Hey…who taught you to walk?

Nobody. Really.

(you can skip to the video at the end if you don’t feel like reading)

It is one of those milestones that I am sure all parents can tell you the exact moment. Granted, its fifteen months later we are STILL waiting Nova to take that first step, but honestly I cant be more excited to tell you that she hasn’t. Not because it is already hard enough for me to keep up with her mom and sister but the thing is, I am a student of biomechanics. I study the influence of what we do and how it affects us and I honestly believe that shoes were invented by some postural demon.

Recently we were at play place for lil’ ones and I noticed a boy walking in that looked to be about my girls age. His movements weren’t effortless but the little guy was definitely more than capable. Right away I’m thinking, what else can he do?!? Does he make his own bottle? Can he read “War and Peace?” Almost immediately, as his parents unstrapped his shoes and set him free for class, my idolization ceased. He became a crawler. I tried to peek over at him a few times during our session. Once, as we tried to steer our little girl past another girl who had a river flowing from her nose (I know at this point you think Im lying because dad’s don’t typically worry about germs, but rest easy..my wife was there to save the day!) I noticed that the little walker from earlier was really struggling to take a step without going down. So it got me thinking……..


Now, I’m not saying that they are like “magic shoes,” or anything. Coming from a world of sports myself, I know that equipment can be designed to give athletes a mechanical performance advantage. Think about the high top in basketball or a weightlifting belt. Sure enough, when I sneaked a peek as lil’ man was leaving I saw what I thought I would see. The soles of his shoes looked about 3 inches thick and as stiff as a board. They plopped him back in those his pillars and he strutted away without missing a beat. Those suckers anchored his feet down, and gave him all the stability his little foot needed to not wobble out of control and go down. Coming from the educational place that I come from, it really got me thinking about what kind of impact shoes have on us.

Let me start this by first painting a picture of one of our most natural movements……walking. As simple as gait appears to be, it involves every muscle in your body and really is the pattern followed for many other activities such as throwing and lunging. The point that we will concentrate on starts when your heel strikes the ground.

The muscles and fascia in your body are uniquely designed to create and resist forces when they initiate or slow down movement. It may be helpful to think of muscles in general as rubber-band’s that have a distinct starting and ending position. When these points of attachment get farther from each other the rubber-band (muscle) is being stretched, this is point when we are resisting forces. Your heel hitting the ground is kind of like the trigger for the rest of your spiral line to slow down movement. The muscles in your lower leg will wrap around from the sides of both the front and back if shin to meet underneath your foot and tighten like a stirrup to maintain an arch in your foot. This tells the soleus, which is the muscle on the back of your lower leg, to slow down the knee as it moves forward and your foot rolls though its step. The soleus works with the IT band on the side of your leg to turn on the muscles in your butt if the muscle in the front of your hip are able to swing backwards as the leg lengthens bend you. Hip flexor muscles on the front part of your hip are attached to your spine and help slow down just how much your torso will rotate as you walk.

Does this quick example give any sense to why the anatomy of the human is out referred to as a train or chain? Do you get the feeling that one little deviation, can create a wave of changes throughout the system? if you answered, “Yes,” then you are correct. Check it out, your body is connected from head to toe.

spiral lines

Spiral lines of connective tissue and fascia that connects the “stirrup” of the foot all the way up to the back of the neck.

Unfortunately, we live in place in which the average is foot has lost its arch and turns out like a duck. Think I’m wrong, just take look at the soles of your shoe for our FIRST PIECE of evidence. If you happen to be one these poor people who have were strapped into improper footwear too early or wear heeled shoes too frequently (and I am talking about running shoes as well…so guys are suspect as well!), then you will notice the tread on the medial portion of your shoes wears more than the outside of it.

So now take off your shoes for our SECOND PIECE of evidence. Lets look at your big toe, in particular. Your toes should all face forward, if your foot strike isn’t correct because the muscles of your leg are not working correctly, then your big toe will look like it is trying to get out of the way and wont be aligned forward in the direction that knees are facing. If you have a bunion, im talking to you.

Now for our THIRD PIECE of evidence you are going to need a friend with a camera. They are going to take a picture of your feet from behind you at ground level. What I would like you to is first march in place for thirty seconds. Immediately stop at thirty second mark and have them snap the picture. When you look at the picture, if you can see more than your smallest toe, then your feet rotate out a little too much.

I am going to stop here because I am sure that you are beginning to gather that we can continue to up throughout the rest your body and find some links. My point with all of this is to show that our feet are like the base to a house, if its faulty then its TIMMMMMBER!

But don’t worry, if any of this seems to be you. Number one, all of this is SUPPER COMMON. I have been training people for more than 15 years now and made the recommendation for years that running shoes are great to do everything in. WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! I COULDNT HAVE GIVEN WORSE ADVICE.

The thing is that any heeled shoe puts the foot into plantar-flexion (think bug squashing position) for extended periods of time. Your body is really smart and will adapt to positions that you put it in. Raised heels will tighten up the muscles in the back of your lower leg, and make it really difficult to pull your foot back towards your shin (dorsiflexion). Take a quick look below.

p flex

Plantar flexion is like when you step on a bug or you run on your toes. In a heeled shoe you are “stuck” in plantarflexion.
If you can remember back about 700 words ago, you may remember that your heel strike on the ground is like a trigger and starts off a chain reaction of muscles that make walking possible. If you lose dorsiflexion, your foot will not be able to absorb the impact of the ground and turn on the rest of those muscles correctly.

So lets circle these wagons back to the baby. If you ever look at a baby’s feet you will see that we are born arches. REPEAT..PEOPLE ARE NOT BORN WITH FLAT FEET. It is thought that we are given arches so that we can navigate across uneven terrain like rocks and such. I fact, look at the foot print of a native Aborigine man.

native foot

What I am trying to drive home is that the more we adapt to the flat sole of our shoe and the raised heel, the less our footprint will have this look to it. This just means all the muscles that are above your ankle and dependent upon it doing its job wont develop the correct way. Which just isn’t fair.

Fear not, there is something you can do. Just remember that exercise is progressive, what I am showing below is an example of where you could start following a thorough assessment but isn’t necessarily for you.

Hope this helps,



Categories: better movement training

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