What do you think of the combat boots currently worn by the Service? I think they’re pretty BA. Great for kicking in doors, and stomping throats.
Turns out that may be the wrong way to look at our boots though…
When you compare the number of Spartan push-kicks and axe-stomps the average service member conducts during their career to the number of standard steps they take to get from the barracks to work it’s astounding.
It’s like one forcible entry for every 1 billion steps…..
Axe stomp, push kick, round kick… you know the drill
A Marine with Korps Marinir, 2nd Marines, 6th Brigade, Tentara National Indonesia, performs a kick during martial arts training with U.S. Marines with Landing Force Company May 27
I was astonished by these numbers as well. I remember having a lot more boots pressing into my jugular while on active duty than that. Numbers don’t lie though.
The above being true, shouldn’t our boots be designed to promote the best foot function while walking, hiking, and running?
According to one paper making its rounds through the Marine Corps, modern footwear is locking our feet into a poor position that is causing structural issues in humans of all ages from the feet all the way up the kinetic chain.
What exactly is the issue with our current boots, and footwear in general, then? How can they be fixed to prevent 20-year-old veterans from feeling like someone who fell out of the disability tree and hit every branch with their feet on the way down?
Apparently, there are four parts of standard shoes and boots that make us suck at using our feet.
The anatomy of a boot.
1. Toe Spring
It’s that bent up portion at the front of your boot.
Toe spring stretches out the various muscles of the sole of the foot and shortens the extensor muscles running along the top robbing toes of range of motion.
Over time, toe spring makes you weaker at being able to articulate your toes. Which means you’ll be getting weaker in your feet even when you are training hard.
This ad did not age well…
2. Supportive Insole
You remember those commercials… Are you gellin’? (Did I just date myself?)
Supportive insoles disable the intrinsic muscles of the foot and create a dependence on support. They are the footwear equivalent of taking supplements when the rest of your eating habits are weak and unsupported by a solid foundation.
Support is great for short term bursts of concentrated effort. Like a lifting belt, it’s great if you wear it for a one-rep max deadlift. But if you use it every rep of every session, you will become reliant and weak in the muscles of your core.
Marines with Company E, Battalion Landing Team 2/4, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit
Toe prison… See what I did there?
3. Toe Box
It’s where your toes hang out. It’s way more restrictive than it should be. You want your toes to be able to spread out and grab the ground. Currently, it should be called a toe prison.
Constricting toe boxes basically make the middle of your foot stronger than it should be and the flanks of your feet AKA your big and little toes much weaker than they should be. This often manifests as painful and disgusting bunions, which are not typically an authorized reason to report to medical.
4. Elevated Heel
This is probably the most egregious offender of foot deformities in the long run.
First off the heel makes us balance on the balls of our toes. This breaks the equal line of thrust of the arch from the heel and the ball and drives it all to the ball creating a collapse. This causes us to lose strength in the arch of our foot, which is supposed to naturally absorb shock when we walk or run.
Imagine what would happen to an arch bridge if you took away one of the supports on either end. The bridge would turn into the newest architectural addition to Atlantis when it crumbles and sinks to the bottom of the ocean.
That’s why insoles have become a “must buy” at boot camp and the other indoc courses. They give artificial arch support when the feet fail to provide the natural support that they should.
Second, the walking pattern is changed from a natural walking pattern to a “heel strike.” We aren’t supposed to walk heel first, try it in your bare feet, you’ll immediately realize it’s quite painful. The heel and cushioning of the boot take away that immediate pain response that you get when you walk barefoot, that leads to ever more forceful heel strikes that send a shock all the way up the body to the spine. Just another example of modern conveniences making us more comfortable but ultimately worse off.
The barefoot rickshaw driver circa 1951
From the Ronald H. Welsh Collection (COLL/5677) at the Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division
Your feet are in a prison
So it turns out that just about every aspect of current footwear is flat-out wrong for the human foot.
The interesting thing is that this isn’t a new revelation.
Dr. Schulman of the U.S. Army had very similar observations back in 1949, during WWII. This guy was a high achiever, he’s in the middle of the largest war to ever consume planet Earth, and he decided to conduct a study on the human foot…wild.
Dr. Schulman compared those who wore restrictive footwear to those who didn’t in the native populations of China and India.
His most stark observation is that barefoot rickshaw drivers had none of the same foot deformities as those that wear shoes all day.
Rickshaw drivers spend all day running on concrete, or hard-packed roads, everyday for decades, and Dr. Schulman observed that their feet were strong and healthy.
Compare that to your feet crammed into those freshly brushed feet prisons you currently have on.
His conclusion? “…restrictive footgear, particularly ill-fitting footgear, cause most of the ailments of the human foot.”Silent Drill Platoon performs during Cherry Blossom Festival
On their way to Dermo for new boots…
The movement for a new boot
There’s now a movement developing in the Marine Corps to change the culture of the service to promote health and longevity in the feet of today’s Marines rather than slowly break them down.
Are you in support of this movement? Do you think that a closer look at foot health and boot structure would make our services stronger and more capable? Would they do more or less to make the Force more resilient than the upcoming Plank addition to the PFT?