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By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
We liken shoes to a new car, or maybe a computer. We choose specs based on the promise of what it can deliver. We can predict how a car will deal with the physics of the road, or how a computer deals with the processing of information, but in the case of anything relating to the human body? It is always less than predictable. Humans are not predictable. (Which is the difficulty in getting machines to act like us.)
The Less I Understand It The Better It Must Be
I had a friend who was taking some very expensive herbs from a well-known alternative guru. I asked her why she was paying so much for these herbs; then she gave me all of the health benefits. I asked her: how do you know that's what it does? She said: because that's what it's supposed to do Sam. Duh!
I probed further, let's say it does what it's supposed to do, how much does it help? She asked me what I meant. Because people think, improve or help is an absolute number, meaning all the way. But "improves or helps" can range from very minor, can help as much as placebo, or go all the way to cure. When people hear "helps or improves," they can hear "cure," when perhaps the finding only showed as little as .0001% improvement — less than placebo. This type of convenient logic affects a lot of our purchases, for instance, our cult veneration of shoes. (There is also a certain irony; shoes are so important yet we don't hold the same respect for the feet. Shoes are high-status, feet are low-status.)
We have some assumptions about the feet, that pronation (rolling inward) is bad because it is not "normal." And anything not normal must be fixed. The other assumption is of the "magic pill," which is, rather than making broad behavioral changes, we can dramatically change health outcome with one purchase. That health isn't intrinsic or something that starts from within, it's something external that we purchase, that we add onto ourselves. That we start out unhealthy and we need to create things to constantly fix us. Something we consume or wear. In this case, rather than improving our running form and biomechanics (or avoiding the activity altogether if it doesn't suit us), we can purchase shoes that will somehow do the job for us. Because that's what they're supposed to do Sam. Duh! Yet, I have always been skeptical of this advice because well... the body doesn't care what we think, and there are no absolutes with the body.
What We Do Know
Researcher Benno Nigg and his colleagues at the University of Calgary in Canada were skeptical as well. They published a new review, poring over decades' of studies about running injuries and shoes.
Health is not cookie-cutter and not full of blanket answers, as this research confirmed. In one extensive study of pronation that included over 1,000 novice runners being tracked for a year, the runners with "normal" feet were injured much more often than those who pronated.
As far as impact with the ground, they found little evidence that shoes offered much more protection than without. In fact, how hard we hit the ground was inconclusive to running injury. Perhaps not everyone is durable to begin with. Perhaps people have already accumulated too much health debt, ready to expose itself in the first fitness activity they try.
When military recruits were assigned shoes to alter their pronation, they were more likely to sustain injury. This makes sense as that's how their body knows how to move and altering it derails everything. It is like detaching the feet from the rest of the body. (In the same way people may not associate how sea level rise may make routine weather happenings more disastrous.) So podiatrists were right, it will protect our feet. They never promised it wouldn't hurt everything else.
So what matters? Comfort. Duh! Shoes should conform to the feet and not the other way around. When all ideas of what's best for the feet were thrown aside, and participants were able to chooses shoes based on comfort, those participants were injured far less than those who had their shoes chosen for them based on their foot shape.
Scientific Common Sense
This is called scientific common sense. (I don't know if that's a term, but it should be.) We can't fragment any one thing or any one body part from the rest of the body. In this case, the singular focus on the feet fights our bodies' natural movement pattern, and this is what causes injury. Think of yourself as a whole unit, not Frankenstein's monster who is stitched together with random independent parts.
Perhaps most importantly, we were all born to walk, but not all born to run. Perhaps the best way to keep ourselves healthy is not to engage in things that hurt our health, even when we are told "it's good for you. Duh!"
And if you don't believe me, good because — well all studies relating to humans (mental, social, physical, medical) are probably wrong.
Source: Must Triumph
My name is Sam Yang. I'm a martial artist, entrepreneur, fitness nerd, information geek, and productivity nut. For more useful information, join my newsletter. You can also connect to All Out Effort on Facebook and Twitter.