One of the benefits of working for myself is that I can choose to dress for function over uniform. Grateful for the fact that I work in a job where I’m standing and squatting 90% of the time*, recently I made the decision to commit to wearing Vibram FiveFinger shoes full-time.
If you’ve never seen these before, check out my new ‘golf’ version which are easily the best model I’ve owned.
This has been a long time coming, having experimented with a couple of pairs for some time now as well as an Elwood summer spent walking to and from work sans-shoes.
Why would I make myself look so ridiculous you ask? After experimenting with rigid orthotics, specialty runners and even toe surgery, nothing ever came close to the gains I’ve made throughout my body by reconnecting my feet to the ground. The greater the opportunity for my feet to experience the sensation of what’s beneath me, the more I’ve been able to improve elements of flexibility and stability that have always been my achilles heel (pardon the pun).
In short, the soles of the feet and toes are richly innervated by touch receptors, the joints provide proprioceptive feedback and the width that minimalist shoes afford act together to create a neurological response that requires the intrinsic muscles of the arch to work, the hip rotator muscles to stabilise and the lower limb muscles to protect against injury. These sensations are dampened in the rigid, spongy shoes that many of us wear.
The thing I love most about minimalist footwear is what I’ve experienced on the golf course and in particular following the 7km that I walk to cover 18 holes of golf. My feet feel supple and fresh – a stark contrast to the stiffness and puffiness of all the golf shoes that have come before them (this includes some of the most expensive golf shoes on the market!).
Having had many discussions with various golfers about the best shoes out there, most conclude that they wear the best of a bad bunch. English golfer Oliver Wilson caused a stir in 2010 when he wore Vibrams for the first time in a tournament. He echoes many golfers’ views on this style of shoe, which is a reluctance to wear them due to the unwanted attention that they attract: “You walk better in them and there’s less strain on the legs, but I’m not sure I’ll be keeping them on.”
Until the fashion police charge me, I’ll be wearing these regularly from now on…
Tips on how to work up to a minimalist shoe:
Try this set of 3 touchpoint principles every day for a week before you kick the shoes off for lengthy periods.
Mobility – I love this foot sequence by ’the man’, Kit Laughlin. In this lengthy YouTube clip, he covers some of the theory behind minimalist shoes. A word of caution with this: don’t stretch your toes too far as to split the webbing between the toes!
Stability – Stability in the feet takes time to develop if you are lacking stability of the musculature. Progress from a deep squat position on the balls of the feet to an upright position. The deep squat position is a terrific way of firing the often dormant lower leg muscles. In the deep squat position, do some toe raises, draw some circles with your heels and even figure 8s.
Movement – Walk barefoot around the house to get your body used to a slightly different movement pattern. Progress this to training your legs barefoot (if your gym allows) with movements like skipping and balance exercises in particular. Gradually increase the distance that you walk barefoot over weeks to months and perhaps invest in a pair of Vibrams yourself… Just be ready for the comments!
* which improves my life expectancy by 8 years over a seated desk job, according to the latest research.