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Your Brain May Hate Your Shoes – Episode 375

4 Comments

Today we’re going to address one of the most common questions I get, which is, “What about shoes? What shoes should I wear?”

What Is A “Smart” Shoe And Why Is That Bad?

And what brought this up actually was on April Fool’s Day we got this great email advertisement from one of our favorite barefoot running shoe companies and it went on about this new shoe that they’ve created and it has all kinds of technological advancements, etc.  It really was a spoof because what they were trying to show people or remind people is that we’ve been trying for the last 30 years or so to create shoes that better engineer the foot, when in reality the best thing that we have for walking is what we were born with.  We just have to make sure they are healthy and strong.

The Strength Gym: Strength – Mobility – Injury Prevention. Re-educate your brain and body to become a powerful and elegant mover for the rest of your life through specific mobility exercises.

So, I’m going to go over a couple of things about shoes, and then from there I’m going to talk a little bit about training your feet and ways to begin thinking about this to improve not only your balance, but your overall health.

So, in Z-Health people ask us all the time, “OK, what kind of shoes do you recommend?”

The number one thing I want you to understand is that shoe wear has to be individualized based off your current level of health and strength. So we generally recommend that people begin moving from their very stiff, motion-control running shoes, orthotics, all that kind of orthopedic and high end/expensive athletic shoes, to shoes that are more, what are called neutral and then tend to promote more motion in the foot.

Would You Put A Cast On Your Foot?  Then Check Your Shoes

Now the reason for that is that your foot has a ton of different joints in it and those joints are supposed to be providing information up to your brain to help your balance and improve your movement, and if you wear shoes that are exceedingly controlling of your foot, it becomes very difficult over time for your brain to get the same amount of signaling that it would if you were wearing something that was more mobile.

So, I’m going to show you first of all a test that I want you to do and I’m going to show you a couple different types of shoes

The test that we teach all of our clients, is to do this. I want you to take your regular shoe, whatever shoe you wear the most, and I want you to flip it over so that the sole is facing up, and then I want you to grab the heel and then I want you to grab close to the mid-foot or arch region and try to bend it in half, all right?

Close up of running shoes in use.

Now, a good shoe should bend in this area in our opinion. So you want to be able to bend it and rotate it. Now you can see that this one’s pretty stiff, but it does have some give to it. That would be a very, from our Z-Health perspective, this would be the type of shoe that would be quite controlling of the foot, but it’s a great transition shoe if you’ve been wearing really stiff shoes.

Now, next in line, we have something, this is from a company called Innovate one of my very favorite companies, and I’m going to do the same test so we’ll flip it over. Again, grab the heel, grab it around the arch. Now, we’re starting to see a lot of bend, and a lot of rotation; much more mobile shoe. To wear this kind of shoe for anything other than walking; so for instance, if I was going to run or play sports or anything else, it’s going to take me a long time to build up my foot strength to be able to wear this kind of shoe, all right, but a great target.

How To Bring Back Balance, Strength, And Mobility

And then last, but not least I have these little shoes that I love. They’re basically a leather barefoot moccasin and they can be rolled up and put in your pocket if you want to carry them around. Now here’s the most important point.

Neurologically, we believe that learning to operate your body, operate your feet with less support is ideal. If you think about it this way, if I were to take a neck brace and put it on you and you would wear it 12 to 16 hours a day every day for twenty years, your neck muscles are going to get weak, your joints are going to get weak. Even if I’m going to put your neck in the perfect position, whatever that is, the control provided by the neck brace would really cause deterioration over the time and that’s what we see with shoes and shoe wear.

The Strength Gym: Strength – Mobility – Injury Prevention. Re-educate your brain and body to become a powerful and elegant mover for the rest of your life through specific mobility exercises.

So, our goal in Z-Health is to optimize performance and optimize health which means we want to make sure that every part of the body can move well.

So, if you’re going to begin transitioning out of your very stiff shoes to something that allows more mobility in your feet, you need to make sure that you’re exercising your feet.

Now, there’s a lot of different ways that you can go about doing that.

In the Z-Health system we have a lot of different foot drills. The easiest ones to find are on one of our DVDs called The Quick Start Guide***, or you can meet any Z-Health trainer anywhere around the world and they can show you a lot of different ways to make sure that your feet are prepared to make the transition into shoes that are going to overall impact your movement and health in a better way.

So, there you have it. There’s our baseline take on shoes.

If you have questions about this because this is a big topic, please feel free to call us or contact us at the office.

I look forward to talking to you next week.

Thanks.

***Note:  The Quick Start Guide is no longer available.  Please click here to check out our other products!

 

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Thank you for another great one! I’ve been wearing barefoot style shoes for a while now and actually notice pain when I wear more padded shoes. My former company (a school I was a strength coach in) got me a pair of Under Armour shoes that are very thick on the bottom though still allow that mid-food mobility. I’ve noticed though that the days I wore them to work (I didn’t want to seem ungrateful) my foot, specifically the arch, actually felt tender and just … annoyed by the end of the shift.

    Another topic I’d love your input on is how this might affect children on the Autism spectrum? My niece is being recommended orthotics because she sometimes walks on the balls of her feet. It’s more often than not which just bothers my parents who are her main caretakers. My father is always telling her “flat feet! flat feet!”

    I tried to explain to them how a) walking on the balls of your feet is not necessarily bad and that I know at least 2 “normal” neurotypical adults that walk that way and there’s nothing wrong with them and b) that it’s just her brain’s way of seeking balance.

    We’ve seen her walk “normally” as well so they’re just confused why she sometimes goes on the balls of her foot. I have noticed that she does seem to have ankle stiffness and her dorsiflexion is somewhat poor (she never squats is another thing I’ve noticed, while my daughter who is 1.5 years younger does so though less frequently than when she was younger)

    I don’t really know what to say to my parents. They know my background in Exercise Science but I didn’t have anything to really tell them. I suggested taking her on walks where they go up hills as I know that can help develop dorsiflexion (and it would be great for my parents too) but with the cold weather we’ve been experiencing it’s not been an option for them – not to mention Covid fears.

    Any words you’d have on that would be amazing and if there are any Z-health practitioners in the northern NJ area that have worked with children with autism (she’s on the higher functioning side, I’d say) I’d love to get in touch and maybe do a consult with her!

    Reply
    • You may want to go to our find-a-trainer page on the website. There are some other neural issues you would want to assess with her that are likely contributing to the issue. You can reach out to the office if you need recommendations on who might be best to help you with the situation!

      Reply
  • I totally agree that natural feet are best. It kills me to see other seniors wearing huge clunky shoes that clearly upset their balance, because their stride is very tentative. I have gone barefoot wherever possible since I was a kid and even having done ballet on my toes back then (no longer allowed), my feet are in great shape. I wear Merrill barefoot running shoes with no padding or arch support for any athletic activity, like hiking or Zumba or outside kettlebells classes. If possible, I exercise barefoot.
    Thank you for challenging the notion that highly engineered shoes are better than your original feet! And don’t get me started on orthopedic boots. Minor ankle pain put in boot led to major knee issues. And their only fix for the uneven gait is to put a lift on the heavy trainers that I never wear.

    Reply

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