On footwear and getting back to barefoot

Craig: In that [00:08:30] line of more natural training, what are your thoughts on footwear? I’ve been getting into less and less structure in shoes and more minimalist type footwear. I know there’s a lot of nerves in your feet and there’s a lot of some people call it neurological nourishment that can happen through your feet. What do you typically wear just in general and what are your thoughts on hiking with hiking shoes versus hiking in thin, Vibram type of shoes.

Elet: Yeah, I think that’s a really important thing. Like you said, there is all of this neural nourishment that comes through your [00:09:00] feet and one of the big things I’ve noticed from doing a lot of running outside is just how aware I am of my feet.

My selection of footwear changes based on what I’m doing, changes based on the goals. I just came off of a show series 20 days long at the Canadian National Exhibition where I was wishing every day I had thicker shoes just because of the nature of what we were doing. We’re doing performance, we’re doing shoWs, we’re taking big drops, heavy impact-

Craig: [crosstalk 00:09:27].

Elet: … on manmade surface. [00:09:30] But when I’m in the woods, there’s so much more I feel when I’m in a thin pair of shoes. Currently, I’m wearing a pair of Merrell trail gloves and they’re thin, they’re chunky, great grip in the woods on wet rocks and all of that and that’s fantastic. I don’t do the majority of my training barefoot but I have kind of a fun story about a time I was hiking a mountian down in Virginia and the way up is super fun, lots of rocks. It’s this mountian called Old Rag in Shenandoah National Forrest. It’s one of the most popular hikes in the United States I think actually.

[00:10:00] It’s really rocky and it’s beautiful and the top is just this granite dome, barely any trees, all these giant boulders, great parkour opportunities. Just really enjoyable, beautiful, hike. 360 degree panoramas. On the way down, you’re going back down this really rocky, heavy impact trail and by the time I got down there, probably about three quarters the way, my knees were really starting to ache. It’s a long day, it’s seven miles up, seven miles down. It’s all elevation change, it’s not a flat spot.

Coming down, I was starting to get sore and as [00:10:30] I get down towards the bottom, I take my shoes off and by the time I hit the parking lot at the bottom, my knees don’t hurt anymore. That’s just kind of a very in your face example of, “Oh, here I’m tired and oh I’m achy,” a lot of it is just the balance of the muscles being stimulated in the way that they’re pulling on the joints.

Craig: Removing your shoes like you get back to the proprioception input. That’s something your body could change whatever it was that was causing the knee pain.

Elet: Well and a big part of it too is you’re not doing things that without padding it’d hurt because you might still be working through the same [00:11:00] movement pattern that would cause pain without padding with a shoe on but of you get rid of that ability to pad that sensory nerve down on your heel, you’re not gonna drop your heel onto the ground. When you step down off of a rock, you’re gonna reach first with your fore foot

Craig: … right. Ball of your foot …

Elet: …. and you’re gonna use those extra joints. You’ve got three joint in your toes you got a joint in the middle of your foot. You’re midfoot joint that doesn’t get used when you use a shoe.

Then there’s a minor amount of movement through the talor bones in the back of your foot. Those aren’t [00:11:30] getting pulled into play at all when you’re wearing a shoe. There’s so many more shock absorption joints that just get used when you take your shoes off and all those muscles get stimulated and that’s gonna get a little too deep into psycho-sematic pain, but that feeling that your brain is getting of, “Oh, I’m in pain,” doesn’t get stimulated because things are being used right. We don’t want to get any deeper than that ’cause that’s a hell hole of the science and neuro science.

Just kind of getting into the [00:12:00] fact that bare foot is what you’re supposed to do, it’s where we came from. It’s not gonna work if we’re trying to push 12 foot running precisions onto a metal rail, that would take years to develop, which if that’s your goal, that’s your goal. But as far subjective experience goes, man when I’m doing my performances, I want thicker shoes.

Craig: I think going even further with this train of thought on feet, there’s also the issue of how your bones get set. I’ve been recently, over a couple years, working on trying to sit comfortably in a deep squat just [00:12:30] because I think it’s a good movement pattern to be able to do. I’m finding that it’s a lot more complicated than just muscular length and just normal flexibility.

I’m wondering if people need to reassess their goals for barefoot. If you decide, “I want to train bare foot,” you might have to have go back to how you began moving as child and realize that your bones in your feet are now set a certain way.

Elet: Definitely and I think that also kind of ties back into training in nature as well because if you decide to make that shift, [00:13:00] you’ve got to reassess the surfaces you’re working with and not necessarily making things smaller but using more small movements to get the same job done.

If you’re looking to train bare foot or if you’re looking to train outside, if you go out and you push your maximum precision ’cause you know, hey man, every time I can jump 12 feet, it’s not gonna work out there. Why, because it moves, its wet and it’s gonna break.

Craig: It’s off-camber and it’s got a funny texture.

Elet: That [00:13:30] could mean your feet or it could mean the surface you’re landing on. You’ve got to take it down and you got to reassess the situation.

Also, kind of the idea of that is different. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What are you trying to get out of it? Are you looking for a healthier body or are you looking to change your style? Both are good experience, all of it I hope, but just realize the reality of the situation. You could just go walk in the woods for a mile bare foot and when you come back, [00:14:00] your feet are gonna hurt. Your skin’s not tough, the muscles aren’t well developed. You’ve got these weird motor patterns that are ingrained from thousands and thousands of hours of doing something shod, and maybe also on concrete.

If this is new to you, this is changing everything. You’ve got to take not just two steps back but five and approach it. Like you were saying, the stuff that you did as a child and realize how that fits in. When I go and teach at these [00:14:30] bushcraft school events, which is something that I’m involved in a lot, is this bushcrafting community. I teach a movement class called From the Ground Up. We start with ground movement and we then work from there to transitions to quadrapedie, and we work from there into low two foot positions,

Craig: … yeah, ‘low gait’ …

Elet: … bipedal positions and then to walking, moving silently, which is especially important in our train of thought, stocking, reach, escape all of that. Then we get into jumping and running and then we get into climbing [00:15:00] into the trees and then transitioning between trees.

It’s kind of that same mentality of just approaching movement in the woods, it’s from the ground up. You’ve got to have a foundation.