Wilder Feet

Good morning, League of Wildness!

I hope you had some awesome summer adventures this week! Whether you were doing yoga on the deck, walking your wildlings to day camp, or paddleboarding on the lake, did you consider the work it takes from your feet to carry out those movements?

Our feet were meant to be wild. They were designed by nature to carry our bodies over the varied terrain of our planet. Historically, our feet have done an excellent job of supporting us. However, more recently, we short-circuited that function in the name of fashion and domestication by wearing shoes that confine them for most of the day. But we can re-wild our feet!

With so many adventures to be had, from backyard cookouts to bucket list adventures, it’s easy to forget how much we use our feet. They need the same mobility, strength, and flexibility training as the rest of our body. In fact, if we don’t give our hard-working feet the attention they need, we can suffer pain in our ankles, knees, hips, lower back, and beyond. Too often we don’t realize that those injuries may have been caused by poor foot health.

I certainly never thought of foot health as something that needed attention. I did strength training, running, and yoga and thought I was covering all the bases. Then I started experiencing severe pain in my big toe joint. I was referred to a podiatrist who determined that my big toe was not able to move correctly, causing a lack of flexion in the joint that resulted in inflammation. The solution was stiff-soled, highly-cushioned shoes along with expensive orthotics to keep the toe from flexing. If that didn’t work, I would need surgery that had a 50% failure rate.

Neither of these options was viable for my lifestyle, so I started exploring other possibilities and learned that our feet don’t just take care of themselves and often our modern lives contribute to problems with our feet 😱 It just didn’t make sense to me that the solution was to forever immobilize my toe, which would have a major impact on my ability to move properly. One of the first resources I found was Chris McDougal’s, “Born to Run” book. I ditched my standard shoes and bought a pair of Vibram FiveFingers. After adapting to them, for the first time since I was a kid, my feet felt free. Within four months the pain in my big toe was gone and normal flexion returned. I have been in minimalist shoes since then, about 15 years now.

In 2017 when we were brainstorming for our Stoic standing mat, I started doing extra reading on foot health. I considered all the ways I trained my body and for what purposes, which led me to ask, “What do functional feet look like?” 🤔

Feet are something we typically take for granted. I can explain why I do rows and pushups, but explaining what healthy, functional feet look like – aside from the absence of pain and problems like bunions –  was harder than I expected.

I learned and can corroborate through my own experiences, that having functionally strong feet means you are less susceptible to major injury from rolling an ankle. Ten years ago I never would have hiked in the rugged wilderness without sturdy hiking boots. Now I wear minimalist sandals and injure myself less than I used to. I almost never stub my toes because my proprioception is more reliable than it was in thick boots and I rarely trip over rocks or tree roots.

Functional feet are also wider with plenty of space between the toes. The toes can move independently. This is so uncommon today that we often think they look strange!

A wider foot shape means better balance. Even though we aren’t spending our days climbing trees, chasing prey, and teetering on logs, balance is still important to our overall mobility and health. Even walking requires balance.

Improved foot function means you can focus more on strength in your pistol squats which translates to a better adventures. It can mean less knee, hip, and lower back pain. Weak feet often result in knees that don’t align properly which pull the hips and pelvis out of alignment as well and which then causes the lower back to compensate. With functional feet you can squat your butt to your heels and find it a comfortable resting position as it was for humans for eons.

To me, having functional feet means having feet, ankles, and lower legs that have a full range of motion, flexibility, and the strength to support my body across varied terrain in both urban and wild environments. I maintain my balance and proprioception more easily, can transition smoothly from the ground to standing, and I can enjoy that morning Sqauoffee.

So what can you do to improve your foot health?🤔

Do not wear shoes while at home.

Walk around your yard barefoot while you enjoy your coffee. Practice the ancient ritual of Squaoffee along the way.
Put a small towel on the floor while sitting in a chair and use your toes to pull the towel towards you, like an inchworm.
Practice picking up items off the floor (a pen you dropped, a piece of dog food, etc) with your toes.
Do barefoot walking meditation. Take slow, deliberate, complete steps, walking in slow motion. Pay attention to your form and the way your body shifts as your foot lifts of the ground and plants in front of you. This is also a great way to use meditation to alleviate stress for those who find seated meditation isn’t for them.

Stand on Stoic.
Try some of your workouts barefoot. Make sure you pay attention to the type of workout and the surface. You don’t want to jump into a plyometric workout on a cement floor, for example. You’ll notice an immediate difference in how the exercise feels if you do things like squats while barefoot. Always make sure to mind how you feel and stop if something hurts.

Some resources:
Barefoot Podiatrist and KneesOverToesGuy on Instagram

Anya's Shoe Reviews can help you determine what type of minimalist shoe might work for you

First Steps: How Walking Upright Made Us Human by Jeremy DeSilva (this is an anthropological dive into how we became upright walkers and what benefits it’s given us)

Whole Body Barefoot and Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief both by Katy Bowman

Barefoot Walking: Free Your Feet to Minimize Impact, Maximize Efficiency, and Discover the Pleasure of Getting in Touch with the Earth by Michael Sandler

Have a wild weekend!

In Barefooted Wildness,


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