Monthly Archives: June 2016

Should you run in shoes or run barefoot? by Seán Carey

Running_shoes_display

Last week it was the effect on the feet of wearing high heels that was in the news. This week it’s whether running wearing a pair of trainers is better for you than running barefoot. University of Queensland researchers found that the cushioning and arch support features found in most modern trainers and running shoes can potentially impair ‘foot-spring function’– though with the important caveat that shod running may contribute to other advantages in a runner’s foot muscle function, especially in the activation of the muscles along the longitudinal arch of the foot. The researchers concluded (as researchers tend to do) that more research was required to explore the relationship between the foot and the muscles around the ankle and knee joints during running.

Certainly, all the top athletes I’ve observed in recent years wear some sort of shoe when competing. On the other hand, many elite middle and long-distance runners, hailing from rural areas in countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia, have grown up not wearing shoes or only wearing them occasionally. In fact, there is a huge advantage for all of us at least to walk barefoot whenever possible. Why? Well, the sensory nerves on the bottom of your feet provide important proprioceptive information about the ground you are walking on. Your brain and the rest of your nervous system interpret these signals to keep you upright with the minimum amount of effort in locomotion. This process is made more difficult if shoes are worn – and interestingly the more cushioned or stiffer the shoes, the worse the problem. In fact, even wearing socks on your feet interferes with this proprioceptive process.

However, walking barefoot and running barefoot are not equivalent activities. Most experts, such as Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman, recommend that if you are used to running with shoes but wish to make the change to running barefoot or using minimalist shoes you allow plenty of time to make the transition. And, from an Alexander Technique perspective, it’s not just your feet that you need to be concerned with. Much more important in many ways is the balance of your head on your neck. You want to keep your head freely poised so that your back musculature provides the necessary support for your body weight and allows your legs to move freely. Tighten your neck muscles and you’re pulling your head down on to your shoulders and compressing your whole body from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet. In short, you will run heavy and feel heavy. And that’s true whether your feet are shod or not.

For more information on walking and running read Seán Carey’s Alexander Technique in Everyday Activity: Improve how you sit, stand, walk, work and run

Available through Amazon with free P & P

 

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Should you wear high heels? by Seán Carey

Shoes Modelled ATiEA

High heels are in the news again. Women, who have been told to wear high heels at work are being invited to tell their stories to a group of MPs in order to gain legal clarity about whether UK employers can force female employees to wear such footwear. The initiative by parliamentarians came after a petition calling for a ban on women being obliged to wear high heels in the workplace gathered more than 142,000 signatures (mine was one of them).

In fact, the use of footwear is a relatively recent development in human history. The world’s oldest preserved shoes were constructed from sagebrush bark fibre by Native Americans keen to insulate themselves against freezing temperatures in the Pacific Northwest around 10,500 years ago. Many contemporary populations living in warm climates in the developing world never wear shoes. Such barefoot people tend to have wide feet, pronounced arches and evenly distributed plantar pressure. By contrast, habitual shoe wearers have narrower feet, exhibit very high focal pressures at the heel, big toe and ball of the foot, and often suffer anatomical abnormalities, such as weak toes, bunions and flat feet.

High heels are particularly significant in this regard. Evidence suggests that extensive use of such footwear, especially ultra-high heels, is linked with significant physical problems. It’s associated with marked shortening of the highly malleable muscle fibres that make up the calves as well as thicker and stiffer Achilles tendons. Long-term use of high heels is also correlated with the development of on-going foot pain and restriction in the range of movement of the ankles. Unsurprisingly those problems show up more in ageing adults.

When people ask me in my role as an Alexander Technique teacher what shoes they should wear, I ask them what footwear would they select if they had to walk or run quickly? High heels, platform shoes, and flip-flops would not be a good choice, even for the very well-coordinated. They all interfere with your balance and alignment and decrease your potential speed in walking or running. The optimum choice is well-fitting shoes, with thin, flexible soles that follow the movement of your feet without the need to try to hang on with your toes.

So it’s probably best to wear a pair of Christian Louboutin-type heels only on very special occasions. If you do put them on try to walk on the balls of your feet rather than landing on the heels – though be aware that you are using around 50 per cent more energy compared with a normal heel-sole-toe movement as you would do if you were walking barefoot or in thin-sole shoes.

For more information on your feet and other parts of your body-mind continuum read Seán Carey’s Alexander Technique in Everyday Activity: Improve how you sit, stand, walk, work and run

Available through Amazon with free P & P