Many experts acknowledge that going barefoot, or wearing a shoe that allows a full range of motion, can be beneficial for proper development and strengthening of the foot.
But one thing is still very debatable - is the human foot adapt to walking on hard surfaces like our modern pavements? Let alone running on them?
It's easy to forget that most of today's population around the world (about two thirds) wear very simple, minimal footwear. And beyond that, a large number of them don’t wear shoes at all. Rickshaw runners in places like Japan, India and Thailand, who pull their carriage on asphalt for years on urban streets, with bare feet, or very minimal footwear, are an extreme example.
Do our feet need protection?
Are they suffering from an epidemic of foot disorders (or are we?).
If we look more closely at barefoot populations, will we see more foot problems than in shoe-wearing societies, or fewer?
Technology is amazing with the advantages it brings. But does the foot need it? Is there something wrong with our feet, that means they need assistance from technology?
The evidence suggests otherwise - barefoot populations have healthier feet than modern societies, and the more a population wears shoes, the more foot problems it shows (1- 6).
Do athletes need cushioning in their shoes?
Up until the 80's, professional athletes in all kinds of sports that put a huge strain on their bodies (basketball, tennis, handball, running, jumping etc..) competed wearing the same kind of shoe - a simple light upper, stitched to a thin piece of rubber sole.
Marathon runners ran ferociously on asphalt around the world, clocking times that very few can achieve even today.
Did all of those athletes suffer from fractured bones, or any kind of unusual orthopedic problems? (we couldn’t find any examples to show this).
How the feet and paws of any animals adapt is determined solely by their environment.
A crab’s legs are perfect for digging and pushing in deep wet sand. Cats (and big cats) have retractable claws to pin into the dirt for traction, sharp changes of direction and speed. Chimps’ and monkeys’ feet and hands are perfectly adapted for climbing, ducks' feet for paddling. Frogs’ feet are the right tools for wet, slippery surfaces. Goats have special hooves that make them masters of rock climbing (or anything that is climbable) and chameleons’ “feet” are the coolest :)
Each set of paws serves the environment a species is supposed to thrive in, making day-to-day life easier. It doesn’t make any biological sense if a certain physical trait impairs an organism's means of locomotion, decreasing its chances of survival.
So what about our feet? To which environment are they adapted? Which terrain will it be harder for us to walk and run on, and which will be easier? What clues can our anatomy give us?
We already gathered some facts on our facebook-page:
“This flexion of the foot is a part of a well synchronized "gadget" that helps absorb a significant amount of the impact coming from the ground, while jumping or running (when landing on the middle, or front part of the foot).”
“As seen in the illustration, our heel-bone (Calcaneus) is protected with a small fat-pad that gives a bit of cushioning and helps us maintain our balance.
It serves us wonderfully for walking and standing in place.”
“The three arches of the feet are designed to flex, rebound and absorb shock”
So what’s the optimum surface to make use of all these features, making movement easier and more efficient (increasing our chances to survive in the wild)?
Here’s the first punch! The softer a terrain is, the harder it gets to put one leg in front of the other.
The harder the ground, the bouncier our step will be and the easier it will be to move along.
We all know that from walking/running in deep sand at the beach. The other end of it would be to run barefoot on asphalt - you'd feel light and springy as if you were running on springs. Something we actually do!
So here’s the second punch - our whole leg, from the hip, all the way to the end of our toes, functions like a pogo stick. It’s basically a huge spring that channels energy back from the ground. What would happen if you tried jumping on a pogo stick on soft ground?
The spring mechanism that stores the energy and releases it would be damaged.
The energy wouldn’t come back through it, sending you flying, but would instead go into the ground, wasted. So jumping (running is a series of jumps from one leg to the other), would become more tiring, and less efficient.
Ok, that sounds reasonable, but what about the pain? It hurts to walk or run without a thick sole to cushion the impact.
Here’s the third punch - the thicker the cushioning under our feet, the bigger the vertical impact from the ground (7).
It sounds counterintuitive but actually makes biomechanical sense:
- The foot loves and is designed to function best on stable, hard ground, so subconsciously we would push hard through whatever softness is under our feet, to get to that stable feeling.
- The second explanation would be that a thin sole, or no sole, would make us more careful - pain would keep us from making movements that might hurt us. Movements that, with thick shoes on, we’d have no problem making. In other words, pain would keep our gait light and cautious, using more muscles and making each landing a soft glide, rather than the less tuned thump that is more likely to happen with soft, thick soles (8.) :)
Putting all of the above together, the point we’re trying to make is that mankind was fine without supportive shoes for millions of years (just like current populations around the world who don’t wear modern shoes).
That the biomechanics of our feet and bodies suggest that they evolved on hard dense ground, probably similar to our modern concrete - evolution selected the design of our feet to have a biomechanical advantage on hard ground. The softer the ground is, the less these biomechanical principles can be expressed.
Putting Wildlings on would be like going for a jog barefoot, on a hard field of grass, which pampers your feet just enough not to lose all the sensory and musculoskeletal benefits our lower extremities can provide.
To conclude, we’d like to quote from the book “Born To Run”, which sent us down the rabbit hole :)
“In fact, there’s no evidence that running shoes are any help at all
in injury prevention. In a 2008 research paper for the British Journal
of Sports Medicine, Dr. Craig Richards, a researcher at the University
of Newcastle in Australia, revealed that there are no evidence- based
studies - not one - that demonstrate that running shoes make you
less prone to injury.
It was an astonishing revelation that had been hidden in plain sight for thirty-five years. Dr. Richards was so stunned that a twenty-billion-dollar industry seemed to be based on nothing but empty promises and wishful thinking that he even issued a challenge:
Is any running shoe company prepared to claim that wearing their
distance running shoes will decrease your risk of suffering
musculoskeletal running injuries?
Is any shoe manufacturer prepared to claim that wearing their running shoes will improve your distance running performance?
If you are prepared to make these claims, where is your peer
reviewed data to back it up?
Dr. Richards waited, and even tried contacting the major shoe
companies for their data. In response, he got silence.”
Run Wild, Anna, Ran & Team Wildling