How Moc-Like Are Your Shoes?

The More Moccasin-like, the Better

The majority of running injuries today come from shoes. How can that be? Running shoes are cushier and more highly engineered than ever before, so what’s the problem?

Encasing your feet in modern footwear—from the high-end athletic shoes to even those that claim to be “more natural”—can hurt your feet (not protect them), cripple your health, and ruin your stride.

Here’s the logic. We all grew up wearing footwear that slowly, over time, made our feet brittle, fragile, and anything but the strong, healthy shock-absorbers and propulsion devices they were meant to be

We consumers  are becoming more educated about the harmful effects of shoes, and footwear manufacturers are racing to produce new, more natural footwear.  

But do these supposedly natural or minimalist shoes help protect your feet? And specifically what do you look for today when choosing a shoe? (After all, an SUV is minimalist compared to a semi-truck, but is it truly minimalist transportation?)

At our barefoot running talks and clinics, we always devote time to talking about footwear. When we started doing clinics, over 200 talks ago, there were only two or three minimalist shoes on the market. But that was last year. This year there are dozens of minimalist-type shoes, and nearly every major manufacturer has its own minimalist version of a shoe, if not an entire line.

Unfortunately, many if not most of these shoes are anything but “minimalist” (note the quotes). That’s why I’ve coined a new term to make it easier to know what’s safe to buy, or what’s more natural and better for your feet: moccasin-like or moc-like.

According to Dr. William Rossi, an esteemed podiatrist who has written many books on the human foot: Ironically, the closest we have ever come to an “ideal” shoe was the original lightweight, soft-sole, heel-less, simple moccasin, which dates back more than 14,000 years. It consisted of a piece of crudely tanned but soft leather wrapped around the foot and held on with rawhide thongs. Presto! Custom fit, perfect in biomechanical function, and no encumbrances to the foot or gait.

So wiggle your toes and flex your feet while you ask yourself how “moc-like” are your shoes. Specifically answer these questions:

  • Do they give my toes room to move?
  • Is there 3-dimensional flexibility to the shoe?
  • Can my feet truly feel the ground?
  • Are my toes sitting flat, rather than pointing up toward the sky?
  • Does the shoe allow my arch to move freely like a natural spring?
  • Is the sole flat and close to the ground?
  • Does the shoe have a uniform bottom or pattern on it, rather than grooves and different treads to try to guide my feet?

The more you answer “yes” to these questions, the more likely your footwear will work with you, rather than against you.

When you’re at your favorite shoe retailer, you’ll likely stand in front of a wall of shoes with a bewildering array of choices. Check out the 8 essentials to look for when buying a minimalist shoe.