Saturday, March 22, 2008

Z-coil emphasizes function with style

Ever wonder whether there's relief in sight for sore feet, bad backs, nagging knees?

Turns out that such a shoe exists that addresses such maladies. In fact, you might consider trading in your walking stick for some extra spring in your step.


I've heard much about Z-coil shoes, which have a steel spring in the heel. I first saw these shoes in action, on the feet of a working actor who coaches students in the Houston area.

Deke Anderson should know; he has spent more than 30 years as a performer on stage, television and film, as well as teaching classes at his Next Level Acting Studios in Houston, not to mention the inevitable physical wear and tear from his high school football days as an All-America lineman in Nevada.

Anderson, who purchased his Z-coils about three months ago, swears by them. "I noticed relief immediately. No impact!" he says.

"I'd strongly suggest them for people with bad lower backs (and probably in their 40s who care less about style). My wife torments me when I wear them," Anderson added.

Upon first glance, the shoes appear as if they could help you become the kangaroo of the basketball court, dunking over defenders at will. Ironically, Z-coil shoes are designed for walking, not jumping.

Given their shock-absorbing design, Z-coil shoes could potentially benefit retired football players and other professional athletes, who often acknowledge the pain in their knees and backs after their playing days.

From a recent visit to a Z-coil store in Houston, I observed middle-aged customers flowing into the store, seeking a solution to an all-too-familiar refrain: "My feet hurt."

One customer, while waiting for her shoe springs to be adjusted, related to me that her husband runs a restaurant and that she is a teacher, and that both are on their feet a lot. That prompted them to buy Z-coils, which absorb the shock when walking, she explained.

Makes sense to me. Having had knee surgery myself, I prefer rubber-soled shoes over those with leather soles. Could Z-coil be the next level of comfort, I wondered. I was about to try on a pair. Would they give me the York Peppermint Patty sensation of euphoria?

In taking the first few steps in the Z-coils, I noticed the heel spring absorbing the initial shock and then, in mid-step, my weight shifting to the front of the shoe without any pain. I gained confidence in my gait to the point that I no longer just walked.

I was in strut mode.

The store personnel were knowledgeable about Z-coils, which last about two years before requiring a change of the heel springs. There is a workboot model that has a closed heel, so that one does not risk tripping over an object that can get caught in the spring. Prices range from about $190 to $280.

Z-coil shoes have a functional aesthetic that takes priority over style. Without mincing words, they don't look pretty. But they are darn effective.

That brings me to the following Style Points:

  • Honor the product. Those who purchase Z-coils aren't making a fashion statement or setting trends. To be sure, the shoes are an investment in improving the quality of one's health.

  • Power walking is not encouraged. I tried to pick up the pace when I had the Z-coils on in the store. The springs are too lively for that. If you are having foot, back or knee problems, you're probably not walking too fast to begin with. So enjoy what the shoes can do for you.

  • Common sense still rules. As much as I would like to wear Z-coils through rain, sleet, and snow (as well as to bed, that's how comfortable they are), there's a time and a place for wearing them. It might not be advisable, for example, to wear a steel-coil shoe when lightning makes a guest appearance. Also, there might be some explaining to do when the shoes go through metal detectors at airports.

    At the end of the day, the object of the game is to walk pain-free and look cool while doing it. Having tried Z-coil shoes firsthand, I've been there and done just that.

    In fact, the guy who invented Z-coils, Alvaro Z. Gallegos, obviously stands by his shoe. He has his signature on the model pictured above. Now that's cool.

    Mr. Gallegos deserves a call from the Museum of Modern Art. Move over, Movado.
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