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

Even If the Shoe Fits… Forget It.

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

Sponsor note:

This post was brought to you by the Damage Control Master Formula, independently proven as the most comprehensive high-potency antioxidant multivitamin available anywhere. With the highest antioxidant per dollar value and a complete anti-aging, stress, and cognition profile, the Master Formula is truly the only multivitamin supplement you will ever need. Toss out the drawers full of dozens of different supplements with questionable potency and efficacy and experience the proven Damage Control difference!

Subscribe to Mark’s Daily Apple feeds

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. 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!


    Oxybeles wrote on August 10th, 2007
  2. 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.

    Zataod wrote on August 10th, 2007
  3. I do at least one of my runs barefoot on the beach every week. Great stuff….

    Andy wrote on August 10th, 2007
  4. 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…

    Crystal wrote on August 10th, 2007
  5. I’m glad to hear we have some readers that are part of the barefoot community!

    Barefoot running does have some level of danger involved and shoes do come in handy given certain conditions – ice, snow, and glass come to mind. But for the most part running without shoes just makes you focus more on where and how you place your feet.

    As I said, it does take some getting us to and you really should ease into it to avoid injury. One of the reasons many people can’t even imagine running barefoot is because they have foot pain even when wearing shoes. To me that is further evidence to get rid of shoes. All that extra support leads to weak, underdeveloped feet, increased incidence of injury, and thusly pain. Give it a try and see what you think!

    Aaron wrote on August 10th, 2007
  6. Great post, Aaron! :)

    Sara wrote on August 10th, 2007
  7. 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.

    kim wrote on August 10th, 2007
  8. 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!

    terry wrote on August 10th, 2007
    • 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.

      Renee KImball wrote on February 3rd, 2011
  9. 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.

    Robert wrote on August 10th, 2007
  10. 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.

    Crystal wrote on August 10th, 2007
  11. 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!

    Mike OD wrote on August 10th, 2007
  12. 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.

    Steve wrote on August 11th, 2007
    • Re Shoe-store Owner.

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

      J. wrote on June 13th, 2010
  13. 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.

    Crazy Al wrote on August 11th, 2007
    • 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 shoes for a little more of the run until I didn’t need the old shoes at all. Been doing it for years and haven’t had a running injury since!

      Tamara wrote on June 14th, 2011
      • You’ve ctapured this perfectly. Thanks for taking the time!

        Sherry wrote on April 27th, 2012
  14. 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 or so.
    Anyways i digress BUT i don’t think i could eat as you do and not be plainly hungry…… 8% body fat and with yr level of exercise/activity it just seems woefully low albeit of course deadly healthful.

    Perplexed and off (shoe)topic.



    Simon Fellows wrote on August 11th, 2007
  15. 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 miss any of that stuff anymore. When I get hungry, I grab a handful of nuts, which serves to take the edge off. But mostly, I’m never really that hungry. That’s a big change for me, since I was known for my eating prowess at college and later during my training days. I think it’s just a matter of conditioning like anything else.

    Hope that helps.


    Mark wrote on August 13th, 2007
  16. PS. Forgot the nightly beer or 2.

    Mark wrote on August 13th, 2007
  17. 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 “shoes”!

    JeffT wrote on August 13th, 2007
  18. 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!!!

    Donna wrote on August 14th, 2007
  19. 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 of shoes. 1. to keep the feet warm in cold weather and 2. to prevent injury.

    I think I’m going to start toughening up my feet…I live on a gravel road, so wearing shoes (at this point) is a must….but the blacktop (and grass on either side) is tolerable.

    Cindy Moore wrote on August 14th, 2007
  20. 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.

    Rob O. wrote on August 25th, 2007
  21. 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

    Barefoot Joe wrote on August 26th, 2007
  22. 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 Richards wrote on January 1st, 2008
  23. Sorry, for got the link…

    Craig wrote on January 17th, 2008
  24. 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 :))


    (now I need a bumper sticker)

    Anyone help a guy out??



    Clinton wrote on March 4th, 2008
  25. 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?

    leeadams wrote on March 20th, 2008
  26. 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 fun part) all out…. there are patches where there are larger size rocks and stuff but I compensate by slowing down and always looking where I’m going to land at least 2 -3 yards ahead… kind of like a radar… but truly, running without shoes is over rated it’s mostly dust and dirt it is just how it looks that is deceiving oh and yes there were looks of “disbelief” as I ran downhill full speed as other hikers were coming up…. I could feel the warmth of the sun on the sunny parts on the ground and the coolness on the shady parts… after a good shower I’m good as new.. I could not agree more… even if the s#o3 fits forget ’em

    phuuu wrote on November 10th, 2008
  27. 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 on shoes, the same experience in the mentioned article!
    sse at:

    George wrote on April 26th, 2009
  28. 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 going back to shoes. I wear them for running, crossfit and everyday use except work as I can’t wear them in uniform.
    Bare foot or as close as you can go is the best. I am going to be emailing this link to my friends who think I may be getting weird wearing the vibrams and qouting Mark Sisson at work.

    Love the website too Mark. Weird how someone I have never met can have a positive change on my life.


    Rob in NB wrote on April 26th, 2009
  29. 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!

    Ross wrote on May 6th, 2009
    • 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.

      Renee KImball wrote on February 3rd, 2011

Leave a Reply

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

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!