Robb Wolf’s Liberty Garden concept

Lettuce have some salad!

One of the most important things you do every day is make decisions on what kinds of things you will use to fuel your body. Beef or chicken? Grassfed or storebought? What kinds of veggies? You gonna throw some corn down, or perhaps a big-ass sandwich? Maybe that’s not such a great idea.

Regardless of the choices you ultimately end up making, the choice itself is an important one. Your body is – without a doubt – the most important thing you own. How you choose to fuel it should respect that level of importance, in my opinion. And herein lies a problem inherent in the system – you can make good choices that still end up being less good choices based on how that fuel was raised/grown/created. And while you may not be able to fully know how all your fuel was created, it’s important to take those baby steps to getting to where you would like to be. (If you’re happy guzzling Mountain Dew and Ritz crackers, you can pretty much disregard this. Realistically, you’re probably not reading this anyway.)

Enter the Liberty Garden concept as promoted by Robb Wolf. Here’s the concept in an even smaller nutshell than Robb’s site talks about it: You are what you eat; in order to know what you’re eating, you should grow some of it because factory farming is involved in practices that can be called questionable (not to mention non sustainable), and that a great way to start it is using your own yard/kitchen window/balcony/veranda/fire escape/WHATEVER to start growing some of your own stuff. Sounds easy, right? It is! Just throw some seeds in some healthy soil (dirt is such a dead sounding word), keep it watered as per the directions on the back of the package, make sure the plants have adequate sunlight, and voila! instant food.

The Liberty Garden – Robb Wolf

To start, I would recommend some herbs. They’re usually very resilient and do well. If you think you have a black thumb, go with these to start. They’re almost a sure thing.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there, and get growing!

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Three months on the primal fringe-Part One

On Tuesday, April 5th, I will have three months under my belt in my transformation from a rather marshmallowy everyman into an old-is-new archetype. I have lost 18 pounds (230 -> 212) in that time, monitored changes in my body measurements and lost nearly 3 inches overall, while actually gaining inches in my legs and arms. I can do pullups, both dead-hang and kipping, and can run a mile at a respectable speed. I’ve learned the basics of the Olympic lifts, and my max weight on those has been steadily increasing. Overall, my strength has increased dramatically, and I just feel better.

In addition to all that, my allergies have let up to the point where I only intermittently take Claritin, and even then only on the bad days. I have not gotten sick despite working in an office building in a large city where it will hopefully someday stop raining. I rarely get acne or outbreaks, but even the acne I did have seems to be less. My skin in general is healthier – color, elasticity, the whole nine yards. The jury is still out, but it is starting to look like gray hair which had begun sprouting when I was 19, has begun to come in dark once more. My teeth are whiter. I’m sleeping better.

I have been toying with the idea of doing this stuff for years.

I have been aware of Crossfit as well as the paleo method of diet and had looked into it, but thought “Nah, there’s nothing in this for me.” I felt pretty healthy, was in better shape than most of my colleagues, and was in general doing well. Crossfit seemed ‘too hard’, or ‘too intense’. I stuck to spin classes and cycling. My back was weak, so I suffered through back pain from the cycling. I couldn’t quite hold my body rigid over the bicycle, and relied too much on my handlebars. In reality, what I had thought of as ‘doing pretty well’, was in fact kind of ‘being lackluster’. I effectively was lying to myself, justifying my fitness by comparing myself to other people around me. This was a mistake. I was surrounded by people that spend their time in offices and whom are not, in general, athletic. So while I talked myself into thinking that I was doing pretty good in the grand scheme of things, deep down I knew I was fooling myself.

Wherein I learn the truth

The new year was fast approaching, and I had been thinking about my health and wellness as well as my wife’s. We had a new little one that had just turned one, and was beginning to take his first steps. I knew where this was headed – running, jumping, playing, etc. Neither my wife nor I wanted to miss out on that because of our health. I began looking for solutions.

We had recently moved to a new city, so I began to look around for a gym. I wasn’t interested in a gym that was shiny and glittery, or a gym that was tiny and filled with machines. I wanted something real. I remembered Crossfit – indeed I had been watching the main site’s WOD’s (workout of the day) for a while now, but never doing any of them. I looked up crossfit gyms in the area. There were two nearby.

Call it providence, good timing, or just flat out good luck, but I found that one had an end of the year deal going on, and additionally offered an introduction program for new initiates. This intro program was designed to acclimate an individual untrained in the sport of fitness that is offered by crossfit, as well as train them in many of the movements and lifts which would be frequently used in the WOD’s offered at the gym. After asking a few questions of the gym owner, particularly surrounding the fact that my wife was traveling fairly far outside of her comfort range, we signed up. I had a good feeling about this place, despite never having been there. I was excited.

I get whipped

The first week was the sorest that I think I have ever been. We ran, lifted little or no weight, practiced ‘double unders’ (a method of jumping rope where the rope travels under your body twice for every jump you make), box jumps, pullups, pushups, situps, deadlifts, and a myriad of other movements. I was torched. I ached everywhere. I started taking fish oil to help lubricate my joints. Glucosamine chased that, as well as a nice morning dose of ibuprofen. I am not one to take to a something half assedly, and I was feeling it. I could tell this would be a long journey.

As the weeks wore on, the soreness and fatigue wore away, and successes began to mount. With the passing of time and the gaining of familiarity, I grew more comfortable and stronger, trading old non-fringe fat for new primal muscle. I traded slow, deliberate movements for speedy explosive ones. My cardiovascular system improved greatly, and I felt better than I had when I was cycling 60 miles or more per week.

An additional benefit of membership at the gym is the workshops and classes they offer. Our first week there, they were offering a class on the paleo method of eating. Sure, I thought, why not? It’ll at least be interesting. How true that statement would turn out to be.

The workshop was very interesting, and Jessica, the gym’s resident RD (registered dietician), was very frank and honest about the research she had done and about the benefits she personally had reaped from moving to this diet. I was intrigued, and – having had very little success in losing the weight I wanted to (and getting to a point where I had six pack abs), I did a little more research. Robb Wolf is one of the larger characters in this ‘paleo diet’ business, and was one of the first places Jessica referred the class to on the web (he offers free meal plans and shopping lists for the first 30 days). I started reading through this, seeing the issues it had the potential to address, and instantly thought of my dad.

My dad has been fighting with his health since before I was born. In many ways, he is a medical textbook, having suffered through a gauntlet of different and serious medical conditions. So much of what Robb Wolf claimed was like it was designed exactly for my dad. So I began to look into it even more deeply.

I began to voraciously read articles and websites about paleo, primal, natural movement, crossfit, etc. It was all very interesting and something about it really spoke to me. I decided almost immediately that I would ‘go paleo’, at least for  the 30 days, and see how things went.

9 foods to thrive on.

Cow's are goooood!

A month ago, Primal TOAD asked a simple question “If You Could Only Live on 9 Foods, What Would They Be?” The game is basically “desert island discs” but with food instead of music. I just stumbled across it, and it seems like a great exercise – something kinda fun, but at the same time, a good look at how people eat and how their preferences dictate their diet.

So, without further ado, here is my list.

1. Steelhead – Take the best salmon you’ve ever had and turn it up to 11. Yes, it’s so good that I used one of the three “This is Spinal Tap” references I have left for the year.

2. Beef steak – it’s versatile, and theoretically you could grind it, shred it, cube it, grill it, broil it, braise it or hell, just eat it raw.

3. Onions – I add these to almost everything. They can offer a real change.

4. Portabello mushrooms – again, delicious and they can be thrown in soups, eggs, stir fries, you name it.

5. Butternut squash – it’s a sweet and hearty vegetable. What’s not to like?

6. Bacon – Nothing more to say, here. Not only this, but a byproduct of bacon is bacon grease, which is terrific to cook with.

7. Eggs – Use them in anything. They’re easy to grow, too!

8. Broccoli – Delicious and good for you. We eat this all the time.

9. Macadamia nuts – these may be the most delicious nut on the planet. Bet you can’t eat just one handful!

I found that paleo erin did the same thing, as well as paleo at penn. Both are interesting reads. I think it’s interesting to see the differences and similarities (for instance, chicken breast didn’t even enter the top 25 list, let alone the top 9.

Anyone else have a top 9 list they’d be willing to share?

Primal living – a simple life.

The alarm clock buzzes, trills, and honks, injecting tendrils of wakefulness into the depths of the dream Joaquin’s mind had only moments before been so thoroughly involved with. The  dream regretfully evaporates, and he can no longer remember exactly what was happening. He had been hunting – or had it been the other way around? The thrill of it all still coursed through his body, culminating in a wiry contracting in his shoulder blades, a slight anticipatory tension in his legs. He had been ready to spring – and by all rights still was. As wakefulness rudely crowds out the last vestiges of the dream and any hope of sleep, he pushes himself slowly onto his side, reaches over to the nightstand and, without so much as a twitch of his eyelids, fumbles three times before finding the button to silence the horror that is the alarm clock. For a moment he contemplates a long, luxurious return to the mattress, but grumbling slightly to himself, manages to push his fleshy body up to a seated position. His forehead is already wrinkled in a mix of pain, grief, annoyance, and frustration. It’s definitely going to be one of those mornings.

Of course, he reflects, as he slides his feet between the layers of nine hundred count Egyptian cotton sheets, over the edge of the bed and to the soft StainMaster(tm) carpeted floor below, every morning seems to be one of those mornings.

He manages to swing just enough of his mass over the floor to propel himself upward. Not bad, he thinks to himself, no hands today! It’s the little things that count. He stumbles past clothing hastily doffed in a rush to get into bed and get to sleep and heads towards the five piece master bathroom. AS he crosses the threshold, his hand snakes out and flicks the light switch. His eyes, currently normalized for sleep, are not any kind of ready for the visual assault the bathroom lights offer him. His eyelids, still puffy with too few hours of sleep, snap then squeeze tightly closed. He forces an eye open the scantest of distances and manages to see the glass shower door, which is covered in a haze of soap scum and some pinkish bacteria that seem to be thriving on the low levels of they municipal water district has infused into the water. With a tug, the shower door swings open silently. Moments later, he has turned on the shower water and is anxiously awaiting the pseudo-scalding he enjoys in the morning.

***************************************

This is an all too familiar scene in the houses of many modern day ‘Westernized’ men and women. Instead of listening to the natural rhythms of their own bodies, of their sleep cycles, and of the diurnal and seasonal cycling, modern man has instead opted to become beholden to another decider of things: the clock. A paleolithic man would look at a modern man and his strict adherence to the clock and wonder What kind of magic powers does that clock have over this man who wears shiny and bright clothing, wraps his feet in something like tree bark, and looks as though a mile over rough terrain might well kill him? The paleolithic man would find this clock worship amusing (or perhaps hysterical) and would not at all understand why someone would take such a large part of their day and give it to pursuits which have no bearing on real life. He would then, probably, go off, kill a rabbit or two, grab some bulbs or tubers out of the ground, and proceed to eat. Being around in a modern country, he might well go and take a nap. What else is there to do, for today, really?

“The things you own end up owning you.” – Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Flippancy aside, a primal modern man daily walks a tightrope between wanting to enjoy the conveniences and luxuries of modern society, while still respecting his own life and anthropological history. We modern primals have electricity, petroleum powered locomotion, 60″ television sets, 5000 Watt surround sound THX certified home theater systems, video game consoles, refrigerators, super markets, malls, space age fabrics, and shoes so thick that even a princess couldn’t feel a pea beneath them. And to compound the whole thing, every last thing is wired up to the internet so you can check in, let everyone know what you’re doing RIGHT NOW, all 9000 of the people that you know so incredibly well that you’ve agreed to be friends with them on face-ter.

This is not necessary.

This is the background noise modern primals must adapt to. No longer do saber-toothed tigers stalk us through the wilderness, nor in general do we have to contend with hyenas or bears or things that go bump in the night. Instead, we have to contend with something much more insidious – the things we own.

Now, I’m not advocating stripping your life clean from the vagaries of technology – far from it. I have a very fond place in my heart for technology – indeed for many of the things I listed above. But a modern primal must determine a way to use these tools to his advantage, and not vice-versa.

But, for example, what happens when you limit your email exposure? Is it really so terrible that you only check it twice a day (or only a couple of times per week)? Does the world come crashing to a stop? The reality is that it won’t, and after you get over the initial anxiety of not checking your email every hour or half hour or ten minutes (as you probably do – via your phone or instant notifications or whatever), you’ll discover something wonderful – you don’t have to deal with your attention being fragmented, you can focus on the task at hand, and end up getting a lot more done.

As I take a journey towards becoming a modern primal, You can rest assured I will be taking steps to ensure that my devices do not control me. I have already taken steps at work to limit my email exposure (exactly as detailed above – twice a day, at 12 and 3), and have further taken steps at home. My wife and I cook nightly and, while we don’t get to bed as early as we should (and have a little one that acts as an alarm clock), we manage to do all right. My wife enjoys needlework some evenings, and today we spent time in the garage building furniture, took a trip to the park, and even cooked dinner outside. It was a great day, and I even managed to wake up without an alarm clock (or the little one).

Remember – this is not about restriction, or withholding, or technological abstinence of any kind. This is about asserting your control over the things that you own, taking your life back from the beeps, boops, and blips of modern conveniences, and ultimately living and enjoying your life without dependency on the electronic doodads and jimmywhatsits that are so everywhere today. After all, what good is life if all we’re good for is operating machines? We aren’t just, thumbs, fingers and eyeballs. We’re a whole being – let’s get out there and use it.

Merrell Trail Glove – it’s no marshmallow

grippy enough to hold me airborne

This past weekend, my wife and I finally tracked down the elusive Merrell “Glove” line at a small store called “Born To Run” in downtown Bellevue. They had the entire mens line, and only the ‘PowerGlove’ was missing from the women’s line… but I don’t know how much of a loss it really was. It was my least favorite of the line on paper.

However, we saw the rest of the lineup, and proceeded to try on most of the rest of the lineup. I tried on the Trail Glove and the True Glove. My wife tried on the Pace Glove and the Pure Glove. We ended up with three different pairs: the Trail Glove, the Pace Glove and the Pure Glove (I’m sure some marketing guy somewhere is cackling in delight because all the Gloves marketed to men begin with a “T” while all the women’s marketed shoes begin with the letter “P”). Sarah loved both the Pace and the Pure initially, because they felt comfortable, natural and fit her feet near perfectly. I walked away with the Trail Glove, because I felt like the toe box felt larger than the True Glove. I did not try on the Tough Glove, but probably will at some point in the near future.

Long story short, I love these shoes. They fit well, are crazy comfortable, and don’t make me feel like everyone is staring at my toed shoes (while they might be a good conversation starter, I don’t know how much the ladies dig ’em. Some are all for it, while the majority just think you’re strange and a little gross. You know, make you feel like you’re in 5th grade again. Fantastic times, really). I can tell there is a tiny bit of padding there, but not so much that it gets in the way of me feeling the ground (comparing them to my ASICS is like comparing a 1970’s suburban to a Koenigsegg sports car – there really is no viable comparison). They in no way hindered my ability to run on the middle of my foot (which is how you’re supposed to run – see example video below), nor did they feel too heavy or too big or anything like that. Overall, it was a great first experience. I ran two 800 meter runs over uneven blacktop surfaces – some uphill, some downhill. My feet and knees feel better now than if I had run in a pair of marshmallows (which I had done just last Friday, so the experience was fresh in my memory).

I picked them up Saturday and just wore them around everywhere I went. They’re great because they hold the middle of my foot and my heel snugly while letting my toes have the room they need to do their thing.

So, long story short, I’ve only had them for two whole days now, have gotten a ton of complements on them, spread the word a little bit, and my feet have never felt so good. If you’re contemplating whether or not to grab a pair of these, don’t hesitate – do it. You’ll thank me later.

The following video explains how to prepare your body for the rigors of running on your anatomy, as opposed to running on a cushion of marshmallow.

Nightline article on the “Caveman lifestyle” and my experiences with paleo

Ah “Caveman Lifestyle” – a modern day euphemism for someone who is committed to functional movement and eating a paleo style diet.

Nightline clip on the “Cavemen”

Nightline, on ABC.

The segment features Art DeVany and Robb Wolf. It is not a deep treatment of the topic, but it is interesting. It in no way goes into the real reasons for trying the paleo diet, which include: the reduction of inflammation in the body, improved health in general and for people with autoimmune diseases in particular.

Of course, the science is still new on all this, and studies that have occurred are small, but there have been thousands of people (in the video, Robb mentions the number one million) who have at the very least anecdotal evidence that this seems to be wildly successful for them. There are reports of reduced cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, a reduction in heart disease and diabetes. It’s all very encouraging, and in my opinion, the way to go.

My experiences:

My wife and I have been following a paleo regimen for the previous month and a half going on two months. At first it was a little hard, because we STILL haven’t cleared the products we no longer really eat out of the house. That said, we haven’t had to worry about it so much. In addition to the paleo diet, we joined Crossfit Bellevue. We’ve collectively lost over 11 total inches, as well as 22 pounds… in less than two months. Pretty incredible, really. (Total inches is calculated by measuring around each arm at the thickest part of the bicep, the waist horizontally at the navel, the hips at the thickest part, and each thigh at the midpoint. The sum of those is our total inch measurement.

The interesting thing is that I have lost more overall weight, but far fewer inches than she has. The whole experience has been very interesting and eye opening.

The real reason we decided to try the paleo diet is for the anti-inflammatory and potential health benefits. Neither of us had what we would consider any kind of food allergies – no real issues with dairy or grains or legumes, and we were for the most part healthy. I had some low level hay-fever allergies and she has suffered for most of her life with intermittent bouts with acne.

Our time on the paleo diet has resulted in several unforseen benefits. Her acne is increasingly clear, and my hay fever allergies have been greatly reduced (I only sneezed once today – and that’s a real accomplishment for me). Additionally, we have noticed a general improvement in skin tone and consistency (not blotchy or mottled), greater energy, and whiter teeth. Another unforeseen benefit was that it forced us out of our ‘food routine’, and to really expand our recipes and cooking styles. We cook with coconut oil, as well as butter and animal fats, all in cast iron cookware over low heat to prevent oxidization of the oils we are cooking in – and it is all delicious. I have not had my blood lipids or cholesterol tested yet, but I will soon. (My annual physical is due).

These changes have been among the most positive changes we have ever made. I weigh less and can lift and do more, as well as run harder and further than I did on the day I was married – perhaps ever. I feel like I am in the best shape overall functional shape of my life. I have a picture from before we started this routine, but I won’t post it for another month. I figure 3 months is a good period of time to measure progress.

So you’ll get to see all too much Hal next month. I know you’re all on pins and needles waiting for that. Should be April 5th or so.

If you want to find out more about paleo, check out the following links:

Art DeVany’s site

Robb Wolf’s site

So remember, when you hear someone call you a caveman, they’re really just jealous that you had it in you to cut your addiction to grains, sugar, and the television as well as the intestinal fortitude to really go and make something of yourself – to challenge yourself to constantly improving yourself, making yourself better, stronger, faster, harder – instead of living life on the edge… of your sofa.

Fixing my feet – send in the Five Fingers.

I have a confession to make.

I have flat feet.

For as long as I can remember, people have been telling me that I have flat feet, or that I over-pronate, or that my arches fall when I stand on them.

And they were right in their diagnoses. However, I am beginning to think they were wrong in their prescription.

Their prescription, every one, was that flat feet were something you lived with, and used orthotics to help reduce the pain associated with fallen arches, or at least to reduce the effect of the fallen arches.

Studies show it doesn’t work, at least not well, and that there’s no hard and fast way for prescribing orthotics… Which indicates (to me) that we’re dealing with snake oil, being sold a bill of goods. But charlatans sell snake oil for the same reason people sell orthotics – lots of people have some sort of malaise (or sore feet, in the case of orthotics) and are willing to spend a sum of their hard earned money on the promise of improved health. And while SOMETIMES the orthotic ‘cures’ the pain (treats and/or masks the  symptoms), it doesn’t solve the problem. As an orthotics wearer, you become dependent on it, and without it, you are miserable.

My footprints in the snow.

So I’ve decided that this is not something I want. I’ve never been formally fitted for orthotics (custom orthotics range between 100 and 200 USD, typically), I’ve spent my fair share of dollars on different over the counter orthotics, with varying degrees of success (read: pain relief). Superfeet even shrunk my feet (by seemingly improving my arch, as improbable as that seems).

The problem with orthotics, as I see it, as it gives your body a crutch – something to be lazy on. And every body in the world is content to be lazy if at all possible. It’s a natural way to conserve energy, and from a physiological standpoint it makes perfect sense.

So, after recently hearing all about my arches and how low they are, I’ve decided to do something about it.

I’ve had my Vibram Five Fingers for at least a year, now, and I’ve worn them off and on. I’ve never been much of a runner, so I’ve never really worked myself up to running in them, but I love them. I think they feel good, fit well, and make it so I can

walk around with a fairly barefoot feeling wherever I go. So I decided to start wearing them daily, to see if what Dr. Nirenberg says is true.

What I did not do was take a ‘before’ stamp of my footprint. But I have started doing some mild running in my Vibrams – keeping the distances under an 1/8th of a mile at a time for now (doing intervals of 200m between 5 and 8 times.

But I will be sure to take a 2 month stamp, and a 4 month stamp. Hopefully I will be able to see a marked change in the pattern of my foot, as well as a well-defined arch.

What about everyone else

? Do you have any experiences with (re)training your feet and the (re)introduction of an arch due to barefoot running or any other method? I know there’s some surgical procedure out there right now that involves some sort of a metal tube inserted into the ankle, but that kind of seems like a last resort… Like I might consider it… after exhausting any other ideas that are less invasive.

And besides, it seems like a pretty hardcore way to correct something that may not even be the problem it’s made out to be.
What are your thoughts?

Modern humans are all anachronisms

An aboriginal man

An aboriginal man

We are the same as our ancestors.

Physiologically, mentally, and pathologically, modern medicine has found that many traits, diseases, and characteristics run through family lines. There are countless studies, specifically studies into heart disease,  cancers, and some mental disorders. We also tend to look like our forbears, as well – which is something so commonplace that the first thing one does when introduced to an infant is to determine which parent the child looks like. In turn, the parent resembles one of both of their parents, ad nauseum.

It stands to reason that we also inherited the internal functioning of our forebears as well. And, going back, we find that modern man hasn’t significantly changed in a long time. Heights have been roughly the same, as have behaviors, preferences, and skills and activities. However, there have been several recent introductions into human living which have fundamentally altered those behaviors, preferences, skills and activities. Some of the introductions have been beneficial, while others have been detrimental.

The grasslands, forests, canyons, and coastlines of our forebears have been largely replaced by city streets, on-ramps, and towering buildings. The others still exist, but fewer and fewer people live out among them, and even when they do, they largely live apart from what is and should be considered their natural habitat. Electricity, communications, heat, just-in-time worldwide delivery – these separate us from our natural environment. The rise and set of the sun is irrelevant to our day to day lives. Our needs for protection and shelter are largely covered, and we no longer have to worry about it on a day to day basis. We no longer worry about food storage or making it through the winte

modern humans

modern humans

r, meat comes packaged in sterile Styrofoam and bone-free – we never even have to think about how the animal that we’re eating had a skeleton, let alone a face. Fruits and vegetables are available year round, picked early and gassed to force ripening. What’s more, we’ve hybridized the fruits and vegetables that we do eat, making them sweeter, bigger and more desirable. They look perfect, are free from any disease or pestilence, and completely sterile.

However, there is a part of every human that yearns for their natural habitat. Mountains are beautiful, we will sit and watch the sun go down, remarking over the colors and the complexity and the beauty of nature. This causes us all to feel a displacement that modern society and civilization instills in the populations which created it. And while we are all able to cope with situations and events, we have to ask how badly this affects our coping baseline, to have to feel as though we are living in some sort of exhibit, manicured and falsified to give the impression of nature, but far, far away from the habitat in which we belong.

We are a species living out of time and place thanks to our own devices. The advances made in society and civilization were made at the expense of a vast, deep part of ourselves which we are just now beginning to realize. There are a multitude of ‘self-help’ regimens and ideologies dedicated to solving the disconnect we feel with our world, our food, and our personal interactions, from Abs Diet to Vegan, from ab crunches to communications to inner peace. These are all designed to help us get what we want – a deeper connection and a sense of meaning and purpose, which has been lost as we have lost our connection with what is truly our nature.

Physiologically, we are not meant to be sequestered from the sun, confined to a chair, or a treadmill, or to stay up until the sun rises. Our lives, though safer, have been routinized, confined, and boxed up in such a way that we have no escape from the stresses we endure because of it. We are safe, but the safety induces the stress that it ever so slowly killing us all.

your feet are your foundation

Shod, but barefootFeet…. for the most part, we all have two of them. We use them every day to get from point “A” to “B” to “C”.

Thousands of years ago, men, women, and children of all social strata were minimally or not at all shod. A typical example of a primitive ‘shoe’ would consist of a strip of leather to protect the bottom of the foot and a strap to keep the leather ‘tied’ to the foot. This was called a Huarache, and there are still tribes (and modern runners) that wear them on a regular basis. They were simple, cheap, and effective.

As ‘civilization’ progressed, different cultures developed different styles of shoe, ranging from simple wooden clogs to silken slippers placed on women’s feet to prevent them from growing correctly at all. Every single shoe had a problem – it took the foot out of the equation of walking.

An Amazing Machine

The human foot is an amazing machine. A fully grown adult will have 26 bones, 33 joints, and dozens of ligaments, tendons, and muscles. They are also contain thousands of nerve endings. All this complexity exists for one thing – to allow a human to walk – or run – from point “A” to “B” to “C”. It is truly an amazing machine, and to have two of them strapped to the lower half of your body is really a stroke of luck, because they are meant to be used in pairs. Of course, they can be used singly, but they “work” together.

The basic idea is this:

  • the muscles move the foot into place on the ground.
  • the nerves send information to the brain, so the brain can make decisions based on those inputs about how the muscles will react.
  • the muscles react according to the brains commands, contracting and relaxing as instructed.
  • the muscles, which are attached to the bones via ligaments pull the bones. The tendons help to keep the bones aligned.
  • the joints articulate in such a way to keep the foot supported, other joints protected, and the body protected and upright.

A pretty simple process, on paper. Now, enter shoes.

How we went wrong

The first shoes were little more than leather wrappings around the foot. As society, particularly European society, evolved, so did shoes. They became boots which constrained the foot, often fitting poorly with either too much or too little room. Toes changed from blunt boxes to ‘elegant’ points and became quite the symbol of style and affluence. Most shoes were not designed specifically for your left or right foot, but were rather uni-fit shoes, which would just go on whichever foot you pulled them onto.

Your foot’s nerves, ligaments, bones, and muscles were given no consideration at all. And why should they? The need to run, jump, and be limber and nimble was something from a fanciful past where one had to chase live animals for food, or run from predators. It was barbaric. Shoes which did not cater to the gymnastic past of our predecessors were a symbol of how far societies had come. There was nothing primal to fear, any more, so why bother keeping your body, mind, and nervous system tuned up for such an endeavor? Better to keep it tuned for enjoying music, or food, or fine clothing.

And that’s pretty much the way it stayed until societies advanced enough that we could begin making rubbers, and plastics, and machines that could build a reliable product over and over and over again. Which is exactly what happened. Shoes were growing up, baby, and they were softer, more supple, and more colorful than ever! We could make all kinds of different shoes for different activities, with different levels of cushion and heel drop, different uppers and colors and fabrics and wizzbangery. Our feet were just getting more and more awesome with every iteration.

But they really weren’t.

The shoes, with their arch supporting, torsion controlled lumps and ridges do not t actually help our feet at all. They effectively freeze many of the muscles and joints into a fixed place within the shoe. Because of this, the nerves send out alarms to the brain, to let the brain know that something is going on with the foot. The brain knows that there’s nothing exactly wrong, and eventually just turns off the song and dance offered up by the nerves, kind of the way it tunes out the car alarm that is always going off in the parking lot. The modern shoe turns the foot into one large monolithic slab, causes our bodies to strike our heels on the ground when we walk and run, and just generally destroys our gait. The shoe is designed to mitigate this – through gels, air, and multi-desnsity foams – and make your foot feel as though it is moving atop a fluffy cloud of goo.

And it gets worse

It appears as though the more sophisticated shoes get – offering increased arch support, stability, etc – the more the foot can relax and get lazy. This leads to all kinds of issues – foot and ankle injuries such as sprained tendon, plantar fasciitis, tendonitis, pulled muscles, and damaged and degraded joints. The foot, allowed by the shoe to be lax, also loses its natural arch.

Arches are a girl’s best friend (and you thought it was diamonds)

The body is full of arches. There are arches in the spine, legs, and, yes, feet, that help reduce shock from activity, including walking, running, and jumping. Without our arches, we are more prone to injury, and can even face aggravated injury from the lack of our body’s natural shock absorption. For instance, an incorrectly aligned spine can actually increase the force of an accident instead of dissipate the force. When you lose an arch, you potentially face increased pain and risk of injury. So it’s important to keep all your arches healthy.

But I’ve already lost my foot arches. Is all hope lost?

Modern medical treatment of fallen arches and other foot issues is through the use of orthotics. However, recent studies into the somewhat mysterious field of orthotics reveal one thing – that they don’t know what in the hell they are talking about. There seems to be little science and more art, guesstimation, and downright dumb luck in finding a good orthotic. Good thing, too, because these babies aren’t always cheap. The orthotics industry makes millions upon millions of dollars every year in the US. From Dr. Scholl’s to Superfeet to custom orthotics, many living in the US turn to orthotics to offer some relief to their feet. But adding something else, it seems, is not what the foot needs at all.

Another recent study by Dr. Nirenberg found that increasing barefoot or barefoot-like activities led to an increase and return of the natural foot arch. Bolstering this study is many anecdotal stories across the western world describing how barefoot activies led to a return of the foot’s natural arch and improved function as well as reduced pain levels and injury risks.

So what are you waiting for?

Get out there and go barefoot!

Not ready to jump in whole-hog? No problem. There are lots of shoes out there designed to help you make the transition.

www.vibramfivefingers.com

www.merrell.com/US/en/Barefoot

birthdayshoes.com/fila-skeletoes-toe-shoes-exclusive-sneak-peak

www.softstarshoes.com/index.cfm