In this weeks microdose for the sole I'm unpacking the first and most important F of natural footwear: Foot Shaped. Specifically, I want to clarify the important difference between a foot shaped shoe and a wide shoe that isn’t foot shaped.
My mnemonic for the features of natural footwear continues to evolve and has changed over the years. As I learn better, I update how I explain natural footwear to people. The mnemonic is important because it empowers people with an easy to remember heuristic to evaluate all footwear so they can make better choices without needing to be told what brands or styles to buy. By empowering people with understanding it enables their ability to be their own best advocate and to educate others.
The original mnemonic years ago was WTFF - wide, thin, flat, flexible. After speaking with people like Ray McClanahan and thinking deeper on the words, I decided to ditch “wide” and replace it with Foot Shaped.
Why? Because while unnatural shoes are excessively narrow and more width is generally better, WHERE they are wide is vastly more important. For example, if a shoe is wide at the base of the big toe but still tapers to a point and pushes the toe out of optimal alignment, it’s not a natural shoe.
Natural footwear is widest at the tip of the toes because that is where natural feet are widest. Calling a shoe “wide” has become marketing spin and in response, we need to be clearer with our framework so that people don’t get convinced to buy a shoe that disables their feet because they were labeled “wide”.
I'm a visual person and find images very helpful when seeking to understand something. Here are some great visuals I found online that demonstrate the natural shape of a human foot that is widest at the tip of the toes (image #1), and the effects that pointed shoes have in deforming human feet (image #2).
Image #1: Natural foot shape
Image #2: Shoe shaped feet
Image #3: one of my favourite visuals created by Vivobarefoot
Why it matters
The big toe of the human foot serves an immensely important role in optimal foot function. If the big toe is pushed out of alignment, we disable intrinsic mechanisms of the foot that allow it to function as intended. A metaphor I often give is that our big toe is one of 3 major points of stability of the foot (in addition to our heel and base of little toe). If we push the big toe out of it's straight position, it’s like kicking a leg out from the tripod which creates instability in the foot. By deactivating the big toe, the foot now wants to collapse inwards and it loses the ability to become a rigid lever that is capable of generating propulsive forces needed for optimal gait mechanics. All that to say: if we mess up our big toe alignment, we mess up the entire foot and the body above must compensate with sub-optimal patterns that can cause premature breakdown of joints upstream over long periods of time.
Wearing natural footwear that is widest at the toes allows our big toe to adopt a natural position and preserves the functional integrity of our feet.
Natural foot shape
A natural human foot that has never worn footwear is widest at the tip of the toes. Check out the shape of a baby's foot and you get a great example of natural feet. Natural footwear is shaped like natural feet and is widest at the tip of the toes - that’s where the term “foot shaped” comes from. It's a simple insight really - when we wear shoes shaped like feet, we allow our feet to function properly.
Depsite the simplicity of that concept, 99% of shod humans today are wearing unnatural footwear that is disabling their feet and damaging their body.
When we know better, we become capable of making better choices with our health. With feet, better choices begins with wearing natural footwear that is foot shaped.
- The shape of a shoe is more important than the width
- Natural footwear is widest at the tip of the toes
- Beware of shoes that are “wide” in the wrong spot. If they aren't widest at the toes, they aren’t natural and will disable optimal foot mechanics over time
I hope this article was helpful for you. If it was, please share it with a friend or family member that can benefit from switching to foot shaped shoes.
Thanks for reading and for taking care of yourself.
Talk to you next week.