By Olie Marchal, SOM Footwear shoemaker
High-top shoes are great but before making any purchase, there are a few things to consider. The common belief is that high-top brings ankle support, but is it really a good choice to have ankle support? It is important to question whether high-top shoes are healthy for your feet. SOM Footwear’s shoemaker, Olie, is offering tests to do at home to help you figure things out by yourself.
“Trust me, I am a shoemaker... who believes in feet!” I like that cliché sentence we read often with doctors’ advertisements or even meteorologists. Well, I want you to trust your feet, instead of the shoemaker! ;-)
High-top shoes aren’t for ankle “support”
The first and most important thing to keep in mind before buying a pair of high-top shoes is that you don’t want to compromise the flexibility and freedom of movement of your foot and ankle. As with any other shoes, you want your feet to be free from interference, compression, and artificial support in order to keep your feet healthy. This is the only way to keep a life-long healthy relationship with your feet. If you are just learning about these elements, remind yourself that most of the time it is not too late to adopt good new habits.
The second thing to keep in mind is that a high-top shoe will not completely prevent ankle sprain or any other kind of ankle injury. And, as strange as this may sound, high-top shoes shouldn’t prevent injuries; injuries are prevented when your feet stay strong.
What I mean by this is that if you are wearing a shoe that can prevent an ankle sprain, you may as well wear a cast. It may, at first, seem like a safe choice for your ankle, but over time it will cause more damage than wearing a low-top shoe. If you are wearing a high-top shoe and feel snuggled at the ankle, it is probably overbuilt and the wrong shoe to wear.
The reason for that is pretty simple. Any so-called “support,” by taking over the natural role of muscle and connective tissue, will weaken your foot and ankle and this can, over time, lead to injuries. Arch support will weaken the foot muscles and prevent them from naturally absorbing shocks while walking or running. A tight and overbuilt high-top will do the same to your ankle. Over time, your ankle will become weaker and be subject to ankle sprains, which can be hard to heal.
There are a lot of choices in terms of high-top shoes on the market. High-top skate shoes, high-top tennis shoes, high-top shoes for men… the list goes on. Many brands offer a high-top model with different options. As an example, Converse high-top shoes are made with canvas and come in different heights. They are pretty flexible at the ankle but have a narrow toe-box that limits the range of activity that can be done comfortably. (To learn more about the importance of shoes with roomy toe-box, visit our previous blog here.) In contrast to the Converse high-top shoes, some other brands manufacture basketball high-top shoes. Those are explicitly designed for basketball and are supposed to provide some ankle support. Again, it’s an argument that cuts both ways. How can we have good ankle support without compromising ankle mobility? Like in many other sports, ankle mobility is an essential factor.
The best option is to wear a stable shoe to minimize ankle sprain and any other ankle injuries.
A stable shoe is a shoe that doesn’t roll to its side and strike flat when landing. It is a shoe with a zero-drop sole, up to 8 mm thick, without any soft cushioning, especially at the heel. It has no arch support. In other words, a barefoot shoe!
Difference between barefoot shoes with thick cushioned sole
There is a simple exercise we all can do to demonstrate the efficiency of barefoot shoes. At home, stand barefoot on a smooth floor and slowly try to roll your foot to its outer side as if you’d want to trigger an ankle sprain. You’ll notice that your foot will naturally prevent itself from rolling to its side. Then, carefully repeat the same exercise with a pair of shoes with a thick, soft, and cushioned sole and a narrow toe-box. This time, your foot isn’t going to be able to prevent any side rolling, which can cause an ankle sprain. The soft sole increases the rolling movement and the narrow toe-box that pushes the toes inward prevents the toes from keeping the foot stable. This exercise helps us understand what often causes ankle sprain and other kinds of ankle injuries: shoes with elevated heels and a narrow toe-box!
In the following article, Orthopedic surgeon Sara Lyn Miniaci-Coxhead, MD, explains the importance of strong and healthy ankles versus braced ankles.
The answer comes easy when we are asked why SOM shoes don't have arch support. Believing in our feet engineering makes all sense.
High-top doesn’t mean less freedom for the feet
There should be only two reasons you’d want to get a pair of high-top shoes. The first reason would be the look. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look cool, and high-top shoes do look cool! The second reason is that a high-top shoe will help keep dust and small rocks from slipping inside your shoes. And that should be all!
Except for feeling a little bit warmer at the ankle, they should not feel much different than your low-top shoes. You should always be able to move your feet in the same way as you do in your low-tops or if you were barefoot.
A healthy high-top shoe should allow you to do the same activities as your low-top shoes. If something tells you that you shouldn’t be running in your high-tops because it feels constraining, it is probably the wrong kind of high-top shoes you are wearing. They are probably overbuilt with unnecessary foam, straps, and even stitches.
HiLite is the best high-top for natural footwear
At SOM Footwear, we design and manufacture all of our models of barefoot shoes with one thing in mind: freedom of movement! And this includes our high-top model that has 7 eyelets, the HiLite. We make sure that whether you are a runner, a crossfitter, a weightlifter, or a dog walker, our high-tops, or any of our other models, don’t interfere with your comfort and your ability to perform any of your favorite activities. We decided to create a high-top model because inquiries from our customers became very significant. We didn’t just design and make a high-top like most of those that can be found on the market but, instead, we wanted to create a barefoot high-top shoe with the same comfort and roomy toe-box of our low-top models. It wasn’t an easy task, and it took much longer to come up with a shoe of which we can be prouder than we thought.
The HiLite is a light and flexible shoe with a soft upper and a roomy toe-box. Its upper is breathable and water repellent. It can be worn casually or sportively laced up to 6 or 7 holes.
When people ask me if I run in my high-tops, the answer is always the same: a big yes! Especially as a trail runner, I enjoy them as they keep small rocks from getting into my shoes.
I feel very confident running in them as they are loose around the ankle and don’t cause any friction or discomfort.
I like to explore what’s available on the market in terms of athletic shoes. What surprises me the most is to find so many shoes, whether designed for trail running, road running, or cross-training, that come with so much stuff. Extra cushioning, extra support, extra lift, extra this, extra that, etc. It seems that we need more and more technology to be able to practice a sport.
Our body has the best technology and mechanism we can imagine. As long as we maintain this great mechanism, our body will perform well without any added stuff. It is all about keeping things simple and as close as possible to what nature intended.
There is an excellent example for people familiar with the single-leg squat or pistol squat: it is much easier to do a pistol squat in a shoe with a raised heel than doing a pistol squat barefoot. However, practicing the single-leg squat barefoot is more challenging but will drastically improve your calf, ankle, foot flexibility and muscle strength than practicing in raised heel shoes. It is all about trusting our bodies, including our feet. It may require more work, but the long-term result is so worth it!
In conclusion, simplicity is the master word. When buying a pair of shoes, or a pair of high-top, your criteria should be the same:
- Do my toes have enough room to move freely?
- Is the sole flat, to allow my feet to work naturally?
- Can my feet feel the ground? Is the sole flexible enough to allow a good connection with the ground?
- Do my feet and ankles have freedom of movement? Is there any pressure anywhere on my feet?
- Do the shoes feel light, because weight interferes with our natural posture?
By answering each of these questions with a YES, you are on the right track to please your feet and give them what they deserve, so that they can serve you well in return.
To learn more about the steps you can take when adjusting from traditional footwear to SOM shoes, please check out our blog, New to Barefoot Shoes?