Most people find foot exercises boring and quit doing them before they increase foot strength. Does walking in minimalist walking shoes yield the same benefits as foot exercises? A new study answers this question.
Time to put your foot down and take a step in the right direction. Let’s see how we can increase your foot strength.
Minimalist Walking Shoes Table of Contents
- Benefits of Strong Feet
- Summary of Study
- Results of Study
- Conclusions of Study
- My Nine Recommendations
Here are five key benefits strong feet for people with osteoporosis, osteopenia or low bone density.
1. You Can Do Weight Bearing Exercises
First, you need strong feet to do most weight bearing exercises (essential to build bone strength). The impact and benefit of weight bearing through your bones and muscles starts when your feet hit the ground. However, foot pain and weakness limits your ability to weight bear.
In my experience, I have seen people develop plantar fasciitis (PF) after eagerly increasing the time devoted to wearing a weighted vest or increasing the weight of the vest too rapidly.
Feet often the first point of failure when you increase weight bearing (either the load or number of steps). It is important to make our feet healthy and strong to be able to load more without consequence of strains such as plantar fasciitis (PF) or stress fractures.
2. You Will Have Stronger Metatarsal Bones
Second, strength training is specific to the bones where the muscles attach. When muscles pull on bone during strength training, the bone get stronger. All bones behave this way, including the bones of the feet. The metatarsal are the long bones in your feet.
Unfortunately, metatarsal fractures are common in people with osteoporosis, osteopenia or low bone density. Strengthening the muscles of the feet may help reduce the incidence of metatarsal fractures.
3. Your Balance Will Improve
Third, some clients have difficulty balancing because of weak foot muscles. This can lead to a higher risk of falls because of foot pain and weakness. Strong foot muscles can improve your balance and reduce the risk of a fall.
4. Knee and Hip Pain Will Not Stop Your From Exercise
Fourth, I have seen clients experience knee and hip pain because of faulty foot positioning during squats, lunges and daily activities. Strong foot muscles allow you to maintain proper foot position and reduce the incidence of knee and hip pain.
5. You Will Have a Better Posture
Fifth, the foundation of a perfect posture are strong foot muscles. I encourage clients to activate their whole body, including their feet, when they work on their posture.
The Path to Stronger Feet
By now you should be convinced that you will be better off in life with strong feet. But how can you improve the strength of your feet? Do you really need to include foot strengthening exercises into your exercise program or is there an easier way to achieve this goal?
Let’s look into whether it is better to improve foot strength through either foot strengthening exercises or walking with minimalist shoes. Fortunately, a new research looked into this question and arrived at some surprising results. Read on!
Exercise Recommendations for Osteoporosis
Exercise is vital to bone health and osteoporosis. But what exercises should you do and which ones should you avoid?
A great resource on exercise and osteoporosis is my free, seven day email course called Exercise Recommendations for Osteoporosis. After you provide your email address, you will receive seven consecutive online educational videos on your bone health — one lesson each day. You can look at the videos at anytime.
To register for this free email course, simply click on the image of the couple or click here and provide your email address.
I cover important topics related to osteoporosis exercise including:
- Can exercise reverse osteoporosis?
- Stop the stoop — how to avoid kyphosis.
- Key components of an osteoporosis exercise program.
- Key principles of bone building.
- Exercises you should avoid if you have osteoporosis.
- Yoga and osteoporosis — should you practice yoga if you have osteoporosis?
- Core strength and osteoporosis — why is core strength important if you have osteoporosis?
In 2019 the journal, ACSM Journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, published a study entitled Walking in Minimalist Shoes Is Effective for Strengthening Foot Muscles.
The authors’ state that the purpose of their research was “to determine the effect of walking in minimalist footwear or performing foot strengthening exercises on foot muscle size and strength.”(1)
In other words, the research wanted to know if either foot strengthening exercises or walking in minimalist shoes would yield better foot muscle and strength. If both yielded similar results, then the implications are interesting for all of us. The convenience of walking certainly is better than the inconvenience of adding new exercises to your already busy osteoporosis exercise program! Let’s start with how the study was conducted.
Minimalist Walking Shoe & Foot Strengthening Study Outline
The research team selected fifty-seven (57) runners and randomly assigned each runner to one of three groups
- Minimalist shoe walking (MSW) group.
- Foot strengthening (FS) exercise group.
- Control (C) group.
The research candidates were experienced runners between the ages of 18 to 34 years old. They ran an average of between 15 and 30 miles each week for at least 6 months before study participation.
The study team excluded subjects if they had any lower extremity injuries within the 3 months before beginning the study or if they had run barefoot or in minimalist shoes more than three times within the previous 3 months.
The research team required all of the runners in the study, regardless of group assignment, to maintain their pre-study running mileage in traditional running shoes throughout their participation in the study. The (C) control group did not do any additional activities to improve foot strength. The MSW (minimalist shoe walking) and FS (foot strengthening) groups, on the other hand (or other foot), participated in a foot strengthening exercise program.
Minimalist Walking Shoe Group Protocol
Participants in the MSW (minimalist shoe walking) group were given the following items:
- Pair of minimalist shoes (Inov-8 Bare XF 210 or Inova Bare 260) to wear in place of their typical daily footwear. Both shoe styles were zero drop. Neither had a midsole. The two differed only by the closure (the XF 210 had elastic laces, whereas the XF 260 had Velcro which resulted in an additional 50 g of weight).
- Pedometer (Omron HJ-720ITFFP) to measure minimalist walking distance.
[Please note that I have linked to these products on Amazon and that I receive a small commission from Amazon if you purchase either of these products as a result of that link click.]
They were provided the following instructions to follow:
- Over an 8-week period, the members of the MSW group gradually increased the number of walking steps they took in the minimalist walking shoes while reducing the number of steps taken in their regular footwear. They maintained (or kept steady) their typical daily walking and running activity.
- At the beginning and during weeks 1 to 2, MSW participants walked 2,500 steps per day in the minimalist shoes.
- During weeks 3 to 4 of the study, they increased to a daily step count of 5,000.
- By weeks 5 to 8, the members of the MSW group were walking 7,000 steps daily.
- Participants were asked to achieve their step count at least 5 days a week.
- The participants were not allowed to run in the minimalist shoes.
Foot Strengthening Group (FS) Protocol
Participants assigned to the FS group were taught a series of foot strengthening exercises developed at the Spaulding National Running Center in Cambridge, MA. The exercises were designed to strengthen their intrinsic and extrinsic foot muscles.
Each week during the eight week study, members of the FS group performed the exercises at least five days a week. The exercises were done once in the laboratory and four times at home.
New progressive resistance variations of the exercises were taught during the weekly laboratory visits. The research team recorded the running mileage of all participants, the steps taken in minimalist footwear by the MSW group, and the foot exercises of the FS group.
The C (control group) saw no changes in foot muscle size and strength. However, “all [foot] muscle sizes and strength increased significantly from weeks zero to eight in the FS and MSW groups.”
The research team concluded that “Minimalist shoe walking is as effective as foot strengthening exercises in increasing foot muscle size and strength.”
They went on further to state: “The convenience of changing footwear rather than performing specific exercises may result in greater compliance.”
This is significant for those of you who need to improve your foot strength. A small investment in minimalist walking shoes coupled with regular walking will yield the same benefits as a dedicated foot strengthening exercise program.
Before you run (or quickly walk) out to purchase your minimalist walking shoes, consider these nine recommendations:
1. Orthotics and Minimalist Shoes
First, there is no mention of the runners wearing orthotics in the study. All participants had “healthy feet” and they maintained their running distance with their regular running shoes. Therefore, if you currently wear orthotics, I advise you to discuss transitioning to minimalist shoes with your foot care professional.
2. Walking Surface and Minimalist Shoes
Second, minimalist shoes will also reduce the shock absorption provided by the shoe. You may want to consider the surface you use them on. If you have very low bone density and have suffered from a previous foot fracture, consider walking on a running track or treadmill rather than a concrete sidewalk.
3. Minimalist Shoes Recommended Protocol
Third, consider this protocol (similar to the one in the study) to build up your walking steps over an eight week period.
Measure your current number of steps you currently take per day with regular walking shoes.
- Begin you program during weeks one and two by wearing the minimalist shoes for 25% of the number of steps you currently walk.
- During weeks three and four, increase walking in minimalist walking shoes to 50% of the number of steps you currently walk.
- By weeks five to eight, increase walking in minimalist walking shoes to 75% of the number of steps you currently walk.
4. Walking with Minimalist Shoes and Osteoporosis
Fourth, I encourage you to read my article, Is Walking Good for Osteoporosis, to learn more about walking and osteoporosis.
5. Plantar Fasciitis and Minimalist Shoes
Fifth, if you have been diagnosed with plantar fasciitis you should not further challenge or irritate it by starting to wear minimalist shoes. Rather, at this time, your feet need more support through appropriate footwear, orthotics and different forms of therapy until the tissues are ready to be strengthened.
The reasons for developing plantar fasciitis differ in individuals and the treatment approach should be individualized. Once your feet are pain free, you should speak to your foot care specialist about integrating minimalist shoes as an approach to strengthening. They might recommend that you begin with non-weight bearing foot strengthening before graduating to wearing minimalist shoes.
6. Minimalist Shoes, Weighted Vests and Osteoporosis
Sixth, I do not recommend that individuals with low bone density or osteoporosis combine minimalists shoe use with a weighted vest. This may impose too much load on the bones of their feet.
7. Recommended Walking Pace in Your Minimalist Shoes
Finally, the research team in the study did not indicate the walking pace that was used. I would encourage individuals to walk at their current walking pace.
8. Knee Arthritis and Minimalist Walking Shoes
Is it safe to wear minimalist shoes if you have knee arthritis? The answer is yes. A 2011 study (2) showed that minimalist shoes reduced loading on the knee (ie, reduced the strained) during walking compared to walking with heeled shoes.
The minimalist walking shoes used in this particular study were made by Moleca® with the following characteristics.
- Women’s double canvas.
- Flat walking shoe without heels.
- Five millimetre anti-slip rubber sole.
- Three millimetre internal wedge of ethylene vinyl acetate.
You can see a photo of them in the published research paper.
9. Transitioning to a Minimalist Walking Shoe from a Heeled Shoe
There is no mention whether or not the participants walked in flat shoes. In my experience, if a person has always worn heels, the transition to flat shoes needs to take place over several months with specific stretches for the calf, soleus and plantar fascia.
Perfect Posture and Postural Alignment
I have a page dedicated to Perfect Posture. You can find information on how to get that perfect posture. For those of you interested in dedicated Physiotherapy, I also offer one-on-one Physical Therapy postural alignment through my Posture Alignment Therapy.
- Ridge ST, et al. Walking in Minimalist Shoes is Effective for Strengthening Foot Muscles, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, ACSM Journal. 2019; 51(1):104-113.
- Trombini-Souza F, et al. Inexpensive footwear decreases joint loading in elderly women with knee osteoarthritis. Gait Posture. 2011 May; 34(1):126-30