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Foot Health Facts for Improved Sports Performance

Illustration of feet with blue background

3 Foot Health Facts

It takes 20-23 years for the bones of the foot to set.

Foot Health Fact #1

When we're born we have 22 bones in our feet, by the time we're 6 we have 45, and by the time we're 20 we have a magical 26. What happened? In essence, it can take up to 20-23 years from the time you're born for all of the bones of the foot to fully develop and set. That's more time than your brain.

Foot Health Fact #2

According to the CDC, nearly 2 million Americans require some sort of orthotic to sit, stand, walk and/or balance. That said, very few of us actually require orthotics by birth. Instead, we develop the need for them over the course of our life.

Foot Health Fact #3

As an organic structure, the foot is impressively designed. The way it functions under load, twists, and turns is incredibly intricate and awesome. Because of this, it's important to understand the support we need, and the support we don't.

Our feet can take more time to mature than our brains, which means without proper care the normal development of our feet may be permanently altered.

Lately barefoot shoes (such as the Vivobarefoot Primus III which reviewed here) will increase both strength and flexibility of the foot, while improving overall tendon and tissues quality. But as good as they are at simulating being barefoot, being barefoot may not be what you need.

A gymnast is seen balancing on a beam demonstrating foot strength and mobility

What makes a foot healthy ?

Nearly identical to our hands, the structure of our feet allow us to balance the weight of our full body. Their anatomical structure is designed to withstand the constant use and abuse of walking, running, jumping, and standing. Structurally speaking, the human foot is incredibly well engineered.

Yet as structurally perfect as they are, the human foot is rather exposed. Over the past 80 years most major cities around the world have moved from dirt paths to hard concrete. Pair that with a major decrease in physical activity across all populations, the human foot begins to look pretty fraile.

So when we talk about a healthy foot, we're really talking about a foot which regularly utilizes all natural structures. This means compression, flexion, extension, pronation, and supination -- while maintaining full mobility of all extensor digits (i.e. toes).

A gymnast is seen balancing on a beam demonstrating foot strength and mobility

What makes a shoe healthy ?

When it comes to our footwear, things get a bit more tricky. Ideally our footwear should offer protection against the normal elements and hazards of the modern world, and not against the normal bumps and curves.

That means avoiding shoes that have:

  • 1.5 inches of padding

  • heel-toe-drop 3 mm+

  • stylish and sleek (aka wrapped in a compact casing that squeezes the toes into a triangle)

And moving towards shoes that are:

  • thin enough to be folded in half

  • maintain a heel-toe-drop ≤ 3 mm

  • provide enough grip/traction for intended use

Much like eating cake and doughnuts can lead to metabolic diseases and physical impairments, wearing footwear that matches the descriptions above may significantly reduce our ability to maintain flexibility and strength throughout our life.

Training Requirements

With all that said, things change when we enter the world of athletics. All man-made objects share a commonality: design & function. What is considered good design may not offer the greatest function, and vise versa.

When it comes to footwear, each design is meant to have purpose in function. The only exception to this being "lifestyle" and "dress shoes", which are designed for looks over function -- which is ironically a function of their design.

When we talk about athletic shoes, the requirements vary depending on the sport. For example, lifting shoes require a specific kind of stability to allow for a more athletic posture and increased mobility in weighted movements.

In road cycling the requirements change to stiffness. Specifically being so stiff that there is no visible flex. The benefit of this for the sport is to maximize power transfer and efficiency, however we end up losing the efficiency of the foot over time.

When deciding your next pair of shoes, consider the following 5 questions:

  • Is this for a competition, or for functional training?

  • Am I standing in one place, or do I need to be more mobile?

  • Do I want to wear them outside of training and why? (i.e. lifestyle vs function)

  • Do I need durability, low weight, or both?

  • Do I need increased traction or grip?


Shoe Review

Nike Metcon 8

Nike metcon 8

Shoe Review

Strike Mvmnt Haze

Strike MVMNT Haze Trainer

Shoe Review

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III (knit)

Vivobarefoot Primus III Lite (knit)


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Some things to know about me:

With the growing interest in barefoot shoes I wanted to write an article that would help folks understand what goes into foot health, and why what we wrap our feet in might just be one of the most important things we do every day. Plus, if I could help guide even a couple of you to a Healthy Design while doing it, even better.

As the founder of Yudae Wellness, I love to move my body, and practice mobility in unique ways. I love to explore the extent of what I can do and push myself to the boundaries while maintaining balance so I don't get injured.

I've cycled well over 50,000 miles, ran more than 30,000 miles, dribbled a soccer ball over 100 hrs, and spent an unrealistic amount on time on my feet for the past 10 years.

I've worn holes through Nike, Strike, and Vivobarefoot shoes in a single year. Cycles in shoes that cost over $400 from brands like Giro, S-Works, Fizik, and Shimano, and spent the last 2 years working professionally sizing and fitting clients to cycling shoes as my day job at a bike shop.

Over the literal thousands of hours and miles I've put on my feet, I have learned a thing or two about what they need, how they work, and what should (and should not) go on them. And I'm going to share it all with you.


If you would like to consult with Ryan before your next footwear purchase (in the categories of: cycling shoes, running shoes, or barefoot shoes) please submit a custom question here. We will be in touch to gather additional information.

Please note this is an educational, informational service only. 

Neither Yudae nor Ryan hold responsibility for the outcome of your decision. Neither Yudae nor Ryan accept liability in anyway for the outcome of your purchase. By using this service you accept full responsibility for the outcome of your footwear decision and agree to these terms.

We retain no sponsorships

with any company or specialist, nor are we open to any sponsorships from any footwear company or specialist.

This is only for people with healthy feet

curious about a professional footwear recommendation from an athletic instructor.

This is NOT for people with

current, past, or ongoing foot health issues, and/or seeking medical advice.


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