Guest Blog by Phil Stotter, MS, CEP
The toe box of most shoes, especially sneakers or athletic shoes, are rounded by design. While that curve can make walking, running, and swinging seem easier, it may also weaken feet, limit performance, and potentially open wearers up to some common (and painful) foot-related problems.
That’s the conclusion reached by Harvard researchers. The scientists found that the more curved or rounded a toe box is, the less power and balance the foot inside the shoe needs to exert when pushing off from the ground while walking, running, or even swinging a golf club. To rephrase: because a rounded toe box is not a natural environment for your feet to perform, foot muscles end up doing less work, and this, the researchers hypothesize, may have consequences for an athlete’s performance and risk of injury.
I know what you are thinking, so what’s a toe box? The toe box is the part of the shoe that covers, surrounds, and protects the foot, especially the toes and metatarsal bones. This area of the foot works as our propulsion system, stabilizers, and steering mechanism when functioning in daily life or sport.
It stands to reason that if the foot muscles can’t work correctly, then they’re probably going to have less ability to create power and endurance given the many times during a round that a golfer pushes off on their toes.
Researchers say this potential weakening of the foot because of the rounded design could make people more susceptible to medical conditions and create a less than optimal environment for the feet to function. From an evolutionary perspective, wearing modern shoes that are narrow in design, excessively rounded, and have other artificial features is a very recent phenomenon. Several lines of evidence suggest that weak foot muscles may be partly a consequence of such features.
In conclusion, a rounded, curved, narrow toe box is by design created to make functions like running, walking, etc. easier on the individual, but at what cost, and is easier what we should be chasing? If you are looking to gain a competitive edge for your sport, finding an easier path typically leads to less long-term success. Our feet were designed in a square shape through the toes to function optimally for us, and to steer us in the right direction for success.