Author, speaker, and primal diet and fitness expert, Mark Sisson, a leading voice in the evolutionary health movement, also advocates wearing shoes that are in alignment with our genetic blueprint, something most modern shoes are not. Some of you know Mark from his popular blog, Marks Daily Apple, where he focuses on primal living in the modern world. Mark’s not about returning to the stone age. He’s not advocating we give up modern technology and live in caves. On the contrary, he’s all about presenting practical information to help us re-align our genetic needs with our modern lives, which are often way out of kilter.
Our feet are on of the areas where we’re often disconnected from what our bodies need to feel good and function optimally. The hectic pace of our high-tech, modern lives and the shoes we wear often clash with our genetic needs. Sisson addresses this in his new book, The Primal Connection: Follow Your Genetic Blueprint to Health and Happiness.
I asked Mark to speak about minimalist footwear because it’s something many people are unaware of and because I know what a difference comfortable shoes can make in the quality of my experience of day to day living. We’re on our feet much of the time yet most of us take our feet for granted.
Here’s Mark’s take on modern shoes and what they’re doing to our bodies.
“If you’re like most people, you probably spend most of your walking life teetering around on a pair of slanted, 0.5 to 2 inch elevated surfaces that pitch you ever so slightly forward - shelves, for all intents and purposes. When you stand in line, you stand on these shelves. When you go for a walk, you’re walking on these shelves. When you go for a jog, you’re jogging on these shelves, tilting forward all the way.
“Does this sound odd to anyone else?
“We’re born barefooted. We feel best without shoes. And, unsurprisingly, standing, walking, running, and exercising with our feet flat on the ground - as intended by millions of years of evolutionary design - enables the proper, healthy, and powerful alignment of the human kinetic chain. From foot to ankle to knee to hip to spine to shoulders to neck to head, our bodies function best when our feet are flat on the ground.
“When we spend an extended amount of time standing, walking, running, and exercising on the slanted shelf known as the elevated heel, however, that alignment, that chain, is altered. An elevated heel pitches you forward. If you were to maintain your upright posture, you’d look like Michael Jackson doing his Smooth Criminal lean. But you’re not living in a music video; in the real world, you have to break your posture in order to keep yourself from tipping over.
“Your heel cord and calves get shorter and tighter, since you’re essentially walking around on your toes.
“Your knees move forward into a perpetually flexed position, therefore bearing way more stress on a day to day, step to step basis than they should.
“You lean back at the lower back to keep from falling over, putting your lower back into hyperextension and causing a lot of pain. Is it any wonder that “lower back pain” is one of the most common complaints?
“Your head juts forward (because you’re leaning backward and you still have to see in front of you), placing a huge amount of stress on your spine and rolling your shoulders forward out of their sockets into a weaker, more vulnerable position.
“All this happens without you even realizing it. And because everyone wears shoes with elevated heels, you look normal - everyone’s got these postural flaws!
“The answer is not to go barefoot everywhere and anywhere. I’d love to be able to go barefoot everywhere, but it just isn’t realistic (or safe). Most establishments require shoes, and not every exercise or walking surface lends itself to barefooted abandon. Shoes are here to stay - but they don’t have to be the bulky, pronounced-heeled abominations people currently sport. Enter minimalist shoes, which are thin-soled shoes with zero heel drop. That means there’s no bulky padding preventing you from feeling the environment, no elevated heel throwing off your entire kinetic alignment.
“Minimalist shoes offer protection from hard rocks and the elements (and the odd shard of broken glass) without sacrificing foot and ankle position or health. They allow you to move around as your physiology and posture prefer without making you a social pariah who gets kicked out of the grocery store. They’re thin soled, allowing you to feel the ground - so your proprioceptive awareness of your surroundings is heightened - without incurring physical damage. You’re essentially flat on the ground rather than balancing on a shelf, so you’re more stable and the risk of rolling your ankle is lower. You get most of the benefits of being barefoot, with none of the potential downsides.
“My favorites for hiking, working out, Ultimate Frisbee, and any other activity where I’m going to be moving around are Vibram Fivefingers, those funny toe-shoes you’ve probably seen around. For casual use, I’ll usually wear a pair of soft moccasins. Luckily, more and more minimalist shoes are being offered. Look for shoes with a thin sole, a flat (zero-drop) heel, and a wide toe bed.”
Learn more about going barefoot and other lifestyle hacks that can put you in touch with your inner caveman in Mark’s new book The Primal Connection: Follow Your Genetic Blueprint to Health and Happiness. I'll post more about this book soon. I'm really enjoying it and finding that it aligns with so much that I've read about health and what we need to create more of it.
Mark is also the author of The Primal Blueprint, The Primal Blueprint Cookbook, Primal Blueprint Quick & Easy Meals, The Primal Blueprint Healthy Sauces, Dressings & Toppings, Primal Blueprint 90 Day Journal: A Personal Experiment, and The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation.