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Thread: Asphalt: Good for our cars, bad for our feet? page

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    s-piper's Avatar
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    Asphalt: Good for our cars, bad for our feet?

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    This weekend REI was having a sale on VFFs, so I decided to take another sip of the Paleo kool-aid and bought a pair.

    Well they seemed fine until today when I decided it had been long enough that I could try wearing them an entire day. After walking about 5 blocks on the sidewalk my tendonitis was acting up, and my ankles were feeling every bone-jarring step. Then I got to a section of campus where I had to cut across a grassy area and...100% better! So for the rest of the way to work I stepped on to grass or dirt sections wherever fesible and it was such a difference, even stepping on acorns didn't hurt compared to how pavement felt.

    So I was thinking that maybe this is the reason most shoes have metal in them. The extra support we need from them is actually protection from the too hard artificial ground?

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    Quote Originally Posted by s-piper View Post
    This weekend REI was having a sale on VFFs, so I decided to take another sip of the Paleo kool-aid and bought a pair.

    Well they seemed fine until today when I decided it had been long enough that I could try wearing them an entire day. After walking about 5 blocks on the sidewalk my tendonitis was acting up, and my ankles were feeling every bone-jarring step. Then I got to a section of campus where I had to cut across a grassy area and...100% better! So for the rest of the way to work I stepped on to grass or dirt sections wherever fesible and it was such a difference, even stepping on acorns didn't hurt compared to how pavement felt.

    So I was thinking that maybe this is the reason most shoes have metal in them. The extra support we need from them is actually protection from the too hard artificial ground?
    It sounds to me that you're still trying to walk with a prominent heel strike.

    If you were literally barefoot, would you come down heavily on the heel below the ankle?
    No, your natural instinct would be to rotate the ball of your foot downward to create a mid-foot strike.
    THAT is the problem. I had the same issue from years of "running/basketball" shoes.
    Once I started wearing Vans, I re-adjusted the stride, and then transitioned cleanly to Vibrams.

    If it HURTS, your mechanics need tweaked.
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    Quote Originally Posted by keithpowers View Post
    It sounds to me that you're still trying to walk with a prominent heel strike.

    If you were literally barefoot, would you come down heavily on the heel below the ankle?
    No, your natural instinct would be to rotate the ball of your foot downward to create a mid-foot strike.
    I disagree. What you describe works fine when jogging, and is certainly true when sprinting, but it doesn't add up when walking. You can land on your heel with minimal force and feel no pain. I'm barefoot often and that's how I walk. Trying to land on midfoot when walking feels very unnatural. I can only think of toddlers that are just learning to walk doing this, but once they develop balance and strength it stops happening.
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    Quote Originally Posted by s-piper View Post

    So I was thinking that maybe this is the reason most shoes have metal in them. The extra support we need from them is actually protection from the too hard artificial ground?
    I don't know that most have metal in them, but more padding, sure.

    I think it's a seductive argument, but I don't really believe it. The more padding you put in, the worse your (unconscious) sense of the ground. You probably come down harder without even realizing it: you're certainly more likely to miss what the ground's doing -- and even sidewalks aren't always even -- and, therefore, pronate or supinate.

    Here's another argument that seems plausible to me. (I don't think it's necessarily conclusive, but I think it's suggestive.) So some companies have brought out really thickly padded running shoes -- built-in springs and goodness knows what. It seems people who wear those experience more injuries.

    I see that asphalt might be less ideal than natural surfaces (although those includes rock). But I'm not convinced padding in the shoe is the answer.



    Trying to artificially alter your gait so that you land on the balls of your feet -- as one would do when running? No, I think not.

    There was a curious notion going the rounds of the long distance running community (odd enough people anyway) that native people must have walked on their toes. The origin of that myth, as far as I can tell, is a story for boys by Mark Twain. So we base our anthropological notions on the imaginings of literary men?? What!!

    And if we must, why Twain and not Hawthorne?

    We return to the elderly maiden. She at length withdrew her eyes from the dark countenance of the Colonel's portrait, heaved a sigh,—indeed, her breast was a very cave of Aolus that morning,—and stept across the room on tiptoe, as is the customary gait of elderly women.
    The Project Gutenberg E-text of The House of the Seven Gables, by Nathanial Hawthorne

    The oldest footprints in the world -- the Laeotili footprints (preserved as fossils) -- indicate unshod people walking normally with the heel making first contact.

    I think flat shoes, and less padding than is usual -- though not necessarily something as minimalist as VFFs -- are good. But it's also important not to come down with too much force. This is mostly a case of being relaxed and not trying to hurry. Still more, it's a case of not trying to get where you're going by using more force than is necessary ... a cultural failing with us. And it's not just a matter of what you're doing with your feet: it's a whole-body thing.

    Much tension starts with the head-neck relationship -- which is crucial in all vertebrates, not just man. Thinking in terms of allowing your neck and shoulders to be free -- not doing, allowing -- and of lightness and expansion in general might help.

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    I'm a bit too parsimonious for VFFs. I wear Speedo water shoes for running, with the insole torn out. Sort of a minimalist moccasin or ballet slipper, just enough to give some protection against jagged objects. Sometimes I'll wear them after a run to walk the dog, etc. What I've noticed is that minimalist running really works all those tiny muscles and connectors 'twixt the various bones of the foot, so that if I've had some time off from running my feet may hurt a bit - not from impact, but from stretching. And if I then walk on concrete or asphalt, it exacerbates those thousand tiny strains. Part of what you're doing going minimalist is not just altering your stride, but also working out your foot, and making it stronger.

    My surmise is that the longer you walk in your VFFs the more inured you will become to the sensations now experienced by walking on asphalt. As your feet strengthen - and it's odd to think of one's feet as being strong or weak, as being anything but big landing paddles - I doubt that walking on hard surfaces will be such a big deal. If you have the opportunity to go barefoot, even better, athough I realize this is not always possible.

    When the feet are restricted and padded and protected, like the muscles under a cast when one breaks a bone, of course they will become weak, reliant on support. Try some light jogging if you don't do that already, to accelerate the strengthening.

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    Ballet flats are a good comparison. I have a pair of those for times I need nice shoes, but don't want to wear heels. Walking on asphalt in those also hurts...a lot more than high heels do actually, so I do believe I could use some strengthening. The shoes I normally wear are New Balance Motion Control, so with the rollbar you get basically no sense of the ground. I know this because my dirt vs. pavement preference is the exact opposite in those. On bare ground in the NB I feel more in danger of stepping wrong and twisting my ankle.

    And, yes, many shoes have either metal or plastic parts in the soles.



    Lewis: Addressing the passage from Mark Twain. By Twain's time heeled shoes had already been around for centuries, so elderly women walking on tip-toe could be a result of tightening of the calf muscles after a lifetime of wearing heels.
    Last edited by s-piper; 03-05-2013 at 12:28 PM.

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    I walk pretty much flat footed when wearing minimalist shoes on hard surfaces and rocky trails, I also soften my walk so my knees take more of the role in absorbing impact, I probably need to pay more attention than most as I do a lot of walking with a 22lb baby stapped to my front which makes things interesting
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    Quote Originally Posted by iniQuity View Post
    I disagree. What you describe works fine when jogging, and is certainly true when sprinting, but it doesn't add up when walking. You can land on your heel with minimal force and feel no pain. I'm barefoot often and that's how I walk. Trying to land on midfoot when walking feels very unnatural. I can only think of toddlers that are just learning to walk doing this, but once they develop balance and strength it stops happening.
    I guess I needed to clarify that... I used to walk almost on the very point of my heel, because there was no bio-mechanical penalty when wearing shoes with massive heel cushions. I do land on my heel when walking, but as you were alluding to, it doesn't strike with force sufficient to cause discomfort.
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    The only real problem I have found with my VFF's and asphalt is in the summer in 100+ degree heat.. my feet get burned LOL
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    Quote Originally Posted by athomeontherange View Post
    The only real problem I have found with my VFF's and asphalt is in the summer in 100+ degree heat.. my feet get burned LOL
    LOL! I have the exact opposite problem right now. My feet are freaking freezing in the mostly mesh VFFs.
    I guess once it gets warm again (please, soon!) I'll see if that's a problem, although I would think the hard bottom would protect from that.

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