Thursday, April 7, 2011

Stepping up

Three months ago I bought a pair of Vibram Five Fingers, and I've put a lot of miles on them—not many running miles but a lot of walking miles. They're great shoes. Invariably, when strangers approach me and ask about them, I tell them so. “If you like being barefoot then you'll like these shoes,” I say. Most strangers, I've gathered, like being barefoot and would appreciate a minimal shoe.

I believe in this shoe. I think it marks an important innovation in shoe technology. Yes, Five Fingers suffer from being a fad. I hope they survive their youthful, volatile trendiness and become accepted as a regular shoe someday—the kinda shoe you wouldn't think twice about wearing as business casual. Otherwise it's a shame that we would knowingly turn away from a shoe technology that could save people a lot of pain and disablement due to foot injuries. Vibram isn't the only one; many shoe companies now get it. The natural, flexible abilities of the foot should not be amputated to make room for the prosthetic that is the modern, conventional shoe.

These past three months have been an awakening of foot awareness for me. Before, I hadn't paid much attention to my feet. They were there for making contact with the ground, little more. My Five Fingers exposed my feet's weakness. After walking around for only a few miles, the muscles and tendons in the bottom of my foot felt sore, just like any other muscle following a workout. And just like other body parts following successive workouts, my feet adapted and strengthened. Conventional shoes break down with time; my Five Fingers and the feet inside them are building up.

A month ago I started taking barefooted walks outdoors during the workday. I figured toughening the muscles of the feet is good but building callouses too is even better. I now easily win the dirtiest-feet-in-the-office competition, and my feet are toughening in two ways. Arizona is a great state for testing tough feet.

As a result of my foot experimentation I think my feet's arches are increasing. I regret not having taken “before” photos when I bought my Five Fingers because I have no way of knowing if my arches really have changed. However, a quick Google search shows some evidence that adult arches can deepen with steady doses of barefoot activity. If so, this is satisfying. Healthy feet are a core part of fitness.

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