Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
3 Feb

A Sea Change Coming to Wash Your Shoes Away

barefootI’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s all over the news. People are finally beginning to come around to that inconvenient truth about our feet, that dirty little secret that shoe companies would prefer to keep under wraps: barefoot is better.

There has been media coverage of the barefoot trend in the past, mostly intermittent, in running magazines and always taking a patronizing tone. It follows the same formula: more idle speculation on a bizarre fad that a select few crazies are promoting, with plenty of “balance” from stuffy foot specialists expressing doubt that the inherently fragile, gentle human foot could ever withstand the rigors of walking unshod without “serious injury,” than any serious consideration of the merits. But now we’ve got a nice, juicy study to hang our hats (or our shoes) on, and media outlets are falling over themselves to get the scoop.

Witness the Boston Globe’s take on the whole thing, or the LA Times feature. The Edmonton Journal got into the action, too, as did the Telegraph, while even San Jose’s Mercury News mentioned the study. The Popular Science blog did a piece on it. And of course, the rest of the blogosphere picked up on it, too: Open Water Chicago, Conditioning Research, and the Chi Running blog, to name just a few.

The study in question was Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman’s on “Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners.” (See comparison videos below. The difference between shod heel strike running and barefoot forefoot strike running is visually and graphically captured. For more on what you’re seeing check out NPR’s coverage.) It’s hard to believe that this is the first study of its kind, though, probably because it actually isn’t. Last year, researchers ran a similar study and decided that “Footwear Alters Normal Form and Function of the Foot” by exerting acute pressure to sensitive areas of the foot, whereas barefoot walkers enjoyed wider forefeet and more evenly distributed locomotive stress. Interesting, but probably because it didn’t make any bold pronouncements and because it dealt with the relatively mundane act of walking (rather than running), the study didn’t get any press. They could have recommended people throw off their shoes, but that wouldn’t be prudent. It wouldn’t be responsible. I can’t fault them for that, really. Researchers need funding, and you don’t want to make bold pronouncements if it means getting cut off or reprimanded. Unfortunately, scientists need to be bold to effect real change.

Even when the “experts” get it so, so right, they do their best to get it wrong in the end, or they hedge their bets and stick with the safe answer, rather than question Conventional Wisdom entirely (even if the data contradicts CW directly). I’m reminded of when Gary Taubes famously lamented a similar mindset in physicians and obesity researchers who, although they understood (and even witnessed in a clinical setting) the chronic insulin/body fat connection, continued to recommend the standard low-fat, high-carb, low-calorie diet to their patients. They connect all the dots, but fail to see the bigger picture clearly outlined by those dots. To their credit, though, researchers can and do make sensible recommendations within the context of Conventional Wisdom. The researchers from that walking study did ultimately call for the design of “quality footwear” that doesn’t “hamper the foot’s biologically normal function.” Better than nothing, I suppose.

Now, even though I agree with Lieberman’s conclusions (actually, because I’m such a huge fan of barefoot), it pays to be critical. I know Lieberman has affiliations with Vibram – in fact, he may have even helped them design the Fivefingers – and that they probably funded the study, and I know that we hem, haw, and cast skeptical eyes on Pfizer when they fund yet another statin paper. There’s a major difference between the two, though: Lieberman is right. His data is strong. He isn’t hiding anything or fudging the results. We’re right. Barefoot is better. There’s no shame in that, you know – being right. There are objective truths out there, and the objective truth is that most people aren’t born with genetically defective feet. Everyone’s imperfect, sure, but for the most part we’ve all got the same basic equipment with the same basic biomechanics working under the hood. Unless you have a birth defect, no one is born with feet that “won’t work right” or that “require shoes”. The flat footed (no arch) argument doesn’t stand up as an excuse, except when you’ve already spent a lifetime coddling your feet in supportive casts. A cautionary word that anyone transitioning to a barefoot lifestyle should take it VERY easy at first.

There was one more response to the barefoot running study that bears mentioning: Brooks (world famous running shoe company) CEO Jim Weber’s scrambling blog post. You know – I feel for the guy. It’s gotta be tough to make a reasonable response to a scientifically sound piece of research that refutes almost everything you’ve built your business on. I mean, what is he supposed to do? Admit that he’s been wrong this whole time? Admit that his shoes are basically coffins for the feet? Naturally, he goes with the entirely unsubstantiated claim that the “vast majority of runners” should race “in a performance running shoe, not barefoot.” Apparently, we barefooters are a genetically gifted breed of athlete who are “biomechanically blessed” with “natural healthy gaits.” Hmm. So, the natural, normal gait is actually somehow rare and precious. It doesn’t occur naturally. Got it. Jim, did you ever stop to think why so many of your runners seem to lack that natural healthy gait? Perhaps it’s the shoes. Our “unique biomechanical needs” are only unique because we’ve been smashing, smushing, and confining our feet to too-small, too-constrictive, too-structured footwear for years. Check out your comments section, dude. The people have spoken. You can’t ignore anecdotal evidence pouring in from all sides forever.

I eagerly await your upcoming, inevitable barefoot-analogous running shoe model.

When the CEO of a major running shoe company makes a public acknowledgment, that’s a sign. A sea change is undoubtedly occurring here, folks. The media may help spur things along, but they’re just reporting what’s really happening out there. If there wasn’t a massive audience for the barefoot message present and willing to get out there and experiment for themselves, there’d be no story. Just check out the comment sections for all the blogs and all the newspaper articles dealing with the study. In previous barefoot articles, most of the comments were either dubious or dismissive of the “fad”; now, the naysayers clinging to their Nikes are being drowned out by barefoot evangelists. I applaud them.

You’re part of what made this possible. Now, let’s hope the rest of the Primal Blueprint gains some ground out there!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. start winning marathons and other types of races barefoot. that will be irrevocable evidence of barefoot supremacy. go primal!

    Al wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  2. I’ve come across a half dozen of these articles in the last week. Commented on all of them I think. Everything changes. Now I just need less snow and some VFFs. :)

    Caveman Sam wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • I agree! I’ve been seeing these posts alot lately just bouncing thru the interwebs. Canada, namely Saskatchewan, is not exactly VFF friendly. I got my flows, but pretty much waiting for a bit of a thaw. -28 is a bit much.
      Best reaction on them so far though, “So what are these on your feet now? Are they from the future?”

      Jim Twig wrote on February 3rd, 2010
      • Pardon my ignorance. Perhaps there are none in Australia, but what are VFFs?

        Angelina wrote on February 3rd, 2010
        • Vibram Five-fingers:
          http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/

          You can get them in Australia too :)

          silverbenz wrote on February 3rd, 2010
        • Vibram Five Fingers.
          Available from a distributor in the east only (Queensland i think). Google VFF and it will come up. Since i live in the south west of West Auss i bought mine over the net from the US (Kayak Shed – Oregon – cheers peoples for the fast efficient service) as they were cheaper.
          Absolutely love them. But i have been a barefooter for a long time, though these are the first (and really only) shoe that come close actually being unshod.
          Cheers
          Stuart

          Stuart Atkinson wrote on February 3rd, 2010
        • Vibram FiveFingers

          Dave wrote on February 4th, 2010
        • The Aussie site is here:
          http://www.fivefingers.com.au/public_panel/index.php

          Problem is, competition hasn’t really started on them here and they sell them at RRP for around $189 – $219 AUD, which converts to $165 – $190 USD. So, I ended up getting mine in the US where I paid $80 USD for a pair of Sprints. I had them brought over by a friend, but even with shipping you’re much better off buying them that way.

          Another Dave wrote on February 4th, 2010
        • I have had a hard time finding 5 fingers. I found them on crossroadsonline.com for great prices. You can prebook certain fivefingers that will not be available until September. Its best to reserve them now before september rolls around and they will be harder to get!

          allison wrote on February 26th, 2010
  3. Hello – recent Primal convert here, but long(ish) time barefooter living in the snow up in Canada (!)

    My VFF’s are fun on the weekend, but not so good in the office. I have found that Wushu shoes are a great alternative to big clonky things, and I have some NEOS overshoes to keep things warm and dry between the house and the office.

    The overshoes themselves have a pretty flat sole (with good traction) and with the Wushu shoes it seems to do the trick for me.

    Plus, as soon as I get home, everything (on my feet!) comes off.

    Brett Legree wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • Have a look at Vivo Barefoot shoes if you want something that’s close to barefoot but still looks like a normal shoe: very thin sole with a tiny bit of padding inside and a wide footbed at the front.

      Tommy Williams wrote on February 3rd, 2010
      • Thanks Tommy – I’ve seen those, and was on the wait list for the style I want last time I checked (my feet are big!) – the Vivo shoes look awesome, I agree.

        I admit to kicking off the shoes at my desk anyway since I spend a lot of time writing, so that’s a plus :)

        Brett Legree wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  4. I need Vibram Flows!!! I have been confined to “warm shoes” all winter because I don’t have the Flows, only sprints and classics :(

    People are incredibly intrigued by Vibrams, no matter where I am (farmer’s market, coffee shop, bookstore, work…) people ask how they feel (like walking barefoot, duh), what do I do in them (everything…and a weird question!), doesn’t it hurt to step on things (just watch where you’re walking!)…then the laugh and either “those are really cool” or “those are really cute” depending on the gender of the inquirer. I’ve even gotten into discussions about the importance of being barefoot in general, with someone else chiming in about what they’ve read or heard! People think I’m a little quirky, but I’ve had many friends/acquiantances go and try Vibrams on after seeing me wear them :)

    hannahc wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • Yes, the Vibram is great. Can’t wait for spring so I can wear them.

      Organic Gabe wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • People at the gym ask me about my VFF KSO’s at least once a week. I wear them lifting weights too; just have to be careful not to drop anything heavy near my toes. I have also found it a bit easier to grip weights between my feet when doing pull-ups or dips :) I love wearing them outside for sprints as well, when it gets a bit warmer here in Omaha! Also fantastic this past summer for hiking in the Steamboat area.

      ThePrimalBrett wrote on February 4th, 2010
  5. Has anyone switched to Nike Free (or VFF), and have back pain go away?

    steve wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • Yes, I have.

      umuhk wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • Oh yes. A resounding yes. Knee pain too (from partially torn ACL), big toe joint pain (from stubbing it way too many times), neck pain and shoulder pain. I have to say though, that these pains went away with VFF (or Nike Free shoes sans insoles) in combination with resistance training RTS style and TRX, of course, barefoot at home on hard-wood floor.

      Jess wrote on June 8th, 2011
  6. I always hated sneakers, and they hurt my feet so bad. In fitness class I would get in trouble for being in the gym in socks, or barefoot. But man my feet, legs, back, hips, knees all hurt when I wore those stupid shoes. As it is now, i wear sandals, flip flops or ballet slippers when I have to have shoes on. It’s good to know that my poor tootsies were telling me the truth. Not that I ever doubted them.

    Rosy wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  7. like everything – once they’ve made it “their” own idea and find a way to market bare feet, it’ll be the new sensation!

    dlots wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  8. I don’t think Lieberman had anything to do with the design of VFFs — the design was based on an Italian designer’s work in (IIRC) 2000. Actually, Lieberman had this to say about the connection to Vibram (via AZcentral):

    AZ: Vibram USA, which makes minimalist running shoes, is listed as a sponsor of your research. What is the extent of its support?

    Lieberman: Vibram USA paid for a research assistant and gave free shoes to some of our volunteers, but they have no special rights or access to any of the data, no input into our experiments, and no control over how and what we publish. Further, they have not paid me a penny, and I don’t own any stock or profit in any way from this research.

    Anyway, I definitely agree that the sea change is upon us whether conclusions about evolution of humanity w/r/t distance running have any merit … well it’s moot relative to the core argument that our feet are meant to be free.

    I’ve created a couple large, growing link repositories for press on the Lieberman work, as well as barefoot running, and barefoot running research:

    http://birthdayshoes.com/wiki/index.php?title=Links_to_press_on_barefoot_or_minimalist_footwear_running

    http://birthdayshoes.com/wiki/index.php?title=Links_to_research_related_to_shod_or_barefoot_running

    And also, any would-be FiveFingers wearers might benefit from this free [beginner's guide] to VFFs (you can read about it here: http://birthdayshoes.com/index.php/the-beginner-s-guide-to-five-fingers — there you’ll find a link to download the PDF).

    Happy barefoot and/or VFF’ing!

    Justin / justinowings.com / birthdayshoes.com

    justin wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  9. “I know Lieberman has affiliations with Vibram…”

    Private or corporate money is no more inherently corrupt than government grant money. All research, public and private, should be viewed skeptically on its own merits. Some of the worst research, such as cholesterol and climate “science”, is supported by government grants.

    Ed wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  10. So what kind of sandals do people recommend as minimal footwear? I have some VFFs but I don’t like wearing them to work etc because my feet just sweat in them. I’m looking for some thin-soled sandals to wear at work.

    Tim wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • check out chaco flip flops. i hate shoes with a passion and live year round in my chacos. best sandals out there. i run, hike, climb, bike,work,swim,raft,kayak, everything in these. there out of western Colorado and are made for outdoor enthusiasts.

      lucasp wrote on February 20th, 2010
  11. Mark,

    Long time follower, first time poster.

    I was a subject in Lieberman’s study. I was part of group 3 (North Americans that converted to barefoot running).
    Your claims that Lieberman helped design the Vibram Five Fingers and that Vibram funds his research are both false. Vibram did send shoes, free of charge, with which Lieberman tested barefoot runners. Vibram also gave participants a free pair of shoes (Unfortunately, I think only the North Amercian participants received the free shoes). Vibram does not send any money to Lieberman and the value of the shoes is far from covering the cost of this type of research.
    Lieberman’s conclusions are modest because he, like most scientists, realizes that extrapolation of data outside the context of experimental conditions is merely speculation, not fact. In this case, Lieberman established that there is significantly more impact upon heal striking when compared to forefoot striking. Whether or not heal striking leads to higher rates of injuries remains a hypothesis. Even though it makes sense to extrapolate the findings of the study and state that “running shoes increase the rate of injuries”, one has to remember that that is not what the study analyzed (I’ll remind everyone that it also made sense to think that “fat makes you fat”).
    Lieberman will attempt to address the rate of injury in the future but the problem has a daunting number of variables to take into account. As a result, a controlled trial will be extremely difficult to execute not to mention prohibitively costly. The next step may involve an observational study but we know that this will only establish correlation, not causation. That would at least be a first step and may encourage funding agencies to support the research. Currently, Lieberman cannot obtain funding from the NIH because the agency does not consider the research to be sufficiently important for human health (imagine that).
    With regards to the conclusion of the study, it is much easier to try to be nice to the shoe companies and get them on board. Sure, the Nike Free and other “barefoot” options might not be as good as the Vibram’s I run in, but it is at least a start. Let’s not forget that people can forefoot strike with regular running shoes. The problem is that the shoes encourage and facilitate improper running form.

    M@ wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • Thanks for your thoughts, M@. If what you say about Lieberman and his connection with Vibram is true I stand corrected. Thank you for the inside scoop as it were.

      Sure, I understand the difficulty in drawing broad conclusions from scientific studies such as this and the complexity involved in showing causation. I hope to see more from Lieberman in the future.

      I’ve been one of the biggest Vibram supporters around for years now. I’ve supported others as well: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/barefoot-alternatives/
      By all means, it would be nice to see what these companies do become more mainstream.

      Thanks again for your thoughts.

      Mark Sisson wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • I thank you for clarifying the presumption that “shoes” cause the issue; as I watched the video the first thing that came to mind was ‘heal vs side of foot’ running. I run on my toes/side of foot when I run, I never hit my heal first, and that’s with shoes or bare-foot.

      I think the takeaway should be that people need to learn to run/walk the right way, and that big clunky heal on the shoe that “protects your heal” when you walk encourages poor walking/running habits. Ever stepped on a small stone with your heal barefoot? I’d bet most people have, but the shoe prevents that sharp (and usually persistent) pain, hence encourages bad walking/running habits.

      But that’s just me. And as such, I always prefer low/thin healed shoes since the thick heal gets in the way of my natural walking gate :)

      Savantster wrote on February 7th, 2010
  12. Interesting study, and as a scientist, I appreciate the comment from M@.

    We can’t extrapolate scientific data to match our intuition, or even our personal experiences. We barefoot runners should stick to our guns, encourage continued research, and wait for the data to back up what we personally believe. That may require accepting that we’re not 100% right.

    Having said that, my girlfriend and I converted to Vibrams last fall and we’re never looking back! I never had a prior running injury, but I feel noticeably lighter and quicker on my feet. For me, that alone is worth the change. Although I’m hoping for solid data demonstrating long-term health advantages to barefoot running.

    David wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  13. Disclaimer:
    I own and love my FVV KSO Treks.
    I go barefoot whenever I can.

    Query: the videos show a harder footfall strike in the shod state. However, doesn’t the equipment measure the force of the impact from the SHOE? In other words, isn’t it inapposite to compare footfall force between barefoot contact with the strike plate and shod contact with the strike plate? Doesn’t the material of the shod foot absorb the ultimate force “felt” by the bare foot in the running shoe?

    In other words, while it may be true that a shod footfall “lands” harder than barefoot, does that mean that the force felt by each barefoot is the same? I honestly don’t know…

    brian7972 wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • FVV=VFF – oops!

      brian7972 wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • There are also vids showing heel-striking impact barefoot — the initial high force on impact heel-striking barefoot is similar to that in shoes.

      justin wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  14. Klang wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  15. im always barefoot in the summer. however winter is another story. its far too cold here to be barefoot outside.

    carly wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  16. Mark –

    I’m a long-time runner (though I never reached your competitive heights I was O.K. back in the day). Since adopting The Primal Blueprint to my life, I’ve actually eliminated most of the traditional running from my life. I sprint and jog at “move slowly” intensities. Barefooting (or VFF) works very well for those.

    Now I’ve done a little bit of what people would traditionally think of as “running” (we call it “chronic cardio”) in VFF and it’s doable for me. Still running 12 miles in VFF is not as pleasant an experience as doing it in traditional running shoes.

    Hold on. Flamethrowers down. I’m not going to conclude running shoes are good – quite the opposite…

    Maybe the real problem isn’t with “unnatural” running shoes so much as it is with the “unnatural” activity of quick (but sub-sprinting) running? Put another way a natural human activity would be one that we (and not just Bikila and “Barefoot Ted”) can do easly and comfortably in our natural barefoot state. If we need the unnatural intervention of a modern shoe, then isn’t the underlying activity that necessitates those shoes the “unnatural” problem?

    In some ways, that view makes Jim Weber’s blog piece look even worse than it does at first glance. The runners who said that the Brooks Beast “saved their lives” need to take a hard look at what they’re doing. Relying on a heavy motion control shoe to keep running is the same thought process that brought us low-tar cigarettes and diet soda, dubious inventions that make us feel better about doing something we shouldn’t be doing in the first place. My guess is that those runners would be far better off walking barefoot than running in The Beast. They’d also have a lot more cash to spare foregoing Brooks’ shoes.

    Geoff wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  17. I have been trying to go barefoot as much as possible since I first read Mark’s article on how to strengthen your feet. I just purchased a pair of VFF KSO’s this week and in two nights of wearing them I can say I really like them. If you are interested in them I would recommend finding a local retailer. I walked into the store expecting to buy the Sprint model, but after trying on both the Sprint and the KSO I decided on the KSO. I was also in-between sizes so I was able to try the smaller and larger ones to find the best fit.

    Kev wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  18. any golfers out there who have worn vff?
    i just got mine and would like to wear them on the course but i’m afraid of slippage.

    Thanks.

    mikesic wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  19. I bought a pair of VVF after Mark’s first post. I never looked back and I’ve never run better. From experience, you must make the transition slowly or suffer the wrath of “calf-hell” ;-)
    For long distances on paved road, (which I don’t run often) I use my Nike free’s. The Nike Free’s are a wonderful travel sneaker also. Nice and light.

    Yay, the tide is turning, now maybe my kids won’t call me crazy in a few years ;-)

    Marc

    Marc wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  20. I have a pair of Lucys from the Vivo Barefoot line at Terra Plana. They’re spiffy-looking and amazingly comfortable. I’ve been wearing them every day for running, walking, hiking for half a year or so. Still like new, except dirty, haha.

    Much to my surprise, I’ve gotten several compliments on how cool my shoes look, despite being barefoot-wear. They have a wide toebox than your typical foot-destroying shoe but are designed hide that fact from your typical non-meticulous person.

    I love the fact that I can feel a lot of terrain through the shoe despite the fact that they’re almost impenetrable. The soles are only 3mm thick (without padded insoles.) Also, when I walk in them I naturally step mid or forefoot.

    My only qualm with them would be that when you step on hard man-made ground, the sole hits the ground pretty loudly even if you step carefully. Such is the way of this particular (impenetrable) material, I guess.

    I can run in them, but they aren’t the most comfortable shoes to run long distances in, though they’re great for sprinting.

    The grip on the bottom isn’t particularly awesome, but it’s quite satisfactory.

    Vivo barefoot shoes are incredibly light. I can’t wear feet-killing sneakers anymore; they’re too heavy (and that’s only one of the many reasons).

    Also, when I got them, I thought they were too tight, so I had to loosen the laces a lot (I have big, wide ol’ feet, what can I say?) and the laces are somewhat short. It’s a little difficult to tie up the laces after loosening them, but boy did they feel wonderful!

    I 100% recommend getting a pair of Vivo Barefoot shoes.

    I got a pair from the trendy Lucy line for girls. The Aquas are a bit more comfortable, but are somewhat funny-looking on girls. The Aquas and the Dharmas are great on guys.

    Vivian wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • I feel like the Vivo’s are uncomfortable and unnatural compared to the VFF. Yeah the sole is really thin so I can feel the ground and it’s got a wide toe box so I’m not cramming my toes but, I feel like I’m walking unnaturally when I wear them. Whereas, the VFF just feel so perfect.

      Don’t get me wrong the Vivo’s are a step above “normal” shoes. They are good to wear if I just can’t get away with wearing VFF (physically or socially). But they are still shoes.

      Chris N. wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  21. My question: If you are using conventional running shoes, couldn’t you just alter your gait and focus on landing on your arch as opposed to your heal?

    Do you really need to be barefoot in order to have proper running form?

    I’m very interested in learning more, but I don’t see that barefoot is always the way to go.

    Brandon wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • From my own experience you naturally run with pretty good form when you go barefoot. The first time I ran barefoot on the road I landed on my heels a couple of times and the pain was so great my body just wouldn’t let me heel strike again. Over the last few months I have been wearing my running shoes because of the cold winter and I have to constantly tell myself to stay off my heals. When I run with running shoes I naturally heel strike, but when I go barefoot I naturally forefoot/midfoot strike. So, I believe you can train yourself to run in running shoes with a fore/midfoot strike but it’s just easier to let nature control your foot strike.

      Aaron Curl wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • You can definitely change your gait without running barefoot. I did this a few years ago after reading about the benefits of landing on the ball of your foot instead of your heal during running. Just make sure you take it slow because you’re using different muscles and it will take time to build them up. My calf muscles were extremely sore when I first started changing my gait.

      I thought the crossfit videos were pretty helpful: http://www.crossfit.com/cf-info/excercise.html#Run. Check out the one called “The Fall”.

      Michelle wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  22. I am a big advocate of barefoot running just like I am an advocate of eating primal. I think it’s up to each individual to do there own scientific study on themselves. The problem arises when most people won’t come out of their comfort zones. I chose to eat primal and run barefoot as an experiment and found I love both. A large majority of people aren’t willing to try new things even if it will improve their health. It really boggles my mind, but each to his own. Great blog Mark!

    Aaron Curl wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  23. Mark – great post.

    Ever since reading Born to Run while wearing my VFF’s for the past few months I’ve been eager to see other bodies of evidence come to the forefront on this “fad.”

    I’m a long time sufferer of shoes. I have flat feet, overpronate, and spent more than $1000 in a year preparing for the Chicago marathon until finally someone suggested I get orthotic inserts.

    The inserts helped, but this year while training for the Twin Cities marathon I ran into another oddity. The inserts helped my overpronation – but it created something an experienced runner should not see too often – shin splints. This then lead to a stress fracture and I was out of commission.

    The VFF’s I have enjoyed to this point. My theories tell me that by running midfoot as opposed to heel to toe I should not have any overpronation problems. I’ve only run in them a handful of times so far due to weather, but when I have run in them I’m fully engaged in my running, the environment and what my feet are running on. It’s been great, but I look forward to the spring when I can really run in them and not just wear them during workouts.

    Let’s hope more research continues to pop up and Big Shoe can go find something else to make money on.

    jpickett1968 wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  24. The other day I passed a couple of high school boys running – I’m assuming training for some sport. The temp was in the 20s; he was in shorts and running barefoot! I smiled to myself when I saw that. I think the word is getting out…

    Linda Brueckman wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  25. Once upon a time, shoes were only for the rich. And the rich wore shoes that showed off their elite status. They were often inconvenient to wear with long toes, rich fabrics and heavy embroidery and other endowments. A person wearing these things couldn’t get much done, and thus it richly displayed their wealth in the form of servants to run their errands for them. In other words, fancy shoes were a status symbol.

    Fast forward to the recent past and shoes were still a status symbol. Rich people wore shoes. ‘Civilized’ people wore shoes. If you didn’t wear shoes, you were considered poor, heathen and uncouth. Many stores in towns put up signs. The classic “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service”. Who wants poor, uncouth ruffians in their establishments ruining their business?

    Thus respectability was measured by shoes. Everyone wanted them to prove that they were not low class heathens and eventually they became the norm for society.

    Until today. :)

    Katt wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • I don’t think so. Medieval serfs wore shoes, so did Roman peasants. Many wore well constructed, functional shoes.

      Try getting through an English winter barefoot.

      Helen wrote on April 23rd, 2010
      • Serfs and peasants did wear shoes. The most common type of shoe was called a “turnshoe”. They are made of soft leather and are sewn inside out, then “turned” so that all of the seams are inside. The soul often wrapped continuously up the heel in a triangular tab so that there were no seams to wear out with a normal gait. Basically, a thin moccasin. For rough outside wear these shoes would be protected with a pair of wooden “pattens” Basically, a wooden sandal that protects your shoes from the muck of the field. I’ve made several turnshoes and enjoy walking in them. They do require a proper gait or you will bruise your heel badly.

        Richard wrote on February 6th, 2011
  26. I have a pair of Nike Free running shoes. They are great, it has changed my running gait and improved my posture. My Dr. recommended them to me. He also told me to read Born To Run by Christopher McDougall. It’s a great book and has reference to bare foot running. My son just bought a pair of Vibrams.

    Mike Tamme wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  27. Not to disagree with your article, but I don’t think the scientists who completed this study have come to a conclusion as to whether or not barefoot running is better yet. Yes, barefoot will force you to forefoot strike, but will that cause less injuries. According to Harvard site, who knows?

    http://barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/index.html

    Stock wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  28. Excessive heel-strike is common in untrained athletes. Once trained properly, quality athletes tend to run on their forefoot, much in the same way that the second video example gives. Agreed that excessive heel-strike is common as a result of overly protective shoes, but I believe that the goal of these companies is not to destroy the wearers knees, but to allow beginner athletes to train safely with cushioning (in an urban environment), with the hope that they graduate to thinner soled shoes as they improve their running. This is up to the runner of course, and probably doesn’t happen. This is not to take away from the fact that barefoot running is brilliant and should be done more often, but beginners should be wary of doing too much barefoot running too soon. As with aything, ease into it safely to allow a prolonged and injury free running life. Great work Mark, keep up the good work

    TK wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  29. Im a big fan of Sanuks for everyday use. I have a pair of VFF, but cant really wear them around here with the winters and to work. Sanuks are basically sandals, kinda. Some have a fur lining inside of them (great for winters in the north) and they also make the “Boardroom” which would work with a suit.

    Check em… sanuk.com

    Rob wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  30. Clearly this study was deeply flawed and the videos prove it. You can plainly see duct tape on the side of the shoes, which would instantly throw off the delicate balance designed into such high-quality running shoes. One can easily conclude that the duct tape was a statistically significant factor in the study, and was added to skew the results in favor of the barefoot runner. On behalf of Nike, I claim foul!
    :-P

    DJK wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  31. I definitely earned a reputation as the weird chick who sprints shoeless at the gym. Or the one with arches of steel. I absolutely love barefoot, so my pact with myself is that for every day I eat good Primal food, I give myself a dollar toward a pair of Vibrams. And then, a dollar toward some Vivos so I have nice shoes to wear around school. I can’t wait! It definitely stops temptation cold!

    Deanna wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • I like your approach. I’ve been checking the budget to see how I can swing the cost for a pair of VFFs. I think you just gave me an idea!

      jenella wrote on February 4th, 2010
  32. Don’t forget that Grok did NOT walk on hard surfaces (asphalt, cement, granite, tiles, etc) for long. It was either dirt or grass or a variation of.

    We evolved walking on something softer than our hard surfaces used today.

    A middle ground might be necessary, we we do need the cushion on those hard surfaces.

    Damian wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • Everyone says this, but they can’t actually back it up. GROK would have been running on game trails, which are hard pack dirt, and not soft at all. Grass is not soft (or it is too soft to matter, you foot goes right through the soft part to the hard dirt beneath)

      Henry Miller wrote on February 4th, 2010
      • I don’t know, I remember as a kid I always preferred to play on grass or dirt than bare pavement. It was always softer on the organic side!

        Also, I am not sure Grok would have bagged a lot of prey if he actually walked on the animal trail. That’s a poor hunting technique. All you do is leave your mark on said trail. Tracking (not on their actual trail), ambush and trapping are more successful long term.

        Damian wrote on February 5th, 2010
      • Since Grok is a fictional character, how do you know what he would have been running on?

        Grok is a crock.

        Rex wrote on July 7th, 2011
    • Did mountains not exist back then? Stone? Volcanic islands?

      Mike H wrote on February 4th, 2010
  33. I was chastised at my gym today for working out in my VFFs. I was NOT very happy about it. I’ve been wearing them there for over a year, but a new manager took issue with them. Perhaps he should take issue with his trainers sticking people on the smith machine to perform half squats, huh?

    I’m taking the battle to their corporate headquarters! Their published “rules” say I must wear closed toed athletic shoes. VFFs qualify for that, don’t they?

    Bob wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • I say they do – your toes are covered, so they are closed toe! It doesn’t say “closed-toe, all together int eh same spot” shoes, right? :)

      lady_daraine wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • Conversely, trainers at my gym ask me about (and complement me on) my VFFs — particularly for things like squats.

      umuhk wrote on February 3rd, 2010
      • At my old gym they had a sign showing that Sprints were NOT okay, but that KSOs were. I don’t have KSOs, only Sprints and Classics :( Apparently the “foot covering” part is important, even though it provides literally nothing more than another layer of fabric. I haven’t worn either pair at the new gym yet, we’ll see what they have to say ;)

        hannahc wrote on February 4th, 2010
    • Looks like I won this battle. I received this email today:

      Good Morning,

      I apologize that you were approached by my assistant manager regarding your footwear. I am glad you are working out safely. The vibram footwear is highly recommended.

      My assistant was approached by a member that pointed out your footwear. That member was confronted the prior day for working out with no shoes. The assistant manager should have known better.

      Please reach out to me for any other concerns or feedback.

      (I decided I wouldn’t argue whether or not they should allow barefoot working out. I was scolded for that prior to using the VFFs. There’s only so far a globo gym will go.)

      Bob wrote on February 4th, 2010
  34. Gordon Pirie had similar claims regarding “modern” running shoes over 50yrs ago, regarding how they resulted in bad running form, foot injury, etc. Interesting that it’s coming of age now…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pirie

    Also search for Gordon’s free ebook “Running Fast and Injury Free”

    Adam wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  35. I’m thinking the scent of change is in the air, Mark. Let’s just see what develops. A little frugal myself, I’ll probably make my own Raramuri’s before I go the vff route, but I’m a believer, no doubt.

    When will people just open their hearts to a little cynicism and accept the fact that just because something is purported-massly as beneficial to our bodies may in fact be a slightly insidious attempt to open our wallets.

    Until that time, Cheers!

    wd wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  36. Two issues.
    One, clearly the video shows that if you are going to do heel strikes, you should wear shoes. The strike was much more round and buffered. Making the change calls for concerted effort at retraining.
    Two, I still want my feet protected from sharp things. I love the idea of VFF but haven’t yet had a chance to try them on.

    I remember running barefoot as a child in Florida, and recent efforts at running left me wondering why I didn’t feel the springiness on my toes I remembered. More, as the videos suggest, a strike and a roll. Too many shod years between I guess.

    Baerdric wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  37. Makes sense to me. However, I have Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome (Like carpal tunnel, but in the feet, not hands) and wearing shoes and orthotics helps. I also think that lots of people get plantar fascitis and shoes help the situation. I’m not sure I can come up with an evolutionary reason. It makes sense to me that the foot was designed to be barefoot. Shoes makes sense to me to avoid glass, bees, etc. But what could help with PF or TTS besides shoes (and rest, NSAIDS, shoes and other modern resources).

    Lajet wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • I have plantar fasciitis and I’m firmly of the opinion that shoes caused the condition. Orthotics did nothing except drain my wallet. Stretching in the morning helped but didn’t cure. NSAIDS helped but didn’t cure.

      Going barefoot 90% of the time for a year has almost cured me of the condition. I still have the rare twinge in the early morning, but SOOO much better than it was. All of the healing happened immediately after ditching the orthotics and the shoes.

      Barefoot walking and running cures PF by strengthening the arch and calf. Since the plantar fascia pretty much is the spring in the arch, the condition seems to work itself out quite quickly once you let your arch support your stride. There is definitely a period where stretching and ibuprofen (good old vitamin I) let you get through the day without hobbling, but on the other side of that period is comfort and strength.

      In my experience, anyway. Your mileage, of course, may be quite different.

      Ross wrote on February 4th, 2010
  38. What I’ve never understood is why they sinsist on making shoes so dang narrow for the toes, and we men have it easy compared to how high heel females have it. Ever seen how their feet can look after several years? It’s scary.

    Any idea what on Earth the shoeproducers are thinking?

    And why can’t anyone sell individual shoes, they are not always the same size you know :P

    And a shame it’s pretty much impossible to find real shoemakers anymore.

    Last 5 years or so I’ve taken to wearing sandals for my wider than average feetall year around, except when snowy, for some reason people seem to have a bit of a problem with this *grin* And VFF is something of a godsend except that the pair i have is slightly small pressing down on my bigtoe. Just ordered a pair of VFF KSO one size larger in the hope they will fit better and NOT freeze my feet of in winter ;)

    Jakounezumi wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  39. I’ve had VFF KSO’s for several years now, and just bought my second pair today. Black… I figure that’s dressier, right? Vibram can’t keep them in stock online, but I found a local shop that had my size. There was a big guy trying on a bright red pair of classics, and I must say I was jealous that they don’t have that color for women. So people are definitely starting to get the word about barefooting around.

    I actually wore mine out of the store and home driving and they were super comfortable and you could feel the pedals. I usual put them on when I get to the trail. I am going to try wearing them more for everyday use and not just for trailrunning. It is winter so it is cold, and it would be uncomfortable to be out in them for too long.

    BTW, I had plantar fasciitis and piriformis which is why I gave up pavement pounding. Shoes and orthotics never helped the condition, and neither did physical therapy. Active release therapy was good for it. But the advice to always wear shoes never seemed to help. I was always “fitted” for heavy motion control shoes. I was looking for stores that might carry Nike free and the lady told me that they had an entire “fitting” process that I would have to go through. Nah, not happening. I want less, not more, and I don’t need you to tell me what I need.

    TrailGrrl

    TrailGrrl wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  40. I’ve had flat feet all my life (a condition I inherited from my father), and I’ve always worn orthotics and “supportive” shoes on the unanimous advice of a half-dozen podiatrists. If I don’t, my feet start hurting after less than a half hour of walking or standing.

    I think going barefoot would do more harm than good — any suggestions?

    Ted wrote on February 3rd, 2010
    • I don’t have any real suggestions (I’m not a doctor), but I’m curious about something. Your feet hurt after half an hour or so without support — but what happens if you “train up” to it? I mean, if I never did any heavy lifting, and then suddenly tried lifting a lot, I’d say that I hurt after only a few minutes of lifting. But that’s not saying that I should always use braces on my arms; instead, I should gradually train up to the heavy lifting I need to do.

      Similarly, you’re asking your feet (with demonstrably weakened muscles) to suddenly support your weight on their own, when they’ve always been used to “supportive” shoes. Maybe they need time to build up and get used to holding your weight again. And just maybe, that muscle development might help your flat feet, as well.

      umuhk wrote on February 3rd, 2010
      • Not everybody who runs in shoes does heel strike. Infact, many runners who use running shoes have a fore-foot or mid-foot strike. Heel-striking is incorrect, biomechanicaly speaking. Further. the nature paper does not recommend running barefoot. The bottom line is, whether you use shoes or not, fore-foot or mid-foot strike is biomechanically efficient.
        To all those who are saying running shoes are evil, there are many runners who use shoes, have heel-strike and have no injuries whatsoever!.

        Chandra wrote on February 3rd, 2010
        • Your last sentence is not an argument. Data is not the plural of anecdote. Just because there are heel-striking runners who lack injuries does not invalidate the risk analysis presented in this paper.

          Also, I don’t think that running shoes are evil, nor is that really the conclusion of the post. I think that running shoes designed to cushion the heel and support the arch (which together make it much harder to mid or toe-strike) are worse than nothing at all. There are running shoes that work quite well for toe-first running gaits (like VFF’s) and I love mine.

          Ross wrote on February 4th, 2010
    • I have genetic flat feet, but I’ve always prefered hanging out barefoot and ignored a doctor’s advice to get orthotics (It was originally out of procrastination, but now I think it was the right choice!). I notice in the summer, when I’m suddenly free to wear flip-flops/ go barefoot all the time, that it takes a bit of time to get used to it again. After months of my feet being cooped up, unused to supporting me properly, there are muscles that have to remember how to work. It aches for a bit, but then I’m fine for the rest of the season.
      I’m also a runner, and in shoe stores when they see my flat feet, they immediately stick me in motion-control shoes. The pair of shoes that changed my world were New Balance, but I’m sure it was because they come in different widths, and I FINALLY had a shoe that fit my big, wide, flat feet. And I was still getting injured whenever I incresed my mileage. Then I read “Chi Running” — which basically teaches you to run as you would barefoot. No more injuries! (And you get faster!) Now I’m planning to wean myself off of my super-padded shoes, because I truly don’t think I need them. My husband runs in Newtons (a pretty minimal shoe) and he loves them.
      My feet — like your genetically flat feet — aren’t flat because they’ve collapsed. That’s just the way they are, and they’re built to be used by us.

      It might be worth trying to get your body used to standing/walking on its own, without the added support. (Building up, the way umuhk suggests.) Slowly and carefully, and listening to your body.

      Emseven wrote on February 4th, 2010

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2014 Mark's Daily Apple