Our feet evolved primarily for walking on varied terrain with hills, bumps, divets, sharp rocks, smooth stones, roots, holes, sand, dirt, grasses, leaves, brambles, water, slick, sloggy, hard, soft – deforming their 33 joints in a nearly infinite number of positions while naked. Our feet did not evolve to wear thick, rigid, tight, positive heeled shoes while walking on hard, flat artificial surfaces. Our feet are not happy. Our feet could be so much more.
A little science bit on the gait cycle. While walking looks easy, it is an extremely complex and coordinated event. When we walk, the following four distinct events occur during the stance phase, when the foot is in contact with the ground.
- Heel strike (HS)
- Foot flat (FF)
- Heel rise (HR)
- Toe off (TO)
Walking with shoes on flat surfaces mutes/blurs these distinct actions, resulting in gait patterns that look more like stomping or shuffling.
To get your feet walking optimally with maximum joint involvement, try this. Remove your shoes and slowly exaggerate each action in the gait cycle. It’s OK to do this on carpet if you are not used to going barefoot. If you have rugged feet, try this outside on grass. Concentrate first on your right foot only, letting the left foot come along for the ride. Then concentrate on your left foot. Then both feet. If you feel like you are walking the bridal march, you are doing well.
- As you step your right foot forward, gently land your heel on the ground (heel strike)
- Slowly allow the remainder of your foot to make contact with the ground, articulating one joint at a time as you lay your foot down. (foot flat)
- Rise your heel off the ground, again articulating each joint until you are on the ball of your foot. (heel rise)
- Push your toes firmly away from the ground (toe off)
In the kind words of Thich Nhat Hanh, as you walk, “kiss the earth with your feet.”
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