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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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February 03, 2010

A Sea Change Coming to Wash Your Shoes Away

By Mark Sisson
186 Comments

I’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!

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186 Comments on "A Sea Change Coming to Wash Your Shoes Away"

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Al
Al
6 years 7 months ago

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

Avery
Avery
6 years 7 months ago

Actually its been done, Abebe Bikila 1960 Olympics ran a 2:15:16.2.

http://dailyrunningtips.com/inspiring-stories/ethiopian-bikila-wins-marathon-running-barefoot/

Caveman Sam
6 years 7 months ago

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. 🙂

Jim Twig
Jim Twig
6 years 7 months ago

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?”

Angelina
Angelina
6 years 7 months ago

Pardon my ignorance. Perhaps there are none in Australia, but what are VFFs?

silverbenz
silverbenz
6 years 7 months ago

Vibram Five-fingers:
http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/

You can get them in Australia too 🙂

Stuart Atkinson
Stuart Atkinson
6 years 7 months ago

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

Dave
Dave
6 years 7 months ago

Vibram FiveFingers

Another Dave
Another Dave
6 years 7 months ago

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.

allison
6 years 7 months ago

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!

Brett Legree
6 years 7 months ago

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.

Tommy Williams
6 years 7 months ago

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.

Brett Legree
6 years 7 months ago

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 🙂

hannahc
hannahc
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Organic Gabe
6 years 7 months ago

Yes, the Vibram is great. Can’t wait for spring so I can wear them.

ThePrimalBrett
ThePrimalBrett
6 years 7 months ago

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.

steve
steve
6 years 7 months ago

Has anyone switched to Nike Free (or VFF), and have back pain go away?

umuhk
umuhk
6 years 7 months ago

Yes, I have.

Jess
Jess
5 years 3 months ago

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.

Rosy
Rosy
6 years 7 months ago

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.

dlots
dlots
6 years 7 months ago

like everything – once they’ve made it “their” own idea and find a way to market bare feet, it’ll be the new sensation!

justin
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
justin
6 years 7 months ago

Forgot to say who the Italian designer was — Robert Fliri. There’s a great interview with him on his design over at bodyconsciousdesign.com — just mind that this link is to a PDF:

http://bodyconsciousdesign.com/uploads/Interview_with_Robert_Fliri.pdf

Ed
Ed
6 years 7 months ago

“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.

Tim
Tim
6 years 7 months ago

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.

lucasp
lucasp
6 years 7 months ago

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.

M@
M@
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Savantster
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
trackback

[…] Original post by Mark Sisson […]

David
6 years 7 months ago
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.… Read more »
brian7972
brian7972
6 years 7 months ago
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,… Read more »
brian7972
brian7972
6 years 7 months ago

FVV=VFF – oops!

justin
6 years 7 months ago

There are also vids showing heel-striking impact barefoot — the initial high force on impact heel-striking barefoot is similar to that in shoes.

Klang
Klang
6 years 7 months ago
carly
carly
6 years 7 months ago

im always barefoot in the summer. however winter is another story. its far too cold here to be barefoot outside.

Geoff
Geoff
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Kev
Kev
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
mikesic
mikesic
6 years 7 months ago

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.

justin
6 years 7 months ago

Yeah it’s being done:

http://birthdayshoes.com/index.php/michael-and-lindsey-take-fivefingers-to-hawaii

That’s my brother-in-law. He really enjoys golfing in his Sprints.

Marc
6 years 7 months ago

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

Vivian
Vivian
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Chris N.
Chris N.
6 years 7 months ago

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.

Brandon
6 years 7 months ago

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.

Aaron Curl
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Michelle
Michelle
6 years 7 months ago

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”.

Aaron Curl
6 years 7 months ago

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!

jpickett1968
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Linda Brueckman
Linda Brueckman
6 years 7 months ago

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…

Katt
Katt
6 years 7 months ago
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,… Read more »
Helen
Helen
6 years 5 months ago

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.

Richard
Richard
5 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Mike Tamme
Mike Tamme
6 years 7 months ago

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.

Stock
Stock
6 years 7 months ago

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

TK
TK
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Rob
6 years 7 months ago

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

DJK
DJK
6 years 7 months ago

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!
😛

Deanna
Deanna
6 years 7 months ago

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!

Grok is Softball!
Grok is Softball!
6 years 7 months ago

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!

Damian
Damian
6 years 7 months ago

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.

Henry Miller
Henry Miller
6 years 7 months ago

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)

Damian
Damian
6 years 7 months ago

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.

Rex
Rex
5 years 2 months ago

Since Grok is a fictional character, how do you know what he would have been running on?

Grok is a crock.

Mike H
Mike H
6 years 7 months ago

Did mountains not exist back then? Stone? Volcanic islands?

Bob
Bob
6 years 7 months ago

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?

lady_daraine
lady_daraine
6 years 7 months ago

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? 🙂

umuhk
umuhk
6 years 7 months ago

Conversely, trainers at my gym ask me about (and complement me on) my VFFs — particularly for things like squats.

hannahc
hannahc
6 years 7 months ago

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 😉

Bob
Bob
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Adam
Adam
6 years 7 months ago

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”

wd
wd
6 years 7 months ago

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!

Baerdric
Baerdric
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Lajet
Lajet
6 years 7 months ago

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).

Ross
Ross
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Jakounezumi
Jakounezumi
6 years 7 months ago
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 😛 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… Read more »
TrailGrrl
TrailGrrl
6 years 7 months ago
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.… Read more »
Ted
Ted
6 years 7 months ago

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?

umuhk
umuhk
6 years 7 months ago
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)… Read more »
Chandra
Chandra
6 years 7 months ago

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!.

Ross
Ross
6 years 7 months ago
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.
Emseven
Emseven
6 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Todd Dosenberry
6 years 7 months ago

Too bad I live in freezing cold Michigan… Can only go barefoot for 3-4 months out of the year 🙁

Get me out of this silly region!

Chelc124
Chelc124
6 years 7 months ago

Just in case no one else has mentioned it yet, everyone should read “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. AMAZING BOOK about a tribe in Mexico that runs everywhere they go with very thin sandles. Aside from the great story, McDougall talks a lot about the benefits of running and training barefoot or with FiveFingers. I am not even a runner and I LOVED the book. 🙂

Todd Dosenberry
6 years 7 months ago

Thanks for the recommendation! I just added it to my books bookmarks and will hopefully purchased it soon.

I remember reading about this book earlier, not sure from where. I compete in 5K Runs so this book really appeals to me.

-Todd

Chandra
Chandra
6 years 7 months ago

One cannot simply take one aspect of the Mexican tribals, the way they run, and try to implement it in our modern day lives. If barefoot running is better, then why is that nobody promotes barefoot walking and simply going barefoot every where?. The mexican tribes and our great great ancestors did not run on concrete. Run, with or without proper running shoes, but try for fore-foot or mid-foot strike!.

Ross
Ross
6 years 7 months ago
“why is that nobody promotes barefoot walking and simply going barefoot every where?” I do. I live and work in urban Los Angeles and I’m pretty much barefoot/VFF unless I’m on my motorcycle. Also, it’s a rather gigantic myth that running barefoot on concrete is difficult or dangerous. The toe-strike gait makes it safe and comfortable to run on the hardest surfaces. Further, concrete is not significantly harder than packed dirt. If anything, I run much faster on concrete and asphalt because I can see hazards that are hidden by loose dirt and grass (sharps, etc.). I pull on VFF’s… Read more »
julietx
julietx
6 years 7 months ago

I went primal last year in late August, and the most surprising benefit has been that my plantar fasciitis is gone. I thought pf was almost impossible to get rid of.

Briefly, I attribute this mainly to wearing VFFs while walking and sprinting, and doing the exercises in Mark’s post about strengthening and stretching the feet. It took several months, and it got a little worse at first before it got better.

I think strengthening and stretching my hips and hamstrings through kettlebelling, squats, etc, may have helped too, since all the body parts work together.

ward223
ward223
6 years 7 months ago

Great article Mark. I’ve been enjoying your posts for quite some time and finally decided to comment. I don’t run barefoot, but I have always run on my toes or forefeet – regardless of the shoes I wear. It just comes naturally to me. Striking heel first has always seemed awkward and uncomfortable, not to mention detracting from my agileness. Based on my personal experience, I think it’s more about the way you run than the shoe (or lack of) that you wear.

cido
cido
6 years 7 months ago

Does anyone have experience in running on a treadmill with these “non-shoes”? I would love to hear about your experiences before spending some serious €s. Thanks!

Alan Andersen
Alan Andersen
6 years 7 months ago

I grew up in Hawaii 1960-69. Never wore shoes to school, or anywhere, till High School and even in High School, we always ran track barefeet in PE and on our Cross Country team. It never occured to me that one would wear shoes to run. It was only after I graduated in 1969 and returned to California, that I bought my first pair of running shoes — Adidas for $9.95. I should have stayed barefoot.

Mark
Mark
6 years 7 months ago
It really pisses me off when people sing the praises of Vibram and other “barefoot” shoes(the worst misnonmer I have heard) that cost exorbidant amounts of money for horrendously cheap production costs. This goes against the primal philosophy as I see it, please correct me if I’m wrong. If you want to run barefoot, why don’t you just run barefoot(god forbid) or wear a pair of thin sandals or lightly cushioned running flats. I see no point in spending good money on trendy foot gloves that will be ripped to shreds on a good trail quickly anyway. All of the… Read more »
justin
6 years 7 months ago
How does it go against the primal philosophy? Getting upset that VFFs are expensive seems like misplaced anger. For one, VFFs are apparently cheap enough to sell out everywhere over and over again. If they really wanted, they could make them even more expensive. In fact, many Europeans are paying an arm and a leg to get VFFs. I’m definitely not saying Vibram should jack up prices and I’d like to see the basic model prices drop a lot, but I think you’re anger here is misplaced. As for “if you want to run barefoot just run barefoot” I think… Read more »
Ross
Ross
6 years 7 months ago

“I do agree in running barefoot, but only on forgiving terrain, like the beach and grassy places.”

I find it’s much easier and lower risk to run on concrete/asphalt than on grass in parks or on public beaches, etc. The risk of sharps make me pull on my VFF’s for those surfaces, while I am completely comfortable going barefoot on concrete or asphalt.

Just wash up when you get home and take your time building up your calf, arch, and sole.

Richard Shelmerdine
6 years 7 months ago

Seriously recommend the Vibrams to anyone. They’re amazing. 1

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