“You support an area, it gets weaker. Use it extensively, it gets stronger. … Run barefoot and you don’t have all those troubles. … Shoes that let your foot function like you’re barefoot–they’re the shoes for me.”
–Arthur Lydiard

What limits you? More often than not, limitations are born and bred in your psyche, freely expressing themselves in the choices you make out of fear, rather than experience or knowledge. Sometimes, though, your environment can be what limits you. Other times, it can be the junk you surround yourself with. Still other times, it can be due to something you take for granted.

Like your shoes.

And I’m just going to use your shoes as an example. A worthy one, nonetheless. There’s a whole method for treating physiological discomfort called reflexology, and it’s basis lies in the importance of your feet. Now, I won’t speak to the benefit of reflexology, as I know very little about it; however, I do know that in terms of the emphasis on feet, it’s not wrong. From a biomechanical standpoint, working against gravity, knee, hip, and spinal health begins in your feet.

Nothing works in isolation.

The structural chain beginning in your toes and moving up through your calves, knees, thighs, and hips can be looked at as operating mechanically in a series of levers and arches. The levers’ efficacy hinges on the strength of the base: your feet. Collapsed arches, plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, and other problems associated with your feet can have long-lasting repercussions that express themselves elsewhere in your body due to the muscular compensations necessary to manage the pain that results from these problems. And more often than not, you’ll consider the area of discomfort and attempt to treat the symptom, rather than consider that something else may be the issue. And really, this comes down to simply not knowing any better.

The Arch

“Blueprint your feet, and you’ll find a marvel that engineers have been trying to match for centuries. Your foot’s centerpiece is the arch, the greatest weight-bearing design ever created. The beauty of the arch is the way it gets stronger under stress; the harder you push down, the tighter its parts mesh. No stonemason worth his trowel would ever stick a support under an arch; push up from underneath, and you weaken the whole structure. Buttressing the foot’s arch from all sides is a high-tensile web of twenty-six bones, thirty three joints, twelve rubbery tendons, and eighteen muscles, all stretching and flexing like an earthquake-resistant suspension bridge.”
–Christopher McDougall, Born to Run

This is a great example of modern shoe technology working against you. Most shoes offer arch support, doing the very thing that compromises the integrity of what should be the strongest link in your structural chain. As you result, you come to depend on the shoes because they’re doing the work that your arch is supposed to be doing. As Arthur Lydiard stated in the quote at the beginning of this post, “You support an area, it gets weaker.” And this is just one example in how the shoes you wear can be detrimental to your feet.

“You support an area, it gets weaker.”

This is knowledge you can apply just about an anywhere. Use a weight belt for dead lifts and squats and you weaken your abdominal and spinal support muscles. Wear compression gear, and you limit your body’s fascia in it’s ability to better manage the tissue under it. Spanx, knee wraps, waist trainers, and the whole lot may make you feel like you’re improving in particular areas of your movement and physique, but what’s really happening is that you are debilitating those areas in your body. And the expressed results of that limitation may not show in those particular areas.

Now, take this with a grain of salt: this is all very generalized and does not apply to every single case ever. More than anything, I’ve written this to serve as food for thought. Your arches are being compromised by the shoes you wear, and because of the rise in popularity of barefoot running, more and more studies are being done, and showing, that cushion is not always the best choice in foot wear. But don’t worry, an Atlas article is in the works to illustrate this phenomenon, complete with, you guessed it, references! In the meantime, do your research, do your own studying, and experiment with minimal footwear options. You may be surprised by what you discover.

Header and featured image by:
unsplash-logoBruno Nascimento