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Why Barefoot

Mechanical Approach end of linear text


Ideally your leg would have a small lever (304·8mm long) hinged onto the bottom of it. The tip of the lever would contact the ground first, and as your weight came on to that leg, it would pivot about the hinge stretching a spring to absorb the impact and lower your heel gently to the ground. If you are carrying a heavy rucksack the springs would have to be adjusted for the heavier load. Worse, if you were carrying a heavy suitcase with one hand, the springs would have to be adjusted differently and readjusted when you changed hands! So it needs to be an active spring under micro-processor control.

How much would such a pair of shoes cost? $500, $5000, who cares? You already own a pair that came free, as your body's standard equipment. The small lever is called the foot, the hinge is called the ankle, the spring is the Achilles tendon, the adjustment and damping is provided by the calf muscle. The surprise in all this, is that once you understand the mechanical engineering aspects, going barefoot turns out to be a technologically more sophisticated solution to the problems possed by modern hard surfaces than wearing shoes.

The transition to going barefoot is hard. You need to get you eye in for spotting broken glass. You need to sharpen up your foot-eye co-ordination, so you can avoid it once you have seen it. It takes a while for you soles to thicken and muscles underneath to tone up. As this happens, broken glass becomes less of a problem ( if you don't live amongst drunken litter louts it is not a problem at all). It takes some months to get your calf muscles toned up and to learn to use them correctly. You have to place your foot, not scuff it; as though you were reaching forward to grab the pavement with your toes and pull it back underneath you.

The payoff for all this effort is wonderful. You literally get a spring in your step. Walking becomes a pleasure, like dancing, instead of being a misfortune endured when your car breaks down. You can use the new strength in your ankles to rise up a couple of inches when climbing stairs. Steep stairs become shallow and you feel twenty years younger.

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