If it doesn't kill me, will it make me stronger or weaker
September 3, 2007 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Best way, other than walking a lot (too time-consuming), to prepare for walking a lot, in a city, carrying a substantial bag? A recent walking-intensive two-week trip nearly killed my poor feet. I don't have a walking-intensive life most of the time. Should I try specific conditioning? Or would that make it worse, "using up" the mileage I have left on my feet? Should I just resign myself to babying my feet when traveling?

I'm not even sure how to search for this; searches for "walk exercise" would yield information about walking as exercise; I'm wondering if there are exercises that will make walking for long periods, carrying a heavy bag (suitcase / backpack) less of a problem.

I have flat feet, small feet, in short -- not the best feet. It's possible that a podiatrist might help, but I'm wondering if this is a known common problem that people conquer by... jumping rope (please no)? Walking on the toes for 15 minutes a day? Walking for 5 minutes carrying something really, really heavy? Something simple?

Jogging/running isn't my best activity; I've got problem knees, too. I have a bike.

I'm height/weight proportional, but I think my recent travel woes were exacerbated by carrying a heavy bag... which I'd like to do again. The back is mostly OK, it's just the feet.

I do know enough to get cushy insoles, wear comfortable shoes, etc., although specific recommendations are welcome. I usually avoid cushy insoles in everyday life on the theory that they'd weaken my feet. I normally wear Birkenstock-type sandals, and occasionally loafers.
posted by amtho to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What sort of shoes did you wear last time? What problems did you have with your feet -- pain, blisters, something else?

You need supportive shoes, not cushy shoes. Birkes have great soles for walking.

Get a bag that fits you well and distributes its weight evenly on both sides of your body. If you can cut down at all on the weight, this will be helpful to your feet.

If you can devote even 15 minutes a day to walking with your pack loaded with the amount of weight you will be carrying, this will help you. Try to fit in some extra informal walking also. Park a bit further from things, you will save time on looking for a parking space.
posted by yohko at 7:45 PM on September 3, 2007

I'm a freelance part-time photographer and am often on my feet for hours at a time. I shot a few music festivals this summer, walking around, and carrying a large heavy bag. I also live in New York City.

I would agree with what yohko posted in terms of getting yourself used to walking, as well as getting yourself used to walking with a weighted bag.

My strategies:
1. A well padded backpack where the weight is balance, especially one where straps are well padded. I wear it at the point that is appropriate for my center of gravity. The backpack I use also has across-the-chest straps.
2. Good shoes and high quality socks. The shoes I wear are Asics running shoes, actually, fitted for my arch and lots of sole support. I've found that my running shoes also help with shock absorption even if I'm just walking around. (I actually had them chosen for me by a specialist at a running store in NYC called Jackrabbit because I pronate slightly on one foot. You may have something similar near to you.)
3. Good posture. This may be difficult with a heavy bag.
4. Resting and stretching (or giving yourself a mini-foot rub) whenever you can.
5. When I get home I give myself a good foot rub and also stretch for 20 minutes. I've found that I often have achy knees, ankles, and legs after walking around all day with a heavy bag.

Good luck!
posted by kathryn at 8:30 PM on September 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

My wife was practically crippled by a walking-intensive trip we took a while back. Tried a few things, but the one thing that ultimately worked was finding a "pedorthist" at a running-shoe store who cut her some orthotics.

This took some shopping around. She had seen a podiatrist previously and was not impressed.

Orthotics, however, is a slow solution sort of like orthodontia on your teeth: they don't just compensate for gait issues, they actually correct your gait gradually (this was news to me).

She also has closed Birkenstock shoes which were her best option before, but now that her feet are working better, she wears them less.

For my own part, I haven't found a magic bullet to acclimatize to lots of walking other than, well, lots of walking.
posted by adamrice at 8:37 PM on September 3, 2007

I have flat feet too (and bunions, yay), and I walk for many, many hours a week. I love it, fortunately.

Get to a good shoe store (I like outdoors / camping / hiking stores) and buy the best shoes you can possibly afford, make sure they are perfectly fitted. You don't need chunky hiking boots either, just look at low cut walking shoes. I tend to go for a slightly oversized pair and then wear thicker socks. Whatever happens don't get tight shoes.

Investigate gel insoles, although these should not be necessary for a new and good quality shoe. I don't think they weaken feet, they can really help to reduce impact stress from walking on hard surfaces.

For training, I think the only option you have is to be on your feet as much as possible in the near future. I have never done any specific `walking on toes' type exercise, and I wonder if it would have any real benefit.

Just get moving on your feet. Don't jog or run, I don't think it helps so much to build walking stamina. (My rationale is this: I am very poor at running. I have friends who love it. I can happily walk for 10 hours, they get sore and run out of energy). Get up half an hour earlier and walk around the block a couple of times.

Another word on shoes. Shoes need to earn your trust, by which I mean you need to know if they start rubbing after a couple of hours. Some shoes feel good for 10 minutes or an hour, but after multiple hours they can start to rub or make your toes ache or similar. Plan to buy good shoes, then walk with them as much as you can just to become confident that they will not cause foot pain.

Hm, final note, don't skimp on socks. Buy a good quality pair from an outdoors shop, something that offers padding, won't bunch up or wear through, wicks away sweat etc. Don't wear $200.00 shoes and $2.00 socks, it's counterproductive. Good socks will prevent chafind, blisters and so on.
posted by tomble at 8:46 PM on September 3, 2007

I have flat feet, small feet, in short

You need orthotics of some sort. You should try buying generic arch supports (Dr. Scholl will never do you wrong) and see if they work. If not, maybe you need custom orthotics, but just for walking, I doubt it.

Invest in shoes. One good thing you can do is go to a running store. They can put you on a treadmill and analyze your gait, let you know if you have any specific problems like pronation or supination. They will then recommend a running shoe based on that analysis. Without any other data, I'd guess that flat feet means you overpronate.

If athletic shoes won't do style-wise, then invest in good walking shoes. I can't recommend Keen or Merrill walking shoes highly enough. They rule. I did two weeks in Europe on my feet with a brown pair of Merrills and a black pair of Keens, and I wouldn't have survived without them.

I usually avoid cushy insoles in everyday life on the theory that they'd weaken my feet.

This is wrong.

Other than this and getting a good bag that distributes the weight well, all you can do is walk. That's the only thing that will get you adjusted.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:01 PM on September 3, 2007

If it's blisters you're getting, you can try being an ultra hiking nerd and wearing two pairs of socks - the inner polypropylene, the outer wool or cotton. This adds a little bit of 'slip' in the sock to protect the slip in the skin layers.

As far as backpacks, get one with a bit of an inner plastic/metal frame, not just a soft mesh one, with straps, chest strap, and if you can bear to wear it, a padded hip strap connected to the frame.

For optimal ergonomics, the center of gravity of your bag should be just behind your shoulderblades, so pack light stuff (like a change of clothes) in the bottom of your bag, heavier stuff in the middle, and cinch up any compression straps on the pack tight.

Only way to toughen up is walking.
posted by anthill at 9:13 PM on September 3, 2007

I'd also highly recommend getting properly fitted for shoes. That means somebody knowledgeable should look at how you walk, how you walk in certain shoes, etc. Made a world of difference for me to have professional help picking out my shoes. Also, the people who really know their stuff about training for a walk are those who organize wlaks for charity. Check out things like the training page for the Breast Cancer 3-day. Lots of great resources there.
posted by cali at 11:57 PM on September 3, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you for all the responses! I love my Birkenstocks, though I'll probably check out a couple of promising shoe stores nearby (there's actually one called "Dr. Two Shoes" owned by a podiatrist).

My problem isn't blisters -- I have had blisters, and have mostly learned to avoid that problem. But the advice is well taken. I can just see myself finding a shoe that feels good under my sole and ignoring the back-of-the-foot blister potential, so the reminder is welcome.

Yes, my feet tend to pronate.

Most of the pain is/was in the ball of my big toes. I'm pretty sure that posture is part of this, but also I have weird toes. Maybe orthotics will help -- should I just give up on ever being comfortable barefoot?
posted by amtho at 6:03 AM on September 4, 2007

You mention your bicycle. When I started spending less time walking and more time riding, my walking endurance took a major hit; I had to deliberately re-introduce long walking sections into my life in order to survive inevitable social walking in NYC.

There are probably-crackpot people who say that all-the-time barefoot walking is the *only* way to be comfortable with flat feet. I've been interested in vivo barefoot shoes as a way to feel barefoot in places where I don't have the strength of will to actually be so.

But I think if you make/find the time to walk regularly and extensively in any shoes, you will be rewarded not just on vacation.
posted by xueexueg at 8:29 AM on September 4, 2007

Orthotics will help correct your gait, and that will improve your barefoot experience over time.
posted by flabdablet at 8:31 AM on September 4, 2007

Additionally, I forgot to mention, that after a marathon couple of days standing and walking around, I splurge and get myself a massage. I make sure I tell the masseuse that I've been doing a lot of standing and walking with a heavy bag, and ask them to focus on my feet and knees.
posted by kathryn at 8:40 AM on September 4, 2007

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