So far we’ve explored why humans wear footwear and unnatural footwear. Now it’s time to talk about natural footwear.
Specifically, I want to answer these questions:
What is natural footwear?
What features define natural footwear?
What are the health benefits of natural footwear?
After years of being the foot guy, a question I’ve received countless times is: what shoes should I wear? My answer has evolved over time and my current best answer is two words: natural footwear.
I started using the term natural footwear a few years ago because I found it to be more effective than buzzwords like “barefoot shoes” or “minimal shoes”. When someone says “barefoot shoes” a lot of people think of toe shoes and the term is also a confusing oxymoron - if you’re barefoot then you aren’t wearing shoes. The term “minimal” also seemed inadequate because marketing departments called cushioned, pointed shoes minimal. I wanted a term that was clear, intuitive and could be used to indicate the type of footwear that aligned with the biology of the human foot.
Today I want to explain the term in more detail so you can understand what it is and be empowered to make better decisions when purchasing footwear.
Natural footwear describes shoes that protect our feet from damage without infringing on their ability to function naturally (how they would move if you weren’t wearing shoes). Instead of telling people what specific shoes to buy, I want to help you understand the 4 features of natural footwear so you can evaluate every shoe you currently own or are considering purchasing in future.
4 F’s of natural footwear:
Let’s unpack each of these features in 1-2 sentences.
Human feet are naturally widest at the tips of our toes. Foot shaped shoes follow that shape and are designed with a straight first ray and space for our toes to splay. Here is a great image from Lems that compared unnatural footwear (traditional) with natural footwear (Lems).
Flat means that natural shoes are the same height at the heel and forefoot. It also means that the interior sole of the shoe is flat and doesn’t include any artificial support.
Flexible means natural shoes can be folded, twisted and bent with minimal resistance. A flexible shoe allows the joints of our feet to move freely without restriction.
Feel means natural shoes have a thin sole that allows maximal transmission of sensory input from the ground to the sole of our feet.
While it’s important to understand features of natural footwear, more interesting are the health benefits that come from these features (to be explored deeper in future Microdoses). Transitioning from from unnatural footwear (described in Microdose #3.5), to natural footwear offers the following benefits:
Improved toe alignment (because we’re no longer compressing our toes together)
Improved foot mobility (because the joints of our feet are permitted to move without restriction)
Improved foot strength (because getting rid of external support stimulates muscles to work harder)
Improved posture (because standing on flat ground recalibrates our global skeletal alignment)
Improved balance (because a splayed foot is easier to balance on than a squished foot)
Wearing natural footwear provides us an opportunity to restore toe alignment, mobility and strength in our feet. This is the key to resolving foot pain and dysfunction. I say opportunity because if I wore natural footwear but I also sat on a couch all day long, little progress would result. Meaningful improvement requires us to expose our bodies to natural inputs like load, texture and varied joint positions IN ADDITION to upgrading our foot environment by switching to natural footwear. For guidance on increasing those natural inputs, check out the education and programs offered at The Foot Collective (joining their digital community is free and it’s loaded with useful education and physical challenges that help you begin taking steps in the right direction).
I’m a firm believer that the most important change you can make to improve your foot health is to eliminate the harmful environment created by unnatural shoes. As you begin wearing natural footwear, your body will naturally adapt in the right direction. This adaptation process takes longer for some than others and the key is adopting a long term mindset, being patient and trusting the process.
My hope is that today helped you better understand the WHY of natural footwear. Why it’s important, how to detect it, and the foot health benefits that can come from switching to shoes that allow your body to move naturally. I plan to write future Microdoses that focus on HOW to successfully make the transition to natural shoes while mitigating the risk of injury that can come from doing too much too soon.
To recap today’s microdose:
Natural footwear describes shoes that allow your feet to function naturally
They are defined as shoes that are Foot shaped, Flat, Flexible and optimize ground Feel
Switching to natural shoes provides us the opportunity to restore foot health but to realize our full potential, we must also incorporate natural inputs like load, texture and movement variety
Natural footwear has the capacity to heal our feet. Better shoes allow us to free our Soles from the damaging effects of unnatural shoes. This information is simple and it can be immensely powerful when applied in your life.
If you find this Microdose useful, please share it. Share it with your friends, family, clients, patients and anyone who is suffering from foot pain and is ready to make changes to take better care of themselves. If you want to contribute a testimonial or share your story on the weekly Microdose for the Sole, please email us at hello@SoleFreedom.ca. We love hearing from our community and sharing your success stories to inspire others.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for supporting our work and thanks for taking care of yourself.
Next weeks Microdose for the Sole topic: S.A.I.D principle
Wishing you a wonderful week and lots of Love