, to take your shoes off (and get a standing desk, but I digress). More importantly, don’t just have one pair of shoes that you do all your workouts in. Have several pairs. You should not lift weights or do any cross training in your favorite running shoes. Instead, go buy yourself a pair Chuck Taylor All Stars, or a pair of cross country flats. Make the muscles in your feet do a little work to support you instead of your shoe supporting your foot.
That goes for your run shoes as well. When you run intervals, make sure that you aren’t wearing your long mileage shoes. And when it comes to long mileage shoes, make sure you have more than 1 pair, and I don’t mean 2 pair of the same exact shoe. Find a brand that has a similar design and fit as your favorite and rotate them.
A recent, first of it’s kind study of 264 runners over 22 weeks revealed that those runners who rotated shoes had a 39% reduction in running related injuries. Why? Well, the short of it is that when you rotate your shoes, your feet do not have the opportunity to adapt to the shoe, so in the process, become stronger.
If you have orthotic inserts or were told to wear a certain shoe for a medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider first, before implementing any of the things I talked about. But, if you’re healthy and willing to experiment on yourself…well, experiment!
Now, don’t go crazy and head to the mall on a shoe shopping spree, and then tell your spouse that, “Coach Jeff said…” But do make it a priority to add another brand or style into the rotation. And do it gradually, too. Sudden and drastic changes can lead to short term or severe injuries, so be moderate (there’s that word again) about it, okay?
And you don’t have to be the sharpest spoon in the drawer to figure that out…