Everyone's answer is "No" but it wasn't long before your feet were pushed into baby booties, first walkers, school shoes then later dress shoes and high heels.
Ancestral man would have spent their entire lives barefoot and even modern day hunter gatherer tribes only have basic flat bottomed sandals. This is a long way from our hard leather, supported, raised heel, tapered toe box things that wrap and restrict our specialised feet.
The structure of the foot is made up of 26 bones, 33 joints and hundreds of muscles, tendons and ligaments.. When these perfectly designed structures are put into shoes lots of things can change.
Firstly support, when you support the muscular system in anyway the muscles don't have to work as hard so can become weak and atrophy(Lose muscle). The foot can lose its ability to support itself and loses its structural integrity.
Feet can also become misshapen and take on the shape of the shoe being worn, pulling toes together and inwards, curling and losing mobility. A raised heel leads to shortening of the achilles tendon, calf and hamstrings having a detrimental effect to the entire posterior chain. Potentially leading to to knee, hip and back problems.
Then we have the world of the sports and running shoe. Until the 1920s there were no running shoes and then when they did arise they were flat bottomed. It wasn't until the 1970s when a trainer as we would know it today arose, then the 1980s saw the introduction of air cushioned soles and pump up tongues. Now we have motion controlled, arch supporting cushions on the market.
The problem with these kind of trainers is that they allow you to put more force through the foot and during running to heel strike, the heel strike running gait sends the impact forces straight through the skeletal system, ankle, knee, hip and back taking the brunt of it. This can lead to cartilage and ligament damage and muscle strains that can set an athlete's training back.
When we look at a person running barefoot or in minimal shoes we see that the running gait changes to a toe and midfoot strike instead of the heel hitting the ground first.The benefit of this is that the muscular system takes the impact force away from the skeletal system, acting more like a suspension system on a car.
A few week ago I wrote about taking inspiration from children, the same is true with barefoot, watch a child run barefoot, they will toe to midfoot strike without any thought. It's only later when shoes come into their life that that changes.
I appreciate that the modern environment can be a challenge to going barefoot, glass and other sharps can make it a high risk venture but there are now some great minimalist sports shoes that can help protect the feet from these dangers without compromising the natural running form.
I have spoken to podiatrists before who have said that the barefoot running "FAD" is the worst thing they have seen from an injury point of view. However my defence of this concept is to ask how the people transitioned to going barefoot. You can't just throw your modern shoes away and expect to be running and moving naturally without any problems. Years spent in supportive shoes has weakened the structures of the foot and changed the shape of how the body moves. And a progressive transition is very important.
It took me around 6 to 12 months to be comfortable and confident exercising and running this way and there were still a few aches at first. So what can you do to get started?.
Be barefoot as much as possible - At first just around the house, if it's cold socks are ok but keep to barefoot as much as you can as often as you can just getting around.
Invest in flat bottomed shoes - Similar to the first tip but for circumstances when barefoot just is not possible. Will help elongate the posterior chain with basic daily movement.
Start exercising barefoot or in minimal footwear - Do this in the gym when lifting or playing with the kids in the park. And work in some mobility sessions into your routine.
Transition to barefoot running - If you want to run start small, build up the distance slowly and do your research on barefoot running form as it does take practise.
You may get tightness in the calf muscles at first but it will get better with time. Also your feet will be desensitised to the feeling of the earth, even the smallest stone can feel like a needle at first but your senses will get used to feeling the environment they way they should.
There will be people that will have issues why they can't make this transition but the benefits are great if you can and what could be more natural to getting your feet back to how they started.
Keep it Primal
Move your DNA - Katy Bowman
Born to Run - Christopher McDougall
Paleo Fitness - Darryl Edwards