Pelvic Health and your Feet....Yes, Really! Have you considered barefoot shoes?

Several clients have asked me about the benefits of barefoot shoes recently and why I wear them. In my pre and postnatal exercises classes and with my personal training clients I talk a lot about the benefits of them for a pregnant or postnatal mama - and - the benefits for your pelvic floor. Yes, really.

In a fabulous MUTU System Blog post (referencing Katy Bowman’s work - &-of whom I am a HUGE fan) it is summarised beautifully: ‘When you walk properly (read ‘naturally’), the muscles of your backside, core and pelvic floor work properly too. Correct walking posture means you don’t tuck your tail bone, lean forward from the hip or thrust your pelvis forward either. It means you walk tall, with your body in a straight line and looking at the horizon, not the ground in front of you. As a result your glutes actually work as you walk and run, your core is effectively supporting your centre of gravity as you move and your pelvic floor muscles are at full length and doing their job of holding everything in.’ *

Who doesn’t want to be helping their core with an adjustment to their footwear. Also important for a busy-parent, is embracing the most fabulous (baby-friendly, free and convenient) of all exercise that there is….walking.

However, it is important to transition to barefoot/minimal shoes correctly, especially, if you have worn positive heeled shoes for many years- you need to transition gradually, prepare your feet with stretches and exercises or injuries happen. After reading ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall about 10 years ago - I remember many of my military (and physically fit) colleagues suffered lower limb injuries as they switched to barefoot footwear during the Vibram five finger ‘craze' without transitioning slowly (perhaps under professional guidance) and having not adjusted their running gait to be a forefoot striker....

So how should you walk?

As beautifully summarised by MUTU: ‘To walk and run naturally, our feet need to be able to feel the ground beneath them and to move in the most efficient way, absorbing force and moving us forward (or up and down in running). This requires the foot to work differently when walking or running.

The natural and optimal gait for walking is ‘heel-toe’

The natural and optimal gait for running is ‘toe-heel’

The latter – the way we run – is where we have to re-train our bodies to move properly. Because our ‘unnatural’ running shoes and our ‘unnatural’ running style force our feet into a ‘heel-toe’ action or gait. It’s not just the way our foot falls that’s important… posture and rhythm also need adjustment, but the key message here is that running shoes make us run in an unnatural way and a way that frequently causes injury, mal-alignment, and pain.’ *

So what’s been my barefoot journey? In an upcoming blog post I am going to be sharing my own postnatal fitness journey. I switched to barefoot shoes and I haven’t looked back. My husband is himself an accomplished marathon runner and military officer used to the rigours of military PT. He switched to barefoot/ minimal shoes over 10 years ago and essentially worked super hard to change his running gait. Changing your running gait is by no means an easy feat - even more challenging as you physically tire. For a modern-day human (we are pretty sedentary compared to our primeval ancestors) the switch requires strengthening, releasing, stretching, patience and a realistic transition plan.

Having made the decision to be totally low-impact for my second postnatal fitness journey - more about that decision in my next blog post - I have enjoyed the barefoot experience. I now cannot wear my old running shoes to walk in. I love the wider toe box my barefoot shoes provide, I love the flexible soles, the ability to purposefully engage my glutes as I walk and I now feel unable to teach a squat in a regular gym shoe as I feel elevated, as if on my tip-toes, and tilted. I do own an extensive ‘heeled shoe’ collection (!) and I have to say I am generally a fan of a ‘pretty’ shoe (perhaps that’s owing to wearing somewhat ugly, yet functional, military shoes for nearly 20 years) but, yes, I am a convert.

In conversation with my clients there seems to be some misunderstanding of what a barefoot shoe is. Even a neutral running shoe is generally positively heeled and not barefoot (Most regular running shoes have between an 4mm to 12mm heel to toe drop). As a family we have several pairs of Vibram Five Fingers- they have a wide range of shoes for different activities and exercise types, from trail running to cross training. I also love the Vivo Barefoot shoes - especially as they are made with recycled materials and ‘bloom’ (a new sustainable material). They also have a great kids range which our eldest son enjoys, and we have tried several flexible, minimal brands for children over the last 4 years. Minimal footwear for children is another topic entirely and something I am also passionate about. It has been eloquently discussed recently by Dr. Marie Battaglia-Norton, Chiropractor/Partner, at family-focussed East Coast Chiro - check out the full article here on the Mom Talk NB Blog

You can shop locally (and save on shipping/support a small business) here in Fredericton. The Radical Edge stocks barefoot/zero drop shoes. We currently have, and really like, both the New Balance Minimus and Merrell Trail Gloves purchased from the store.

If you have time, try to watch the informative ‘Shoespiracy’ video ; it may challenge you to think differently about your shoes and the negative effects footwear might be having on feet, on the way we move and, ultimately, on health.

So yes, your footwear does affect your pelvic floor. Please also remember if you have had a baby you can seek advice on pelvic health dysfunction even if that was 3 months, 3 years or 30 years ago. (I recommend all of my female clients have a pelvic health check with a specialist Women’s Health Physio after pregnancy, even if they have no immediate concerns). Equally important to consider, women who have not had children, and men, can also suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction. Perhaps consider a transition to minimal footwear, but it should be a gradual process, done carefully, slowly and under professional supervision if possible. Perhaps even more important to transition with professional advice when you are pregnant/postnatal and your body is already changing so much biomechanically.

Ask me questions when we are next at class. I (is it weird?) enjoy talking about feet and the pelvic floor.

Hugs, Sarah x

Sarah is a Pregnancy and Postnatal Fitness Specialist, Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors member, Diastasis Detective and Your Pelvic Matters teacher. Want to know more about the Claire Mockridge programs I am trained in, or, ask some questions? Let’s connect

Your Pelvic Matters™ is a step-by-step exercise and educational approach to fixing pelvic floor problems. This is a NEW full-body approach to women’s health, function and fertility. Gone are the days when we should solely focus on the pelvic muscles in an effort to heal, nurture and fix dysfunction. We’re going north of the navel and south of the pubis here! And, we’re educating you to help you understand why things aren’t functioning optimally.

(Visit my Facebook page events for more details of my upcoming pregnancy and postnatal programs at the Summer Studio at Enchanted Woods Play Cafe this summer)

* With thanks to MUTU for kindly allowing me to reference their informative blog post. Read the full blog post here and as a MUTU Ambassador (who enjoys a MUTU workout herself) I would be delighted to talk to you about their online workout program. From brand new moms to grandmothers, it’s never too late to feel more in control of how your body looks, works and feels after having your kids! Want to try the FREE MUTU 30 Day Pelvic Foor Challenge? Click here to sign up.

This post is designed to be informative and is no way intended to replace the professional guidance of your GP, OB, GYN or Midwife. If you have any concerns about your health seek medical advice soonest and it is imperative that you speak to your healthcare provider before returning to exercise. For a transition to barefoot footwear - I recommend you do so under the guidance of a trained professional.

Photo by Jan Romero on Unsplash