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What’s the deal with athletic footwear? 

On the one hand, you have fancy, expensive running, and sports shoes coming out every couple of months claiming some new technological “breakthrough” for more comfort, safety, and even performance.

And then you have the crowd that dismisses those products as pure marketing puffery and that swears by minimalist shoes for all athletics or even none at all.

What are we supposed to make of this?

I’m no expert when it comes to running or the best footwear for healthy feet, so I invited someone onto the podcast who is. Specifically, my guest is Steven Sashen, who’s a Masters All-American sprinter—meaning he’s one of the fastest men over the age of 50 in the US—as well as the founder of Xero Shoes, a brand dedicated to designing thin and flexible shoes for walking, running, and all other athletic activities.

In this episode, we chat about . . .

  • The truth behind the “Big Shoe” marketing machine
  • Why more padded shoes can be worse for your joints
  • How to pick a good training shoe
  • What people with flat feet should do
  • The benefits of strengthening your feet with “natural movement”
  • How to transition to minimalist shoes
  • And more . . .

So, if you want to learn about how to build stronger, healthier feet, listen to this episode!


4:31 – Is it better to run barefoot or with shoes?

11:26 – Are padded shoes worse for you than running barefoot?

13:12 – What is the proper method of running?

17:35 – Why is it hard to run properly with a fancy pair of running shoes?

29:33 – What about people with flat feet?

30:35 – What are some other benefits of strengthening your feet?

39:32 – Are there any tips for transitioning from fancier shoes to a more minimalist approach?

Mentioned on The Show:

Books by Mike Matthews

Xero Shoes

Xero Shoes Instagram

Steven’s Podcast – The MOVEMENT Movement

What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!


Mike: Howdy folks. Welcome to another episode of Muscle for Life. I’m your host, Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today. Now, what is the deal with athletic footwear? Because. On the one hand, you have fancy expensive running shoes and sports shoes coming out every couple of months, often claiming some new technological breakthrough that makes them more comfortable or safer, or that even is going to improve your performance.

And then on the other hand, you have the crowd of people that dismiss all of those products as just pure marketing puff. and that swears by minimalist shoes for all athletics, or even none at all barefoot. What are we supposed to make of this? Well, I am no expert when it comes to running because quite frankly, I don’t like to run, and so I haven’t looked much into the footwear space and certainly not footwear for.

Feet. And so I wanted to get somebody on the show who knows a lot about this stuff, and that is Steven Sachen, who is a Masters All-American Sprinter, which means that he is one of the fastest men in the United States over the age of 50. And he is also the founder of Zero Shoes, which is a company dedicated to designing thin and flexible shoes for walking, running, and all other athletic activities, which of course already tells you what his position is.

He is all for minimalist shoes or even. No shoes at all. But I think that he does a good job explaining why. And I found this interview in Lightning and so I’m sharing it with you. And in this chat we talk about the truth behind the big shoe marketing machine and the need to always come out with new.

New is one of the best words in marketing. New and free. The two best words in marketing and Steven explains why more padding in your shoes can actually be worse for your joints. And there’s research that shows that. And he talks about how to pick a good training shoe and also talks about. People with flat feet, in particular, what they should do.

That is something I have been asked about at least a handful of times over the last several years, and Steven talks about the benefits of strengthening your feet with natural movement and more. Also, if you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my health and fitness books.

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Steven, here we are, man. 

Steven: So happy to finally do this. We’ve been trying to make this happen for a while. 

Mike: Yeah. And we already ate up half of our time talking about other stuff, but , but we still have enough time. We can do it. We can do it. Good. Good, good, good. So let’s just get right into it. Let’s talk about running and whether it should be, and I guess this would be maybe just exercising in general, doesn’t have to be running per se.

And you have two major schools of thought here that I want you to talk about, and that is barefoot or as close to barefoot as you can get versus fancier footwear. And I don’t have too much context to provide the listener here because I’ve never been into running. I just know that running shoes, for example, they have a lot of marketing claims.

And whenever I see that and I see the marketing claims evolving and the quote unquote technology evolving over time of something as simple as a shoe red flags. For me, I can liken it to golf where I see these ads for the next generation driver with patented mega core flex technology, and I’m like, yeah, sure.

Whatever. This is . This is probably essentially like you probably have an actual technological breakthrough once every decade maybe where something that really actually might. Add 10 yards to your drive, and that’s me being cynical. I might be wrong, but when I see, no, you’re right. Shoe advertising, the same cynic comes out and says, yeah, sure, whatever.

Dude, it’s probably no different. Essentially, like fundamentally, that new fancy pair of shoes is gonna work just as well as like the shoes that. They were making 15 years ago. 

Steven: Well, it’s, it’s so interesting that you frame it that way. Again, you throw in a lot to unpack all at one time. So first of all, you’re totally right.

Let’s start there. Secondly, of course, of course, naturally , well, I mean that’s just a given. So , I mean, it’s my podcast after all, so, yeah, exactly. And you know, and I’ll try and kiss your but even more during the rest of it. The perfect, um, the thing that’s interesting when you say you see these claims and you know, it raises a red flag for you, that makes you unusual because when it comes to footwear, It’s a lot like the boy who cried wolf, except in that story, the villagers eventually get smart and they stop running.

But what’s happened in footwear in the last 50 years, not 15, is that every new evolution of footwear has been the exact same story. Some form of cushioning, basically some form of controlling your motion. And it’s just a new thing every, you know, couple of years, some company has something, the rest of the companies then jump on the bandwagon cuz they’re afraid that, you know, they’re gonna miss out and never make any money again.

And there’s never been any proof at all. That stuff provides benefit. Let me just say that again. Never. Any proof injury rate for runners and marathoners since the advent of the modern running shoe hasn’t changed, hasn’t gotten any better, and there’s some crazy, crazy things if you start to look at it.

And actually, I wanna back up a little bit and say I’m not gonna try and talk anyone out of the shoes they’re wearing. I’m not gonna try and talk you in a running barefoot and looking like a hippie like I do, even though I’m not a hippie. Do you run actually barefoot? Just straight up barefoot? So I’m a masters All-American Sprinter, so I’m one of the fastest guys over 55 in the.

and when I’m doing my training, I will do all of my warmups and drills barefoot or in one of our sandals, depending on how hot the grass is. Mm-hmm. . And then when it comes to actually being on the track, I’m in one of our shoes because the way a track is designed is designed for running shoes. And if you’re running it, you know, I, I hit about 23 miles an hour at top speed.

I mean, I would just rip the skin off my feet at that point, but the shoes that I’m wearing are a whole different game. So the thing that’s most interesting to me is what does it mean to have healthy, happy, strong feet? Those things are your foundation. They’re responsible for moving you around. They’re responsible for balance and agility and mobility.

And like a house, if you have a bad foundation. All hell breaks loose. You know, further upstream, like if you don’t let your feet bend and move and flex and feel, all of that function tries unsuccessfully, move into your ankle, your knee, your hip, and your back. Now, and I’m also not gonna make any medical claims, not because we don’t have thousands of people who’ve said, oh my God, these shoes have changed my life and here’s how.

But because we don’t have science, Backing up this fundamental idea that using your body is better than not using your body. 

Mike: And that’s because the research isn’t there, right? 

Steven: It’s not that, well, the research isn’t there because the companies that would be benefit from doing that research are companies like mine who don’t have billions of dollars to spend on this research.

Oh, you’ll love this. And, and to your point, actually, the first point you made, the American College of Sports Medicine has a white paper about selecting a good running shoe. Mm-hmm. . And the first thing they say is, the purpose of a shoe is to provide some protection for your foot and hold that onto your foot.

That’s it. And if you look at foot, Up until the seventies, that’s all it did. It was a lot, actually, a lot more like ours than anything that’s come out ever since. And so that’s the fundamental goal, is just providing a little protection. And, oh, there was something else that you said that, um, wait, what’d you just ask me?

I totally, I lost it. 

Mike: Oh, just, I just wanted to start the discussion at this, this jumping off point of you have. Fancy shoes that have that features, you know what I mean? And supposed benefits versus a more minimalist shoe also is gonna be more minimalist in terms of the advertising, right? It’s gonna be almost the polar opposite in some ways.

And you see that, and I’m sure as a consumer it might be a little bit confusing if I wanted to get into running. It would be a little bit confusing for me. I would have, cause I don’t know anything about it. I first, I would go to the scientific literature and I’d be like, okay, is there any research on the effectiveness of one type of shoe or another?

I’d be like, okay, it doesn’t look like there’s anything too useful here.

Steven: Oh no, there is no, see, this is what’s so interesting. There is, but what many people will say is there’s a controversy about minimalist or barefoot running in regular shoes. And I say there’s actually not, if you look at the research, it’s really unequivocal.

That modern footwear, modern athletic footwear, doesn’t matter if you’re running, walking, or hiking, doesn’t provide the benefits they claim. So as an example, research from Christine Pollard at O S U, she was really curious about the new shoes that were coming out with more and more padding. And of course, their claims are that these reduce impact forces and therefore injuries.

So she looked, she did the research.

Mike: So they’re gonna say what? Like it’s better for your joints, for example, is what they’ll say. Yeah. 

Steven: And the research is unequivocal that when you have more padding, you actually put more force in the ground, or at least the same amount, if not more force in the ground, and it goes into your joints instead of using your muscles and ligaments and tendons as the natural springs and shock absorbers they’re meant to be.

And she was shocked by this, and other people have reproduced this study. 

Mike: I mean when when you explain it, the mechanism makes sense. But yeah, I could see that it’d be surprising because it runs completely contrary to all of the marketing of these shoes , where it’s like, oh wait, this is all fake. 

Steven: Well, you said it perfectly.

It runs contrary to the marketing, not to the reality. It’s like the supplement space. Uh, very similar. It’s very similar. If you say to people, you know, the Tamara Indians in Mexico, they run in just sandals, made out of scraps of tire scrapped to their feet. And there’s, you know, similar shoes from tribes in Africa and indigenous tribes all around the world.

And people will say, yeah, but they were born that way. I can’t run that way. and then you say, okay, well what about the shoes that you just bought? Why’d you buy those? Oh, well this, you know, guy who just won a marathon raced in those and he won. So clearly these shoes are better. It’s like, yeah, but that guy is 105 pound Kenyan who grew up wearing no shoes.

So on the one hand you’re saying you can’t wear what the Tamara wear cause you didn’t grow up that way. But then you’re saying you can wear what this 105 pound Kenyan. Who runs a marathon in slightly over two hours, whereas even though you’re never even gonna run well, what about 

Mike: maybe the point of saying, well, just because that’s what they do doesn’t mean it’s optimal, just means they have no other choice.

Steven: Yeah. Except for the fact that the research actually shows that it’s optimal . 

Mike: So let’s get into that then. Can you explain that? Yes. So you mentioned that with these more padded, these more cushioned shoes, it actually is rougher on your joints. That’s one point. I’m sure there are others. 

Steven: And let me, and let’s say.There’s two reasons why. One, again, you have more nerve endings than the sos of your feet than anywhere, but your fingertips and your lips and your feet have more bones and joints than any feet and ankles. Well, a quarter of the bones and joints of your whole body are in your feet and ankles. So clearly you’re supposed to use those things at the end of your legs, and they’re supposed to bend and flex and move and feel.

So when you b have put on a big padded shoe, if you, I’m gonna tell you the story of how that happened to which you’ll love if you put on a shoe with an elevated. Then it’s really hard to run with a natural gate because the heel just gets in the way. Frankly, when you heal, strike, mm-hmm. and land with your foot too far in front of your body, you’re basically putting the brakes on every time you land, you’re decelerating every time you land, and they have to re-accelerate.

But when you’re in that decelerating moment, What’s happening is your leg is relatively or totally straight, and so you’re sending a spike of force. Daniel Lieberman, a doctor at Harvard, calls it an impact transient force spike. You’re sending a spike of force that goes straight up through your joints, through your ankle, your knee, your hip, and your back.

When you’re running more naturally, which is hard to do in footwear where you can’t feel the ground at all, you’re gonna land with your knee, with your foot closer to your body, your knee bent at a different angle. You’re gonna be using those springs and shock absorbers built into your body and you’re not putting force.

In your body at the same speed and through your joints in the same way kind of bypassed you. I have a big chunk of meniscus that’s missing from my right knee cuz it was removed by a doctor, not because it just magically disappeared. And when I couldn’t run in regular shoes, I was getting too much knee pain.

Once I got out of those shoes, I wasn’t putting force into my knees. Everything’s been fine ever since. Again, masters is all American at 50. 

Mike: and what is that proper method of running 

Steven: Again, it’s not about, I wanna be clear, it’s not about the footwear, it’s about the form. Sure. So, yep. What the research shows is that the most, the way of applying the least force into your body and being able to run happily, which like the Tamara do, until they’re in their seventies and eighties, they run hundreds of miles at a time, sometimes days and days of running.

They have games where they run for hundreds of miles. You’re gonna end up landing with your. Closer to your center of mass, more underneath your body, you’re gonna be landing on your four foot or the ball of your foot, but then not trying to stay there, you’ll let your foot come down. Basically, your foot has three arches in it, and we know from architecture and arch is the most stable structure you can make.

If you wanna break an arch, you quote, support it from the bottom. Same thing with your foot. The bones in your foot align properly. When you’re landing, when your toes are flexed back towards your knee dorsa flexed, which okay, puts some tension across the bottom of your foot. It’s called the Wind Last mechanism.

It aligns the bones in your medial arch. What most people think of is the arch of their foot to be a really strong and flexible and stable structure. See, and that I see also protects your ankle because you’re not landing on your heel, which means your ankle is unstable, which leads to things like pronation and supination.

So you’ve created a strong foundation if you get your foot underneath your. You basically can’t land on your heel first. It’s almost an impossible unless you’re like just trying to stop, right? I mean, yeah, think about jumping rope. If you jump rope, you land on your toes or the ball or your feet, and you can let your heel come down to the ground, but you’re really getting the maximum value by landing on the balls of your feet.

You’re using your Achilles tendon as this incredibly strong spring that’s built into your body. And if I then said, all right, so when you’re jumping rope, just do it like by going like you’re running a place one foot at a time, instead of landing on two feet, and then just get rid of the. And then lean forward slightly and you’re gonna find that you’re running in a way that’s feels pretty effortless and is using your body naturally.

And that’s the gist of it. Now, there’s some other little subtle things that go in there too. Like you don’t need to push off the ground. You wanna think about lifting your foot off the ground. Like imagine that you’re stepping on a bee and it stings you. You don’t push off the ground. That would drive the stinger further into your foot.

You lift your foot reflexively off the ground cuz you flex your hip. So you want that same kind of feeling. And the last point, this is just for people getting started. Is you want to probably pick up your cadence a little bit, so you’re taking slightly more steps per minute without running faster, so you’re traveling at the same speed, but more steps per minute.

And the reason for that is that that’s one cue that makes it easier and more natural to get your feet more underneath your body to almost imagine that you’re lifting your foot off the ground before it even touches the ground, so you’re, you’re not landing on the ground, you’re kind of passing over the ground.

But the gist is that the, the primary thing is not reaching out and putting on the brakes every time you. 

Mike: Makes sense. So it is almost like you could think of running in place and then if you were to do that and then start leaning yourself forward and start moving forward. But it’d be more akin to running in place with your, your knees just moving straight up and down your feet coming straight up and down.

Steven: It’s a little different than that because as you are traveling across the ground, you know the amount of time that your feet are on the ground, your leg does swing through. There is a swing face still. Sure, sure, sure. But it’s more like that’s just the intention to get the flavor of the difference between.

Mike: So it’s like a, A cue. Similar to weightlifting, you have useful cues. Yeah, yeah, 

Steven: exactly. And there’s one other part that’s relevant for you and let’s say your audience. And that is, people say, well, how do I start? And I go really, really slow. Like really small, like a 22nd run. See how you feel the next day.

If you’re sore, wait till you’re not, then repeat when you can do that comfortably. Then add 10 seconds. If you feel like you hurt something, the key is like, you know, do something different till you’re having fun. And I say to people all the time, you know the reason you wanna do like a really, really, really short run is this, if I asked you to go to the gym, you wouldn’t do bicep curls nonstop for an hour.

Why would you make your first run an hour, which is equivalent to doing bicep curls for an hour? You do a set, you go home, you rest, you recover, you get stronger. You know the learning and the recovery happens during the resting phase between bouts of exertion and it’s no different for running than it is for lifting weights and getting.

Yep. That 

Mike: makes sense. Now, you had mentioned this earlier, but I think it’s worth briefly just getting into the details as to why, why exactly is it hard? And, and I’m actually genuinely asking, this isn’t a rhetorical question. I don’t know the answer because I never, I never was much into running, never got into running as cardio, never liked it.

And as far as sports go, I played a lot of hockey growing up, but that wasn’t running . And so why is it hard to run properly? A fancy 

Steven: pair of running shoes. Yeah. Well, by the way, there’s been research on whether more expensive shoes do in fact reduce injury and improve performance. And the research again unequivocal that it does not.

Mm-hmm. , there’s a guy named, uh, Dr. Phil Macone, who back in the eighties was saying, just go to Walmart and get the cheapest pair of shoes you could find, because they’re gonna be better for your letting your feet do what’s natural. And, uh, I, because they’re gonna have less that, that’s why they’re, yeah.

Less in way. So we’ll get to the specifics in a sec, but I said to Phil when we became friends after I started zero shoes, I said, do you feel vindicated or kind of upset that it took so long for people to catch up? He goes, eh, a little bit of both . So if you think about the modern athletic shoe, and I’m gonna tell you where this design came from, it’ll blow your mind.

First of all, you look at the shape of the toe box in a modern athletic shoe, and then look at the shape of your foot. Modern athletic shoes are pointy. Yeah, your feet are not. There’s research that shows if you just squeeze your toes together, it cuts off circulation in the bottom of your foot. That can’t be good.

Secondly, they tend to elevate your heel, which messes with your posture cuz it offsets your balance. That’s not good. Third, there’s enough cushioning that you don’t feel the ground. And again, if you’re not getting sensations into your feet that go to your brain to tell your whole body how to work properly, that’s not good.

You wanna hear something crazy? I just got on the phone with a guy who’s uh, a professional race car driver, and he’s been wearing our shoes saying, this is so important because we need to feel the feedback from the pedals. And without that, you’re driving blind and these shoes are amazing for that. So same idea.

And then the last thing, maybe not the last thing is. One is you want something super flexible cuz your feet are flexible. If your foot can’t bend correctly and move correctly, that wind last mechanism that I talked about doesn’t get activated properly. So that’s a problem. Oh, arch support. This is another issue.

You don’t need arch support. Your arches are strong enough if you let them be strong enough. Think about supporting any joint. You put your elbow in a cast cuz you broke your arm. It doesn’t come out stronger, comes out weaker. Same thing with your. There’s research that shows that if you took healthy athletes and put arch support in their shoes, within 12 weeks, they’ve lost up to 10% of the muscle mass in their feet.

Conversely, there’s research showing that if you just walk in a pair of shoes like ours, the research wasn’t done with our shoes, but it’s like ours. Then you’re building foot strength. You can build foot strength as if you’re doing an actual foot exercise strengthening program. So the modern shoe basically just doesn’t let your feet do any of the things that your feet is designed to do.

And then there’s one other. , which is the whole idea of cushioning and motion control, like, you know, pronation control. Mm-hmm. first. No evidence that pronating is a problem none made up by footwear companies to sell their technology. 

Mike: And can you just explain quickly what that is 


Steven: anybody not familiar with the term?

Oh, pronation is basically, if you put your foot on the ground and the inside of your ankle starts getting closer to the ground, essentially. I mean, that’s an easy way of thinking of it. Yep. Technically it’s when your foot is. It’s not averting. It’s hard to describe this without showing you. If I did a hand motion, you’d see it.

It’s mean. You could kind of just 

Mike: think of it as tilting inward. Yeah, that’s maybe as a way to 

Steven: think about it. That’s part of the spring mechanism of your lower leg. Now if your ankles are weak because you haven’t used them, it could be a problem. Mm-hmm. . But it’s fundamentally, that’s the way we’re built.

And you look at a lot of, of world champion marathoners, they pronate more than anybody who has ever been to a running shoe store saying that they have pronation problems. When a human being who weighs like 150 pounds hits the ground running, you hit with between three and five times your body weight.

So let’s just call it 500 pounds worth of force. There’s no amount of, little bit of cushion. That can handle 500 pounds of force on a regular basis. The cushioning in shoes, in addition to making it so you can’t feel anything, so your numb feet become dumb feet. It also starts to break down really fast, and when it breaks down, it puts you in bad biomechanical positions.

I was, um, I was at the airport and there’s a guy in front of me on the walkway who had been wearing in a big, padded shoes, and he’d been wearing them. And it got to the point where his feet were so tilted inward. It looked like the padding on the shoes was like a wedge. Pointing inwards. Like if you put two shoes together, it was a V from the top.

And I took a video of this and this’ll tell you about the difference between different social media platforms. I posted this video, it’s from the guy, you know, like the knees down, , and uh, on Facebook, everyone’s going, oh my God, that’s horrible. Those shoes are gonna kill you. And on Instagram people are going, oh, you’re body shaming.

Stop body shaming people. It’s like body sham. From the knees 

Mike: now. No, no, no. I’m shoe shaming. It’s exactly, that’s the thing I, that is exactly, maybe that outrages the cancel mob as well, but let’s at least be accurate in the charge. Yeah. Okay. 

Steven: Now, your Honor. Oh, shoe shaming. I stand by that. Now I gotta tell you this one thing.

I’ve hinted at it twice about why modern athletic shoes look the way they do, and hopefully, and this really sums up everything you’ve said, that it’s all been about marketing. And by the way, I was on a panel discussion at the American College of Sports Medicine and a guy from one of the major shoe companies, For all practical purposes confessed that every new shoe design they do is all based on marketing.

But if they could, he didn’t say this. This is my snarky comment back in my own head, was if they could tell you that you needed a shoe for walking into the bathroom and a different shoe for walking outta the bathroom, cuz you weigh less and your weight’s distributed differently, they would do that. They actually, one of these companies actually did try to market a shoe that women were supposed to wear when they were on their.

Because they were somehow moving different. It was just unbelievable. But anyway, so way back when , no, it’s crazy. , way back when Nike was sharing a building with some, I think they were orthopedic podiatrists. They might have been sports podiatrists. Don’t hold, so don’t hold me to it. And Bill Bowerman from Nike says, you know, we got these new runners who were coming, and by the way, the original Nike shoe, a lot more like ours, still pointy toes and um, not quite as flexible, but relatively flat and very little.

Barman says, we’re getting a bunch of runners who are getting Achilles tendonitis. What do you think we should do? And these podiatrists said, well, clearly their Achilles have shortened from wearing higher heeled dress shoes. So make a higher heeled running shoe by putting some padding, like a wedge of padding in the shoe.

So, I’m gonna cut to the end of the story. 30 something years later. One of these podiatrists is at a track meet with a friend of mine, a guy who had been at Nike working directly with Bowerman for years, and my friend said, so what do you think about the fact that your idea of a padded elevated heel motion adult shoe has become the ubiquitous design every modern athletic shoe uses?

And his answer was, biggest mistake we ever. It’s like what he said, well, we were making a lot of prosthetics and orthotics, so we saw everything through that lens immediately. But this whole theory, the old hammer and uh, nail, if all you have is a hammer, everything’s a nail. So, you know, this idea that people’s Achilles had been shortened, we didn’t see any evidence for that.

We made that up. This idea that here’s what you needed to do, made it up. And the reason that it has become ubiquitous is not because of the proof that it’s demonstrating. Because the footwear industry is a bunch of terrified copycats, where if someone, again, starts to make a shoe in some new design and it seems to sell well, typically cuz somebody won a race wearing it, not because they’ve proven that it’s good or let’s just 

Mike: remember that new is one of the most powerful words in marketing, like new and free.

Those are probably the two biggest. People love new and you and I love new just as much as anybody else. 

Steven: Whatever we like, we like new. One of the most successful shoes in history was the Nike. Swear to God. Now, the joke is that they designed that shoe because they went and saw the Stanford Track team working out and saw they were doing a lot of barefoot training to strengthen their feet and ankles.

There’s a, a brilliant quote on an episode of, um, real Sports with Brian Gumball this from like 10 years ago, where some guys from Nike said, this is the closest to Barefoot that we can make now, not technic. Practically, they could have made something that was closer to barefoot than that shoe, which is nothing like barefoot, but the soul was more flexible.

So that was kind of amazing. But that’s it. But otherwise, it’s a big, thick, padded motion control shoe. But I loved that, you know, they said something like the, you know, that we can make or that our brand can do, and they recognized that they could have done much more, but they didn’t. You know, this copycat phenomenon.

In fact, there was a, one of the best running coaches in history, a guy named Arthur Liddiard, who had more Olympians and world champions than he was coaching from New Zealand, which is a tiny little country. Liddiard said to Bowerman, uh, and Liddiard, by the way, made shoes for his athletes and they looked a lot like ours.

And Liddiard said to Bowerman, you know, these shoes are gonna kill people. And Bowerman’s response was, yeah, but we’re selling a ton of them. Yep. That’s capitalism right there. . I never heard that. I like that. Well, I mean it’s just 

Mike: that, of course, just all of us people who live on Earth, just remember that many, many companies, and I’ll say companies, not necessarily corporations, cuz this isn’t just the Fortune 100, 500, many, many companies are really just in the business of making.

A profit and the ethics are barely even considered. I mean, there are many people that are not like that. So I’m not gonna say of course, that’s what drives the entire economy. No, but given the choice. Yep. Many, many people are willing to cut many corners if they can make many shiny shackles. And so you have to beware.

Beware as a consumer. 

Steven: Yeah. Well, you know, and there’s two things. One, We had a friend, a potential investor who reached out to the c e O of a multi-billion dollar footwear company and said, so what do you think about what you know zero shoes is doing? And his answer was, what they’re doing is legit, but we can’t do it cuz it would be admitting that what we’ve been doing for 50 years is crap.

And he’s almost said the same thing to me privately as well. So there’s that component. The thing about, so a lot of these big companies know they’re not providing benefits. Oh my God, wait, check this one out. So I don’t wanna single out Nike, but I will for the next example. They have a new. Their advertising is designed to reduce injuries, and they have a study that they say is an independent study, and it was done not by Nike, it was done by another lab, but they designed the study and they paid for the study.

Now, I’m not saying that means it’s tainted, but just for the complete picture, this study did in fact show that the new shoe reduced injury compared to the other shoe, the control by 50. Now here’s the important thing that was really hard to find. I actually had to find the researcher and asked for the information that wasn’t being published.

The other shoe was a Nike shoe. In fact, it was their best selling motion controlled shoe. Sorry, I don’t remember the name of it off the top of my head. And during the 12 week study, they called it an injury. If you, you had to take three training days off. So what that really means is like a 10 or 11 week study, cuz that last week, if you were injured, you weren’t gonna do that last week.

So in the 10 to 11 weeks in the best selling motion controlled shoe that they have the best selling running shoe. Over 30% of the people got injured. I’m surprised they, why didn’t they 

Mike: just pay for fake research? , it’s, it’s not hard to do. It’s true. Especially when you’re Nike. Like if you’re gonna misrepresent the research and lie, you 

Steven: might as well do it.

Right, right. Well, so then the new shoe, only 14 point half percent got injured. Now let’s take this outta context to make the point. This is like asking someone. We can go out for dinner tonight. We have a choice of two restaurants. One where they promise that you’re gonna get food poisoning, one outta seven meals, and the other where you get it, one outta three meals, which do you wanna go to?

Mike: Do you still beat your wife? One of those types of 

Steven: scenarios, . Exactly. When did you stop making out with your sister ? Yeah, it’s the same thing. So it really is incredible. And to your point, you’ve made a couple times, again, this isn’t about running. This is about letting your body do what bodies are built to do, what your body is designed to do, whether you’re walking or running or hiking or lifting.

We’ve got a bunch of power lifters who are wearing our shoes. They go, these are like the old Chuck Taylors we used to lift in, except that I can spread my toes so I can actually grab the ground and feel more stable and I’m feeling the ground cuz they’re not so thick and they don’t, you know, weigh anything.

Yeah, perfect. You know again, race car drivers we’re a partner for the US Olympic Women’s Artistic Swimming Team, formerly known as Synchronized Swimming. People say, well, they don’t wear shoes in the water. And those people are correct, but they do wear stuff getting to and from the pool when they’re on the podium.

And they like the idea that by letting their feet do what’s natural, it’s helping them stay strong and healthy, which we would argue is true. And we’ve got some other Olympic sports that are coming and joining us as well for the same reason.

Mike: If you like what I’m doing here on the podcast and elsewhere, definitely check out my health and fitness books, including the number one best selling weightlifting books for men and women in the world. Bigger, leaner, stronger, and thinner. Leaner, stronger, as well as the leading flexible dieting cookbook, the shredded.

And so what about people with flat feet though? People who currently wear orthotics 

Steven: love it. So I am one of those guys who had lifelong family joke level, flat feet. You know, you get outta a swimming pool and your footprint looks like an oval, and so flat feet and high arches, it’s really the same point.

And that is, Arch height is predominantly genetic. The secondary contribution is strength. And so flat-fee, people tend to have slightly weaker feet. And again, if you’re not using your feet naturally, if you’re not using your arches, that will make them weaker, just like putting your arm in a cast. And people with higher arches tend to have hypertonic feet.

They tend to have overly strong tendons and muscles, and they just need to do a little bit of mobilization or massage sometimes. But the key thing is not whether your arches are high or low, it’s are they flexible and. And the only way they’re gonna stay or be or get flexible and strong is by using them.

Mike: And so what are some of the other benefits? And maybe keep in mind, you’re speaking to a lot of people who are into fitness of some kind of, a lot of people are in lifting weights, but who are also into running and doing fitness people things. What are some of the other downstream, or maybe you’d say upstream, benefits of strengthening your feet?

Because I know there are some non-obvious benefits that can come from that that you wouldn’t necessarily expect if. Don’t know the anatomy and the physiology of what’s in play here. Because let’s say you have people like me, I mean, wearing shoes that have essentially weakened my feet for a long time.

What are some of the other benefits? Like, okay, I have stronger feet now. Cool. What else is that gonna do for me? You know? 

Steven: Well, there’s more to having healthy feet than just strength. There’s flexibility. There’s the amount of sensation you have, there’s how well you react to things. So like, When I started basically going barefoot most of the time, this is 12, 13 years ago, things that I couldn’t walk on then cuz they were painful now are not a problem.

And it’s not because I’ve become desensitized, but my foot has become more flexible and I’m walking differently. So I’m not just slamming my foot on the ground and crossing my fingers that I’m haven’t done something stupid. My foot kind gets placed. In a way that I’m getting more feedback, more information more quickly, and I don’t have any way to prove this, but it feels like my reflex arc has improved as a re also, so I, if something is unpleasant, I step off it more quickly.

That just, you know, hasn’t been a problem. Hmm. I’ve gotten two injuries in the 13 or so years that I’ve been mostly barefoot or in shoes like ours, and that is, I stubbed my toe twice. once about three years ago and once about a month ago. It’s been horrible. I had to wear a bandaid for a day. Unbelievable.

It does hurt. It does. So your toe hurts. So one of the benefits I wanna talk about has to do with balance. And again, there’s not a lot of published research on this. This is something people are starting to explore a lot more lately and it’s near and dear to my heart because especially as people get older, Balance for the elderly is a really big deal.

My dad is one of those guys who one day tripped, fell down, broke his hip, and was dead two weeks later and wow. This is a, you know, this is a really important thing. Every couple years somebody will do some research where they show that they can improve balance in the elderly or balance in people who have Parkinson’s or mobility for the elderly or people with some sort of disease or illness by having some kind of vibrator that attaches to the foot or ankle.

I said, I wrote a blog post about this like nine years ago. I said, you don’t need a magic vibrating insole. Just go for a walk outside. Take off your shoes and just go for a walk outside. And we got a letter. Hey, but where’s the money in that man? No, actually there, there kind of is, but I’ll talk about that in a bit.

Um, we got a letter from a guy who was 82 years old. He said, I was looking for the magic vibrating insoles and couldn’t find them, but I found your blog post and I decided to put your theory to the test. And that was two weeks ago. And I just threw away my. . Now, again, I’m not, I can’t make a medical claim.

I’m just reporting one anecdotal incident. But if you think about it, this is like what we’re trying to do is help people rediscover that natural movement is as healthy, good for you, the obvious better choice the way natural food is, and so, mm-hmm. , if you think about your whole body, there’s some people who are into reflexology.

If you’re not stimulating your foot, you’re not stimulating all those meridians and all those things. I’m not saying I do or don’t believe in that. I’m just saying some people do and mm-hmm. and. The benefits of having a strong, healthy, flexible, responsive foundation affect everything you do. I mean, that’s the bottom line.

Mike: And for example, in the gym, I know that, oh, who is it? I think Chris Duffin has spoken about this. I had him on the show sometime ago to talk about a book they had coming out and he had mentioned that the foot is an area of passion of his as well, and he’s like a super strong guy. Set. You know, squat records, I think, and deadlift records and whatever.

And he has talked about how similar, along similar lines of what you’re saying about how that can impact performance. Absolutely. And safety and how it can impact your joints, for example, your knees. Yeah, totally. You, you’ve talked a little bit about this with running, which I’m sure when you explained it, many people were like, oh yeah, that makes sense.

But it also can affect your, your weightlifting as well, and it can. Change how you’re squatting and your deadlifting, for example, affects your knees. Totally. 

Steven: Well, if you look at a lot of deadlifters, more than squatters, a lot of deadlifters, when they’re pulling, they’re in socks or in bare feet, or they’ll be in a pair of Chuck Taylors, which are just flat.

And the difference between Chuck Taylors and what we do at Zero Shoes is. We’ve got a nice wide toe box. And in fact, the number one thing you talk about, the benefits, the number one benefit, frankly, is just comfort, is when your toes aren’t getting squished, when your posture’s not getting jacked around, when you can feel things and it feels like a foot massage rather than something numb or unpleasant, you know, the comfort factors through the roof.

But when it comes to lifting, especially for pulling in squatting, some of that’s gonna be basically about your geometry. It’s gonna be about, you know, your femur length and you know how your hips work, et cetera. So for some squatters, like a squat shoe, They’re very interesting because they’re basically just a, a stiff wooden shoe.

So for all practical purposes, it’s just the ground, but with a slightly elevated heel. Now, a lot of people who squat think they need that shoe that is providing some benefit. It’s actually not the case, depending on your physiology. It might be helpful because of how it aligns your joints, but there’s a lot of guys who squat super, super big numbers who do it in bare feeder in socks because that allows everything to line up more naturally and better.

So if you’re gonna be doing serious, serious lifting, especially competitive lifting in the same way when you ride a bicycle competitively, you get it fit to your body. You wanna adjust what you’re doing with your feet to work with your body, and the fact that you’ve got 800 pounds on your back or you’re pulling a thousand pounds.

Um, but for most people who are. Let’s say, let’s call them, for lack of a better term, recreational lifters, 

Mike: lifestyle body builders. I like that. 

Steven: Consider myself one of builder. Oh, that’s a great phrase. I like it. Then in that situation and people who are not even into body building, but just lifting for health, you know, the more you can, again, have that connection to the ground where you can engage your feet.

You’ll appreciate this and I want you to talk about it. How for a good, especially competitive bench press, it starts with the 

Mike: feet. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you get that leg drive, right? So have your feet screwed into the ground and you can transfer a bit of the force from just driving your feet into the ground and having that stable base through your torso and into the bar and that, that’s one of those finer points of, 

Steven: of totally technique.

Not gonna make it or break it, but it, it does make a 

Mike: differe. Exactly, but once you have the basic movement down and that’s kind of un automatic, then there are a few things you can tweak and that’s one of them. 

Steven: Well, and I can tell you, we’ve heard from a bunch of power lifters who, when they say, you know, that whole thing of screwing your feet into the ground, when I can spread my toes and then do that, it’s even Yeah.


Mike: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I, I think of a, of a cue. For squatting and deadlifting, which is a kind of think of your feet as like talons, , like you’re, like you’re an eagle kind of digging your feet into the ground. But to your point, if you have the wrong shoes, can’t, you’re not gonna be able to even feel like you’re doing that at all.

You know, you, you do need to have some connection to the ground. Or even I think with, with, uh, with the Olympic lifting shoes that I’ve used for some time when I squat, mostly because I like the stable base. I just feel very stable in them, and that’s about it. , but they have that narrow toe, right? And so you’re not able to really accomplish that eagle talent grip when your toes are all squished together.

It’s just kind of a, a big mash of toes that are just contracting against each other. 

Steven: Right. And to your point about feeling more stable or let’s say specific use case, it’s really 

Mike: in the heel, you know? Cause it has that wide 

Steven: heel base. Right. Well, again, if you were barefoot, you’d have the infinite wide heel base.

You’d have your For sure. For sure. There’s some people who say to me, yeah, but I like my shoes, or I feel good in my shoes for doing X, Y, or Z, and I’m gonna go, cool. Then keep doing that. But then there’s times when you’re outta those shoes where you might wanna do something different. So here’s Facebook group called Running Shoe Geeks, and someone posted a picture of one of our trail running shoes and raved about how when he’s running in these, how great he feels, et cetera, et cetera, and people just jumped on his case.

It’s like, if I wore shoes like that, I’d break my ankles. I mean, you know, I’d, I’d get Ebola, I’d step on hypodermic needles. My kids wouldn’t get into college, you know, whatever else they were saying. And I, I jumped in finally and said, look, I’m not gonna try and talk you outta your shoes when you’re on a trail run.

But when you’re done with that run, if your feet are tired, you know, the best thing you can do is active recovery. Let your feet recover by moving gently. And you can’t do that in big, thick, stiff shoes to squeeze your toes togethers. So, you know, you can do that in our sandals or in our shoes and just enjoy that.

And of course, again, you know, the research showing that letting your feet work naturally can build strength. Why? How? Tell me why stronger feet and ankles wouldn’t be beneficial. Even if you’re wearing those shoes that I, you know, would obviously disapprove of, again, I’m not trying to talk people out of something.

I’m trying to give them the experience of something that could be helpful, regardless of whether they’re making the transition to being wearing something totally minimalist or not. It’s more persuasive that way. Well, it’s just true. I mean, I’m not gonna, you can’t argue someone out of a belief. What you can do is give them an experience that lets them go, oh, , and that’s what we’re trying.


Mike: All right. Last question for people who want to try it. Could be your shoes, or shoes like yours, but want to go from the fancier shoes to something more minimalistic. Are there any tips you have for making a transition? Let’s assume these are people who are running, for example, or No, they’re not just gonna be walking around.

I mean, I, I, I wear your shoes to the gym and I don’t notice any difference, of course from walking around. But if I were running a lot, if I were going from. Running shoes that have a lot of padding and support and control and whatever to something like yours. Is there anything I should 

Steven: know? Yeah. Well, first, let’s start with the fact that when this whole idea of minimalist and barefoot kicked in in 2010, 2011, a lot of the big shoe companies came up with what they call transition shoes.

They said if you’ve been wearing, you know, something with a really high marketing, with a slightly lower heel, then slightly. Complete marketing nonsense. There was no evidence for it at all. In fact, research from Dr. Irene Davis at Harvard showed that those things are worse for you than anything you could wear because they have enough cushioning.

So you can’t feel the ground properly when you’re running or walking. So you can still have a bad gait, bad form, but you can’t feel it. And with bad gait, bad form, you need some kind of technology to help with that a little bit. And so without it, you know, you’re kind of, you’re kind of screwed. So the answer for whether you’re walking or running, it’s the same for everybody, which is start super small.

Just get used to it. And you know, the joke is you don’t wanna do too much too soon, but the real joke is you don’t know you’ve done too much Sure till you’ve done too much. So I like to say if you’re running. Just do like 20 seconds. Is there 

Mike: anything to expect where it’s like, oh, you might experience a bit more soreness of any 

Steven: kind, or, I like to say cath soreness or Achilles soreness is optional.

And it’s optional. Because if you start really small and if you pay attention to relaxing and proper form, you won’t be putting excessive strain on those parts of your body. And there’s tips that we have on our website about this, but the primary one is start super small. Like if somebody asked me how to start running barefoot, Instruction I give is find a nice, super smooth, hard surface.

You don’t wanna use the grass. That’s just like having the padding from your shoes and the ground. And besides, you can’t see what’s in the grass and you can step on or in a bunch of things that you don’t wanna step on or in. So smooth, hard surface, go for a super short run, like 20 seconds. And if you’re not having fun, do something different till you are.

And what that means is that the next day, see if you feel a little muscular sore the way you do when you go to the gym and you, you know, add a couple plates. If you feel a little muscular soreness, no big deal. Rest until you feel better. Do that 20 seconds again till you can do that without any soreness and it feels fun.

And then add 10 seconds every time you can Keep progressing that way. Now if it feels like you hurt something, then you definitely need to make some changes to your form. First of all. Get better, and then you need to make some changes to your form that are the ones that we talked about before. Get your feet underneath you.

Pick up your cadence just a little bit. People have heard, I’ve seen this happen a number of times. People hear you’re supposed to land on the ball of your foot, so they still reach out with their foot way in front of them and then point their toes. It kinda looks like prancing don’t do that. So, You know, one way of thinking about it again, like think about jumping rope and then lean forward slightly, or just start leaning and then let your feet only keep you from falling on your face.

Don’t let them slow you down. That’s another way to play. The simplest thing I can say is start small. You can just start walking at first. Build some strength that way until you kind of feel the urge, like, maybe I’ll run for a couple of paces and see what happens. That could be a simple. 

Mike: Cardio session could be mostly walking with some running 

Steven: in it.

Oh, you can totally do that. Yeah. Or like someone emailed me and said, should I do like, you know, 20 seconds or two minutes of running and then switch shoes? And my answer is no. Just do the practice with minimalist footwear barefoot, separate from your normal running days until you can feel confident enough that you can replace one of your running days with a minimalist or barefoot run, and then slowly start adding, you know, more of that into your other days.

Unfortunately, human beings like simple answers. But we are all unique little snowflakes, and so there’s no fixed program that works for everybody. The biggest thing, and frankly the best thing about this is you learn to listen to your body. They get feedback from what you’re doing about how you’re moving, and you become your own best coach.

And that’s a real value. Like we’d like to say that our shoes are a coach, or our sandals too. Like if you’re running and you’re making a lot of noise, if you’re hearing slap, slap, slap, that’s a form issue. And if you can find a way to make that quieter, you’re gonna be improving your form if you’re running totally barefoot.

The reason we recommend that as often as we do is you get more feedback faster than anything else you could possibly do. And yes, you end up looking like a freaky hippie person, but you’re also gonna have fun. So do it when no one’s looking, you know, no one’s gonna. or who cares, who cares 

Mike: what they think.

If you could follow them around all day, you’d probably find some things that they’d be embarrassed about too. So, hey, it’s okay. . . 

Steven: It’s totally true. I mean, I wanna back up to the, if it’s not fun, do something different. So you are, people have been running this way since the beginning of people. There’s nothing that stands in the way of you doing the same or anyone doing the same.

There’s nothing that stands in the way of having, I mean, you know this as well, if not better than anyone. It’s never too late to start building strength and fitness. Yeah, same thing with your feet. May take a little time, but it’ll last you for a lifetime. Being stronger and having some more muscle mass now will help you in ways that you can’t even imagine when you’re in your seventies and eighties.

Same thing with your strength and and flexibility and sensation in your feet and ankles. If you broke your arm when. When it comes out of a cast, you have two choices. Never use it again, and it’ll just get weaker and weaker and weaker and more and more useless. Or you do some PT for a while till it’s back in shape, and then you’re good to go.

Think of it the same way, if you’ve been keeping your foot immobilized or in what we affectionately refer to as foot coffins, yeah, it’ll take a little while to build up strength and to re mummified. . Yeah. And to learn how to move more effectively and efficiently and enjoyably. But once you’ve got that, you know, there’s just no turning back.

It is, it’ll change your life. I have 

Mike: to ask this point of flexibility. Is there anything special that you wanna share on that? Or is it, does it come naturally as you start to use your feet the way they 

Steven: were meant to be used? I’ve never done any specific foot flexibility things. I mean, mostly massage is a really good one, just mobilization.

But the bigger one is gonna be strength more than anything else. And oh, you know, I didn’t even finish the end of that story about the flat feet thing. Sorry. Once I started doing this, I developed arches in my feet. They’re not huge. Oh, right. Yeah, yeah. But they’re crazy strong. And we’ve heard this, again, I’m not making medical claims or promises, but we’ve heard this a bunch of times.

A guy married to someone who worked here, and he, at the end of the ski season, bought a very expensive pair of ski boots. Then he was wearing our shoes and sandals during the summer, and he noticed that when he got outta his hot tub, his footprint looked like a footprint instead of like a paddle. And then when ski season kicked in, his new boots didn’t.

And happily that he was able to get ’em resized. But I’m not saying that your feet will definitely change shape, but it’s entirely possible. In the same way, the rest of your body can change shape as you get stronger and and better at using it. Your feet can do things too to, to better support you as you get stronger and more comfortable with that.

Mike: That’s great. And so then that’s just encouraging for anybody. I think one of the guys who works with me, he made a point of wanting me to ask you that because I, if I’m remembering correctly, I think one of the guys who works with me has flat feet, so he was curious. And so for someone like him and for all you out there who are currently using orthotics or have flat feet, you may be able to resolve that naturally, which is cool.

Absolutely. Awesome man. Well hey, this was a great interview. Lots of, lots of good information. I’m sure I’m gonna get a lot of good feedback on it. Let’s just wrap up with where people can find, cuz there’s obviously your shoes and then you have a lot of educational information as well. You should probably share that.

And then for anybody who wants to try this for the first time, you have quite a few different. Types of shoes are there like couple that you’d recommend? Hey, if you wanna do this, go grab one of these. 

Steven: If it’s more this, grab one of those I recommend. Of course, you buy everything that we’ve ever made and everything we naturally, naturally, yeah.

And that’s just me. So first of all, you can find [email protected] and that’s X E R o shoes But happily, if you go to Z E R O by accident cuz of autocorrect, um, you’ll get to us as well. And, and in terms of things to recommend, I mean we do have boots and shoes and sandals, both casual and performance.

And it’s really up to you. It’s really based on what you wanna do. Do you want something casual for just walking around or night on the town? You want something for going to the gym? Do you want something for running? Do you want something for hiking? Everything we do is based on the same fundamental premise.

Wide toe box, low to the ground for balance and agility. Super flexible, super lightweight, really, really comfy. And then we just make some tweaks for use cases. So our trail shoes have a grippier luer soul than our fitness shoe. Our road running shoe has a slightly more rugged soul than our racing shoe, our sandals, there’s stuff that’s just like as close to barefoot as you can get, and super cute.

Two things that you can hike the Appalachian trail in, so you poke around, you’ll see what you like. We have a customer happiness team who is more than happy to give you any specific guidance if you have any questions. And then you can also find us at Zero Shoes or slash zero shoes on every social media channel you can think of.

And I have a podcast, what’s called the Movement Movement Podcast. And the website for that is at Join the Movement Movement. And it’s join the, because it’s again, a movement that involves people so you can join about natural movement. And so that’s where I talk to fund interesting people and also just go on some rants about, uh, what’s the word I want to.

The state of things. Yeah, the mythology, propaganda. Sometimes the lies you’ve been told about what it takes to run or walk or hike or lift or do whatever it is you like to do. Enjoyably. 

Mike: Awesome man. Well, thanks again for taking the time to do this. This was great. 

Steven: Absolute pleasure, Mike. 

Mike: All right. Well, that’s it for today’s episode.

I hope you found it interesting and helpful. And if you did, and you don’t mind doing me a favor, could you please leave a quick review for the podcast on iTunes or wherever. You are listening from because those reviews not only convince people that they should check out the show, they also increase the search visibility and help more people find their way to me and to the podcast and learn how to build their best body ever as well.

And of course, if you wanna be notified, When the next episode goes live, then simply subscribe to the podcast in whatever app you’re using to listen and you will not miss out on any of the new stuff that I have coming. And last, if you didn’t like something about the show, then definitely shoot me an email at mike muscle for and share your thoughts.

Let me know how you think I could do this better. I read every email myself, and I’m always looking for constructive. Feedback. All right. Thanks again for listening to this episode and I hope to hear from you soon.

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