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

The Inherent Absurdity of Barefoot Technology

Vibram, Vivo Barefoot, Softstar, and the other shoe companies making an honest attempt at creating a viable shoe alternative aren’t the only entities capitalizing off the nascent barefoot trend sweeping the nation (and I’m not referring to podiatrists, as much as they like to claim barefoot running will create thousands of new patients). Several shoemakers have taken the barefoot ball and run the opposite direction – down the path of more shoe and more meddling into how the foot works – claiming to have improved upon the near-perfection of the naked human foot with (get this) bulky odd-looking shoes that weigh more than traditional running shoes.

Foremost is MBT, or Masai Barefoot Technology. MBT makes the “anti-shoe,” which is actually an unsteady, unstable shoe with a squishy, conspicuous “rocker” sole. The sole appears to be about 2 or 3 inches thick, and the instability is actually a feature. Yes, the most popular backed-by-internally-funded-science example of barefoot technology is a shoe that forces its wearers to teeter around. Sure, you gain a few inches, but at what cost? Without having tried them (and I honestly don’t plan to), the very notion of simulating barefoot walking by wearing big clunky shoes perplexes and confuses me. Talk about digging a hole to put the ladder in to wash the basement windows! Same goes for MBT’s claim of “natural instability” being the key to “recreating the barefoot experience.” Just what is so natural about being unsteady on your feet? I always figured feet were there to anchor us to the floor and provide stability. In fact, it’s that haptic perception (actually feeling the ground) in our bare feet that gives the brain the signals it needs to distribute shock effectively – tossed out the window now with MBT.

Then there are Skechers Shape-Ups, which are pretty similar to the MBTs: “rocker” sole, big wedge of material under the heel to “promote natural walking,” deliberate instability. They tighten abs, firm butts, and destroy cellulite. Armed with the Skechers Shape-Ups, folks can “get fit without stepping in a gym.” I’ll agree that a gym isn’t necessary for fitness, but strapping on a pair of magic non-shoes and standing there, or walking around the mall hoping for artificial instability to kick in won’t do it.

Bosu ball addicts have successfully integrated balls into many facets of everyday life. At the gym, they do squats, deadlifts, and bicep curls while balancing precariously on bosu balls; at the office, they sit on large balance balls instead of chairs; at night, they wrap their bodies around massive rubber spheres instead of beds. Locomotion was their white whale, though. They tried attaching handles to balance balls for easy bouncing to and fro, but they looked a bit too much like female bonobos in estrus (go ahead and Google that). Well, Reebok’s new(ish) EasyTone line of shoes slays the whale. They’ve actually installed three miniature balance balls into the sole of each shoe (I’m not making this up), allowing wearers to recreate the natural, evolutionary sensation of walking on inflated rubber balls.

This revolutionary barefoot technology, according to its hawkers, compels the wearer to move. Walking and exercising become almost passive acts; the shoes apparently propel you down the street. All you’ve gotta do is be carried away on a couple of foot clouds. Heck, even standing at rest in these babies is a constant, imperceptibly effective workout for your entire body. Who needs to consciously work out anymore?

Maybe the absurdity of barefoot technology isn’t evident to everyone, though. Condemning a non-shoe that’s actually a shoe for claiming to recreate the barefoot experience seems “reasonable”, but it’s always good to back arguments up with empirical data. And all the barefoot tech peddlers claim to have research supporting their products, so it’s only fair that we on the “nay” side also use research.

The American Council on Exercise, a non-profit fitness certification organization, recently put the claims of MBT, Skechers, and Reebok to the test and released the results (PDF) to the public. It should be noted that though the ACE is a non-profit, their continued existence depends on the certification of trainers that would be out of a job if the shoemakers’ “get fit without trying” claims were true, so I can see where some hackles about bias could be raised. Regardless, let’s check out their findings.

ACE conducted two studies. The first subjected 12 active women to twelve 5-minute treadmill trials at varying intensities while wearing different shoes (MBTs, Skechers Shape-Ups, EasyTones, New Balance runners). Each woman tried each shoe three times: a 5-minute, 3 MPH walk at 0% grade; a 5-minute, 3.5 MPH walk at 0% grade; and a 5-minute, 3.5 MPH walk at 5% grade. Oxygen consumption, heart rate, perceived exertion rating (RPE), and caloric expenditure were all monitored.

While all values increased across the board in response to increased work intensity, no significant differences were found in response to the different shoes. They all performed about equally.

The second study had a similar initial set-up – 12 active women, the same four shoe choices, the same 12 treadmill trials at the same intensities – but a different focus. Instead of measuring exercise output, this study examined specific muscular responses. Electrodes were hooked up to measure EMG activity in the gastrocnemius (or calf muscle), the rectus femoris (quadriceps muscle), the biceps femoris, the gluteus maxiumus, the erector spinae (back muscles), and the rectus abdominus (abs). An initial test was run to determine the EMG in response to a maximum voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC); the study would use EMG recordings from the treadmill trials and compare them to the MVIC EMG.

There was no significant difference in muscle EMG activity across different shoe types. EMG activity increased in response to the increasing intensity of the treadmill trials, as is to be expected. ACE’s ultimate conclusion follows thusly: “There is simply no evidence to support the claims that these shoes will help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone.”

The shoe companies counter with their own internally-funded studies. Here are Skechers’, Reebok’s, and MBT’s research.

All parties obviously set out to prove their point. ACE may have a dog in the fight, however convoluted it might be, and they ran a fairly limited study (small sample size, short duration), while the shoe companies have the obvious objective to sell more shoes and justify it by funding their own research. I’m immediately skeptical of industry-funded research that also happens to support the industry’s product, but that’s completely natural.

My take? I just find it all absurd, to be honest; a battle over which is the lesser of two evils. It’s like those studies purporting to show the benefits of “healthy” whole grains by pitting them against refined, processed grains. Or the study that showed ankle taping provides better ankle stability in people who wear athletic footwear, while completely glossing over the fact that athletes wearing no shoes and no tape performed best and evinced the highest level of foot position awareness (the key determinant in susceptibility to ankle sprains). Neither choice is optimal.

The standard running shoe (New Balance) performed similarly to the fancy barefoot tech. What can we glean from this? What does this say about the necessity of any footwear, let alone barefoot technology? You’ve got two bare feet at your disposal, and I think people should begin learning how to use them before giving up and relying on “barefoot technology” to save them.

Have you tried MBTs or copy cat barefoot/toning shoes? Share your thoughts in the comment board. Grok on!

Photo Credit: MBT

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. Hi Mark,
    Great article that I completely agree with; I begged my wife not to get those ridiculous EasyTone shoes and finally she caved. I love minimalist shoes and own Vibram KSOs and New Balance MT101s. (these are a thin trail runner, and inexpensive)

    However, I do have to say that the title of the article appears to attack those minimalist shoes that do try to just let the foot work as intended. I was very confused when I saw that in my RSS reader; just FYI.

    Adam W wrote on November 4th, 2010
    • Re the title, I thought the exact same thing when I saw it, thought it would be about Nike Free

      rob wrote on November 4th, 2010
      • When I saw this I thought “Oh no, not my MBT’s!”

        I have MBT’s, and I really like them. My favorite ‘shoes’ are my vibrams, second the MBT’s. I almost never wear my regular shoes, unless I’m playing basketball. Though I’d like to try out Vibrams some time.

        MBT’s help me with knee and back pain that I experience when wearing normal shoes (I created a standing work station so this is important). Toe shoes are also not allowed in my business setting (rule was put in place after I showed them off during a meeting – someone was offended). The MBT’s look like dress shoes so it’s my best option.

        If I could wear my vibrams every day to work, I would. I bet if I could just put a cover over the individual toes, everything would suddenly be acceptable.


        Kevin wrote on November 5th, 2010
        • Thanks Kevin, for a good word about these style shoes. I too have a great deal of back pain from 12 hrs shifts on hard floors as a nurse, on my feet all the time. I was considering a career change, having tried nursing shoes, minimalist shoes, and various sneakers to no avail.
          Finally I tried the Sketcher’s Shape Ups. MY BACK DOESN’T HURT! I love that~~! True they are ugly (but so are Vibrams) but I don’t want to buy stock in Ibuprofen companies either.

          This is my second pair, and I will continue to use this style for workwear. Grok certainly didn’t stand for 12 hrs on man made flooring, so I don’t really care about whether or not it is primal!

          Oh, and they have not shaped up my thighs or legs at all. But the lunges and squats do that, lol.

          CNYmicaa wrote on November 5th, 2010
    • Ditto on the title. Judging from it, I thought you were going to go after Vibrams and the like.

      I was like, “woh, did Mark stubb his toe in his Vibrams?”

      musajen wrote on November 4th, 2010
      • Same! I was shocked to see that title.

        Kelly wrote on November 4th, 2010
    • My Chiropractor told me about MBTs today, so I was checking it out. Found this article, Dr. Roger would disagree with you. He has worn his pair for some five years for work. His only complaint was his more formal pair disintegrating in the heel with non-use, and the pair he uses for work is still in great condition. He was showing me the firmness of the sole compared to some new ones I bought. His recommendation was the MBT. Looks like good to find them on sale at a reasonable price rather than the suggested retail price.

      Janelle R. wrote on August 29th, 2013
  2. I tried the MBT for planter fasciitis, didn’t work at all maybe made things worse. This really did help

    Kev wrote on November 4th, 2010
  3. I thought fancy shoes that would tone were interesting, until I saw the price tag :) Regular shoes work for me and the kids, and when mine are babies they get the little leather flexible shoes to protect them from the cold as needed.

    Barefoot would be great, if it weren’t for the glass on the streets and freezing cold winters!

    Cara wrote on November 4th, 2010
  4. Doesn’t Reebok have some sort of shoe with that big heel? The zigzag or something like that? My vibrams are fine but outdoors in the winter in MN is a no-go.


    David Grim wrote on November 4th, 2010
    • why not man? I walk around campus here in Iowa barefoot through most of the winter. I wear slide sandals on the really cold day, and take them off when i get to class.

      Barefoot Paul wrote on November 4th, 2010
  5. Agreed that the title was confusing. I love my Vibrams; moving is a totally different experience. I can go “barefoot” on city streets and muddy cold trails, with INCREASED stability.

    It would be laughable to immobilize your bicep and cushion it from impact to strengthen it….why then do we immobilize and cushion our arches and feet?

    fitmom wrote on November 4th, 2010
  6. Just a quick note, again. I think you’ve gotten rocker-shoes kinda wrong. I doubt their idea is “to be unstable” rather than to provide a natural base for us to walk on no matter where we are. Or are you telling me humans were designed to walk on concrete? I think the Maasais walk on soft/semi-hard surface most of their lives. This is why their joints don’t get the treatment ours do: We’re children of the concrete jungle. Good or bad? You decide. I’ll keep wearing my rocker-shoes (which are not MBT, by the way) when I walk around the city, but when I hit the trail I go barefoot or strictly vibram.

    Michael wrote on November 4th, 2010
    • I have zero problem walking and running barefoot over the hardest of surfaces and have only been doing it for about three months. Join problems have very little to do with the surface that you land on and everything to do with the way that you land on it.

      My limiting factor so far has been the weakness in my feet which have been atrophied through many years of being shod. My joints have been happy from day one.

      Armaan wrote on November 5th, 2010
    • I agree. When I ‘need’ shoes for Corporate ‘life,’ the rounded sole is more comfortable than the flop and slap of flat shoes.

      Karen Liwoch wrote on November 11th, 2010
  7. I’ve always found both the concept and design of these kinds of shoes to be absolutely ridiculous.

    It was quite sad for me to see Skechers go this route as they do make a number of comfortable, thin/flexible-soled everyday (unless you’re wearing a suit) shoes. They’ve been my go-to for a while now.

    Mademoiselle wrote on November 4th, 2010
  8. My girlfriend has a pair of the Reebok easytones. She’s one of those people that really doesn’t like feet (silly, I know). So there was no chance at convincing her to try some barefooting with me. Within a month one of the Balls in the left foot popped!! She called and e-mailed and they basically told her she was S.O.L. So aside from disliking these products, I also dislike their business practice. I look forward to getting a pair of VFFs or other good minimalist shoes for daily life. But all of my exercise and running will be strictly in bare feet for both the neuralogical feedback, and because I love the way it feels! The long and short: to hell with shoes!!

    Mlkrone wrote on November 4th, 2010
  9. I read somewhere that someone has made a shoe to even help sooth the menstrual pains?????????? May have been on Chris Mcdougalls blog?

    Robert wrote on November 4th, 2010
  10. From what I have read about rocker-shoes, their exact idea is “to be unstable”. In fact “Unstable rocker shoes are designed to induce instability in all planes of motion”, this is describing the two types of rocker-shoe: Unstable and Stable. A quick warning from Total Relief Footwear states: “If you have problems with vertigo or dizziness, for example, a rocker sole shoe may not be appropriate.” I don’t think there is anything natural about getting motion sickness from walking.

    Amanda wrote on November 4th, 2010
  11. I laugh every time I walk into a store and see those shoes! I was wondering when this topic would come up here! Nice post Mark!

    Primal_Joe wrote on November 4th, 2010
  12. Michael, when you are walking or running barefoot, concrete is not a big problem. You learn to naturally eliminate the shock by landing on your forefoot, bending your knees and making quicker, smaller steps. Personal experience: when I was beginning to run barefoot I was often compelled to touch the concrete sidewalk with my hand – apparently my brain was convinced that it is soft! Now when I am running barefoot (not so often since following PB), I actually prefer hard surfaces.

    See Dan Lieberman’s study on impact forces in shod/barefoot running.

    Tomasz wrote on November 4th, 2010
    • Thanks for the information, I’ll look at Lieberman’s study. I’m adamant on my view, though. When you run on sand or grass it is more unstable to run than on concrete. Also, I’ve walked around our capital for about 8 hours in the rockers and experienced no pain whatsoever (literally, I only stopped once after 5 hours to eat a salad). Having done the same next month in the summer with the vibrams (that I’d already been walking in for over a year) I developed a crazy inflammation on the big-toe joint due to exactly this forefoot mechanism. Also, walking on concrete barefoot is just inconvenient and slow.

      I think if you haven’t tried rockers (not Tomasz, anyone saying they suck) you have no right to judge. I’ve been walking and running around in my rockers and vibrams for 2 years now, and I still say rockers rock on rock. Vibrams suck on hard surfaces.

      Michael wrote on November 4th, 2010
      • I second Tomasz. Concrete is one of my favorite surfaces for bare feet. Hard and smooth is nice, whether it be dirt or concrete. Polling my group of barefoot walkers/runners, concrete is near the top for 100% of those polled (three people 😉 ).

        Paul C wrote on November 4th, 2010
      • In nature soft surfaces to run on do not exist. You either creep through thick cover, trying not to step on anything, or you run on a hardpacked trail. While the trail is softer then concrete, it isn’t by much. Grok did not spend much time on sand – nothing grows there so there is no reason for aythiing to be there. (Prey is near food)

        I love running not concrete barefoot.

        Hery Miller wrote on November 4th, 2010
  13. I think it’s voodoo, but I do have a friend a nurse, who has the skechers.

    For years she’s had an issue with a new replacement she had due to cancer. She would complain about her knee and having tough days to the point she’s thinking about disability.

    She purchased the sketchers about a year ago and she says the long days do not bother her.

    She’s not the type to buy into hype, she’s not an athlete, never heard of Vibrams, and thinks the Paleo / Primal way is suspect.

    But I do believe that she feels these shoes (the sketchers) help her do her job.

    But I like my Vibrams. 😉

    Ron wrote on November 4th, 2010
  14. I have a friend who wore the Sketchers for about a month. She advised that since she started wearing the shoes, she suffered knee, hip and back pain which were not present prior. She’s decided to dump the shoes and go back to regular runners.

    gordon wrote on November 4th, 2010
  15. If I want to be 2 to 3 inches taller and don’t mind some instability, I’ll wear high heels. At least they look good.

    Lori wrote on November 4th, 2010
    • Nice Lori – you made me smile :)

      Jay wrote on November 4th, 2010
  16. I also think these shoes are absurd; however it will be a cold day in heck before I go around barefoot.

    Going barefoot is for people who are too poor to afford shoes.

    rob wrote on November 4th, 2010
    • You are right. It’s also for people that don’t want to get hurt and want to feel more.

      You aren’t wearing gloves now, right? Or are you……

      Paul C wrote on November 4th, 2010
  17. Initially I got lots of guff from my chiro for going barefoot most of the time.

    He did eventually realize that I don’t turn my ankles or torque my knees the way I did when I was wearing my Danskos.

    Between you and me, though, I do still keep a pair of Danskos around for the tradeshows I work where I have to stand on a hard surface all day. I’ve tried moccasins for those but my hips feel better if I use the Danskos.

    gracie wrote on November 4th, 2010
  18. Great info. I get asked about these rocker shoes all of the time…I hear stuff about relieving back pain, plantar fac. etc…great if that works for you. But, the claim of increased muscle recruitment etc…has proven to be BS. While I still haven’t attempted to run in my Vibrams, by wearing them for several hours several times/wk my feet are so much stronger and more stable. Balls in shoes? Seriously, crazy.

    Denise wrote on November 4th, 2010
  19. I personally think that Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars are a good compromise, they’re cheap, they are so thin you can feel the ground through them and you don’t need to build up heavy calluses to use them.

    I play ball hockey in them which involves a lot of sprinting back and forth, I sprint in the park in them on rough trails and I have cleaner ones I just wear out and about.

    They have one downside: they don’t have ideal traction on wet pavement playing ball hockey but the ability to feel the ground more than makes up for that.

    Perfect shoe in my humble opinion.

    JohnC wrote on November 4th, 2010
    • Hey there… I’ve been in that camp with you. When I saw what Vibrams were all about, I figured, “what’s wrong with a pair of Chucks?” After all, it’s just literally a few layers of fabric and rubber between you and the street. As long as the toe box is big enough to let your toes spread out, you should be good to go, right?

      In fact, I’ve always had a pair of converse in my shoe collection, but recently, I’ve been wearing them exclusively while traveling in London, because transporting shoes with bulky heels or platforms (my going-out shoe of choice in Chicago) means more luggage.

      But in the last five weeks of walking around exclusively in flat shoes (which I rarely do in Chicago, although I’m barefoot at home all day), I’ve had excruciating low back, hip, glute and thigh pain. I figured some of it was due to some heavy duty dancing I was up to, but it seems to really flare up if I’m walking around town.

      Have any women had this experience when transitioning from heels to flats while city walking? My arches feel better, the balls of my feet don’t have so much pressure on them, but I feel like my low back and hips got used to walking with an incline. Any thoughts from any ladies here?

      Ruby wrote on March 6th, 2012
  20. Quick question for you. For those of us that live where it snows, do you have a “shoe” that you would recommend? I have Vibrams but I think in the snow they would be unbearable. Anything you can think of as a minimalists winter shoe?

    George wrote on November 4th, 2010
    • I run (well sprint actually and play ball hockey) all year round except in deep snow in these:

      JohnC wrote on November 4th, 2010
    • Hey George,
      There is a neoprene version called the flow. Most of the time though I run in lightweight running shoes like the Adidas Mana. I have seen guys on days when the high is -20’C using the KSO VFF model, but to me its just a little too cold to wear them in those temps. On really cold days (yes colder than -20’C)I run in normal running shoes, like the Lunar Glide.

      Hope that helps

      niall wrote on November 4th, 2010
    • George, I have seen suggestions that I am going to try this winter.
      * sandals, like huaraches.
      * Thick winter socks, with or without sandals, depends on temp/wetness of road. May have to do some sewing to make split socks that work with the sandals.
      * Some do go pure bare foot but don’t risk frostbite with temp that is too cold or too windy.

      Paul C wrote on November 4th, 2010
      • If you’re going to walk barefoot outside in winter, practice curling your toes under each time you lift your foot off the ground and stretching them upward when you set it back down. Sounds weird, but it keeps enough blood flowing through them to stave off frostbite. I’ve gone on several hour-long hikes in a northern New York January this way, and I’ve still got all ten!

        Erin wrote on November 4th, 2010
    • Try Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars. I sprint and play ball hockey year round outside in them except in deep snow.

      JohnC wrote on November 4th, 2010
    • Thank you all for your replies!

      George wrote on November 5th, 2010
    • Vibrams is coming out with winter boots! 😀 YAY!

      Robin wrote on March 26th, 2011
  21. Hi Mark,

    I just recently started following your blog and I enjoy reading it.

    Ah, as a newbie runner, newbie barefoot/minimalist shoe runner…..I cannot justify trying Shape-Ups, etc.

    The notion of needing a thicker sole on your shoes does not register in my head. The shoe companies really have people fooled.

    I wonder how many foot or ankle injuries these shoes will create.


    Melyssa wrote on November 4th, 2010
  22. A few years ago, before I learned about Vibrams, I bought a pair of MBTs. I have no idea why, but other than flip flops (and now My Five Fingers), they were the only shoes I could walk long distances in without experiencing foot and knee pain. They were the first thing I found that I could wear hiking that alleviated the pain I’d get in my knees coming downhill. Now my Five Fingers have become my preferred hiking/outdoors shoe. But the MBTs were great for me.

    Seadanes wrote on November 4th, 2010
  23. My MBTs were the ONLY thing I could wear when out of nowhere plantar fascitis (sp?) hit and hit hard! I was in tears after being on my feet for any length of time. Now that most of that pain has gone, I’m great with barefooting, etc. But, I also had to learn to stretch properly, etc. I highly recommend the MBTs if, like me, you come from a bad place and didn’t know better to begin with to start your healing. Does that make sense? :) Thanks much!!

    Lynn wrote on November 4th, 2010
  24. Totally agree about the potential dangers of MBT/Sketcher platform technology, and the ridiculousness of likening these unstable elevator shoes to aboriginal foot placement patterns.

    About a year ago, I (formerly chronic cardio, including ultra marathons) started wearing Vibram FiveFinger shoes for running. I did so thinking they made a heck of a lot of sense. Had great experience immediately, yet also residual doubts based, for sure, on years of exposure to running shoe propaganda about the need for heavily built-up shoes.

    I found myself wearing my Vibram FFs (Bikila model) for nearly every run, and loving it. Not long ago I switched to my pair of “minimalist” Newtons, which felt like orthopedic shoes by comparison. The simple fact is: I now wear only my Vibram FF shoes when running, one result being: my toes, feet, and legs are stronger in new and wonderful ways. Including that formerly sprained left ankle, which now feels no different from my never injured right ankle.

    My ultra days are over; no interest in that level, plus I know it’s counterproductive to health and longevity. I do plan to run the occasional half marathon on trails, just for fun and at a non-rushed pace.

    By the way, I follow Primal/Paleo diet guidelines and no longer consume grains, and have successfully transitioned from sugar- to fat-burning metabolism, and yes, it is possible to “be a runner” (including a distance runner, if you choose) without consuming the dangerously high-insulin diet on which so many marathoners find themselves sick and tired, literally. I feel stronger and more robust, and run better with greater vitality, than I did on a constant cycle of carb ingestion/carb depletion.

    Keith wrote on November 4th, 2010
  25. All I know is that every person I’ve ever seen wearing these shoes has been middle-aged and overweight. I don’t see trainers wearing them at the gym, I don’t see runners running in them, and I certainly don’t see any professional athletes using them for any sport of any kind. They are marketed as an easy solution to a very complex problem: “lose weight and tone your muscles without actually exercising or cutting the garbage out of your diet,” which to me smacks of gimmickry.

    CRS wrote on November 4th, 2010
    • Precisely.

      JD wrote on November 7th, 2010
  26. been using MBT’s for a while. they are ok..nothing beats barefoot on wet sand.

    richard wrote on November 4th, 2010
  27. I tried on the Sketchers Shape Ups and knew instantly that they weren’t for me. I would have broken my neck if I had tried to wear them!!

    Sharon wrote on November 4th, 2010
  28. I just wanna say, I have worn MBT’s for years and recently switched to Sketchers because they were more easily available. I love them. When I am on my feet all day at my two jobs or on vacation doing large amounts of walking my feet never hurt! I never have to sit down to rest my feet or get home and have sore feet. For me its just the added bonus of cushion on the bottom.

    I also have a friend that owns a bakery and is on her feet all day long, she wears her MBTs for the same reason. She is able to be on her feet all day without getting sore feet.

    Jenny wrote on November 4th, 2010
  29. The sad thing is these look normal so you can wear them to the office. Five Fingers do not look normal and your boss will send you home for wearing them.

    I’m wearing Nike Frees, but I hate them (first day). Seems all the normal looking barefoot shoes are sold out. I’l risk the five fingers on jeans Friday.

    Hery Miller wrote on November 4th, 2010
  30. Mark,

    Maybe the folks at Masai Barefoot Technology developed that absurdly unstable shoe to recreate the years when we learned to walk. Observe any two year old trying to walk, heck it looks a lot like an “anti shoe”.

    Brian wrote on November 4th, 2010
  31. But Mark, what about the “extra benefits”? About a year ago (before I’d ever heard of paleo/Primal) a friend posted a picture of the Sketchers on facebook saying that she was going to get some. Somebody else called them “B.C.S.” because the shoes were so repulsive that they would qualify as Birth Control Shoes. 😉

    Larry wrote on November 4th, 2010
  32. MBTs are crap. Period.
    I tried the MBT Shoes some years ago and they are stiff. You can’t walk normally. It’s true, the muscles have to work harder (the wrong way) and this will strengthen some muscles. It is like weightlifting with bad technique: you will gain strength but you pay the price later.
    Shoes as exercise tools? PLEEEEZE gimme a break! Toning? Last time I checked it was squats, lunges, sprints and a clean diet.

    I like Puma h street sneakers or Asics Tai Chi for walking or exercise outdoors. Minimal footwear is best. They strengthen my muscles in a better way. I have to use foot muscles more than in cushioned running shoes with footbed. Running (almost) barefoot gives you a a smooth gait because you can’t trample like an elephant on stampede without cushioned soles. You have to use muscle elasticity as it is supposed to be. Those cushioned wobble board shoes – like high tech running shoes- disturb biomechanics and proprioception. Poor knee joints, poor hip joints. Where’s my ankle mobility, my hip joint mobility?

    What’s the use of walking in a wobble board the whole day? Is this “natural movement”? Well – if you are living on a surfboard …..
    Shoes can’t improve bad biomechanics, only awareness can – and the help of a good coach or physiotherapist.

    Mike T Nelson has a nice post about shoes
    “Barefoot Training, Vibram Five Fingers and the Evils of Strength Sucking Modern Shoes”

    Nelson: ” The MBTs are actually VERY stiff and I feel promote an unnatural gait. They even had me walk backwards at one point with them on so that my body could adjust to the wacky shoes. What? I need to learn how to walk again? That sounds like a bad idea.
    If you refuse to do mobility work and continue to have stiff feet, they may be an option for you, but this is like putting a helmet on so that you can keep beating your head against the wall.”
    Head against the wall. Yes I do that reading the marketing sermon from Reebok, Sketchers and MBT.

    But their marketing is not adressed to athletes but at people who have pain because they move badly. They are meant as therapeutic device. And most people actually need a trainer to walk correctly in MBTs. So you can start a business: MBT Coach. No kidding.

    A physiotherapist told me: for folks with good coordination the shoes may be ok, for people with suboptimal movement patterns they are dangerous.

    Watch this:
    A Pose Coach on MBT Shoes

    Reebok Easy Tone Shoes: Fad Alert!

    The barefoot professor

    Andrea wrote on November 4th, 2010
  33. I’ve had a pair of the Sketchers for a year now, and if I have any long distance walking to do or standing all day, those are the only shoes I’ll wear.

    I’ve tried to do standing jobs like tradeshows in flat shoes and I paid for it with knee, hip and back pain for days afterwards.

    IMHO, for some of us there is a time for bare feet and a time for thin soled shoes and a time for thick soled shoes. Just need to listen to your body and do what’s best for the situation. And have alternatives when called for.

    Kethry wrote on November 4th, 2010
    • I’ve noticed that almost all of the people posting here who love the MBT-type shoes all say they are great for standing–nurses, people on their feet all day.
      I think for tourism-type all-day walking and standing on the job, the thick cushion and instability activating leg muscles would feel good.
      I always thought of myself as a walker, but I put my VFFs on for the first time, and I just wanted to RUN…

      fitmom wrote on November 4th, 2010
  34. I tried MBT’s, which I regret because even at clearance prices those things are absurdly expensive. They made things worse for me with my multiple joint and balance issues. I suppose they might be good for certain people, but I don’t know who that would be. I’m embarrassed to admit I tried them. It was a total case of falling for a gimmick.

    On the other hand, I LOVE my first pair of SoftStars and expect to make a habit of them. I like the grounded feeling from greater sensing of the surface I’m walking on. I think they make me more stable and improve my walking mechanics, too. The key thing I wanted them for was the natural materials against the foot. They are great on that count, too. I am one of those people whose skin blisters and peels from any vinyl foam. That stuff is in 99% of shoes anymore. Even drugstore inserts like Dr Scholl’s are made of that stuff now.

    slacker wrote on November 4th, 2010
  35. I have not tried any of the footwear mentioned above, but you don’t mention Fit Flop. I have a pair of these and I love them. Like walking on air.

    Catherine wrote on November 4th, 2010
  36. All in all we’re just thrusting way too many unnecessary technology onto ourselves. Who’d of ever thunk that walking or running had to get so complicated???

    Although I do run with Vibrams on, I usually walk barefoot at parks. I hate getting attention in general, but when people watch me ‘being crazy’ it sometimes irks me. I want to say to them, ‘quit sitting on ura ss and MOVE!’

    Jzoe wrote on November 4th, 2010
  37. Hello,

    As much as I love MDA and agree with you on most things, I think you missed the point behind MBT shoes — or it could be that their advertising is now more for toning and exercise than when I found them a few years back and they centered on providing a more natural walk.

    No argument that barefoot on natural ground is best. Unfortunately, we don’t always have that option in our vocations. My wife’s a nurse, and we’re avid walkers and hikers. She has been combatting work-related hip and knee issues for years since she was a CNA. When going barefoot or in soft mocs outside on trails, sand, and regular ground, she has no issues.

    During and after her shifts at the hospital (often reaching 9+ miles on the pedometer), or after an extended hike or walk on “improved” paths, her knees and hips pain her quite a bit. Soft mocs, airsoles, and similar “comfort” technology didn’t help, nor did physical therapy and kinesthetic/motion tracking; her gait and flexion were within the physiotherapist’s normal range of motion. I’d come across MBT shoes and read their claims about providing an unstable base to prompt our bodies to move more naturally. I bought her a pair for work.

    By the end of the first week she was in love with them. She said she felt like she was “walking normally again.” After three months, I bought her another pair for when we’re travelling and exploring new towns and cities.

    It’s been about three years now and there’s no sign of the hip and knee pain returning during her shifts.

    How are they for toning and exercise? No idea. Not what we tried them for, and not disputing you on that. For allowing a more natural gait across a hard flat surface? I disagree; MBT shoes work like a charm.

    ChasC wrote on November 4th, 2010
  38. Quite a few years back I wore a lot of MBT’s and thought it was the way to go (you learn to upgrade all the time and do what you think is best at the time!!). In those days I was quite flush (hence 4 different pairs of MBT’s) and also specialized in MRT (Muscle Release Technique) for repetitive use injuries and felt that all the info on them made sense.

    So I gave them a real good testing and was careful to increase wearing them slowly etc and after quite a long time I realized I was having hip, back and leg pain that I had never experienced before. This was not the good muscles being used kinda of thing, it was pain.
    I stopped wearing them completely and would never wear them again.

    I then wore earth shoes for a while until I found this wonderful site, thank you Mark. I now wear vibrams and soft star. I especially love the soft star as they are so easy to take off and on if you want to go barefoot and do some sprints. They are also yummy and fun – especially designing your own.
    My next purchase will be a pair of their boots for the winter.

    Awesome post as usual. Thank you for all you do.

    Vanessa wrote on November 4th, 2010
  39. Tons of my co-workers wear those sketchers rocker shoes LOL. And then they asked me “how can you walk around in those thin soled shoes all day?!” So I tried to explain, but I don’t think they got it 😛 I wear Vivobarefoots to work and around town, but at home I tend to go barefoot. I was always like that, even as a kid I hated shoes, so thankfully I did something right and have super-strong feet now! YAY being barefoot! 😀

    Ika wrote on November 4th, 2010

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