The benefits of barefoot style June 30 2015, 0 Comments

We use our ZEMgear shoes for free-time and social use as well as for sports. We get a few widened eyes and raised eyebrows when people on public transport see them, a small price to pay for comfort, and anyway, some like that sort of attention... I first noticed the benefits at an exhibition.  We were wearing ZEMs - the best way to display your wares is to use them - and at the end of a longish day, I noticed that I had no back-ache, something that I have associated with exhibitions for many years. To get an idea of why this might be, we need to go into the mechanics of heels.

When standing barefoot, weight distribution between the heels and the ball of the foot is about 50:50. This is the most energy-efficient way of standing, as your weight is balanced over your feet, a technique taught in the Alexander technique for reducing strain and promoting relaxation.  You can change the weight distribution by leaning forwards or back, but this induces tension in the opposing muscles.  Over a full working day, this can make a big difference both in how tired you might feel at the end of the day, and in aching of the correcting muscles.

Let us now throw some heels into the mix. High heels are worn to attract. They make you taller and bunch the calf muscles so that the curve of the calf is more accentuated. They tilt the body forward so that the spine curves to compensate, making the bottom stick out and lifting the bosom into a sexier pose. So what is the effect of this re-distribution of assets?

Relatively low heels will change weight distribution, throwing more weight onto the ball of the foot, and less on the heel, and really high heels can put as much as 90% of your weight on the front of your foot, which can cause distortion and bunions.  The arch of the foot, which normally flexes to absorb impact during walking, is now stretched into a fixed position, which weakens its ligaments, and the toes are are flexed into a fixed position from which they can make little contribution to locomotion. The Achilles tendon and calf are shortened, and if the shoes are worn for long stretches, this can become permanent, making it uncomfortable to go back to low-heeled shoes because of the stretch that this induces. The knees are pushed forward so that when standing the weight is not balanced over the foot in the column of the leg - instead the muscles and ligaments around the knee have to be in tension to maintain balance. Still thinking in columns, the vertical alignment of the spine is disturbed, putting strain on the discs, and necessitating additional muscular effort to stay upright.

Walking barefootI know that it is too much to ask some people to give up their high heels, and the social constraints surrounding some jobs make this impossible. However, to allow your feet, legs and spine to relax, try barefoot in the evenings at home, and barefoot shoes for going out informally. Your body will thank you for it.