Choose Your Shoes Wisely, My Friend


You can tell a lot about a woman by the shoes in her closet…or a guy by the shoes in his closet. I’m not talking about fashion sense, people. Your choice of shoes directly reflects one of the most important health decisions that you make every day. Shoes are a crucial player in how our bodies experience forces from the outside world. These forces that we are subject to (or subject ourselves to in various ways) are critical to how our bodies manifest health, or illness. For a fantastic discussion of this idea, and a more in depth look of the interplay between us and our environments, see: Move Your DNA. But, back to the topic of shoes…they are the mediators between your body and whatever surface that you choose to walk, run, skip, or saunter over. Shoes are like the relationship counselor and if you want your body to agree with that asphalt, you had better have a good one (or two)!

I will admit that I probably spend an excessive amount of time thinking about shoes. For example, when I find myself people watching in a public place (as anti-social as this sounds), I would rather look at the types of shoes that people are wearing than scan the crowd for a friendly face.

I will not claim to be an expert on which exact shoes are ideal for you. But, that won’t stop me from critiquing shoes that I am pretty sure are terrible for you. First up, and an easy target at that, are flip-flops. I am going to mainly defer to well-known physical therapist and mobility expert, Kelly Starrett: Athletes Don’t Wear Flip-Flops. But, just to add insult to injury: I think that flip-flops are just the epitome of American consumerist, throw-away goods. They’re made cheaply. The little thong part breaks. Any sort of rough surface or object will gouge out little divots in the spongy soles. They’re just garbage.

Another awful type of shoes to subject your feet and body to are high-heels. To put it bluntly, long-term usage of high-heels can lead to weaker muscles around the ankle and foot as well as shortened heel-cords and reduced ankle dorsiflexion (see recent NY Times article).

Now that we have narrowed the playing field a little bit, you will have to make the key shoe-decision of whether you’d like a specialist or generalist type of shoe. Now, there are arguments to be made for both pursuits (sorry diehard CrossFitters, but Olympians, musical savants, and nobel prize-winning scientists are not generalists; there’s something to be said for specialization if that’s your aim). I will leave the decision of specialization up to you. However, it is pretty obvious that if you choose to pursue certain physical endeavors, you will probably be better off having a pair of shoes just for that activity (e.g., soccer, biking, weight-lifting, tennis, basketball…running is somewhat controversial; some argue that shoe-less, i.e., barefoot, running is best: see Born to Run. But, that’s a topic for another day).

Some people are die-hard generalists. Here is one of my favorite quotes of all time from Robert Heinlein:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, con a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

If you are really planning on doing all of the things that Heinlein suggests, than your shoes had better be up for the challenge. As a generalist, you are going to want to go with a, “workhorse,” shoe like my personal favorite: the New Balance WX20 minimus shoe (I have no financial ties to New Balance, I just honestly am in love with this shoe. It fits well and feels good. It is a generalist and “minimalist” shoe and it works for me. I wear this shoe any chance I get).

One last thought on shoes that I promise will be useful for athletes as well as those who don’t consider themselves athletes: I am 99% sure that you can improve upon your shoe-tying skills. Yes you! This simple technique has helped me reduce all that time I used to waste re-tying laces that had come undone: How to Really Tie Your Shoes.

What am I doing with all the time that this has freed up? Well, thinking about shoes of course…


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