Couch Potato Feet: Feet that have been chronically immobilized, resulting in excessive weakness of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones of the foot. Couch potato feet are unhealthy, flabby feet that are susceptible to chronic pain and increased chance of injury.
How Do People Get Couch Potato Feet
Couch potato feet are the result of feet that are never given the opportunity to get outside and play. They spend their days lounging around inside shoes that have excessive cushioning and discourage any sort of movement. We used to call these “motion-control” shoes. From now on, I’ll call them what they really are- immobilizer shoes.
Healthy feet are allowed to move, flex, and explore. They’re given a steady diet of new terrain, plenty of dynamic movements, and lots of time in the open air. These feet grow strong, capable, and independent. They only need shoes for protection from excessive temperatures or rough terrain, or occasionally for running really fast or long.
Unhealthy couch potato feet are rarely allowed to move, flex, or explore. They’re wrapped up in those cloth foot bags most people call socks. Then they’re stuffed into poorly-shaped, cramped shoes that nearly eliminate any movement. They’re subjected to arch supports and orthotics that bend and manipulate them in unnatural ways, much like the corsets that were popular in the Victorian era. The most complex biomechanical structure in our body is reduced to nothing more than a stub.
The resulting immobilization causes our feet to atrophy. It’s similar to breaking an arm and placing a cast over it. The underlying tissue dramatically weakens. Once the anatomical structures are weakened, we have no choice but to rely on the support of the immobilizers.
Our bodies aren’t designed for inactivity. Curiously, the feet are really the only body part doctors seem to think need to be immobilized and controlled. How many times do we hear doctors gripe that people would be much healthier if they just did some exercise? Health would blossom, injuries and disease would plummet, visits to doctors would decline, and our society would overcome the grips of the obesity/expensive drug treatment epidemic we’re currently experiencing. Apparently preventative medicine is a miracle solution… except for our feet.
Remember, we rust must faster than we wear out from overuse.
How Can You Prevent Couch Potato Feet
1. Go barefoot. This doesn’t necessarily have to involve barefoot running, just spend time barefoot. When you’re walking around your house, yard, neighborhood, or even work (assuming it’s acceptable), will give your feet a tremendous opportunity to strengthen and begin a path toward good health.
2. Permanently ditch your casual immobilizers. Changing your casual or work shoes from cushioned immobilizers to quality minimalist “barefoot” shoes that allow the foot to move freely would also strengthen your feet. The key- the shoe should have minimal cushioning, no raised heel, and plenty of room to allow your toes to spread out (or what we call “toe splay”).
3. Cautiously transition your athletic shoes from immobilizers to quality minimalist shoes that allow the feet to move. Interestingly, this is probably the least impactful of the three suggestions, yet it’s the solution we most often recommend. While it is important, it’s also the solution with the most potential danger. Since exercise stresses your body much more than simply walking around the office, there’s a need to transition slowly.
I’ll go back to my cast analogy. Think of your feet as having been placed in a cast. Once the cast is removed (your immobilizer shoes), there’s a need to rehabilitate the underlying physical structures. When you break your arm, it heals, and the cast is removed, you can’t immediately go back to your previous level of activity. You need that rehab period to strengthen the arm. It’s the same with your feet. Think of the transition period as rehab.
Doing the previous two suggestions for a few months will dramatically reduce the “transition time”, but caution should still be exercised. There are some great resources out there. I’ll shamelessly recommend my own book, but I would also recommend Ken Bob Saxton and Michael Sandler’s books. All are very good guides to help with that transition. I’d also recommend some of the resources I helped develop with Merrell.
Don’t let your feet become lazy, unhealthy couch potatoes. Be proactive. Ditch the immobilizer shoes. Give your feet freedom. Allow them to move. Give them time outside. Develop free-range feet! When you have to encase them in shoes, pick good shoes that still give them freedom.
What do you think? What else can we do to prevent “couch potato feet”?