Work boots and fatigue
Why do my boots make my legs so tired?
Responding is Yahn Lebo, global product line manager for Wolverine Brand’s work and outdoor footwear lines, Wolverine, Rockford, MI.
The moment your alarm goes off before the sun rises, you know today’s going to be a marathon. While the average person may walk 10,000 steps a day, you walk more than 30,000. Your work is an endurance sport. You need to fight fatigue from the very first step of the day to the last. And selecting the right work boot for the job is a key first step.
When it comes to choosing the right boot to minimize fatigue, consider three main factors: overall weight, balance and cushioning.
Logically, overall weight of the boot is one of the main elements that impacts fatigue on the feet and legs. Wearing heavier boots will fatigue feet and legs faster than lighter boots. A common misperception is that heavier boots equates to more durable boots. Heavier equates to quicker fatigue, but not necessarily more durability.
Full-grain leather and welted construction make for excellent, durable work boots, and are still the best choice for many jobs. However, they can only be made so light due to the weight of the raw materials. Today, many excellent synthetic and mesh boots are purposefully designed for the work environment and have very high tear/abrasion resistance and durability. Although leather is the traditional go-to material, these new materials have many benefits and have been thoughtfully incorporated into work boots and tested for performance. Exploring work boots with alternate materials is an easy way to decrease the overall weight of work boots and therefore reduce fatigue.
The overall balance of a boot from heel to toe is another important factor when it comes to fatigue. If a boot is toe-heavy it can lead to shin splints and sore shins, which in turn forces larger muscles to compensate, causing accelerated fatigue in those muscles as well. This soreness becomes cyclical, resulting in more fatigue, and has the potential to cause serious injuries.
When holding a work boot, take into consideration if it feels fairly balanced, or if the toe feels much heavier than the rest of the boot. Steel-toe caps are the standard in the industry and offer functional toe protection that meets ASTM standards. However, innovations in technology continue. These include composite, aluminum and carbon fiber that allow caps to be significantly lighter than steel, contributing to all-around lighter and well-balanced work boots.
Cushioning is an essential factor in comfort, but more isn’t necessarily better; it’s important to find a boot with the right amount for the job at hand.
Extremely cushy insoles are ideal for someone who is stationary for long periods of time, or whose body is under constant vibration (jackhammer, factory floor) and isn’t required to cover a lot of ground on a daily basis. For others who are in constant motion, this same highly cushioned boot may not be as effective at fighting fatigue – and could increase it. Think of how walking or running on sand requires much more exertion than walking on concrete because of how it gives way and doesn’t return energy. For people who are in near-constant motion, design features like a toe-spring (the toe of the boot is curved up slightly) can help provide a more natural flex, especially in a welted boot. A boot with a stiffer frame that positions shock absorption closer to the ground (versus a very soft material next to the foot) can absorb shock while also returning energy to allow for more efficient use of energy overall.
Considering these features when buying work boots can lead to good health and also provide the most efficiency and comfort from a work boot.
Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.