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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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August 10, 2007

Even If the Shoe Fits… Forget It.

By Aaron
99 Comments

When was the last time you left your house without shoes? Hard to say? When was the last time you ran without shoes? Summer, circa 12 years old? If you are to listen to the growing number of barefoot runners out there you are truly missing out.

This little piggie...

Ricardipus Flickr Photo (CC)

It turns out we were all born barefoot. No, really. As hard as it is to believe, no one came strolling into this world pre-packaged with a pair of loafers or Nike’s latest cross-trainers. That alone is a good enough argument for not wearing shoes, right? Yeah, yeah, so goes the same argument for public nudity. But there really is something to the notion that going barefoot (not bare-naked) is good for you.

As a devout Primal Health philosophy follower you can count me in as a believer. I mean, what could be more primal than running around barefoot? I don’t know about you, but the idea of darting around sans shoes immediately brings two images to mind. The first being a barbarous, crazed-looking Neanderthal with a spear in one hand and a half eaten rabbit in the other – ready to pounce at any given moment. Pleasant, I know.

On the other hand it calls to mind visions of happy children relishing the feeling of recently cut grass on their naked and nimble toes as they parade about an expanse of green lawn.

drp Flickr Photo (CC)

To your average tennie-wearing John Doe these words paint two seemingly diametrically opposed pictures. But viewed through the lenses of the barefoot enthusiast they both embody the essence of going shoeless. That is, the visceral, animal-like use of feet the way they were originally ‘intended,’ while at the same time fully appreciating the extra-sensory and tactile experience you can only get without sneakers.

The Primal Health philosophy supports the notion that the fewer man-made foot crutches the better. Think about it. We have these amazing feet with intricate structures designed to keep us upright and moving gracefully. What they weren’t designed to do is operate bound up in artificial materials. Our ancestors existed without foot protection for eons. Without shoes to keep their feet protected from this harsh world they developed tough skin and strong ligaments. They fared just fine without the latest high-tops. But in an effort to guard against any potential harm modern man has employed buckles, straps, laces, Velcro, soles and toe boxes. According to some we may have gone too far. We now have shoes that look disturbingly more like a device you would expect to see employed during the Inquisition than foot protection.

Don’t get me wrong. No one is suggesting that you head on into the office Monday morning with your ugly feet leading the way. Shoes are great. I have more pairs than I would like to admit. But there may be such a thing as too much shoe.

So what is the allure of running shoeless?

Here are just a few of the arguments:

– The elevated, softened heel support found in most shoes impedes our natural gait and can result in a shortened Achilles tendon and calf muscle.

– Running without shoes takes upwards of 4% less energy than running with shoes. It makes sense really. Some effort must go into lugging the extra weight around.

– Running shoes are designed to make you land on your heel as you step forward. Can you imagine running heel to toe without shoes? You wouldn’t do it. It would be much too traumatic. So why are we forced to do it with shoes? Landing on your heel results in undue shock and potential injury to your knees and back. The natural and most effective way to run, as exemplified by top marathon runners, is to land on the ball of your foot – keeping your steps light and smooth, and allowing your arch to act like the natural spring it is.

– It is cheaper! You no longer have to fork over your hard earned cash to shoe manufacturers.

– Running shoeless helps to improve your running technique which can result in increased speed. Just ask barefoot Abebe Bikila who won the 1960 Olympic marathon in Rome.

– No more athlete’s foot or foot odor! Both are associated with sweaty and poorly ventilated shoes.

– Going shoeless helps develop strength in muscles found in your feet, hips and legs that aren’t used when wearing shoes. This in turn can increase coordination, agility and balance.

– It feels good. Literally being in touch with nature at all times makes you more aware of your surroundings and can be very therapeutic.

Can’t imagine running barefoot? Yes, I know you love your Dr. Scholl’s inserts, padded cushions, arch supports, insoles and orthotics, but part of the reason you feel like you need them is because you have been using them for so long.

Our feet are soft and weak. There are no calluses to be found. Our feet have been locked up between layers of fabric and rubber ever since they saw the light of day. They have been babied and pampered to their own demise.

Just like the rest of your body, feet need tough love too.

But don’t go cold turkey. It’s not just your skin that is soft and sensitive. Your tendons and muscles will also need some conditioning. You’ve got to ease into it. Head for grassy fields or sandy beaches and begin by walking. Or do what we do and wear shoes that are barely there.

We here at Mark’s Daily Apple are all barefoot exercising fools. When we aren’t going outright barefoot we go as near barefoot as possible. You may have heard about Mark’s love for hiking in his barely there Vibram Fivefingers. And Sara trains in her favorite Stella McCartney athletic shoes. Luckily, there are near barefoot options for those looking for a bit of protection, but who also want the biomechanical benefits of going au natural.

Sara’s Narellas

You don’t have to take it from us. The barefoot revolution has been touted by numerous newspapers (1, 2, 3), magazines, and bloggers worldwide. It has even received the attention of Nike and well-paid world-class athletes.

Although it is becoming more popular every day running barefoot is still a contentious issue. What do you think, Apples?

For further research and to find out whether going barefoot is for you check out these additional resources:

Barefoot Ted’s Adventures

Sportscience Journal Article

Yahoo! Barefoot Running Group

RunningBarefoot.org

BarefootRunner.org


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99 Comments on "Even If the Shoe Fits… Forget It."

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Oxybeles
Oxybeles
9 years 1 month ago

Shoes; not necessary. A bit dangerous where rocky, but running on the sandy beach is much easier.

And thinking about the beach…

Considering the same Primal Health precepts, will it soon be that clothes are optional, as well?

It would certainly get me to run more!

😉

Zataod
9 years 1 month ago

I’ve been running without shoes for over a month and a half now. I won’t be going back to shoes.

Feet were designed for walking and running.

Andy
9 years 1 month ago

I do at least one of my runs barefoot on the beach every week. Great stuff….

Crystal
Crystal
9 years 1 month ago

Barefoot? It would get rid of the sock line farmers tan. I ran a marathon 7 years ago. I noticed a man running barefoot. He also only wore a loin cloth….he finished. Aside from rocks, what about the ground, it’s hot! I’d run barefoot in sand if I had sand. I just don’t know…

Sara
9 years 1 month ago

Great post, Aaron! 🙂

kim
kim
9 years 1 month ago

I was told when I was younger that if your feet are comfortable then the rest of your body is as well.
Nice read btw.

terry
terry
9 years 1 month ago

Their used to be barefoot kickers in college and pro football. I have golfed on occasion in bare feet. Well groomed grass really can be therapeutic and give your foot a messaged sort of feeling with every step.
I recommend that everyone should walk on a golf course barefoot. Just watch out for broken tees!

Renee KImball
Renee KImball
5 years 7 months ago

I’ve been going primarily barefoot for nearly 40 years.

I strongly advise against running barefoot on ANY grass ANYWHERE and especially on a golf course. Two words PESTICIDES & HERBICIDES. A friend had a dog that played on a lawn that had just been sprayed with pesticide. The dog died in convulsive agony a week later.

Robert
Robert
9 years 1 month ago

It hasn’t even occurred to me that walking or running barefoot could be a very pleasurable experience. After reading this post I am going to head down to the beach this weekend and let my feet “breathe”. Thanks.

Crystal
Crystal
9 years 1 month ago

Aaron- o.k., I’ll add that to my to-do-list. I always ran around barefoot as a kid and hated shoes. Wasn’t too excited about shoes in college either. I have regreted that because I thought it contributed to my feet problems. Maybe not! I had a chiropractor tell me to run in sand, of course I was in hawaii at the time.

Mike OD
9 years 1 month ago

Our feet are the first in the line of connection to the earth and movement. Want to find your natural running stride? Go barefoot. Of course I prefer grass and sand. Probably won’t see too many heel strikers like you do with those spring-loaded shoes nowadays. Great article!

Steve
Steve
9 years 1 month ago

As an owner of two shoe stores, I have to admit my first inclination to your blog was; you can’t be serious with all this “barefoot-ology” that you are espousing. After all, if the message of this blog gets out to the masses and really catches on, my livelihood could be in real jeopardy. But I have to say you make some powerful arguments and have definately peeked my curiosity. Just keep this on the DL, please.

J.
6 years 3 months ago

Re Shoe-store Owner.

Maybe you should look into carrying some minimal moccasins and moccasin-type shoes in your stores. 🙂

Crazy Al
Crazy Al
9 years 1 month ago

I don’t think I would be able to run a Ironman marathon barefoot. I have just started used a new running shoe by Newton. They are designed on striking on the forefoot. They have changed my whole running style for the better. I am able to run faster with less effort. I will never go back to the traditional running shoe again. If I could manage running barefoot during an Ironman race I would give it a try, but I don’t think I would be able to manage that considering how long the overall race is.

Tamara
Tamara
5 years 3 months ago
You absolutely can run marathon distance/ultra distance/any distance while barefoot or in minimalist shoes – and it doesn’t matter if you have high arches, flat feet, pronate, supinate, whatever. We started out running 2k (was training for a 50km at the time) and then gradulally build. The less you ware on your feet, the faster you learn the new way, but you absolutely need to start really short. I’d do most of my run in my regular shoes and then just switch for the last little bit (loop passt my house to change). Each run I would use the minimalist… Read more »
Sherry
4 years 5 months ago

You’ve ctapured this perfectly. Thanks for taking the time!

Simon Fellows
Simon Fellows
9 years 1 month ago
Mark Hi….have just started reading yr blog though have read periodic stuff of yr oer the yrs. My question comes from looking at what you eat and the amount you exercise. Looking at what you eat do you have a rough estimate of how many cals you eat please ? I try and walk most days for 40 mins and do daily a series of ATP exercises i designed when loafing around coming back from Africa….. a cross between plyometrics, pilates, yoga and well chaotically variable exercises each done for 20 plus seconds and then again after a mins rest… Read more »
trackback

[…] Mark’s Daily Apple we have this article about running barefoot. I thought it was interesting because of our discussion this week about […]

Mark
Mark
9 years 1 month ago
Hi Simon, I recognize you from your many good posts at de vany. I would guess I’am averging 2500 – 2800 calories a day on most days. I try to eat as many veggies as possible, but as you know, am not afraid of fats in avocado, olive oils, nuts, butter etc. I shoot for 120-130 grams of protein a day (500 calories). 100-120 grams of fat (1000). I make the rest up with vegetables (with dressings and butter) and some fruit. I’m going several days at a time with no bread/pasta/dessert/rice/potato or other starchey or refined simple carbs. Don’t… Read more »
Mark
Mark
9 years 1 month ago

PS. Forgot the nightly beer or 2.

JeffT
JeffT
9 years 1 month ago
I got the Vibram fivefinger shoes last week to wear at the beach, and found the experience to be worth the price of admission! I’m not ready to go fully barefoot, but it’s the next-best thing, and you don’t have to worry about cutting your foot on a rock, shell, twig or what have you. It really does make you want to just run up a tree. I can feel the muscles in my feet getting stronger already, and plus, it’s just plain fun. Also a great conversation starter – you can’t help but stare at someone wearing five fingered… Read more »
Donna
Donna
9 years 1 month ago

The only time i go barefoot is when i go swimming or outside walking in the yard, or sweeping the front driveway, back patio. Other than that, I LOVE MY NIKES!!!

trackback
[…] There’s a movement out there that I read approximately on Mark’s Daily Apple called the Primal Health philosophy.They believe that the closer we are to nature, the better. Which mean — you guessed it — the less we rely on shoes, the better, even when running. There are lots of reasons behind the concept of running shoeless, including that one:When we run in shoes, our heels are the first parts of our body to hit the ground. But whether we were to run shoeless, we wouldn’t do that. Running with our heels first adds unnecessary affect to the joints… Read more »
Cindy Moore
9 years 1 month ago
I’m not a runner, but I am a big barefoot proponent!! I know people who never go barefoot, except in bed and the shower! Me? I kick off shoes as soon as I get home, and whenever possible. Even in work, several times I’ve been “caught” shoeless!! Personally I hate shoes and only wear them when I must. I can still remember as a kid having to get used to wearing shoes when school started after summer break…yep, my mom was a barefooter too! I always remember what my pediatrician told me when my kids were little….there are 2 purposes… Read more »
Rob O.
9 years 1 month ago

My wife bought me a pair of Vibram FiveFingers (a.k.a. “MonkeyFeet”) earlier this year and I love ’em! Kinda pricy, but awesome!

I’m forever kicking off my shoes as soon as I get home. I painstakingly worked my back yard until it was weed-free just so I could pad around barefoot out there.

Barefoot Joe
Barefoot Joe
9 years 1 month ago

Hey everyone, i have put at least a couple hundred miles in with no shoes on the past few months. I will tell you one thing, ITS GREAT!, i love the looks/comments/thoughts of non barefooters. I love the quote “Don’t you know there is glass on the ground…?” I simply replay, “Really? Thanks”…..I am the one running hundreds of miles with no shoes on, and some overweight McDonalds carrying human has the nerve to tell me about ‘glass’….thanks

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[…] Aaron investigates: Maybe you don’t need running shoes, anyway […]

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[…] well aware of those funny looking Vibram FiveFingers by now. They’ve been mentioned in our barefoot running post, featured in a Top 10 Ultimate Fitness Gadgets post and showcased in Mark’s sprinting video. What […]

Craig Richards
8 years 8 months ago

Nice work! Barefoot is so good for the soul.

For other ‘barefoot’ shoe choices check out my site and don’t forget Feelmax who have also put out a great product.

Craig
8 years 8 months ago

Sorry, for got the link… http://www.barefootongrass.com

Clinton
8 years 6 months ago

This is an awesome article… I have written a great number similar, but just not quite as lengthy. My in-person rant is almost word for word.

I graduated to Vibram five fingers from my Nike Frees (which I still use every now and again, but that’s still a LOT of padding on the bottom… they do travel extremely well :))

I LOVE BAREFOOT RUNNING/WALKING/MAKING OUT 😉

(now I need a bumper sticker)

Anyone help a guy out??

😉

Clinton

leeadams
leeadams
8 years 6 months ago

I was at first curious about Vibram 5 Finger shoes and contacted Vibram headquarters with further questions. Instead I received trite, manufactured, generic, dispassionate responses from their customer service department – GEORGIA SHAW (this woman has absolutely no idea what customer service is). For a small company trying to break into a very large industry, they certainly think small when hiring such incompetent staff. If they are that bad at customer service how can I trust their shoes on my feet?

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[…] Who Needs Shoes Anyway? […]

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[…] just greener pastures, our ancestors spent a lot of time taking the heel-toe express! (Though, it wasn’t exactly heel-toe in those days.) These days, of course, we have planes, trains and automobiles to get us from A to […]

trackback

[…] just greener pastures, our ancestors spent a lot of time taking the heel-toe express! (Though, it wasn’t exactly heel-toe in those days.) These days, of course, we have planes, trains and automobiles to get us from A to […]

trackback

[…] just greener pastures, our ancestors spent a lot of time taking the heel-toe express! (Though, it wasn’t exactly heel-toe in those days.) These days, of course, we have planes, trains and automobiles to get us from A to […]

phuuu
7 years 10 months ago
Huh! just finished a good 5 mile run in one of the urban parks here in Lost Angeles…. yes the trail was dusty it was nice and cool low 70’s i do my running sans stinking s#o3s thank you… your body adjusts naturally to the striking of the ground…. i don’t shuffle my feet, nor drag them… i can hear other runners coming from behind just by those two things alone…. i’m running as God intended us to run… no blisters, nor injuries here… none whatsoever.. Going up hill its running on the balls of the feet… coming down (the… Read more »
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[…] 19, 2009 After reading this post at BRM and another linked in the comments, I felt the need to write something about the super-thin shoe / barefoot […]

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[…] A couple different primal bloggers have mentioned the decision some people are making to go barefoot in their workouts and everyday life as much as possible. I don’t think this is a relatively […]

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[…] feet are back in action! I’ve been proselytizing bare feet for years, but now the benefits of going shoeless are finally hitting mainstream media. It that’s not […]

George
7 years 5 months ago
Read another article about barefoot running: it proves that shoes may cause injuries and that running barefoot causes joy and listening to your body and it starts the discussion again whether we were born to run or not. Most of the paleo people out there – like De Vany and Sisson – tell us that we were NOT evolved to run long distances, but maybe they only know running on shoes – Marc you ran probably only ran with shoes – my experience with primeval running is that it is very non linear, stochastic, and I was never injuries, only… Read more »
Rob in NB
Rob in NB
7 years 5 months ago
I got some Vibrams last November and I haven’t worn runners since. I am running faster and no more pain or discomfort. I even bought my wife and son a pair and when my daughters feet get big enough she is getting a pair too. Running in vibrams was weird at first; had to adjust my stride ( no more heel strikes) and get used to the sensation of actually feeling the ground under my feet. I wish I had never waited so long to find out about bare footing ( almost bare foot anyways) and I can’t see me… Read more »
Ross
Ross
7 years 4 months ago

Great article Mark, as always.

Couldn’t agree more with all the comments about barefoot being good for the soul – you should connect with the earth physically at least once a day.

Unfortunately, a motorbike accident in my teens put an end to me running in all but the most padded and supportive of shoes, but I always take the opportunity to go barefoot on the golf course, in the weights room, or on the nice cool marble floor of the local shopping centre. Everyone should try those!

Renee KImball
Renee KImball
5 years 7 months ago

I wrote to an earlier post about running/walking barefoot on grass.

In a word: DON’T

You never know what had been sprayed with herbicides and pesticides. Don’t even assume your green friend’s lawn is OK, they may be a renter and don’t do the maintenance. Early on in my “barefoot” career, a friend had a dog that died in convulsive fits about a week after playing on a lawn that had just been sprayed with pesticide.

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[…] Why You Should Nix Shoes […]

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[…] Why You Should Nix Shoes […]

Kiefer
7 years 4 months ago

Interesting post, it made me think back to my youth when I used to spend most of my day barefoot.

Since we lived near the ocean I spent a lot of time going back and forth to the beach and would walk or run there barefoot crossing parking lots with sharp hot stone and walk down to the water crossing sand so hot others would run like crazy.

Theses days just standing out on the hot cement burns my feet.

But I do spend all my time home barefoot LOL

Jeremy
Jeremy
7 years 1 month ago
One word of caution on the Vibram Five Fingers. If you’ve got long monkey toes, or if you 2nd toe is longer then your big toe, you will have a very hard time finding a pair that is comfortable. Until Vibram starts making shoes with longer toes some of us just can’t wear em. But going barefoot is great, I have been doing it for quite some time and my feet are much more healthy. Make sure to by a “Ped-egg” or something similar to cut down on the callous formation and rub some coconut oil on your feet every… Read more »
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[…] publishing blog posts on ditching shoes, alternatives to going barefoot, and others I now receive regular reader emails like this […]

Paul
Paul
6 years 11 months ago
Back in 1970 I was living in Hawaii and starting a lifetime of running. I tried running for less than a week without shoes and found myself in a world of pain…and this only about two miles a day. I was six foot tall 155 lbs and fit, and this barefoot thing nearly ruined me. I’ve spent my life running in the best shoes money can buy, and always keep several pairs that I rotate through and replace long before most people would consider them worn out. I think running shoeless or nearly shoeless is going to be great for… Read more »
Uncephalized
Uncephalized
6 years 3 months ago

So you’re saying that you spent a lifetime atrophying all the muscles in your feet and ankles, then went straight to barefoot RUNNING (not walking), only gave yourself a week to adjust without rest or time off, and you’re wondering why you were in pain? Huh, who woulda thunk?

heathjones
heathjones
6 years 11 months ago
barefoot running is geting more popular, but its actually tough on concrete.. i know some say the smooth surface makes it the easiest but after numerous runs I still can’t see why they would say that, grass and dirt is by far easier.. wearing vibrams are even better, this vibram five fingers site talks alot more about it. Have you tried the nike frees, great shoes as well but nothing like barefoot, don’t know why they make that claim to be barefoot style shoes. this review has pretty good info on how they compare with vibram fivefingers directly: http://barefootrunningshoes.org/2009/10/08/nike-free-versus-vibram-five-fingers-10-points/ Great… Read more »
Southernhopsing
Southernhopsing
6 years 11 months ago
Wow…I loved this article. I grew up going barefoot whenever I wasn’t at school or church (my husband thinks I’m a hick). In my adult life I began wearing all kinds of fashionable high heeled shoes and sports shoes, and now my feet are weird looking. Where they used to be tough enough to walk on gravel, I now hop a little when I find a pebble. What a freeing experience last year when I removed my shoes at the summit of a small mountain and hiked to the bottom with my boots tied together and slung over my shoulder.… Read more »
justin
6 years 9 months ago

Mark,

Sorry to bother you, but looks like you got a spammer in your midst: “heathjones” two comments up — I see these same links to barefootrunningshoes plastered everywhere anyone talks about VFFs.

Just thought you might want to know!

Justin

trackback

[…] I am absolutely consumed with Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run (thanks Beth!). First I highly recommend you read it as well. Second it has me completely fired up to give barefoot running, or at least Vibram Five Finger running a shot. In sync with it all, here’s Mark’s Daily Apple on going barefoot. […]

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