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There are no shortcuts to a successful fitness regimen, only hard work and consistency. And to navigate through the mountain of fitness advice available, candidates must learn to separate fad from function. I’m Daniel Fletcher, welcome to The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday, The Official Navy SEAL Podcast. In this extended series, we’ll speak with select special warfare performance experts to clarify common training misconceptions and provide insight into areas of focus specifically important to special warfare candidates.
Today we extend our fitness series with a discussion about footwear with Director of Fitness for SEAL and SWCC Training, Mike Caviston. Let’s get started.
DF: Welcome back, Mike. We’re here again on the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado to talk about something that’s maybe a little bit more interesting or a little bit more gear related than some of the fitness specific podcasts that we’ve done together. Footwear, obviously, it’s probably a good idea to protect your feet. So, people are doing a lot of running in this program and then some other variety of cross-training and movements, stuff like that. Maybe if you just want to start off with just kind of what your take is on some of the general things you see as problems or issues.
MC: Yeah, thanks, good to be here again. Running is a very important thing to work on. I’ve stressed that many times and continue to stress that. If you want to be successful in BUD/S, you probably have to become a better runner than you are, and if you’re going to train, you’re going to have to run a lot, and you’re going to have to pay attention to what you wear, or, I guess in some cases, don’t wear on your feet. So, yeah, I think this is a good topic.
DF: What are some of the common areas you see recruits maybe having trouble because of the result of their footwear selection?
MC: My recommendation would be that if you’re preparing to come to BUD/S, you should be doing most of your run training in conventional running shoes, and we can talk about some of the alternatives and some of the, one might call fads or gimmicks that people might be interested in, some of the specialized preparation. Guys want to run in boots cause they know they’re going to have to run in boots, and there’s a time and place for that. But I think most of the running should just be done in conventional running shoes.
DF: So, do you think conventional running shoes are a good choice for the general training that people will be doing as maybe just have a one-size-fits-all type of approach?
MC: Well, there’s certainly no one-size-fits-all. If we talk about, “Okay, I’m going to wear conventional running shoe, what does that mean? What kind should I buy? There are 10,000 different options,” and that’s part of the problem of the sports equipment marketing world, is that they developed a bazillion different products. [DF: For niches they might have invented themselves, yeah.] Yeah, well, exactly right, yeah, so is that really necessary? But, so, there’s some general basic guidelines that I would give people, and, you know, no one size is going to fit all. One of the things we have to recognize is that every foot is different, I mean not only in terms of literally size but in terms of anatomical configuration. You know, some people might be flat footed, some people might have high arches, some people might have control problems, they over pronate, so there are different things that will affect their running, and the shoe can help some of those issues. And I can’t here, now, diagnose all the people that might be listening and tell them, “If you have this problem, get this shoe,” so they need to look at that more carefully and consult a good professional in terms of if they have any known foot problems to diagnose and get some recommendations for treatment. If you’re going to buy a pair of running shoes, I would find a reputable running store that will give you good advice. They want to sell you running shoes, of course, but hopefully, they’ll make good recommendations based on your need, not just on selling you the most expensive shoe.
DF: Yeah, I think that’s something that people maybe might not be aware of if there’s running in the name of the shoe, or it may look like a running shoe. There’s been a lot of kind of crossover into sneaker culture. These can be more footwear or casual footwear, or let’s say like a street-style shoe versus an actual “running” shoe.
MC: Well, so if you’re going to run, I’d wear a running shoe, and there are other appropriate athletic footwear for different activities, and some people would wear special weightlifting shoes, for example, but, yeah, if you’re going to run, get a running shoe.
DF: Would you recommend people having maybe a few different, maybe two, three pairs of shoes for their training and run up to BUD/S? I think that there might be a tendency for people to either get something, like a cross-training type of shoe that they can do side-to-side motion with, like a tennis shoe or a cross-fit style shoe versus a straight line running shoe. You think it’s worth investigating getting a running shoe and then maybe a trail running shoe and a weightlifting shoe? What are your thoughts on that?
MC: Well, I won’t say so much about the other types of shoes, such as weightlifting shoes or cross-training shoes. People may want to get specialized shoes for them, but for running, specifically running shoes, it is still a good idea to have a few different selections. And one of the things you just mentioned is a good contrast, is trail running versus say pavement running or road running, and so, probably better designs for each of those. Also, even if you have two identical pairs of shoes, you can rotate them on different days, and so give them a little chance to recompress let’s say, or like if you get them wet, even if it’s just sweat, let them dry out so that they’re not wet on consecutive days. So, it’s probably a good idea to have a couple of pairs of actual running shoes that you can rotate among. People may not replace their running shoes as often as they should. Some of the recommendations out there are four or 500 miles per pair of shoes. That’s just a round number, but, you know, pay attention to your shoe, and if it starts to show excessive wear, and it’s losing the cushion that it came with, then think about getting rid of those and getting another pair, but having at least a couple pairs of running shoes available for different terrain, and, again, just to give each pair a rest in between sessions is a good idea.
DF: In your experience training, whether it’s for road races or just run training in general, do you think that kind of general mile indicator in terms of time to replace a shoe, do you feel like that’s pretty accurate based on your experience?
MC: Well, it’s, the concept is valid, but the number, I don’t know what, I was reading a study actually recently that was comparing recommendations but made on machine testing in a laboratory, like not actual people running in the shoe but like a machine wearing it out and so maybe overestimated how quickly shoes wear out. And so, people that if they wear them on their feet in running, maybe they don’t wear out quite so quickly. So, you know, I don’t know the actual number, but you can pay attention to your shoes, and if you notice that they’re, again, showing excessive wear and losing the properties that you bought them for, then you should get a new pair.
DF: And that’s more in arch support area…
MC: Could be cushion, could be arch support. There are different shoes for different feet, as I said before, so I can’t make a blanket recommendation, but whatever the particular characteristics you want in a shoe, they tend to break down over time.
DF: I’m guessing it’s probably the heel cushion is one of the first things to go. It’s kind of difficult I think sometimes for people to make that distinction because there very well may be years left of serviceable life in this tennis shoe as a kicking around shoe…
MC: Yeah, that’s, yeah, so you might be done running in the shoes, but you can still use them in the gym when you’re doing some cross-training or something that doesn’t require, weight support, or it’s going to be a non-contact activity. Then it might still be fine or just for kicking around the house or doing weekend chores in or something like that. So, you don’t necessarily have to throw the shoes out in the garbage, but don’t do them for serious training.
DF: Yeah, I think that’s something that is worth I guess highlighting for people that just because a shoe looks like it has plenty of “tread” left on the bottom, or it’s not literally falling apart doesn’t mean that it still has serviceable or doing you a service when you’re running in terms of cushion and the idea of having a couple pairs of shoes to cycle out I think is a good way to mitigate that for the lifespan of your training for BUD/S. So, what shoes do you think are good for trying to approach the idea of whether it’s trail running or hiking or like sand running? I think that’s somewhere, area specifically that people will maybe have done some reading or have heard or tried to anticipate the soft sand running. What are your thoughts on there? Is that something people should maybe investigate, doing barefoot, or is it a boot thing, do you have any thoughts on that?
MC: Yeah, I guess maybe I’d sort of step back a little bit and just say do a lot of running in good running shoes, and that would probably include running on pavement, running on trails. There are some specialized cases, and a general recommendation that I’ve made many times for run preparation is to run on different surfaces, run on different terrains. So, pavement is fine sometimes. If you have the right shoes, it’s going to be perfectly safe. Running on trails can be good and challenging. Running on hills is a good strategy. And then, specifically running on sand is something that people want to consider because there will be a certain amount of soft sand running, even hard sand running, running on the beach for those that make it into BUD/S. And so, thinking about, “Well, okay, what should I wear?” and two things that people will try or that people have explored as options is either running with boots or running barefoot, without any shoes at all. So, I can say a little bit about each of those things.
DF: Yeah, that sounds good. I think there’s a common tendency to think, “Well, I’m going to buy some desert boots or combat boots and go out and do running on the beach,” and I’m guessing that’s probably something that you either want to ramp up to or maybe almost avoid.
MC: Yeah, a little goes a long way. So, I wouldn’t say never run in boots. People are just curious about what it will feel like, and I can understand that. I’ve done a lot of the conditioning runs that the candidates in BUD/S do just to get a feel for it myself. Well, how does it really affect my running? And the answer is not nearly as much as most people think. Yeah, it’ll have an effect. You’ll run a little slower, but you’ll get used to it pretty quickly. And I don’t feel that there’s a need to do an excessive amount of specific preparation in boots, so, you know, put them on just to go out and get a feel, “How does this really affect my pace? How does it really affect my stride?” So, in terms of mileage, you know, I think somewhere I’ve made a recommendation of 15% of your running maybe in boots or something, you know, a fairly small amount. It doesn’t have to be that long. I would recommend researching whatever the current boots in BUD/S are, and off the top of my head, I don’t know because that changes periodically, but just going to get a pair of so-called jungle boots is probably not a good idea, that’s probably not good for your feet. But wearing the boots that candidates wear in training and doing a little bit of training in them just to get used to the feel is going to be okay. I discourage people doing too much running in boots because it actually detracts from your run training, you run slower, you want to run fast in training. So, occasionally is fine, too much is not good, and then we mentioned specifically the soft sand, boots are probably actually a good choice of footwear in soft sand. You’ll get a little bit more support and if you’re going to do some soft sand running, and you happen to have some boots, then go ahead and try that in the soft sand.
DF: You mentioned barefoot running in the sand. Obviously, we’re talking about footwear here, but I think it’s worth mentioning.
MC: Well, we don’t necessarily have to link barefoot running and sand together, although we can because a little bit of barefoot running on the sand might be appropriate. Although I will say that with no support, it’s incredibly surprising how stressful barefoot running in sand can be. The total lack of support uses muscles in the foot that you never knew you had, and so, you know, if you do go barefoot running, always introduce it gradually. If you go barefoot running in the sand, be particularly careful.
DF: I know we’re not trying to pin down exact numbers, but what does that kind of look like to you when you say gradually?
MC: Well, let’s talk about barefoot running and the way it might be introduced. And I would recommend finding a comfortable environment, like two examples that I have access to and use in the NSW environment is Turner field, which is an athletic area, soccer field, but grassy areas. So, you can run barefoot on it, it’s grassy, it’s cushiony, there’s not a lot of debris, so, you can be confident that you’re not going to get cut feet and that it’s going to be fairly soft. And then another area that I have access to and utilize a lot in my own training is the beach and where the guys do their four-mile runs and their conditioning runs. And so, you can run at low tide when the beach is firm, sandy but firm, and so it’s a perfect cushion for a barefoot run. And I actually utilize both those locations with candidates and students in training at different points, whether it’s the week after Hell Week, or it’s the weeks leading up to starting BUD/S and orientation. But the way to introduce barefoot running, then, would be to at either of those locations just do a little bit of a warm-up. Do some dynamic movements, do some striders, do some easy jogging with your shoes off just to sort of get a feel for it, and…
DF: Maybe mix in some of that balance work there.
MC: Yeah, absolutely, that we talked about previously in terms of developing the ankles. And so, you know, it’s a good crossover, but running barefoot can strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the foot and some of the other muscles that surround the foot and ankle that will give them the strength that they need. So, yeah, some barefoot running is good. It’s just important to introduce it very gradually, and for somebody that’s never run in bare feet, literally a couple of minutes as a warm-up or maybe a cool down or both would be okay. And then, at some point, maybe doing a short conditioning run, a mile and a half or something like that and building up, and then at some point, somebody might be able to do, you know, 40 minutes of running in bare feet. I don’t know how long that would take, and so I’m not going to make a specific recommendation. It would probably take a while, but at some point, you might be comfortable doing a normal conditioning run in bare feet.
DF: Yeah, obviously, there’s the potential for you to step on something…but is there risk for injury for going up too fast?
MC: Well, there’s always risk for injury for going up too fast, and certainly with barefoot…
DF: You mean injuring your actual foot, like the muscles inside or?
MC: Injuring, yeah, injuring your foot, so you’re trying to strengthen the bones and the muscles in the feet, and if those are weak, and you stress them too much too early, stress fracture in one of the bones of the foot, or straining some of the muscles that surround the foot. So, even if it’s a good training modality, doing too much too soon will be a bad idea, as just any aspect of training would be. So, be particularly careful, though, with barefoot running that you’re going to phase it in very gradually and pay attention to any signs of injury or stress that you’re not tolerating it well. Some people anatomically have feet that are made for barefoot running, and then some people don’t. And so, you got to be careful that you don’t exacerbate an anatomical problem that you have that you can’t control and make it worse.
DF: Yeah, like just the architecture of their foot and bones, right, whether it’s their lifestyle, the shoes they’ve worn or just genetics.
MC: Just the genetics. I mean genetics would be the biggest thing. For some people, it’s just genetically they’re not going to tolerate barefoot running well.
DF: Is using a barefoot style “running” shoe something that you’d recommend in terms of trying to kind of ramp into or ease into barefoot running, or what are your thoughts on that?
MC: Well, a couple of different ways of looking at it, my feeling for me personally is I’d never bother using a minimalist shoe. I’ll run barefoot, or I’ll wear regular shoes and nothing in between. And I want to find an environment where I’m comfortable in bare feet, and that means someplace where I’m confident that I’ve got a certain amount of support and not a lot of broken glass and other things that are going to cut the foot. So, if somebody doesn’t have access to an area that I do that is secure, and they think, “Well, I’d like to try this, but I don’t want to get, you know, a rusty nail in my foot either,” then, yeah, maybe they’ll wear, I’m not going to mention any names or promote any commercial brands, but minimalist shoes. Something that’s lightweight with just a covering on the sole to protect against, piercings of the foot or abrasions, but it’s still generally the same as running barefoot. And the literature disagrees, or there’s some conflict, “Does it really mimic barefoot running?” Probably enough to get the benefits of it, so, you know, if, [DF: Or most of the benefits.] yes, exactly, exactly. So, do your homework and select a good minimalist shoe or, you know, footwear and go from there, but otherwise, treat it the same, and phase it in gradually, and don’t overdo it.
DF: This kind of pops in my mind. My dad’s done a lot of distance running, and in his high school years, he would go out to the golf course, early morning or late in the evening. I just wanted to kind of throw that in there. If you have access to a golf course, the fairways, or if you live in the community, something like that, I think that’s a really great place, I mean talk about a debris-free fairway or something like that, especially in the evening, no one’s there, it’s a good spot. An area that has I think a lot of variability, specifically with minimalist versus the other end of the spectrum, wearing a type of deployment boot or a combat boot, is the drop from the heel to the toe, whether it’s a minimalist meaning, it’s basically flat, there’s not cushion there, and then the other end of the spectrum, a big, chunk of rubber underneath your heel. How does that come into play with your foot? Do you need to pay specific attention when you’re wearing one versus the other, or is it basically the same in terms of being careful when you’re running in those two kind of extreme areas?
MC: Well, I think that’s a good way to say it, be careful of running in either area, whatever terrain you’re on, whatever footwear you’re wearing. One of the things I like about barefoot running is that, without explicitly telling you how to run, sort of get you to run in a way that may be beneficial in terms of your running, even when you’re wearing boots or wearing shoes. And so, being able to develop a good mid-foot strike or avoid a hard heel strike, which is what, in general, we want to do. And so, even wearing the boots with the high heel under the heel, you can modify your foot strike a little bit so that you’re not crashing into your heel. And that’s something that will translate well. From going In my personal training, I do this, a little bit of barefoot running and then a lot more training and racing in shoes that I can modify the technique that I use in races by doing a little barefoot running in training.
DF: People probably will tune in to this episode wanting to get maybe like the golden pill or the shoe model to write down, to kind of maybe put it in the done list of things that I don’t have to worry about, but that’s obviously not the case. And if anything, from what you’re saying, it’s probably even a better idea to ease into running with no footwear before going out and buying a pair of boots. It seems to be more beneficial to kind of approach barefoot running before even trying to go the opposite end of the spectrum, or…
MC: You could probably mix in both, but, again, very gradually, one isn’t inherently better than the other, and both of them can be overdone if you’re not careful, but both of them can be beneficial if you do a little bit and introduce it gradually. So, I would say that you could incorporate a little bit of barefoot running, and if you happen to have boots, you can incorporate that into your training but just in small amounts.
DF: I see that you’re wearing a pair of Solomon’s, and you see a lot of guys on deployment, that seems to be one of the brands of choice, kind of a more ankle support or a tougher shoe. A lot of people gravitate towards I think some of the more popular brands that are like you see on the street. Do you think people should go out and buy operator shoes for this?
MC: No, in terms of actual brand, you mentioned the shoes I happen to be wearing now. I’m not going to be running in these. I’m going to use these in the gym, so they’re sort of like a cross-training shoe that I bought at a good price, and they’re comfortable, and so I don’t ascribe any particular benefit to them. I’m a little bit more choosy when I select my actual running shoes, but it’s hard to make specific recommendations, and so I say look for comfort. Let me try some shoes on, make sure they’re comfortable on your feet. If you can get them lighter without sacrificing too many other features, that’s probably good. Be aware of what your personal issues are with your foot, if you have any particular anatomical challenges or motion challenges that need to be addressed, and if you can find a shoe that is designed to work with those, then that can be beneficial. The right shoe for the right foot can make a difference. Price isn’t an indicator of quality. Just because it’s a more expensive shoe doesn’t mean it’s going to be a better shoe, so you got to be aware of that. Shoes change all the time. I’m personally frustrated that I find a pair that I like, and then the next time I need a pair of shoes, it’s like nobody’s heard of that anymore. What I tend to do now is buy two pairs of the same shoes, so at least if I like one, I know I’ll have another pair like it. But at some point, you’re going to have to go back and go through the whole process again and investigate, okay, you know, “What’s a good shoe for me at this time?”
DF: People that are listening to the podcast are going to be from kind of all spectrums and all ages. For people that are maybe just starting out, physical fitness, young teenagers, having a nice pair of shoes is something that I think a lot of people take for granted. Maybe talk a little bit about what your experience is of maintaining or taking care of your shoes. I mean there’s some basic stuff that maybe might seem really elementary to you, but through your extended experience, training for races and your profession, what are some of the things that you’ve done to extend the life of your shoes or maybe mitigate them falling apart soon or anything like that?
MC: Well, the only thing that I can think of that, you know, is very practical is try to keep them dry. I mean if they get wet, and even in dry conditions, mine get wet just from sweat, and so after a long run, my shoes are soaking. And so, let them dry out. Put them in a dry place, and try not to wear them for a day or two until they’re back to being dry again, and I think that’ll go a long way, a long way towards extending…
DF: Do you wash your shoes at all, throw them in the washer dryer or anything?
MC: I do not, I do not, and I don’t know that that would be good or bad, no, I don’t.
DF: Well, I’ll tell you it can be bad cause I washed a pair of flip-flops last week, and they’re totally destroyed.
MC: I would imagine that, either the washer or the dryer would be a harsh environment for shoes. I mean certainly if you run in mud, wipe them off, clean them up, clean the tread up and , you know, get rid of any excess dirt, surface dirt that you can scrape off, I’ve never put mine in the washer.
DF: People experience or have some exposure to some sort of insoles or stuff like that in order to aid cushion, is that something that you think is, should be best left to someone who’s going to be examining your foot, a professional, whether they need an additional heel lift on this side or anything like that?
MC: Yeah, I think it should be left to a professional cause I can say for sure that it can solve some of the problems that are out there. And so, the right orthotic can correct abnormalities in the foot such that a person should be able to run as comfortably and as normally as any other person and do all the training that they want. However, choosing the wrong orthotic can have the opposite effect, and so, you know, the wrong orthotic is worse than no orthotic. And again, price isn’t necessarily the best indicator of quality. There probably are some things that you can buy from Dr. Scholl or something else that would work fine for some people in some situations. So, I can’t make that determination, and every individual should find somebody that is qualified to say, “Oh, here’s the problem with your foot, here’s what will correct it,” and then somebody can find the appropriate insert to use. To sum up, inserts can be very good, as a matter of fact, they can make all the difference, but you have to choose the right one, and it has to be done by somebody that’s qualified to do that.
DF: So, if someone is seeing a foot doctor and they have a known issue, and they’re running, whether it’s an injury or just a genetic thing like we talked about, their foot shape, and they have had a pair of orthotics made or off the shelf that they know work for them, is that something that they have to abandon when they come here and then kind of start from scratch?
MC: No, absolutely not. As a matter of fact, we should make everybody aware that they can continue to use that, and they can consult with the medical staff here and get more advice. But if they have something that’s been fitted for their foot and diagnosed with a problem that their insert will correct, then they can absolutely use it in training.
DF: I think that is kind of a good indicator or as a reminder for people that are going into the process of training for BUD/S just how seriously running is taken here when accommodations are made like that. It shows that there’s a lot of time spent on the feet and that there should be a lot of time spent on your feet in preparation for coming to BUD/S. I think people that are just starting out running, they sometimes maybe have a tendency to really ratchet down their laces super tight, or maybe they’re replacing their shoelaces with some sort of elastic thing that they’ve seen. What are some of your kind of guidelines or recommendations, someone who’s just starting to run, and you see them putting on their shoelaces, should they be double bowing their thing, should they be ratcheting them down tight? Are there any guidelines you think, like how tight is too tight to put your shoes on or anything like that?
MC: I’m sure there is a too tight that would cut off circulation. My personal preference is I want it pretty tight. I want it to feel pretty, so go by comfort, you know, actually I kind of laugh at it when you talk about double, I mean I triple knot mine all the time. My worst fear is in a race that my shoe’s going to come untied, and even in training, it’s inconvenient when it comes untied. So, I knot them up pretty good so that I know that they’re secure.
DF: I guess if your toe is starting to tingle, that may be an indicator…
MC: Well, if the top of your foot is, you know, you take your shoes off, and it’s all red, that’s probably too tight. But, you know, snug is good, or it shouldn’t be flopping around loosely, so get it tight enough to be able to stay on your foot properly.
DF: Well, I think we’ve covered all the areas that people may have questions about, but if they’d like to find out more about maybe some of the recommendations or restrictions, where can people find out more about footwear, training and running in general?
MC: Well, we don’t have as much information about footwear specifically, though we do have a little bit and about running injuries, but about run training, we’ve got lots of information on SEALSWCC.com, and our training forum, our Physical Training Guide and our training videos cover all those topics pretty well.
DF: Well, Mike, I think we’ve done a good job of maybe putting some mysteries to rest or giving some people some actionable advice on whether they’re overthinking or under-thinking their footwear and the amount of time they’re going to be spending on their feet. Thank you for your experience and thank you for your time today.
MC: Thanks for having me. My pleasure as always.