I can’t give enough emphasis on the importance of a good pair of shoes! With all the money we spend on exercise equipment, the one place that you should certainly invest in quality is in a pair of shoes. This is the most essential piece of exercise equipment!
Time for new shoes
16 years ago, early in my career as a personal trainer, one of my clients came to see me. We started with 6-minute walks, 4 times a day. My client’s level of fitness was incredibly low and he was carrying a lot of weight. One of his complaints, soon after he got started with his daily walks, was that he was having lower back pain. This pain hadn’t been there before. I looked at his shoes before anything else and he told me that they were about three years old. That same day, he replaced his shoes. Within 48 hours, those aches and pains in his lower back disappeared.
Recently, Moe joined my 10 Weeks to Health program. Moe started walking daily; 15 minutes twice a day. After 10 days of this routine, his knee started hurting. My first check was his shoes. They were old and worn. He quickly purchased a new pair and his pain disappeared.
Although we tend to think of back pain, hip pain, knee pain and ankle pain as local problems, in many if not most cases, the problems all come from the bottom up—from your feet. Every time our feet hit the ground, a chain reaction of force begins.
There are 5 stages to each step we take:
- Heel Strike
The heel strike phase starts the moment when the heel first touches the ground and lasts until the whole foot is on the ground (early flatfoot stage).
- Early flatfoot
The beginning of this stage is defined as the moment that the whole foot is on the ground. The end of the stage occurs when the body’s center of gravity passes over the top of the foot. The body’s center of gravity is located approximately in the pelvic area in front of the lower spine when we stand and walk. The main purpose of the “early flatfoot” stage is to allow the foot to serve as a shock absorber, helping to cushion the force of the body weight landing on the foot.
- Late flatfoot
Once the body’s center of gravity has passed in front of the neutral position, a person is in the late flatfoot stage. This stage of gait ends when the heel lifts off the ground. During “late flatfoot” the foot needs to go from being a flexible shock absorber to being a rigid lever to propel the body forward.
- Heel rise
As the name suggests, the heel rise phase begins when the heel begins to leave the ground. During this phase the foot functions to move the body forward. During this phase of walking the forces that go through the foot are quite significant often 2-3x a person’s body weight.
This is because the foot creates a lever arm (centered on the ankle) which serves to magnify body weight forces. Given these high forces and considering that the average human takes 3000-5000 steps per day (an active person commonly takes 10,000 steps/day) it is not surprising that the foot can easily develop chronic repetitive stress related problems.
- Toe off
The toe off stage of gait begins as the toes leave the ground. This is the final stage in the walking process.
Running vs. walking
The defining difference between walking and running is that during running there is a period of time when both feet are off the ground. Also, because running is associated with greater speeds the forces that go through the foot, when it lands can be substantially greater than during walking. The force can be often 4-5 times body weight during running and even up to 6-7 times body weight during sprinting.
When anything interrupts the natural walking gait, such as a high arch, flat feet or any one of many maladies that can occur in the foot, the entire system of “shock absorbers”- your feet, ankles, knees, hips, pelvis and lower back – become out of line. This is where problems begin! Pains in any of those areas and shin splints are common.
Having the right shoes is usually enough. However, many people have flat feet or high arches and although the proper shoe goes a long way toward helping them, they need more of a correction. They need orthotics — good quality, custom-casted ones. After breaking in your orthotics, your walking gait will begin to correct itself.
When it comes to pain, looking at the biomechanical picture and treating the root cause is key. There are many different kinds of orthotics and there are different ways of casting feet (positive pressure or neutral pressure). A good podiatrist who deals with biomechanical problems and is familiar with sports medicine can cast your feet for orthotics. This way the orthotics made will be specific and fitted for each individual’s problem. Once they are broken in, problems generally become resolved in a gradual fashion.
If the shoe fits…
The shoe that you choose for yourself must be the one that fits you the best. Although there are many top-brand shoes on the market, not all of them are made the same way. You should always stick with good quality shoes and make sure they fit YOU well. When trying on shoes in the store, make sure they are comfortable. Shoes should be slightly snug, without being tight, and should give you cushion and stability. A shoe that is too big can cause blisters and can be unstable; something too tight can cause pains and ingrown toenails.
A good sturdy pair of proper walking or running shoes is essential and they need to be replaced about every 400-500 miles of walking. For most active people, count on about half a year out of a pair of shoes. Taking care of your feet by investing in the right pair of quality shoes will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”