It’s always a terrible shock when you suddenly find your feet have slipped and you’ve landed awkwardly on some other part of you with a dull thud!  This week we will be look at how this can best be avoided with our focus on balance which starts with foot and ankle mobility and strength with attention also on the muscles that rise upward from the foot to keep them working at to keep the foot alignment that will help you glide over a myriad of terrains without stumbling.

We were born with lovely budgy paws as a child, the toes spread evenly and with the ability to move each of them independently.  Problems arise when we are forced to sit at a desk in school and wear shoes.  No matter how careful your parents were to ensure you were measured accurately in length and width by the lovely people at Clarkes (other sensible shoe companies available), everyone was unfortunately misguided in focusing on footwear that took away the feelings from the sole of your feet.

You have have even taken the odd foray into high heels with pointed toes as a teenager and young adult which will have worsened things further.

As a consequence, your toes became squished together and your feet were vastly weakened by not being able to respond as a bare foot would to rough and changing terrain.

On top of this, as your feet became weaker, you lost the natural ability to lift the arches of your foot!  Knee issues and other pain ensued and at some point, the investment of perhaps £250 on specially fitted insoles for your shoes, which you thankfully only managed to tolerate for a small amount of time…  However if you managed to keep these often hard and unwearable devices in your shoes for longer, the unthinkable then happens…

The feet rest against the lifted arch of the support and as a consequence any last ability in the muscle to lift itself is completely removed and you find yourself with even flatter arches, perhaps only pain free when you have the false support to walk with. As a consequence of the weakened arch, the pressure on the inside of your foot created the next problem – bunions!

This can be exacerbated if the type of footwear you buy and wear has a subtle lift in the heel as most trainers do (unless you are searching for zero heel lift or negative heel lift).  You will also notice in the above picture of typical modern training shoes, that there is also a rocking action of the foot encouraged by the lift of the toes.  This inevitably means that an exaggerated heel to toe movement is facilitated with the consequential heavy heel strike, so often present in people I help who have constant back pain.  The ricochet of the pounding travels from the heavy heel strike to the legs and up the hips to the low back and this is worse if my client is regularly exercising (usually running) in this footwear.

At this stage you may be thinking… why are we all wearing shoes if the activity is so bad for our feet and our stabilisation for walking and other movements?  Surely we wouldn’t all be so stupid as to continue generation after generation to wear something on our feet that has an appalling effect?  They really can’t be all that wrong?  Lets have a look at the evidence from the now famous Daniel E Lieberman, Lerner II Professor of Biological Sciences and Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University… Look at the changes to the feet in picture B below in a teenager before and after wearing conventional footwear…

Look too at the devastating effect on the foot of habitually shod adults in comparison to the feet of a person who runs barefoot:

As you know, because you see me in the five finger shoes every day, I began being completely barefoot every day or only wearing minimalist footwear such as these, the newest addition to my winger wardrobe 10 years ago now with fantastic consequences for changes in my foot shape which had STAGE 4 BUNIONS:

I was told I needed to have surgery sooner rather than later but as a Dance Teacher this was out of the question for me so I began to research barefoot running and reversing the effects of years of foot squishing and arch support wearing damage to my feet which had caused all manner of foot and knee issues including the Stage 4 Bunions!.  Here is a picture of me from 2004 (when I was had a career as an Image Analyst and was suited and unfortunately booted all day) where you can see my feet are already squished together and the bunion is already forming:


A highly recommended influencer in this arena is Chris MCDougall who wrote the book “Born to Run”.

Here he is talking about his experience of being told he would have to have hip and knee replacement and permanently wear orthotics sent him toward a similar quest to my own.  This led to detailed research into the Tarahumara Indian tribe who are world class super athletes able to run for days in only minimalistic sandals and even better than this, they continue to ACTUALLY ENJOY running into oder age.  The conclusion to his study of the tribe is that they are able to be conditioned for such athletic prowess because they are unshod, even though it goes against ALL conventional wisdom which would have us pad out (anaesthetise) our feet more and more and more to avoid injury, of course all the time lining the pockets of Nike and other brands who are keen for you not to discover the truth that McDougall and others have.  Here is McDougall talking about his discoveries (and personal cure) in a 4 minute summary video:

I particularly love his reference to his special equipment to help avoid landing awkwardly on rocks and tree roots (eyeballs)!!!  For those of you interested in running in particular, this is a good summary article about the differences between shod and barefoot running.  Talk to me personally also as I use the techniques in my own exercise programmes which include running barefoot.  If I am in pain in my dodgy knee, I will run and it will be far less painful than sitting at my desk as the movements are conducive to light landing and running with the leg bent which just works for my joint (better than walking as I tend to lock out the knee because of my anterior tilt).

One of the nice side effect from never wearing ordinary shoes is that the skin on my feet is pretty PERFECT with absolutely no care for them at all.  Before I had calluses and hard skin everywhere! You would think the opposite would be true as the feet are surely taking more of a pounding without the usual amounts of recommended cushioning.  However, the logic to me is that we had feet before Nike interfered (other manufacturers available) and we didn’t need a plethora of Orthotic socialists and chiropodists in the days before shoes and there certainly is no call for them, or hip and knee replacements among the Tarhumara Indians in Mexico!  Another side effect is less injuries when I’m dancing and more ability to build muscle in the calves which are the natural cushioning system designed to take the brunt of impact, rather than the low back which caused a lot of my pain before going barefoot.

If you decide to transition like me, not only do I suggest you follow the following exercise programmes below that I have designed to get you ready for optimally working feet but also suggest you invest in a pair of correct toes (see video above) in order to spread your toes in readiness for barefoot work. Those of you who dance with me may also be aware that Debbie wears these even with normal foot wear to help her feet.  You will be able to completely transform the shape of your foot as I did, even after a whole lifetime of being shod in normal shoes and trainers.

In terms of other products, I can’t recommend Injinji socks enough, even though they are expensive, they fit like a dream on each of your toes and last a long time.  Now you know what to buy me for Christmas!!!!!!!!!

Helen Milicevic

We used this warm up in last week’s class about legs in general but it’s always useful to add to a schedule of preparing for barefoot work AFTER you are warmed up and not before.  Neither calves nor hamstrings appreciate being forced into a stretch before they are warmed up!

Here we are looking at making the feet work on an uneven and unbalanced surface in order to get the best out of the feet:

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