Toe Shoes, Toe Strength, and the Power of Bare Feet
The following was submitted by "Orka" as a comment to our post on "Why Toe Shoes?"
I think I am one of the rare individuals who not only grew up barefoot, but did so in the rugged wilderness of Northern California. Throughout the summers of my childhood, up to age 17, I spent every summer barefoot, and I hiked cross-country everywhere. I even ran downhill over jagged, loose, rocky steep hillsides, leaping in the air and landing sideways (deliberately, to surf/slide/ride the rubble downhill) with bare feet. It was possible because the ground was giving way and I had thick pads on my feet. I loved running, downhill, cross-country, and was a natural fast runner, good at both sprinting and long-distance.
Reading through the article [Why Toe Shoes?] and comments, I keep feeling as though I have insight and experience that could be helpful.
One thing is that the toe separation is very important because toes become atrophied by being in ordinary shoes. I used to have strong independent use of all my toes to grip boulders and such, but after a few years in shoes I discovered—to my horror—that my little toes could barely be moved independently anymore: they don't grab on the way they used to! They feel numb (compared to their earlier selves) as though they're just there, useless tabs that might get stubbed and broken off because they're not responsive enough anymore. For me I feel like the toe pockets on Vibram FiveFingers are a God-send, as a figure of speech, because they are helping my toes to spread out again like they should, and they do not have the strength anymore to do it on their own. It's almost like a corrective brace!
For people who've said their toes aren't strong enough to move independently or grip in the FiveFingers, I think the problem is that most people's toes are weak and uncoordinated from disuse and being in normal shoes, or when barefoot, just walking on even terrain all the time.
As far as stepping on sharp things, I've done plenty of that in my life, and sharp objects jabbing your feet will certainly sharpen your reflexes! Hehe! Whenever I hit something large, hard and sharp, especially on my arch with bare feet, I bent my knee and dropped to the ground in a flash—before I got injured. That's how the reflex developed, but you know how these fast-dropping reflexes have really saved me? With ankle injury prevention. I always drop so fast when my ankle rolls that I have never once had a sprain or twist that caused pain for more than a minute.
I am very quick and nimble on my feet due to all my barefoot wilderness experience, and I've always been a strong advocate of being barefoot. It is one of your primary senses, a way to be in constant physical contact with your environment, that goes right along with seeing, smelling, and hearing. To wear shoes is to cut off one of your senses. My only use for shoes is in towns and cities where I do not consider it clean enough to go barefoot. I am so happy to be able to have VFFs for that, and for long-distance running! I have Classics for everyday use, and the Sprints for running. Of course, nothing can beat going barefoot whenever possible!
I am so happy more people are catching on to how wonderful being barefoot is!