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

How to Prepare for Barefooting

barefoot2“Just go barefoot.”

How many times have you heard that from the dude with big calves, wide feet, and soles like supple calf skin? (Hmm, that came out weirder than I imagined.) Or maybe you’re that guy, and you’ve said it. Heck, I’ve probably said something to that effect before. It’s a casual recommendation that we long-term barefooters toss around… but maybe we shouldn’t. (Heresy!) Okay – bear with me, here. Everyone agrees that shoelessness is the foot’s natural state, and that getting to a place where you can enjoy that natural state is ideal. Natural isn’t always synonymous with good, but in the case of the human foot – a sensitive, capable, highly mobile appendage packed with innumerable nerve endings, muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and fascia that responds and reacts to the environment as you walk and/or run – natural is almost certainly desirable. The human foot is pretty amazing, and sticking it inside a restrictive shoe obscures that fact. I think we can agree on that.

But before you tell your friends to burn their shoes, consider something: the shod foot has been living in a cast most of its life. It occasionally enjoys a bit of freedom, but it’s a fleeting, temporary freedom that’s usually only granted when there’s nothing to do but lounge and sleep. When the modern foot is called into action, like at the gym, on a walk, or when going about daily business, they are usually wearing shoes that restrict muscle engagement and turn the feet into passive pieces of leather and rubber that slap along the ground. The feet are merely along for the ride; they do nothing, while the hips and ankles must shoulder the load. Ever seen an arm that’s just had a cast removed? It’s a skinny, withered shell of its former self. The muscles have atrophied, so it’s weaker. The connective tissue can’t quite handle the demands of regular use, so strains are a real possibility. It’ll even smell bad until you wash it (just like some feet), because it’s been cramped up for so long.

The perpetually shod foot is in a very similar state. All that reactive organic material (the bones, tendons, muscles, fascia) has either atrophied, tightened up, or weakened from disuse, so you need to ease into it. Eh, “ease into it” is another phrase that gets thrown around with very little substantiation or elaboration. How, exactly, does one ease into barefooting?

Let’s explore some concrete strategies.

Buy a Lacrosse Ball

I’d like you to purchase a lacrosse ball and use it on your plantar fascia and your calves. Huh? Allow me to explain. The fascia, that interconnected sheath of connective tissue that surrounds our muscles, gets extremely tight and ornery when the muscles aren’t used, or when they’re used incorrectly. The plantar fascia, located on our feet, supports the arch and can get notoriously tight and unresponsive after a lifetime of shoe wearing. You’ve been wearing shoes for most of your life, and your plantar fascia is likely tight. This will impede your abilities to use your feet and develop natural arch support. Walking and running barefoot loads the calf muscle far more than walking and running in shoes. In fact, one of the most common complaints I hear from new barefooters is the calf pain. They go from rarely using their calves to absorbing the impact of a footfall with them – and the soreness can be excruciating. Reducing that tightness before it gets worse can go a long way toward making the barefoot transition a smooth one.

So, how does one roll one’s plantar fascia? Extremely intuitively. Place a lacrosse ball on the floor, stand on it, and roll around. Just explore your foot with the ball. It’ll be really painful at first, but that’s how you know it’s working. Roll each foot twice a day for about five minutes. Be sure to flex your foot and move your toes around as you roll over tight spots – try to put your foot through every possible range of motion it might see in the real world. You can do it while sitting, too, while watching TV or messing around the computer (at your standing workstation). It’s simple and can be done almost anywhere. There’s no excuse not to.

Rolling the calf takes more dedication. You have to be on the floor for it to work, and you have to focus. It’s still really, really simple, though: sit on the ground with your leg outstretched and the lacrosse ball underneath your calf. Place as much weight on the ball as you can handle, and roll up and down your calf. When you hit a tight spot, flex and extend your ankle until it starts to feel less tight. Be sure to hit every aspect of your calf. Roll each calf once a day for about five minutes.

All said, this won’t take more than thirty minutes out of your day. Furthermore, you don’t have to keep this up forever. Just do it for the week leading up to your barefoot transition, and thereafter on an as-needed basis.

Strengthen Your Feet

If you had spent your entire life barefoot, you wouldn’t need any specific foot-strengthening exercises – foot strength would have developed naturally – but you haven’t, so now you need them. I discussed similar exercises before in an old post on strengthening flat feet.

Toe spreads: Loop a rubber band around your toes, tight enough so that it pushes your toes together if you let it. Now, spread your toes out and hold that position for a few seconds. Do two sets of ten reps with each foot.

Toe squeezes: Stick pencils, fingers, or anything that can fit in between each toe and squeeze them together. Hold the squeeze for a few seconds before releasing. Do two sets of ten squeezes with each foot.

Toe points: Pick something in the room and point at it with your toe. Hold the position for five seconds, then try to point at your own face. Hold that position for five seconds. Repeat the process ten times with each foot.

Side roll: Stand up and slightly bend your knees. Roll onto the outer edges of your feet, take a few steps forward, then a few steps back to your starting spot. Roll back. Repeat for fifteen reps.

Sand walk: This obviously isn’t available to everyone, but if you have access to sand, go walk in it. As you walk (barefoot, of course), squeeze the sand with your feet. Sand grabbing is an old trick for grip building, and the same concept applies to your feet (which used to be grabby ape feet, if you go back far enough). I suppose you could also fill a bucket with sand and use that instead, if you can’t find enough sand to walk on.

As you move into frequent barefooting, your feet will naturally get stronger, but these overt exercises will help speed up the process.

Think About Your Walking Form

It’s important to have a few ideas about barefoot walking before actually kicking off the shoes and heading out. My basic foundation for barefoot walking? Take shorter strides, land softly; avoid over striding and harsh, jarring footfalls.

If you haven’t already, read the Definitive Guide to Walking and try out the various walking styles.

Use Linear Progression

While I’m a big fan of feeling things out and going with the flow, there’s something to be said for linear progression. That goes for strength training, endurance training, sprint training, and yes, barefooting. You don’t go from squatting the bar to squatting two plates, do you? Sure, you might get the weight up once or twice, and you might even finish the workout, but what about next time? Where do you go from there after the initial big jump? How do you think your connective tissue is going to feel without adequate adaptation?

When you start walking barefoot, keep it short. Don’t go to failure. Do a ten minute walk on flat ground (sidewalk, track), max, and head home. You’re sending some very strong, extremely new messages to your nervous system, feet, and legs, and you don’t want to overwhelm the physical structures before they’re ready.

The next time you walk, add ten more minutes. Maintain this progression until you’re up to an hour and it’s easy and effortless. Once adding more time doesn’t result in sore feet, calves, or legs, you’re ready for new terrain.

Sample New Ground Cautiously

The beauty of walking, hiking, and running barefoot is that you get to experience the ground in an entirely new way. When you’re wearing shoes, everything feels the same. You might notice big topographical changes, but you miss the little things. You miss the blades of grass between your toes, the way gravel sort of massages your soles, the way scalding sand gives way to cool, damp sand at the beach. Going barefoot, then, can shock your system. You will be awash in sensation that cannot be ignored. You can’t just clomp around in rubber soles. You’ve now got a new sensory front to consider. Eventually, this will give you greater mobility, stability, and control over your body, but it can also throw you off and lead to missteps, or even injuries, when you’re just starting.

Be ever aware of the ground on which you walk. Look for rocks, sticks, and other sharp things. In time, you will glide across the ground effortlessly, subconsciously integrating the sensory input from your feet, but not yet. No – for now, you have to focus on focusing on your surroundings. It’s a subtle distinction; you’ll never not focus on your surroundings. It’s just that the focusing will become second nature.

Swallow Your Pride

You’re effectively a beginner now, so act like it. Don’t try to be a hero and tackle a three hour hike right off the bat. And when you do head out for an extended walk, take a pair of trusty shoes along with you… just in case. Whenever I hit a decently-sized hike in bare feet, I bring a pair of Vibrams along, too. You never know what’s gonna happen and it pays to be prepared.

Especially for your first few real walks, runs, or hikes in bare feet, cut it short if anything goes awry. I mean anything. Weird foot pain, stubbed toe, tight calves, bee sting – just call it a day and stop where you are. You’re still getting acclimated to barefooting, you’re excited about it, and the last thing you want is to be sidelined for weeks because you went too hard too quickly.

Swallow your pride. It might not taste so great, but it’s a valuable nutritional supplement when transitioning to barefooting.

I don’t want to scare you away from barefooting. It’s really quite wonderful, safe, and rewarding (it’s certainly safer than regularly wearing shoes, in my opinion), but only if you do it right and acknowledge that the habitually shod foot is a pampered, emaciated thing ill-prepared for real work. Besides, the strategies I’ve outlined take maybe a week to implement and integrate. If you can’t spare a measly little week for the health and strength of your feet (you know, those miraculous pieces of evolutionary artistry that have been serving hominids well for millions of years?), you probably shouldn’t be barefooting in the first place.

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. Good post. I was just thinking… I should start doing some garden and yard work barefoot.

    Obey the Badger wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • I absolutely love gardening barefoot! Something about dirt between the toes is very therapeutic.

      Dawn wrote on July 28th, 2011
      • I think that it’s because we were made to have dirt between our toes :)

        TraceurX wrote on July 30th, 2011
    • Another article about making the transition to barefoot at http://www.invisibleshoe.com/1061

      Steven wrote on August 29th, 2011
  2. This is something I need to start doing, but I practically live in my shoes-they go on first thing after I get out of bed, and don’t come off till bedtime at night. My problem is nasty varicose veins in my ankles and legs, and shoes help relieve the pain. I’m going to start slow, andstart doing the foot exercises you recommend-thanks!

    Sara wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • you should take a copper supplement, its cheap and over a few months it should get rid of your varicose veins

      North Korean wrote on May 11th, 2013
  3. “Especially for your first few real walks, runs, or hikes in bare feet, cut it short if anything goes awry. I mean anything. Weird foot pain, stubbed toe, tight calves, bee sting – just call it a day and stop where you are.”

    This is the most important advice in this post, but I’d edit it by taking out “Especially for your first few” and just say “Always”. I’m going on 2 years barefoot running and still have occassions when I feel weird pains and will take a few days off. Overall, I still prefer barefoot to shod as I believe barefooting provides early warning signs that shoes cover up until its too late.

    Kelly wrote on July 28th, 2011
  4. I’ve tried barefooting a number of times. The only thing I don’t like is the near constant jabs of sharp stones or twigs into my soles, I guess with time that’ll change but for now, for me it’s the big thing to get over.

    Steve wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • Have you tried…five fingers?

      Dasbutch wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • Steve: You’re right, with time it does change. Initially there is no denying that you’ll need to grin and bear it but the soles of your feet will develop a denser layer of skin over time. Not only that but you’ll also develop an instinctive softening reaction when you land on something uncomfortable. Picture jumping amongst rocks by a river or beach and placing your foot with the anticipation of a rock being slippy and/or unstable.

      Nick Lo wrote on July 28th, 2011
  5. Thank you! I just finished college, rigorous studying was all I accomplished. Any working out was slowly lost to “higher priorities”.

    I’ve been scattering runs into my workouts now and I’m not exactly barefoot, but really close using martial arts shoes (haven’t been willing to go with Vibrams yet).

    Recently my calves have been really tight and looking around the internet wasn’t helping. I’ll try this technique soon!

    Johnathan wrote on July 28th, 2011
  6. Here is my best advice to offer newbies…

    Take it as slow as possible. DO NOT run barefoot right away. It may be the biggest mistake of your life.

    Walk, walk, walk, walk. Properly. If you wear vibrams then wear them all the damn time so your feet get used to them.

    Walk. Hike. For a long time. Then start to jog. Then run if you wish.

    Everyone is different. You must decide how long each stage is for you. Just take it slow!

    Primal Toad wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • Taking is SLOW is the best advice ever. I’m a hobbling example of going too hard too fast when it comes to barefoot. I’ve been wearing minimalist shoes for well over a year now but only recently started sprinting hard. One day I was sprinting and I cut hard to my left, there was a painful pop and now I have a metatarsal bone spur that is SOOO SLOW to heal, the bump on the top of my foot is still there going on a month now and I have to wear loose fitting shoes to keep pressure off it. GO SLOW fellow groks!

      Adam W wrote on July 28th, 2011
  7. I resorted to making my own sandals. Buy leather at the tannery, cut out my foot shape, attach 3 or 4mm climbing rope. Hurache style.

    It’s like being barefoot. The leather molds to the shape of my foot, it’s only a few millimeters thick, and very flexible. Upside is that it’s still easy to walk on hot pavement, and there’s no problem walking into stores and coffee shops.

    I’ve been making them for friends: HosingBear.com

    Jack wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • I made my first pair of huaraches in January–same style as you describe. I think I’ve made six now, with varying degrees of success. The last two pair I’ve made, I’ve drastically shortened the cord, since I don’t live in the Copper Canyons and don’t need six feet of cord in case I break it.

      I’ve also been shoeless since the school year ended more than six weeks ago. Before that, I went as long as I could during the day wearing Vibram Five Fingers, huaraches, or nothing. My question is: when will my feet stop hurting? The first few steps every morning are pretty painful, until I stretch my sole, toes, and ankles out by walking around.

      ioelus wrote on July 28th, 2011
      • Huaraches are the best! They’re great for everything from minimal rules-compliance in stores to running. I used a kit from invisibleshoe.com with their thinner 4mm Vibram material.

        About the pain: When I first went barefooty, and of course I jumped right in, my usual pathology, and wound up with traveling plantar fasciitis (from foot to foot). So I used plantar inserts in regular shoes until the pain went away and from then on transitioned more gradually to barefoot or minimally shod (huaraches, Soft Star moccasins, Feelmax shoes, and a pair of Vivo Barefoots for dress).

        Transition completed, and now my feet are great! The soles are toughening and structurally the tootsies are back 100% and free!

        PS: I live in a small beach town in North Carolina, so actual barefooting is not usually frowned upon. If it is, my huaraches are in my back jeans pocket.

        Pete H wrote on July 29th, 2011
        • Thanks for your reply, Pete. I feel like I eased into barefooting by starting in the winter, going barefoot for short periods in everything but snow, until I finally tossed my shoes entirely in late June. I don’t think I have the plantar fasciitis problems–my feet only hurt for a few minutes. Reminds me of how my calves used to feel when I used to run. The first mile or so was pretty bad, but then it either went away or everything else hurt so much I didn’t notice.

          Anyway, thanks again for responding.

          (I keep a pair of huaraches in the car, for going into stores and such.)

          ioelus wrote on July 29th, 2011
        • Ioelus – that does sound like plantar fasciitis, actually. It hurts at first, and diminishes as you start moving around. You’ll need to start back at the beginning, with structured shoes, minimal time on your feet, and rolling a golf ball under your plantar fascia. Best of luck for a quick recovery!

          Alexa wrote on July 22nd, 2012
  8. I’ve made a point of going barefoot as often as possible this summer. Although for me, that pretty much means evenings and weekends only. Early on in the summer, I walked with my children to a nearby playground a couple of blocks away. It felt great at first, but on the walk back I began to feel some nasty blisters developing on both feet. Ouch.

    After a few more weeks, though, I took an hour-long walk through my neighborhood. I brought along a pair of shoes this time, just in case, but I never needed them. No blisters this time!

    CJW wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • Yeah, the skin on the soles is some of the fastest-growing AFAIK (which makes sense when you think about it), so it adapts pretty fast to heavier use. Just take a look at the bottom of your foot and how flushed it is, full of oxygenated blood that keeps it growing and healing all the time!

      I really want to start barefooting, so maybe today is the day! The only problem is, I live in Phoenix so the pavement will literally char my feet if I don’t walk either very early in the morning or after the sun goes down. I don’t want to start out in the dark where I can’t see what I’m walking on so I guess I need to bite the bullet and start getting up earlier. :(

      Uncephalized wrote on July 28th, 2011
  9. Hi Mark,

    After following your blog for a while, I bought a pair of Vibram 5 Fingers about 3 or so weeks ago. I have been very slowly increasing distances of walking and running, and the muscle pain hasn’t been too bad. However, I have been experiencing some fairly painful blisters on the balls of my feet. I think that may just be because that part of my foot has always been cushioned within a sock and running shoe, but I was wondering if you had any other thoughts. Thanks!

    Jon wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • Is it behind the big toe, or the second toe? If it’s behind the second toe, is that toe longer than your big toe? If it is, congratulations! You have Morton’s Toe, (aka Morton’s Foot aka hyperdistalia), a rather common condition that causes you to put most of your weight on the knuckle of your second toe when you walk, instead of the big toe. That toe is not supposed to carry all your weight (that’s why your big toe is so big; it spreads out the force and keeps the pressure low in the toe tissues), so you develop blisters in the skin behind that toe as well as sometimes pain in the ball of the foot (because a too-small bone is taking too much weight). You don’t feel it in regular shoes because the padding in the sole and sock spreads the weight across more of your foot and masks the problem.

      If you keep walking on it, you’ll develop a callus on the affected area, which will protect you from blisters but unfortunately can have the effect of making the bone aching worse, because it actually elevates the toe more and makes it bear more weight. I can only presume that building up the skin across your entire foot by going totally barefoot would probably help even out the pressure (I will be trying this myself soon). The other thing I have found that helps is to consciously alter your gait to try to lean your weight over your big toe instead of your second toe whenever you take a step: If you imagine the point of contact moving along your foot as you walk, it first hits the ground in the heel, then travels forward as your weight shifts onto the foot, around the outer edge. As it reaches the front pad of the foot it then shifts inward toward the big toe, then forward along the toe before the foot picks up off the ground again. Really concentrating on that inward shift of the weight past the middle toes helps me to avoid putting too much pressure on that one toe.

      Other than that, your tissues will naturally strengthen and accommodate over time, so keep at it.

      If Morton’s Toe is not your issue, well, I don’t know what’s going on, so just ignore me. But someone else might find the above useful. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to mitigate this issue for myself. :)

      Uncephalized wrote on July 28th, 2011
      • the pain i get is behind my middle toe and its is longer then my big toe, is there a cool name for that?

        FWIW im slightly pidgeon toed (toes point in) when i walk, i suspect some of my problems stem from that

        Mike Gager wrote on July 28th, 2011
        • It may be the other way around; your pigeon-toed-ness may be your foot’s way of trying to compensate for abnormally shaped toes! Your body can do some weird stuff…

          It sounds like it may be a similar sort of problem but with the third toe instead of the second. I’ve never heard of that before though. I only know about Morton’s because I have it.

          Uncephalized wrote on July 28th, 2011
  10. I’ve been barefoot most of my life (before moving to the city) and have hiked and run countless miles shoeless. I never had to take lessons on barefoot running I just let my body be my guide (of course there were no classes on barefoot running back when I started doing it in high school). My calf skin is so thick I can put a cigarette out with the sole of my foot. It’s cool.

    Peggy The Primal Parent wrote on July 28th, 2011
  11. Hey all…PB newbie here. I´ve always had some type of foot trouble, so get more and more padding on my shoes, so this is an interesting article.
    Anyway, I as told that the reason my feet hurt when I´walk barefoot is because the “natural padding” on the soles of my feet wear´s down with age, as does your arch (I have pretty flat feet to begin with) I´m only 41, but have put my feet thru the ringer (marathons, triathlons, tons of city walking, etc)…

    Is all that true, or can I strengthen and regain some level of pain-free barefoot walking?

    thanks…loving the site by the way.

    Ric wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • I am not very knowledgeable on this but: in general if you use a crutch you will weaken whatever is being ‘crutched’. in other words: all that padding is actually doing the opposite of helping your foot be stronger. Arch supports weaken the arch, walking barefoot strengthens it. Our bodies are not made to ‘wear out’ as we use them, but the opposite. You don’t wear out a muscle by muscle building: you strengthen and grow it! and with our bodies all things are connected: your muscles ligaments tendons bones skin all are made stronger by proper, un-modern-device-enhanced use.

      (that paragraph got a little complex, sorry!)

      Cecilia wrote on July 28th, 2011
  12. Amen. I used to wear orthodontic insoles and my feet would still hurt. I went through every kind of shoe that promised “barefoot”, including Vibram Five Fingers, Nike Free, all kinds of sandals.

    It took me years to finally find a real working solution for being barefoot – in an urban environment – two.cedonulli.com/2011/06/shoes-what-for/

    Chris wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • Chris,

      I think you mean “orthotic”, not “orthodontic” (which is specifically about teeth). :-)

      Unless you have teeth on your feet, in which case it’s no wonder you had trouble finding the right shoes. :-D

      CJW

      CJW wrote on August 15th, 2011
  13. And for something closer to barefoot than Vibrams, and 1/4 the price, and easier to toss in your pocket — invisibleshoe.com

    Steven wrote on July 28th, 2011
  14. Great post, and good timing for me. I do all my workouts barefoot and most of my day to day activities. Pre PB days I had horrible plantar fascitis pain, but after losing weight and learning to move properly it has been gone for some time now. Now I am looking to start running further distances barefoot(there’s actually a race I want to run). In this I am very much a begginer and I’m trying to take it very slowly. Its pretty easy to want push myself further than I’m ready because it feels ok at the time.

    skink531 wrote on July 28th, 2011
  15. Great stuff here, as always. Was wondering though: is there any indication that collapsed arches or their symptoms can be alleviated with barefoot running/walking? Is there evidence that a life-time of wearing shoes contributes towards fallen arches in the first place? Any thoughts?

    Olly wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • I’ve seen stories over the past couple years of people who once had flat feet have their arches very slowly raise as they stopped wearing “arch supporting” shoes; enough to the point that their shoe size decreased by 1/2 – 1 american size. Here’s a website I found with some more studies and references:
      http://www.americaspodiatrist.com/2010/11/can-barefoot-running-walking-fix-flat-feet/

      Adam W wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • My arches have come back from going barefoot, and my feet are a half size smaller now! I don’t run barefoot, I just go about my business in vibrams or other minimalist shoes.
      But…I am a body worker and I know what parts of my feet to roll more than others. Plus the tibialis anterior/peroneus longus sling that Tom Myers discusses is also very important. I don’t think I would have had the same results without that.

      Joanna wrote on July 29th, 2011
    • I used to have the flattest feet of anyone I knew… after a few months of barefoot walking/running, I was developing arches.

      They’re not crazily high (that’s genetic), but they exist. When I get out of the pool and step on the ground, my footprint looks like, well, a FOOT, instead of the paddle it used to be.

      Steven wrote on July 30th, 2011
  16. Just learned this the hard way. I’ve worn shoes every waking hour of my life since childhood. 80% primal for over a year now: weight’s down 20 lbs, 5-10 more to go. Decided to do a “Tough Mudder” in December and started cardio training for the 12 mile course. I’d been sprinting in my vibrams every 10 days or so, with pretty sore shins and calves but they had time to fully recover before sprinting again. After my first 2 mile jog in vibrams it was clear my feet / legs were not prepared. The severe shin and foot pain that followed made walking uncomfortable and running impossible. Haven’t run any considerable distance since highschool cross-country 20 years ago. Decided to start from scratch and downloaded a couch to 5K app to prep for the run, and went back to traditional running shoes for the jogging with attention to correct natural form. Only a couple weeks in training but shins and feet are responding well. Otherwise going barefoot around the house as much as possible with lots of stretching and flexing of my feet. My goal is to build up strengh to 10K in shoes then step back into my vibrams. I’ll prob drop back to no more than 2-3 mile runs once or twice a week once the mudders over. Thanks Mark for all the Great info.

    Nilsson wrote on July 28th, 2011
  17. Is there any way to make the bottom of my feet tougher so it doesn’t hurt as much when I walk over sticks, mulch, rocks, or whatever else is in my path?

    Or will it just come with time??

    Mark wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • I find that it helps to try to perceive the pain differently. It helps me to realize that it hurts some when these things are stepped on, but no damage is actually being done. I think if you want to not have those things “hurt” then you should go walk on just those things until it doesn’t hurt any more. Get your body used to it. If you walk on smooth concrete all the time, then some rocks or twigs will hurt, but if you walk on rocks or twigs a lot, then it probably wont hurt as much.

      Barefoot Paul wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • I havent done this as an adult, but I remember as a kid, dirt road neighborhood in wv with lots of big rocks… At the beginning of summer, my feet hurt bad, I had to tiptoe, by the end of summer, I could run on the rocks…, so I think it comes with time…

      Nicole wrote on July 29th, 2011
  18. I live in the deserts of Arizona and usually wear my vibrams on short walks. One day, I stepped on a thorn 3/4 of an inch long that not only punctured the sole of my shoe but into my entire foot. I had to use pliers to remove it. I am wary of going barefoot now… I do still go barefoot most of the day though as I am lucky to run my own business.

    Blue Buddha wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • how is your foot now? Did it heal? What are you worried about then?

      Barefoot Paul wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • You have to be aware of where you’re stepping, a practice we don’t learn when we wear shoes.

      Pete H wrote on July 29th, 2011
  19. Ah, Mark, this is why I love your site so much. It’s like you have a sixth sense for what posts I need. Just picked up my first pair of Vibrams this week. Couldn’t be a better time for this post!!

    Joe wrote on July 28th, 2011
  20. I especially like the lacrosse ball idea. I know from working with a Rolfer that the muscles in the bottom of my right foot are much tighter than in my left. He thinks it’s because of a long-standing foot injury that keeps me from walking properly. Rolfing helps and so does self-massage.

    My Rolfer has recommended a tennis ball, but I don’t even have one, so I may as well order a couple of lacrosse balls. Using one at my standing desk is a great idea.

    HERE’S AN IDEA FOR A POST: Bone fusion. I’d like to know more about it because foot pain is linked to the absence of cartilage in the part of my foot called the talonavicular joint. Two doctors have told me that the pain is from the bones rubbing together, and the the only way to decrease the pain is to fuse the joint.

    My Rolfer doesn’t agree – he thinks the pain is from the tightness in my foot muscles. He may be right, but I only get partial and temporary relief from massage. My doctors tell me I’ll get greater and permanent relief from fusion.

    So … it would be great to see a post on the upsides and downsides of bone fusion.

    Thanks!

    Susan Alexander wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • Hey, had the same problem…bone fusion was one of the possibilities but couldn´t really go with it, seemed there woudl be too much lost mobility. Finally had and operation to “shave” down the bone so they don´t rub as much and have been fine since. May be slightly different with me given the way the bone was shaped, but again, I just thought the fusion thing would not work.

      Ric wrote on July 28th, 2011
      • Thanks. It’s good your procedure helped.

        If I have the fusion, I’ll be non-weight bearing for 6 weeks, and still pretty immobile afterwards for quite a while – 4+ months. It’s a lot to consider.

        The trouble with not doing anything is that I’m in pain, and I’m not that stable. I can see myself falling at some point and really getting injured.

        Luckily, I have a lot of faith in second doctor I’ve seen about this. I’m inclined to go forward with the surgery. Still want to know what Mark thinks, though. :-)

        Thanks for replying.

        Susan Alexander wrote on July 28th, 2011
        • I work for a foot doctor…I have seen far too many surgery problems come into our office. I would have a hard time being convinced to have ANY surgery. I also disagree with the doctor on many things. I go barefoot as much as possible. When the doctor went to Haiti where the majority of people are barefoot, she came back puzzled because she did not see the foot deformities we have in the states. The only problems there were from wounds. I was told after a cast to keep a shoe on so I would not re-break my foot. I asked why and she told me that “my bones were weak from the cast”
          …so I said…”Most shoes are like casts.. They are as supportive as a cast…They keep our bones weak.” It still did not compute. After the prescribed time of the shoe, I gradually began to be barefoot again. In martial arts class there are two inch rubber mats and we twist and turn our feet in every conceivable position. Our feet get very strong. I would get a second opinion.

          lynn wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • I think your rolfer is a little off. Rolfing has nothing to do with muscle but everything about fascia. rolfing is not a massage.

      Dasbutch wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • Over time the rolfing, with strengthening of the foot and training in proper form and funciton use will help. Between my husband and I we have seen too many people whose doctors pushed them into surgery, specifically fusions, telling them that the pain would go and stay away only to find that the surgery created more problems. If you fuse the joint without proper retraining you will likely end up with more surgeries and more pain.

      Find a great physical therapist that specializes in feet as well as non-scalpel happy podiatrist and get multiple second opinions. You may indeed need the surgery, but don’t let them cut you until you are absolutely convinced there is no other way to solve the long term problem.

      Sarah wrote on July 29th, 2011
  21. Well… we not only invented shoes, we also invented asphalt (macadamised surfaces??) and concrete. While I walk around barefoot at home and on the beach, I don’t think very rough and hard surfaces are acceptable in the long run, so to speak. Does anyone actually walk or run in the street, on the sidewalk etc. in bare feet?

    Ulla Lauridsen wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • yup. Gravel works too. Humans didn’t invent hard surfaces. Rocks on the path or trails made from hot hard mud and dirt are pretty hard. I’ve run down creek beds that were all stones and rocks. And yeah, I run on concrete too. Just land softly.

      Barefoot Paul wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • Yes, almost all of my barefoot running is on concrete or asphalt. Before going barefoot I had frequent tendinitis and ankle problems, but those are ancient history now and I quite enjoy my urban runs. Concrete and asphalt are fairly abrasive and can get hot in the summer, but your soles will eventually thicken up to meet the challenge.

      Timothy wrote on July 28th, 2011
  22. Take a few Nia classes! Nia is a fusion fitness practice that is done barefoot. But it is typically done indoors on a sprung dance floor so it is a gentle way to start. More info on Nia at http://www.nianow.com

    Nia can be done by people at all levels of fitness. It is a joyful practice inspired by martial arts, dance arts and healing arts.

    I’m a Nia instructor and I had lots of decades-long foot issues prior to taking up Nia and my feet are very healthy and happy now. The first principle of Nia is The Joy of Movement. It’s worth a try.

    Kathy wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • I love Nia and have been doing it in my Vibrams. They help me stay aware of my funky ankle.

      I’ve noticed that I’m beginning to sprint a little different in my Vibrams too. I seem to stay up on the balls of my foot instead of hitting hard on my whole foot. It just instinctively feels better that way. Anyone else sprint in their Vibrams?

      Melissa wrote on July 29th, 2011
  23. So when I first started running in huaraches, I liked to go around the gravel and stone path near my house. I ended up with massive foot pain a month in. When I went into the doctor, he told me I had a blunt-force crush injury to the bottom of my foot and asked “What have you been doing, running barefoot on rocks or something?” Um… actually… yeah.

    So yeah, now I’m easing into it by going from sneakers to minimal shoes to Vibrams and sticking to flat, smooth surfaces until I acclimate.

    Jenn wrote on July 28th, 2011
  24. I understand the allure of walking or running barefoot on sand or grass, but I’m having trouble understanding how doing so on city streets and sidewalks is safe. A MRSA infection from a dirty cut could cause one to lose a limb. Wearing no protective covering on feet seems to fail in the risk v benefit analysis. I am surprised you didn’t address this Mark.

    Lou Ann wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • Having run barefoot on the filthiest city streets near daily for over a year, my personal experience is that it’s not as risky as some might think, as long as you build up your feet gradually.

      Timothy wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • As city kids we went barefoot every summer. In the spring feet would be a little tender but long before summer’s end we would be running barefoot down the oiled rock street and cinder alley. We just washed our feet every night before climbing into bed. Never had an infection.

      My brother did puncture his foot on a nail but his tetnus immunization was current so Mom just cleaned it up, wrapped his foot in gauze and sent us out again still barefoot.

      Linda wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • Just wear Vibrams.

      Melissa wrote on July 29th, 2011
  25. Great advice from Mark. Barefooting is hugely beneficial to health in ways that are hard to imagine until you’ve experienced it first-hand.

    I never went barefoot until going primal about a year and half ago. I started by wearing Vibrams, which are an excellent intermediate step between shoes and bare feet. I recall my calves were pretty sore for the first month, but that gradually went away. After a few more months, I was able to run short distances barefoot. Now I can jog for over six miles on sidewalks and asphalt before my tread wears thin.

    A few notes for those who are getting started:

    1) Your feet will be super sensitive at first and you will feel every twig and rock, as some commenters mentioned. This is normal. Imagine if your ears had been plugged your entire life until one day when you pulled the plugs. Everything would seem unbearably noisy at first, but eventually your brain would learn to deal with the new stimulus. It’s just the same with your feet — they have as many nerve endings as your hands so they are incredibly sensitive at first. Over time, they will become less uncomfortable, but you’ll keep the sensitivity, and your feet will learn to respond to debris before your conscious brain even notices the impact.

    2) The threat of injuring yourself on debris is highly overestimated, because you’ll be watching where you’re going and your feet will quickly shift their weight if they feel something underneath. I’ve run barefoot for over a year, mostly on trash-strewn streets and sidewalks, and my only incidents were a small cut early on, a tiny thorn that I pulled out with tweezers, and a sting from a very unfortunate bee. All of these healed overnight. The only real nuisance is people who don’t pick up after their dogs…

    3) You CAN get your arches back. I had pancake-flat feet and my chiropractor assured me that I would never have arches again. Lo and behold, after a year of going barefoot, I developed measurable arches. I know at least two other people who had the same experience. Exhume your feet from their leathery tombs and they will come back to life!

    Timothy wrote on July 28th, 2011
  26. I love being barefoot, I was the kid that hardly ever wore shoes, and I’m still that way. My 5 fingers were the best thing I’ve bought. Now I can hike “barefoot”. I still struggle going down a steep hill, I tend to heel strike heavily and I’m trying to not do that. The first time I hiked truly barefoot, my feet felt awake, wonderful and just a little sore in the muscles. Then I bought the 5 fingers, and that’s all I hike in. Great stuff.

    Mary Hone wrote on July 28th, 2011
  27. I used to do competitive running as a kid. Thinking about getting back to it. I still run ridiculously faster than most normal people i know, in barefeet and my feet look waaay different from theirs, cos i still go shoeless when i can!

    Nion wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • What distances did you compete in?

      rob wrote on July 28th, 2011
  28. I prepared for barefooting by refusing to entertain the notion of barefooting.

    rob wrote on July 28th, 2011
  29. “Swallow your pride. It might not taste so great, but it’s a valuable nutritional supplement”

    Well said!

    Anne wrote on July 28th, 2011
  30. I just finished reading Born to Run and was inspired to hit the pavement last Monday night – 75% aqua socks, 25% barefoot. I really haven’t enjoyed running in the past, but this time something clicked and I really enjoyed the run. I ran over 4.5 miles (typically stop at 1.5-2 miles) and had plenty of steam in the engine. Unfortunately, I did not heed the advice of the Barefoot community to take it slow. Its been four days now and my calves are extremely sore. Fortunately they will fill better soon enough and I can begin easing my way back into barefoot running.

    pukkapunch wrote on July 28th, 2011
  31. I have extremely high arches & bunion issues. I’ve worn orthotics in my walking/workout shoes for years. As I’ve transitioned to walking in my Vibrams, my outer ankle has had to work for the first time probably ever. I’m also using my 4th and 5th toes/tendons more than ever. I didn’t realize these are the only toes connected to my heel – the 1st/2nd/3rd toes are connected to the arch/forefoot. I’ve been rolling my foot on a tennis ball after a long walk too which really helps. I’m sticking with it though! My feet finally feel ALIVE again!

    barriec wrote on July 28th, 2011
    • I also have high arches that were beginning to fall and I was starting to develop bunions as well. My feet were so weak I couldn’t even spread my toes (too many years in heels?). I’ve been wearing barefoot shoes for 6 months now and it really is making a difference. My feet feel so much better and I can spread my toes! Stick with it and good luck!

      FoCo Girl wrote on July 28th, 2011
  32. This is very cool…great advice. When I really start to think about being barefoot I realize that I have been doing it most of my life. I was barefoot as a kid almost all the time. (minus winters in the Midwest!) As a teen I lifeguarded from May to Sept and didn’t even put shoes on to drive to work. College and the beginning of my working years saw more shoe use, but since I became a stay at home mom most of my day is shoe-less! Short of heading to Costco (they don’t like the whole no shoe thing) I go about all my daily activities barefoot.

    I have yet to try a run or major walk without shoes but now I think it might be very doable for me!! :)

    Joanne - The Real Food Mama wrote on July 28th, 2011
  33. I recently transitioned to barefoot shoes and quickly discovered that I could hike forever with out any of the usual knee pain I used to get. Love it! Even discovered barefoot work shoes that are sooo comfy (thank you Merrell)!

    For women http://www.merrell.com/US/en-US/Product.mvc.aspx/22879W/50406/Womens/Barefoot-Pure-Glove/Black/J35722

    and for men http://www.merrell.com/US/en-US/Product.mvc.aspx/22874M/0/Mens/Barefoot-Tough-Glove?dimensions=0

    FoCo Girl wrote on July 28th, 2011
  34. Anyone have insight into arthritis in the ankle or foot? You’ll know it if you have it! Ankles/feet are sometimes super tight upon waking, and achy breaky a lot. I strongly advocate lacrosse ball and stretching the feet, but would welcome any other insight.

    Jane wrote on July 28th, 2011
  35. As a another early step toward the very slow adoption of barefootin’ (who else is old enough to remember that song?), I suggest a pair of Toms. On a recent two week trip to France, I wore them exclusively when not actually barefoot. They were civilized enough for cities, but minimal enough for comfort. I trekked all over Paris, did country hikes, vineyard visits, etc., etc. and my feet were 100% happy.

    evadnefrances wrote on July 28th, 2011
  36. love the idea of being barefoot! growing up (filipino household) we never wore shoes inside the house, all of our friends and family too. it’s customary that you’d be barefoot in your home. my husband and i have always been barefoot in our home, but recently just enforced it for our guests when our daughter was born a little over a year ago. it’s awkward at first to tell your guest- “we don’t wear shoes in our home” :)but i’ve noticed that once they take their shoes off they are actually more comfortable! i think it also helped our daughter to walk sooner than 1 year AND be way more comfortable with her movements & body. it’s really interesting when she started to stand to see her toes react to her body to help her balance! even now as she climbs up onto things, like our couch to watch her toes grip! yay for being barefoot!

    jos wrote on July 28th, 2011
  37. I like taking BIG steps when I walk. I don’t like scanning the ground for every little rock and twig, unable to enjoy the walk.
    I like wearing flat, soft, real leather shoes that are so wide at the toes that they can stretch out within it.
    The Vibram FiveFingers kinda suck in the sense that the 2nd toes MUST be shorter in order for them to give a perfect fit. I’d love to own a pair, since it’s exactly what I like (thickness wise), but since my 2nd toes is way longer than my big toe, I wrote them off long ago.

    I would never go for a hike through the sawtooth mountains barefoot. The rocks are extremely sharp and EVERYWHERE. Grok certainly made shoes for himself, so did the american indians, so why should I go barefoot. Besides, that is one way to get a parasite.

    Primal Palate wrote on July 28th, 2011
  38. I started barefooting on a treadmill. I started in the winter in maine, no way was I walking barefoot in the snow :-) I still haven’t transitioned to bare feet out side. My yard is full of nasty bugs and prikly things. I’ll stick to minimalist shoes outside. Inside I’m always barefoot. I went to the beach a lot when I was young and always went barefoot in the sand. That is the best feeling ever.

    bbuddha wrote on July 28th, 2011
  39. Bought me a pair of Merrell trail gloves the other day so going to do some barefooting this weekend :D

    Christoffer wrote on July 28th, 2011
  40. Great information Mark! Thanks for the post.

    I am wondering how difficult a transition it would be for me to go barefoot? For as long as I can remember, the bulk of my time has been spent walking barefoot, with the exception of when footwear is required (work, public events, grocery stores, etc.) I find that I just gravitate towards being barefoot or wearing as minimalistic footwear as humanly possible. I wonder if I would even notice a difference if I switched to a completely barefoot lifestyle (excluding huarachas and vibrams)?

    Heidi wrote on July 28th, 2011

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