Forum is now read-only.


edited June 2009 in Please read
I wanted to bring up the subject of footwear.

The issue of unsuitable running shoes seems to be slowly emerging into public consciousness thanks partly to the book _Born to Run_ by Christopher McDougall. This had some fairly good reviews in the press one of which, in the _Daily Mail_, was linked quite widely:

Then one finds out there's a fair bit going on. Some sports people are going barefoot or experimenting with the Vibram FiveFingers footgloves. Terra Plana, started by a "rogue member" of the Clarks family is actually (unlike Clarks) offering shoes that don't hurt the foot. (Interestingly, it turns out his "Vivo" shoes emerged out of a suggestion made by the Alexander teacher Richard Brennan to his son -- that he play tennis barefoot.)

And reading around and following links, one eventually finds there's a can of worms here. It's not just sports shoes. There's a fair bit of research out there implicating ordinary shoes in foot (and probably ankle, knee, and hip) damage. For example, there is this study from the University of the Witwatersrand:

From the perspective of the shoes, not the feet, there are also some interesting articles from a Dr. Rossi, who seems to have been a podiatrist, a contributor to the Encylopaedia Britannica, and an advisor to the shoe industry -- and one has to wonder why they're not taking his advice.

This is perhaps his most enlightening article:

But there are more here (including "Children’s Footwear: Launching Site for Adult Foot Ills"):

Among the things I learnt were:

* that "toespring" (a device to compensate for inflexible soles) intereferes with gait;

* that most shoes are built on the wrong axis;

* that most are too narrow, forcing the toes in;

* that most lasts deliberately (and unforgivably) create a kind of dip intended to allow the middle of the ball of the foot to sink, so that narrower shoes can be worn;

* that most are too heavy (12 oz. for women 14-16 oz. for men would be better);

* that while women's shoes are worse and more foot-distorting, in some respects men's shoes are worse than women's, being more enclosed (thereby allowing less free movement and less circulation of air -- as well as interefing with blood supply if laced tight), heavier, and with thicker and less flexible soles;

* that "Relative to body height, a one-inch heel worn by a child of seven is the equivalent of a two-inch heel worn by an adult. So almost all children above age seven are wearing “high” heels the equivalent of two inches in height -- and neither the shoe industry nor the doctors has any idea of this absurdity occurring before their eyes".

I hardly know what to say. It's truly staggering. If people only knew, the rage against tobacco companies would be nothing to how they'd feel about the shoe industry. So far as they know, their feet hurt a bit. What they don't perceive is that their footwear could be causing bone damage (c.f. the South African study) and making natural gait impossible. The only acceptable shoe from the podiatric point of view, might be something like the North American Indian moccasin -- no heel, wide, soft material, flexible sole.

One thing that surprises me is that I've never heard much on shoes from Alexander people. There's the odd remark about ladies' high-heels, and there's the injunction to remove your shoes at the start of a lesson. That seems to be about it. I can't even recall any comments in any of F. M. Alexander's books.'

But it looks like shoes have a lot to do with how the natural gait becomes messed up -- in Rossi's words "Shoes Make 'Normal' Gait Impossible". If chairs are one of the worse things we do to children, I have to wonder if putting them in the currently available crop of shoes is perhaps *the* worst.


  • I really enjoyed reading your post; you make some fascinating points. Great links, too. From the point of view of the Technique, Alexander himself always wore conservative attire, including typical shoes of his era. I remember reading a comment from one of his first training school members, saying it would have been utterly unthinkable for Alexander to have gone about barefoot. She also said most of the female members of her training course also wore shoes typical of the era, with a stubby heel. Again, for them to have gone barefoot would have been unthinkable.

    The tradition of removing shoes before an Alexander lesson is relatively recent. Although it makes sense, in the same way that it makes sense to go barefoot at other times, I'm not sure it's necessarily for the best, in a learning context, unless a student normally goes about barefoot. I usually ask, beforehand, whether their typical waking hours are spent in or out of shoes. I want to teach people to pay attention to their use in their daily lives rather than only during lessons, so I encourage them to wear whatever they would normally wear. Otherwise, there's a danger they will associate what they learn only with whatever conditions prevail during a lesson.

    The biggest problems facing barefoot enthusiasts are climate, aesthetics and fashion. It's hard to go barefoot in cold weather; and going barefoot for a sustained period - essentially, a lifetime - usually results in wide, calloused, horny, weathered feet that are far from the delicate showpieces most people who wear shoes believe they have, or at any rate would like to have. As for fashion, well, we all know what that means.

    As an aside, I remember reading an account, years ago, of a 'master shoemaker' who claimed his shoes, each made individually, could 'bring on' a person's character to such an extent it was almost like therapy. He would take a complicated series of casts and measurements and create a shoe that apparently acted on the foot in such a way it led to change in the rest of the person's body and mind. A bit like the Technique!

    Personally, I go about barefoot whenever I can, or wear flip flops. I've also become fond of cheap, fake Crocs. They're astonishingly light, amazingly comfortable, exert zero pressure on the foot, while protecting the sole. The fact that they look hideous almost makes them easier to wear. I have no idea what the 'barefoot technology' shoes are like; but I found my hackles rising when they denigrated flips flops in their advertising. For me, flip flops are about as near to barefoot as it's possible to get.

    I don't run in any serious way so I've never bought running shoes; but I'm amazed at the way everyone seems to assume their feet need 'support'. Clearly, feet need protection from whatever they walk or run on, if it's potentially abrasive, but in my view, support is something our feet provide for themselves. It's a similar issue with walking boots. The obsession there is 'ankle support'. Considering our ankles have supported us through life, why should 'serious' walking require shielding them from a job they perform admirably? I'm reasonably sure this leads to weaker rather than stronger ankles.

    The biggest downside I've experienced in half a lifetime of going about barefoot whenever I can is the skin of my heels getting drier and thicker and then cracking and crevassing - this can be excruciatingly painful. In fact, I've got one of these cracks in one foot at the moment, and am limping about the place as a result. The best solution is to get a cheese grater and grind away the dry skin, before the cracks appear; but, as my smug, office dwelling, shoe wearing friend says, the best solution of all is not to let the heels dry out in the first place, by enclosing them in the same sweaty, enclosed environment , day in and day out.
  • edited June 2009
    I really enjoyed reading your post; you make some fascinating points. Great links, too.

    From the point of view of the Technique, Alexander himself always wore conservative attire, including typical shoes of his era.

    I notice he even has spats on in the video.
    The tradition of removing shoes before an Alexander lesson is relatively recent.

    That's interesting -- I'd never have guessed.
    I have no idea what the 'barefoot technology' shoes are like; but I found my hackles rising when they denigrated flips flops in their advertising. For me, flip flops are about as near to barefoot as it's possible to get.

    That depends on which "barefoot technology" shoes I suppose. I think the so-called "Maasai Barefoot Technology" shoes are ghastly. They should be done under the Trades Description Act: those are about as far from barefoot as one could get -- and as for "technology". They're really platform boots.

    But the Terra Plana Vivos, which are described as "barefoot" are appropriately minimalist:

    I've got a pair of those, and they're quite nice.

    And the Finnish Feelmax shoes, also sometimes described as "barefoot" look pretty good:

    In each case there's a sole of only about 3mm, which really lets you feel the ground.

    But I'm starting to see the word "barefoot" increasingly in shoe advertising -- sometimes in relation to very "unbarefoot" designs. Even Clarks are doing it on posters. It's a sign of the whole issue emerging into consciousness, I suppose. The manufacturers are trying to jump on the bandwagon by changing not the products but the advertising. However, unless there's no heel at all (not even a low one), unless the sole is highly flexible, and very thin (so that you can feel the ground), and unless the shoe is wide enough not to restrict the foot, it's *nothing* like going barefoot.

    I don't run in any serious way so I've never bought running shoes; but I'm amazed at the way everyone seems to assume their feet need 'support'.

    Absolutely. And the notion that you can support an arch by pushing up under the *middle* of it is bizarre. Try that with a brick arch.
  • Yes, sorry, I meant, 'Maasai Barefoot Technology', whose adverts said:

    "And we're definitely anti-flip flop."
  • edited June 2009
    This discussion reminded me that I'd looked into the various "barefoot" shoe options when I was looking for some shoes for jogging. I ended up just getting a pair of cheap trainers, but they never really felt quite right.

    So I looked Vivo up and found that there was a store not far from where I can currently working in London. I picked up a pair and wore them all weekend.

    My initial thoughts are that they are very comfortable and fairly close to walking barefoot. The soles don't feel as thin as I thought they would, but you definitely feel the surface you're walking on. They hug the foot quite snugly, but seem to cope with my non-average shaped foot (quite wide and a high upper part of the foot). I did find myself thinking a lot about how I was walking and whether I was walking differently - I suspect it'll take a little while to understand it has changed anything about how I walk.

    I didn't do any running, but I'll give that a go this week.

    The Vivo's are slightly "quirky" in design - which is fine for casual use - but I seem to do most of my walking these days on my commute to work. (Probably about 45/60 mins a day.) I'm not sure I could get away with wearing them to a workplace where a formal leather shoes and suits is the expected norm. I'll have to lookout for something similar for the business market.
  • I've now been running a few times with these shoes and have noticed that they do seem to be using certain muscles more that as with normal trainers. The key ones seems to be the lower part of the calf muscle which I imagine is absorbing more of the impact as I am finding myself landing more on the ball of the foot (rather than the heel).

    Other than my general unfitness and the aching lower-calf muscles, they feel pretty good.
  • Perhaps Dod will be interested in the following extract from an article on barefoot running:

    "Ferber does note that knee osteoarthritis rates are very low in China, where many people wear flip-flops (which also encourage a midfoot strike), and that studies have shown women who wear high heels are at increased risk for knee osteoarthritis. That research doesn’t address running specifically, however."
  • No surprises to me. Now they need to start wondering about the wisdom behind walking boots.
  • edited September 2009
    in China ... many people wear flip-flops (which also encourage a midfoot strike ...
    It's apes that land on the midfoot not men. This is one of the diagnostics by which hominid footprints can be analysed:,%20Erin%20-%20Mechanics%20of%20Bipedalism.pdf?sequence=1

    If flip-flops really did encourage that, they'd be a bad thing. Mind you, "striking" at all sounds like a bad thing. Why people have to slam their feet into the ground I don't know.
  • Here's another opinion about flip flops. Personally, I'm not convinced 'toe scrunch' and 'flip flop shuffle' are inevitable, or that their consequences aren't worth bearing, for the overall pleasure gained; but I admit, I'm biased.
  • It's apes that land on the midfoot not men.

    Whist this is true of walking and running with normal trainers, I don't think it's quite as clear cut when running barefoot.

    When running with my Vivo trainers, I find that I take a shorter stride and my foot lands a lot flatter than with normal trainers. Also with a lot less of a "strike". I'm not sure if it is a mid foot strike, but it definitely feels a lot less jarring on the legs, knees, etc.
  • This makes interesting reading to me. I was introduced to Vivo Barefoot shoes a year ago and have a pair of ladies boots and a pair of shoes. Interestingly, although Michael mentions that he has never heard much about shoes from Alexander people, the Vivo Barefoot range was actually designed with much Alexander input, and the original design concept came from Tim Brennan, Richard Brennan's son. My own teacher only wears Vivos for teaching in, and I myself have been very happy wearing them in class at my training school. I cannot comment on any other brands, as I don't believe they are Alexander-designed.

    However, as Dod quite rightly points out, barefeet are best, and I can recommend using a good pumice stone on that skin, rather than a cheese grater (the very thought!).

    I thought you might both be interested in the following link:
  • By the way, the current place for exactly this subject is on Twitter!

    You might find this article amusing too:

    And some more food for thought:
  • Thanks for the links Puppe. Some interesting ones. I agree regarding expressing a preference for pumice!
  • edited October 2009
    I thought this article was quite interesting. It focuses on Chi Running but it does reinforce some points that have already been raised.
  • Here's another article:

    More about Malcolm Balk here:
  • On the subject of footwear, here are a couple of interesting video links:

    (It's worth listening to the words of the song ...)

    For a fuller explanation (scroll down for the video):
  • More on running barefoot
  • edited January 2010
Sign In or Register to comment.