How foot fitness makes you a better hiker

By September 3, 2020Gear, How To's, Uncategorized

A few weeks ago I went to my favourite shoe store to pick up a new pair of minimalist shoes. While I was there I got chatting to the manager, Maddy — a fellow outdoor and minimalist foot wear enthusiast. As you would expect it wasn’t long before we were talking about Melbourne Girls Outside, hiking, and the very real struggle of finding the right pair of hiking boots. Towards the end of our conversation I asked Maddy if she would be willing to answer a few of my Qs with her As and to my absolute delight she said yes!

This delight stems from two places. Firstly, I am quite often the recipient of many a question about my boots and, rather than being able to articulate anything remotely resembling science, my response is somewhat more akin to a party trick (refer to picture of wet bootprint). Secondly, the fact that questions about hiking boots frequently dominate the MGO Facebook page, and as a fan of the barefoot movement, it would be great to see another option for our members.

MS: Maddy, can you tell us a bit of your backstory?

MK: Sure! My name is Maddy Kamaretsos and I am passionate about function and movement, especially when it comes to the outdoors, and even more so when it comes to feet. I’ve always been a fairly active person, participating in weekly sporting matches, great Victorian bike rides and various camping trips. Unfortunately, being outside and having previously been told to wear orthotics for flat feet resulted in many injuries to my ankles, knees, and low back which at times stopped me from doing what I loved on many occasions. These injuries are what inspired me to learn more about foot fitness.

MS: The first time I heard about foot fitness, I laughed, but now I’ve got ‘fit feet’ I have a much greater appreciation for the role our feet play. For those that may not be so familiar with the concept can you break it down for us?

MK: Our feet and ankles are just like our wrist and hands! They are designed to move and we rely on them every day. We use our hands to lift and carry our packs and handbags, lift a variety of heavy things, and even drink that lovely glass of red wine on a Friday night. We constantly rely on our wrists and hands to be strong enough to perform these activities hundreds of times in a day without the need to wear rigid gloves or wrist braces to support them. So why should this be any different for our feet?

MS: These are some very solid points you make. I’ve only ever utilised support for my wrists when I’ve had an injury.

MK: The fitness of our feet effects everything up the chain of the body. Poor foot fitness can contribute to poor ankle stability, tight calves, reduced hip mobility, and increased low back pain all resulting in poor posture and reduced function of the body. When observing the feet, it’s important to understand the value of movement to create strength. Our feet have just as many nerve endings, muscles, and joints that our hands do. We use our hands every day with no problems yet why do we constantly get told to support our feet? Something just doesn’t add up.

MS: This makes a lot of sense. The advice I received for my wrist was to strengthen them, increase movement and move away from relying on support devices. How does this translate across to our feet though – how do you build up foot fitness?

MK: Through movement! By keeping our feet mobile, we create strength resulting in healthier and more stable structures. This is true for our entire body. Just like it was for your wrists.

MS: OK, I know you have a pretty deep understanding of the human body, its structures, and functions. Can you give us a bit of science?

MK: When we are out hiking, it is really common to encounter unknown, daunting, and sometimes scary surfaces which put you and your body in a compromising situations. By that I mean fallen tree trunks to climb over, the wet slippery rocks that you have to catch yourself on and those pesky loose surfaces that can fall away from beneath you. All of these natural challenges engage one of our most underrated senses and that’s balance. Balance comes from our vestibular system located in the inner ear. It receives movement and proprioceptive feedback that feeds our brain information about where we are in space. To adjust quickly in circumstances where the terrain changes, our feet send the information to our brain and it decides how we need to adjust or move.

MS: Perfect! So to summarise: it’s the fact that our feet and our brains are in constant communication which helps us navigate unpredictable environments. Can you tell us how the shoes we wear impact that, and whether the shape or style of the shoe enhances or reduces this communication?

MK: Generally speaking, if the outer-sole is too heavy, padded, or cushioned the feedback system is dulled resulting in slower response times. Your brain will still receive information from your feet, it’s just not quick or accurate. It is not the fault of the shoes or the brand or the salesperson. It is just how your brain responds when it doesn’t get that quick and accurate message from your feet. Which is why you can have the thickest and grippiest outsole, the stiffness midsole and the most amount of cushioning and ankle support and you will still experience being off balance, having tired and sore feet and at worst, becoming injured on the trail.

MS: Which is definitely what I had experienced prior to taking steps (so punny) to prioritise my foot fitness and maximise the information feeding into my brain from my feet. I feel like many people have heard of minimalist running shoes, so can you tell us about minimalist hiking boots?

MK: Moving to minimalist hiking shoes is designed to replicate the foot being in its most natural state, completely barefoot. When your shoe is closer to the ground, your 200,000 plus nerve endings in the feet can fire and function freely. Your feet need to be able to move in your shoe, which sounds strange I know, but it helps with weight distribution and loading. Whether you’re carrying a heavy pack or on your feet all day, and your feet are functioning correctly you won’t get that tired and fatigued feeling as quickly. I should say however, that just like any fitness, this takes time to build up and would not recommend that people just jump into a pair of minimalist shoes with unfit, poorly conditioned feet.

MS: Funny you should say that… But that’s a conversation for another time! So I remember being quite taken aback by the very different shape and style of the minimalist hiking boot. However, if I’m right in remembering, it’s these exact things that make all the difference?

MK: Absolutely correct. A wide fit around the foot allows the foot to splay naturally and not get locked up. A wide-cut around the ankle prevents the mortise joint (main ankle joint) from being locked up, which allows it to move into positions which can bear the weight of your body and your pack effectively, while also keeping you upright on uneven surfaces in an efficient way. When you lock it up with heavy bracing or support, all that force from your weight has to go somewhere which often results in improper loading of other structures. This adds to fatigue instead of reducing it.

MS: Thanks for saying yes to sharing your knowledge, experience, and passion Maddy. You’ve done a much better job at explaining the perks of minimalist hiking boots than I ever have.

MK: No problem Michala!

MS: Actually, on that note. If MGO members are keen to learn more or even get their feet assessed how can we get in touch with you?

MK: If you want to get your foot health assessed and start your journey to regaining foot movement and strength, come visit me at Sole Mechanics. In-store, we have the technology to assess the current state of your foot whilst finding footwear, not limited to hiking shoes, including lifestyle, performance, and other outdoor styles from Vivobarefoot and other brands that will help you embark on a new journey. We can be found at 481 Hampton St, Hampton.

For all the beautiful Melbourne Girls Outside members, I’ve organised a 20% off in-store voucher for your first purchase.

MS: Legend, thanks Maddy! Also I’m aware that you’re a chiropractor. Can I have your details for anyone that might be interested in connecting with you directly?

MK: Of course! If minimal hiking boots seems like a bit of a stretch but you’d like to connect with me about any postural or foot related questions you can contact my mobile on 0422 015 974 or find me on Instagram @MK.Chiropractic.

MS: Perfect – thanks again Maddy!

MK: My pleasure. Happy hiking!

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