No matter how well you design and build a house, if it has a bad foundation it won't stand for very long. The human body can be looked at in a similar way, our feet are a foundation for our bodies, and basic movements and posture serve as a foundation for the more complicated things you may want to do with your body, like trail running, playing sports or the occasional backflip to show off in front of your mates. Let’s bring it back to basics and revisit the foundational skills we all tend to overlook - particularly when barefoot.
1. Standing posture
So simple yet so overlooked. The body not being aligned correctly leads to back issues and down the line can affect the way we move, walk and run. Training ourselves to hold a good posture is a great habit to get into. According to a study by Harvard Business School, your posture can even affect hormone production and will lead to feeling better and more confident if aligned in the correct way.
Here are a few tips that will help you achieve a better posture:
Try to keep your shoulders back and extend your head upwards (imagine a string pulling the top of your head towards the sky) - but keep your chin tucked in. Avoid tilting your head forward, backward or sideways.
Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, hands hanging naturally down by your sides.
You can quickly check your posture by standing flat against a wall with your shoulders back. The rear of your head should lightly touch the wall - this is the position we’re going for.
Frequently tell yourself to “stand up tall” - your mind not only controls your body but it’s also where your habits reside. Telling yourself to “stand up tall” and using that as a simple mantra will help you remember as well as aid in building a positive habit that will eventually become subconscious.
Most of all stay relaxed, balanced and comfortable, being overly rigid won’t do much good for your posture either!
2. Walking and transitioning to barefoot shoes
Walking is the crucial part of transitioning into barefoot shoes and a subject we get a lot of questions about. The trouble is that cushioned shoes have changed our gait, which is different when walking barefoot or in barefoot shoes. Because we likely have been in conventional shoes for so long, many of us have trained ourselves to walk heavy and overemphasise the heel strike - reassured by the cushioning of padded shoes - and it has become yet another hard habit to get out of.
Here are a few tips on barefoot walking and transitioning:
Your foot is made up of three rockers - the heel rocker, the ankle rocker and the forefoot/big toe rocker. Notice how they work together in sequence to move you forward when putting one foot in front of the other. The end of each step should push off from the ball of your foot and big toe, ready for the next step to be taken up by the heel rocker, then through the ankle rocker.
When walking, keep your head over your feet with an upright posture, walk with a rhythmic gait and short strides. What you don’t want is an overextended stride and locked knees as this will lead you to strike your heel.
Keep your knees soft when contacting the ground, use your legs as shock absorbers.
Try to transfer any floor impact from your heel towards the front of your foot by spreading it down towards your toes. The majority of your weight should be pressing down when your foot is flat. The emphasis is to not drive into your heel but to distribute that energy across the length of your foot.
Most importantly try to relax, this should be a free an fluid movement, being too stiff will work against you.
3. Taking it slow when transitioning
When you try barefoot shoes, you probably won’t want to go back to conventional cushioned shoes any time soon - and even though that’s great - give yourself some time to get used to it.
Jumping into shoes with zero-cushion and zero-drop and charging down a concrete road with the old heel-strike will most likely leave you with painful feet the next day, so save yourself the trouble and start slow. Head out for a short walk every day and in the beginning, try to only take trips where you know you won't be doing a huge amount of walking.
Remember that it's not only your feet that need to get used to barefoot shoes, but your entire body & muscles need to learn to walk differently. So don't rush - just observe how different it is, how free your feet feel and laugh to yourself about how we’ve all been doing shoes so wrong, for so long.