It has been a while since I’ve done a long urban hike. There is a good reason. I am learning how to walk again. In April, The New York Magazine published a long, but great article by Adam Sternbergh titled You Walk Wrong. Basically, I learned that all shoes are bad, because they alter the way you walk.
Natural gait is biomechanically impossible for any shoe-wearing person, wrote Dr. William A. Rossi in a 1999 article in Podiatry Management. It took 4 million years to develop our unique human foot and our consequent distinctive form of gait, a remarkable feat of bioengineering. Yet, in only a few thousand years, and with one carelessly designed instrument, our shoes, we have warped the pure anatomical form of human gait, obstructing its engineering efficiency, afflicting it with strains and stresses and denying it its natural grace of form and ease of movement head to foot. In other words: Feet good. Shoes bad.
I’ve railed against wearing running shoes in the free weight room. It seems the human heel has many nerve endings that send signals to the brain to help it with balance and posture. The thicker we make the cushioning of the shoes we wear, the harder we strike our heel to the ground. That act changes the way we walk. Our feet get weaker and our knees and backs start hurting.
Page 4 of the above article has an image showing how our strides change with shoes. The importance differences are:
- Softer heel land.
- Complete “roll through” each step. Shoe soles prevent this.
- Push off comes from the toes. Shoes force the legs to do all the lifting of the foot.
Well, you can’t exactly walk around in a city without shoes. There are options. One is the Vibram 5- Finger Shoe. These look too weird for me to try. A middle ground option is the Nike Free 3.0 series. I have a pair of Diesel shoes with super thin soles that work best for me. There is almost no heel cushion. That is a good thing.
Going from running shoes to super thin shoes means I now walk slower and cover less distance. This feels more natural. I think the most I have urban hiked in my Diesel shoes has been 10 miles. Unlike past urban hikes, I felt no lower back pain. My feet had mild soreness, which is to be expected since they are finally doing some of the work when it comes to walking. By winter I expect my feet to be strong enough to handle 20 mile hikes.
Aug 9, 2009 — 12:57 pm
I’ve actually been researching some of the same shoes recently. I’d love to be able to run again without back pain and the science of the flat shoe is hard to dispute. I’d love to hear how your experience goes.
Aug 9, 2009 — 5:05 pm
In 1960, this guy won the Olympic marathon running without shoes. Damn!
Although I have no desire to ever run distance again, I did do four 100 meter sprints wearing my flat shoes last week. I plan to slowly add more sprinting. Also, I want to do barefoot running on uneven grass surfaces as well. I will be taking this very slowly.
Aug 10, 2009 — 5:59 am
I’ve done the walk-with-occasional-sprinting thing often and it’s a great workout for new muscle groups. The Galloway run-walk method is also a great way to do distance running I think. But mostly this appeals to me because it seems more natural and less injury-prone. My theory is that modern shoes may be even more detrimental for tall lanky ectomorphs–especiall when running.
Aug 10, 2009 — 10:31 am
This is really interesting.
I’m not sure that I disagree, but I have had the opposite experience. I never wear any shoes when I’m at home. I take them off as soon as I walk in the door, and even leave them off when I’m doing light work around the house, like watering things in the yard, going back and forth to the garage for laundry, etc.
Thing in, I have no carpeting, so every surface I walk on is flat and hard. And after a while of walking around, but feet really begin to hurt. I supposed this could be because I’m so used to shoes, but I don’t know.
I also used to attribute it to my being overweight, since my feet have to support a lot more weight that they should. But when Vladimir recently moved downtown into a place with hard wood floors, he began complaining about the same thing. Not sure what it means, but I do find it interesting.
Aug 10, 2009 — 3:09 pm
I too dislike extended periods on flat surfaces. I think our feet muscles develop more balance and strength from uneven surfaces.
When I go walking now, I often step off the sidewalk and walk in the grass. Even though it is still somewhat flat, the slight variations add up over miles.
Aug 10, 2009 — 4:11 pm
I was thinking about you and your back pain recently because I’m now enjoying walking in my Vibram FiveFingers. I see that you haven’t tried them yet, and I wonder if they’d help eliminate your pain.
Sue (Yes, THAT Sue)
Aug 10, 2009 — 4:17 pm
My back pain has disappeared in the last few months. I think wearing flat shoes has helped, but it is only part of the reason.
I would like to try the Vibram 5-Finger someday. I really like the NIKE 3.0 Free. It is too bad the Nike Town store is so understocked, or I would have bought them by now.
Aug 10, 2009 — 4:35 pm
Oh good, glad to hear the back pain is gone. I’m a couple weeks behind on your blog; sorry if I missed a post about it!