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Don't Flip Flop Your Way Through Summer

Written By Heather Collins 10 Jul 2015

Summer is made for taking it easy. It's toes in the sand with flip flops and sandals.  It's pool time and weekends at the lake. What's the one thing we always pack for our carefree weekend getaways? Our flip flops! 

Flip flops are universal. They're easy, convenient, and go with pretty much everything. Sandals and easy-to-wear flip flops are the signal to the start of the weekend, a beach vacation and are perfect to grab and go. 

However, not everyone is on board with the idea of flip flops. New York City-based, certified Pilates Instructor Marcia Polas with Polas Pilates swears flip flops are the root of all evil for everyone, including guys. I have listened to Marcia talk at length about this debate and she does not "flip flop" on her stance. 

According to Marcia, "We grip our toes on the soles of our cute flip flops and that incorrectly puts all the weight on our toes. This causes you to adjust your spine accordingly – most “toe standers” lock their knees out, stick their butts out slightly, hyper-extend their lower backs, lift their front rib cage, and jut their heads back."

But what does this have to do with our health and a bag of chips? Apparently, everything. Experts say the shoes we wear have an impact on our entire health and is as vital as the food we eat. Boulder, Colorado-based Chiropractor, Nicole Duryea says, "It's all about body mechanics and it starts with the ends of our feet and works its way up our body to what is known as our 'kinetic chain." 

Bottom line: unfortunately, even those perfect-for-the-pool backless sandals may contribute to shin splints, low back pain, foot cramps, toe cramps, plantar fasciitis, weak bellies and backs, tight hamstrings, weak hamstrings and neck pain. Polas blames many of these ailments on shoes without backs and says this is not an isolated situation for women. Men need to pay attention, too. 


Go Barefoot!

Marcia, a teacher by trade, encourages her flip-flop wearing Pilates clients to walk barefoot in the same manner when wearing strapless shoes. "Take that same activity – grip your toes, and try to walk. Seriously, kick your shoes off (even your stupid flip flops – yeah – I know you have them on) and curl your toes under – try to keep them curled that way and walk. That is what you look like in your backless wonders. You cannot roll through your entire foot, so you walk with a kind of foot slap (that I find excruciating to watch) and you completely misuse your beautiful body from the soul of your foot to the top of your head."

Polas isn't alone in this camp. Duryea agrees and works with patients to improve posture and says she sees patients all the time (herself included) with more and more issues. She reminds patients, "We are physics and chemistry, so pay attention to what your body tells you because it is talking to you. If you must wear backless sandals, plan on only wearing them for 2-4 hours at a time. I go barefoot at home and wear good flats with a firm heel counter (heel cup) and arch support and running shoes as often as I can. Hard in the summer, but I actually feel better.

Posture out of Whack? 

How do we know if our posture is out of whack? Polas suggests, "Stand with your feet pretty close together and allow yourself to just dig into the floor with your toes. Look at the profile of your body in the mirror and ask, Are your knees locked? Is your butt sticking out a little? Is there a huge curve in your low back? Are you pushing your tummy forward and sticking it out? Is your chest lifted instead of even front to back?"

If the answer is yes, your improper foot pressure is effecting your posture when doing lifts at the gym or running.

So, now what? Polas advises, "If you go barefoot at home (not in public, of course) or wear shoes with backs, you can look that good every day, and as an added bonus, you’ll be using your body correctly, working your core with every step, using your entire leg instead of just your quads or hamstrings and you’ll walk with much more grace."

And if you have to run to the store, both agree to invest in a shoe that you can literally run and go. As much as we like to dress up a bit when out shopping or time with friends, Duryea recommends selecting a shoe that won't drain you and your bank account. And better yet she adds, " Go get a pedi afterwards and get it massaged out." 

Now that's sound advice! Happy Summer!