Barefoot science posts

WHO NEEDS FOOTBEDS? NO ONE

There are some who can benefit from footbeds or orthotics and some who do actually need them. But these groups are the rare exception. And they are unlikely to be skiers.

Orthotics. The pros / cons of orthotics in today’s society!

In a recent YouTube video (1.), Podiatrist & Human Movement Specialist, Dr Emily Splichal, explores the concept of orthotics and their role in today’s society. Dr. Splichal doesn’t pull any punches when she says:

“…..I have been through the conventional podiatric school and been fed pretty much the bullshit from podiatry of how every single person needs to be in orthotics, that our foot is not able to support itself without orthotics……if we do not use orthotics our foot is going to completely collapse  and you are going to lose your arch…….”

“……Our foot is designed to support itself. If we actually needed orthotics, we would be born…..we would come out of the womb, with orthotics on our feet.”

Meantime, The Foot Collective  asks (2.) Are you promoting weak feet?

  • Anything you use for artificial support at the feet (footwear with arch support & orthotics) your brain takes into account and accommodates for it.
  • That means if you provide your foot support your brain shuts down the natural arch supporters to reduce un-necessary energy expenditure.
  • Stop using support to help with pronation and understand why your feet pronate in the first place – because they are weak.
  • Strong feet = strong foundation = strong body.

The Real Source of Support for the Arch

Ray McClanahan, D.P.M. offers a perspective on the issue of Arch Support in his post on the CorrectToes blog (3.)

Are Custom Footbeds and Orthotics better than stock insoles?

In his post of August 20, 2017, Custom Foot Orthotics; No Better Than Stock Insoles (4.), Rick Merriam, of Engaging Muscles, explores the issue of orthotics in depth.

Prior to being told that supportive insoles are the way to go, I think it’s safe to say that all of those people didn’t know what they didn’t know.

The erroneous assumption that every skier needs footbeds or orthotics was made at a time when little  was known about the function of the foot and lower limb, especially in late stance. I was one of those who didn’t know what I didn’t know when initially when down the ‘the foot needs to be supported in skiing’ road up until I realized what I didn’t know and took steps to acquire the requisite knowledge.

Footbeds; is anyone checking what they do?

In 2000, I formed a company called Synergy Sports Performance Consultants (5). Synergys’ product was high quality information. One of my partners, UK Podiatrist, Sophie Cox, was trained by Novel of Germany and was one of the few experts in the world at that time on the Pedar system. Synergy did not make and/or sell footbeds or orthotics. Instead, we checked the effect of footbeds on skier performance. We performed a quick footbed check for a minimal fee of $20 using the sophisticated Novel Pedar pressure analysis technology.

Synergy was one of the first companies in the world to use the Novel Pedar pressure analysis system synchronized to video to acquire data on skier performance and analyze the captured data.  The Synergy team with diverse expertise studied the effect of ski boots and custom insoles on skier performance and identified functional issues in the body that needed to be addressed. It was a common finding that custom footbeds were significantly compromising skier performance, especially the ability to create the necessary platform under the foot on which to stand and balance on the outside ski.

Synergy offered a comprehensive 5 Step Performance Program that started with a footbed check. A key component was item 2., the Biomechanical Check.

With increasing recognition of the negative effect of most footwear on the user and criticism of the unproven claims made for footbeds and orthotics coming hard and fast, credibility in skiing is rapidly going downhill. It is time for proponents of custom insoles for ski boots to support their claims with solid evidence, especially evidence supported with data acquired during actual ski maneuvers. The technology to do this has existed since at least the year 2000.


  1. https://youtu.be/CIRf9WHmMXI
  2. http://www.thefootcollective.com
  3. https://www.correcttoes.com/foot-help/articles-studies/arch-support/
  4. http://www.engagingmuscles.com/2017/08/20/custom-foot-orthotics/
  5. DIGITAL SALVATION FOR THE SOLE [BACK TO THE FUTURE] –  http://wp.me/p3vZhu-24g

ERROR IN LAST POST ON EVERSION

In my last post, I erroneously stated that the sole turns inward, towards the center of the body, in eversion. I meant to state that the sole turns outward, away from the center of the body, in eversion.

I have revised the paragraph in my post so it reads correctly.

In order for the torso and Center of Mass to stack vertically over the ball of the foot, the sole of the foot must turn outward, away from the center the the body. This is called eversion. It is enabled by the joint that lies below the ankle called the sub-talar joint. The sub-talar joint is tied to the tibia where it acts as a torque converter. When the foot everts or inverts, the sub-talar joint translates this on an approximately 1:1 ratio into internal or external vertical axial rotation of the leg.

I apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

OUTSIDE SKI BALANCE BASICS: STEP-BY-STEP

In view of the positive response to my recent posts and comments I have received, I have decided to take a step-by-step approach to explaining the mechanics and biomechanics of balance on the outside ski.

I am going to start the process by comparing balance on one foot to balance on two feet. I refer to balance on one foot as monopedal stance (one foot) and balance on two feet as bipedal stance (two foot). The graphics are for illustrating general principles only.

The graphic below shows monopedal stance on the left and bipedal stance on the right. Orange hash marks delineate the alignment of major body segments. Black reference lines on the right leg of both figures show the angle of the leg in relation to the ground.

In order to transition from a balanced position in bipedal stance to a balanced position in monopedal stance, either the foot must move towards the L-R center of the torso or the torso must move towards the foot that will become the stance foot, or a combination of the 2 movements must occur. The central issue is the amount of inertia acting on the torso. In skiing, due to the degree of inertia, the new outside foot of a turn is normally guided into position under the torso as the skier or racer approaches the fall line in the top of a turn.

Moving the foot into position under the Centre of Mass so it stacks in line with the ball of the foot usually takes an inward movement (adduction) of the leg from the pelvis of 6 to 7 degrees. In the upper left figure in monopedal stance, the leg is adducted 6.5 degrees and has formed a varus or outward leaning angle with the ground.

If the leg only adducted, then the sole of the foot would end up at an angle of 6.5 degrees with the ground and the figure would end up on the outer edge of the foot; on the little toe side. In order for the torso and Center of Mass to stack vertically over the ball of the foot, the sole of the foot must turn outward, away from the center the the body. This is called eversion. It is enabled by the joint that lies below the ankle called the sub-talar joint. The sub-talar joint is tied to the tibia where it acts as a torque converter. When the foot everts or inverts, the sub-talar joint translates this on an approximately 1:1 ratio into internal or external vertical axial rotation of the leg.

When the foot everts, the subtalar joint rotates the vertical axis of the leg towards the center of the body an equivalent amount; in the subject case, 6.5 degrees.

The combination of eversion/internal vertical axial rotation of the leg is called pronation. If either of these actions is interfered with, or worse, prevented, it is impossible to create the alignment necessary to stack the torso and Center of Mass over the ball of the support foot.

The consistently stated objective of footbeds is either to limit or even prevent pronation. Put another way, the whole idea of footbeds is to make it difficult or even impossible to balance on the outside foot and ski.

If this issue is not crystal clear, please post comments as to what is needed.

ADDENDUM TO THE ORIGINS OF KNEE ANGULATION

The intent of my last post was to create an awareness of the lower limb alignment indicative of stability and how a lack of stability, whether intrinsic or caused by footwear, especially ski boots, will cause a skier to default to the use of knee angulation in what will be a failed attempt to hold the edge of the outside ski.

A skier will be unable to develop the requisite biomechanics to balance on their outside ski if they lack stability in barefoot monopedal stance under the minimal challenges associated with a flat, level unperturbed surface. If they lack lower limb/pelvic stability, there could endless combinations of causes which is why I listed a number of resources to help address this deficiency.

If a skier/racer exhibits good to excellent  stability under this basic test and they become unstable with the addition of any form of footwear, it suggests, but does not unequivocally prove, that the footwear is the cause. In more 4 decades of working with skiers and racers at all levels, I have consistently found that I can turn monopedal stability off and on at will. That I can do this without limitation, is indicative of cause and effect. In the 2 world class racers I am presently working with, even a small change in a liner or the over-tensioning of a shaft buckle or power strap has an immediate and noticeable effect on outside limb/pelvic stability and balance.

A key exercise I like to use with racers and elite skies I am working with is the vertical stacking exercise shown in the graphic below. This exercise is performed by starting from bipedal stance with the feet stacked under the heads of the femurs and the head and torso vertical and then making fluid arcing movement of the COM over the ball of the big toe while keeping the torso and head stacked vertically and the pelvis and shoulders horizontal as indicated by orange vertical and horizontal references in the graphic below. The torso should be aligned with the transverse or frontal plane, square with the foot.

A lack of stability in the biokinetic chain is typically evidenced by a drop of the opposite side of the pelvis and a leaning in the opposite direction of the torso and/or the head or both. While this reduces the load on the pelvis side of the  leg it creates a myriad of issues. Inside hip drop will cause the inside leg of a turn to assume the load as the skier inclines thus creating further instability on the outside leg.

Elite skiers and racers like Shiffrin are able to get over it (find stability on their outside foot and ski) in milliseconds. This enables them to retract the inside foot and ski with knee flexion as they incline into a turn similar to the mechanics cyclists use when they corner; outside leg extends, inside leg retracts.

The vertical stacking exercise is best performed in front of a mirror.

THE ORIGINS OF KNEE ANGULATION

A recent post on the Foot Collective Facebook page titled, Are you stable on 1 leg?, advises that if  you stand on one leg and look like the top row of pictures in the graphic below (red X), you have a foot & hip that are dysfunctional. This test is best done barefoot on a hard, flat, level surface.

Graphic with permission of Correct Toes

The lower photo (green checkmark) shows the alignment of a leg that is torsionally balanced (stiffened) in the ankle and knee joints. The foot and knee cap align straight ahead and square with the pelvis while the alignment of the knee with the foot, leg and thigh is substantially linear. If you can move to single limb support from two feet, easily achieve this alignment with minimal effort, sustain it for 30 seconds or more, and achieve similar alignment on both left and right legs, you probably have good stability in single limb support.

If you look like the upper photo (red x), it indicates dysfunction and especially a lack of torsional stability in the support limb. The problem is usually caused by constrictive, supportive, cushioned footwear and/or arch supports that, over time, deform feet and weaken the arches. Ski boots are one of the worst offenders in this regard.

If you and when you can achieve good stability in single limb support, you are ready to test the effect of footwear, especially your ski boots. Start by putting on your day to day footwear. Then do the same test on the same surface with each pair of shoes. Work your way up to your ski boots. Adjust the closures of your ski boots to the tension you normally set for skiing. If you are not able to quickly and easily assume the stable position shown in the lower photo (green checkmark), then you know that cause  is the footwear. You can then test the effects of insoles, including ski boot footbeds by removing them from the footwear, placing them on the test surface and moving to single leg support. While not perfect, these tests will help determine the cause of single support limb instability.

In skiing, an unstable outside support leg is characteristics of most skiers and even racers at the World Cup level. It is typically caused by ski boots interfering with the physiological processes that fascially tension the arches and forefoot that create the triplanar torsional stability of the ankle and knee joints of the biokinetic chain necessary to set up a platform under the outside ski to stand and balance on. But instead of addressing the underlying cause, the ski industry invented the term, knee angulation. Knee angulation is indicative of unbalanced torques acting about the uphill edges of the skis, especially the outside ski. When unbalanced torques are present about the edges of a skis or skis, unbalanced torques will also be present across the joints of the lower limb; not a good thing.

The alignment of the knee illustrated in the lower image (green checkmark) is seem as skier or racer enters the fall or rise line with outside leg extended, confirms the existence of a platform under the outside foot on which the skier or racer is balancing on with dynamic balance of torques across the joints of the ankle foot complex and knee. See my post MIKAELA SHIFFRIN AND THE SIDECUT FACTOR – http://wp.me/p3vZhu-1Uu

There is an abundance of information on programs to correct foot deformities,  muscle weakness and imbalances on web sites, YouTube and FaceBook groups such as The Foot Collective, Correct Toes, Feet Freex and the Evidence Based Fitness Academy – EBFA (Dr. Emily Splichal).

The Foot Collective web site has a series of posts on An Introduction to Feet and Footwear (1.) as well as a series of Foot-Casts (2.)

Meantime, a post on a web site called Rewire Me (3.) has an interview with Dr. Emily Splichal called No Shoes Allowed in which she discusses the importance of sensory information entering the body and the need to be able to process this information and handle the load and impact. Dr. Splichal suggests starting the process by getting the body and foot accustomed to sensory information without shoes acting as a barrier.

An excellent free paper with great graphics is The foot core system: a new paradigm for understanding intrinsic foot muscle function (4.)


  1. http://www.thefootcollective.com/an-introduction-to-feet-and-footwear/
  2. http://www.thefootcollective.com/footcast/
  3. https://www.rewireme.com/roses-blog/shoes-allowed/
  4. http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/49/5/290.full#xref-ref-39-1

NABOSO PROPRIOCEPTIVE STIMULATION INSOLES

For several weeks, I have been testing the first-ever small nerve plantar proprioceptive stimulation insole technology called NABOSO, which means “barefoot” in Czech. The surface science technology was invented by Dr. Emily Splichal and is being marketed by her in conjunction with NABOSO yoga mats and floor tiles.

Introducing Naboso Insoles by Naboso Barefoot Technology. Get ready to experience what it truly means to move from the ground up with the first-ever small nerve proprioceptive insole to hit the footwear industry.

The skin on the bottom of the foot contains thousands of (small nerve) proprioceptors, which are sensitive to different stimuli including texture, vibration, skin stretch, deep pressure and light touch. When stimulated these proprioceptors play an important role in how we maintain upright stance, activate our postural muscles and dynamically control impact forces. – Dr. Emily Splichal

http://nabosotechnology.com/about

Dr. Emily Splichal goes on to state:

The skin on the bottom of the foot plays a critical role in balance, posture, motor control and human locomotion. All footwear – including minimal footwear – to some degree blocks the necessary stimulation of these plantar proprioceptors. The result is a delay in the nervous system which can contribute to joint pain, compensations, loss of balance and inefficient movement patterns.

Naboso Insoles are backed by surface science and texture research – and have been shown to not only improve balance but also positively impact gait patterns, ankle proprioception and force production in athletes.

Dr. Splichal stresses that:

This (NABOSO insole) is an insole providing proprioceptive and neuromuscular stimulation – it is not an orthotic providing biomechanical control.

http://nabosotechnology.com/naboso-insoles/

The principle proprioceptive neural activity associated with balance responses occurs across the plantar plane. It is strongest in the 1st MPJ (big toe joint) and big toe.

Dr. Splichal cites studies that found that textured insoles increased the activity of receptors in the plantar surface of the feet with a significant, immediate effect seen in the outcome measures of static (weight bearing) and dynamic (weight symmetry index, strength symmetry) in balance tests  as well as in gait symmetry (single support and swing phases). Thus, the proprioceptive stimulation benefit of textured insoles is carried over into footwear without textured insoles. I have noticed a significant improvement in  plantar proprioceptive sensitivity when barefoot or when my feet are not bearing weight. It is as if my feet have been put to sleep by a local anesthetic which has worn off.

Dr. Splichal’s information on NABOSO states that for the first time ever it is now possible to bring the power of barefoot science and plantar proprioceptive stimulation to all footwear – regardless of support, cushion or heel toe drop.

Assuming a NABOSO is trimmed, if necessary, to fit a shoe, there will be a positive effect on plantar proprioceptive stimulation. But my experience to date has been that the plantar proprioceptive stimulation will be much more pronounced in a minimal, zero drop shoe with adequate width for fascial forefoot tensioning and correct alignment of the big toe. I have experienced the best results with NABOSO in the Xero Prio shoe with the Lems Primal 2 and a Vivobarefoot model, close seconds.

The photo below shows the Xero Prio (blue-grey) with the Lems Primal 2 (black).

Both shoes have thin soles with low resiliency (the material compresses very little). The soles are also very flexible, an important quality. The sole wearing qualities of the Xero are excellent. The Xero Prio has become my all around minimal shoe. I use it for cycling on my mountain bike fit with large flat platform pedals.

The photo below is of the NABOSO insole for my left shoe.

Initially, NABOSO insoles are perceived, but not uncomfortable. After a time, shoes feel strange without them.

Over several weeks, I have done many tests of different shoes and insoles where I compare cushioned, standard insoles to NABOSO and different shoes with and without NABOSO as well as one-on-one comparisons with different shoes on each foot. After an initial walk in period, if I remove a NABOSO insole from one of my Xero Prios, it feels as if sole of the foot with the Xero without the NABOSO is signicantly less sensitive.

The most significant aspect of trying NABOSO insoles in different shoes is that it immediately becomes apparent just how bad some shoes are. The more cushioning, the narrower the fit and the greater the heel to toe elevation of the sole, the worse the shoe feels. For example, when I compared the Xero Prio with zero drop to a Nike Free with a 5 mm drop, I immediately sensed a pronounced negative effect on my posture and muscles of my legs, especially my glutes.

A Game Changer?

Prior to NABOSO, footwear companies could make shoes that have a negative affect on posture, balance and gait because it could be argued that the benefits of protecting the soles of the feet from mechanical damage outweigh any negative effects on balance and increased susceptibility to falls and injury. But the criteria for product liability is that a product must minimize, but not necessarily eliminate, the risk of injury to the consumer. Studies of textured insoles and even thin, low resilency soled footwear have shown dramatic improvements in balance and gait while reducing the risk of falls and potential injury. The inescapable conclusion is that footwear that reduces balance and the efficiency of gait while increasing the risk of falls and potential injury fails to meet this standard. This raises the question, “Will product liability litigation in footwear be the “next shoe to drop?””

NABOSO in  Ski Boots?

I have not yet had an opportunity to test NABOSO ski boots. But 2 racers I am working with are using NABOSO in zero drop minimal shoes. Stay tuned.

 

THE MECHANICS OF BALANCE ON THE OUTSIDE SKI: PRESS AND POINT THE BIG TOE

A widespread perception appears to exist within the skiing community is that the ability to hold a ski on edge by using the leg to exert force against the side of the stiff shaft of a ski boot and staying upright and not falling, equates with good balance. This ingrained perception presents a challenge in terms of communicating how the world’s best skiers create a platform under the body of the outside ski that they can stand and balance on using the same processes that we all use to stand and balance on a hard, flat level surface.

Last ski season, I developed simple cue to help skiers find the right mechanics and biomechanics as the new outside ski goes flat between edge change and then rolls into the turn on its new inside edge.  At ski flat, if a skier has the right stance, they should feel strong pressure under the ball and the big toe. As the skier extends and inclines into the new turn, the outside leg should be rotated into the turn to point the big toe in the direction of the turn. Hence the cue, press and point the big toe.  This pressure under the ball of the foot and big toe should be maintained through the turn phase until it is released by the transfer or weight to the inside (uphill) ski at the start of the transition to the inside. The strong pressure under the ball of the foot and the force that presses the big toe down flat is passively created by a strong stance, not conscious effort.

The Reverse Windlass

The pressure under the big toe is created by what is called the Reverse Windlass Mechanism. This naturally happens in the late phase of stance when walking barefoot. But wearing shoes with raised heels and cushioned insoles makes it impossible for the Reverse Windlass to function. When the Reverse Windlass is lost, it must be re-acquired by being barefoot as much as possible and walking, running and training in zero drop, thin soled minimal shoes. In some cases, people have to learn to walk naturally by rehearsing the action.

There is an excellent YouTube video by Teodoro Vazquez on Blog del Runner  called Windlass Mechanism and Running Biomechanics – https://youtu.be/y_8SrufgmDk. Vazquez describes the 3 phases of the windlass mechanism, Active (Activo), Reverse (Inverso)  and Passive (Pasivo). Although the video is directed at running, the primary concepts have direct application to skiing and ski technique. The reverse windlass is activated by the weight as shown in the graphic below from Vazquez’s YouTube video.
 This tensions the arch of the foot and presses the big toe down.
As the shank angle increases, the soleus muscle goes into isometric contraction and arrests further shank movement. The results in a heel to forefoot rocker action that dramatically increases the down force under the ball of the foot and the big toe. What I call the Spinal Reflex or SR Stance maximizes the down forces.

It is important that when the big toe (aka Hallux) is pressed down flat, the ball of the foot and big toe feel like one. When the big toe is pressed down properly, you should feel your glutes tighten. The leg you are standing on should be straight and the knee pointed straight ahead.

An important muscle in the Reverse Windlass is the Flexor Hallucis Longis or FHL. When the soleus goes into isometric contraction, the FHL is tensioned. This stabilizes the foot and knee by rotating them away from the center line of the body.

Things that prevent the Reverse Windlass

1. A condition called Hallux (big toe) Valgus
2. Narrow shoes and especially shoes with a pointed toe box.
3. Ski boots, especially ski boot liners.
4. Shoes with elevated heels, cushioning and toe spring (toes raised up). Note: A small amount of ramp angle is necessary for the SR Stance.
5. Footbeds and Insoles.
In my next post, I will discuss fixes to enable and/or restore the Reverse Windlass.