Meet Mark

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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March 24, 2015

How to Safely and Enjoyably Transition to a Barefoot-Dominant Lifestyle

By Mark Sisson
47 Comments

The way we wear them, shoes are a real problem. They sever our physical connection to the earth, perturb our natural running and walking gait, and probably increase our risk of running injuries by increasing the forces acting on our joints when we land. That’s fairly basic stuff for readers of this blog, many of whom are intellectually on board with the barefoot thing and convinced of the benefits. And yet actually going barefoot is a big leap for most people. Something holds them back.

The actual ditching of the shoes isn’t the problem. Baring your feet to the world isn’t your hang up. You’re willing to get rid of your shoes and buy minimalist ones; maybe you already have. The main impediment to your complete embrace of the unshod foot is the necessary transition from years of wearing shoes to a barefoot-dominant lifestyle.

People just don’t know how to do it safely or effectively. They’ll read a blog post or two, ditch their shoes, buy a pair of Vibrams, strap ‘em on, and resume their normal activities: CrossFit WODs, marathons, long hikes, and general ambling around town conducting daily business. If they’re blessed with incredibly resilient feet, the transition is smooth. If they’re not, they can get injured. And when the newly barefoot show up with a strained Achilles’ tendon or crippling calf cramps or even a stress fracture in their toe because the shock of the transition was too much for their shoe-soft lower limbs, everyone goes “Told ya so” and the barefoot-dominant lifestyle’s “faddishness” is confirmed for everyone involved. Recently, a ridiculous lawsuit against Vibram made national headlines, as one poor user challenged their claim that the shoes could strengthen feet and prevent injuries. So hey, don’t sue me when i suggest that transitioning to more barefoot time–safely–can help strengthen your feet! Disclaimer: Transitioning to more barefoot time frivolously can get you injured!

Yeah: the vast majority of people need to nail the transition between the shod and barefoot ways of life. And until now, there simply hasn’t been a reliable, comprehensive resource for making that transition in a safe and effective way.

Enter my latest eBook: Amazing Feets! – How to Safely and Enjoyably Transition to a Barefoot-Dominant Lifestyle

It’s a comprehensive guide to safely making the transition to a barefoot-dominant lifestyle.

Because an important, but underrated Primal Law is “Avoid stupid mistakes.” Needless risk is foolish, and taking them can put you out of commission and jeopardize your quality of life. Going barefoot without doing due diligence and easing through the transition is one of the stupider mistakes a person can make.

I decided to write this because I’ve been to the other side and back. I spent a decade running hundreds of miles every week. As an endurance athlete, my choice of shoes was predicated on its ability to absorb the impact of the road and deaden my nerves enough to allow me to continue running hundreds of miles every week.

But, after years of chronic injuries, poor posture, and tissue inflammation, I realized my errors and changed my ways.

I’ve now spent the better part of a decade leading a barefoot-dominant lifestyle. I own my own business, partially so I can wear whatever the heck kind of shoe I want while working. I often work from home, so I can go entire days without even looking at a pair of shoes. I live near the beach and make it a point to feel the sand between my toes on a daily basis. Whenever possible, I’m barefoot. When it’s not, I’m in minimalist shoes that place the feet in barefoot-like conditions.

I go barefoot primarily because it feels good. I’ve always preferred being barefoot, but until about ten years ago I thought I “had” to wear protective shoes to, well, protect my feet, joints, and legs from all the running.

But there are other benefits to leading a barefoot-dominant lifestyle:

Renewed connection to the earth: In shoes, ground is ground. Whether we walk on cobblestone, lava rock, loamy earth, sand, or concrete makes no difference to our rubber soled feet. It all feels the same. Going barefoot, or wearing thin-soled minimalist shoes, allows the thousands of nerve endings lining your footbed to feel the ground and transform how we experience the simple act of walking.

Safer running: A forefoot landing is more economical, reduces loading on the joints, and is the type of landing your body defaults to when barefoot. Running with an elevated heel forces you into a heel strike that’s less efficient and produces greater peak impact forces on joints. Although further research is sorely needed to confirm the protective benefits, most reviews of the literature admit that the available data “suggest barefoot running may be associated with positive biomechanical changes in regards to injury prevention.” For example, barefoot running decreases stride length, which reduces the ground reaction forces (GRF). Excessive GRFs may contribute to non-contact knee injuries.

Better posture: Posture starts at the feet. When you wear shoes with an elevated heel, you’re forced into a forward lean. To account for the lean, you compromise the position of at least one (but likely all) of the major joints along the kinetic chain. Maybe you tuck your pelvis, which stresses your lower back and puts it into hyperextension, which causes you to slump your shoulders, which gives you tight pecs and a sore neck, which leads to chronic headaches and anterior shoulder issues. By ditching the shoes with elevated heels, you can reclaim your natural posture.

Better balance: Giving those nerve endings in your feet access to the sensory information provided by the environment also improves something called “foot position awareness,” a fancy name for stability and balance. Thick shoes remove this proprioceptive awareness, reducing balance and stability and increasing the risk

Gentler walking: When you walk barefoot or in minimalist shoes, you know if you’re plodding along abrasively because you feel it in your bones. That’s why barefoot walking is easier on the joints and can even reduce pain in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee — you get instant feedback from your own body.

The benefits to going barefoot are considerable, but you really do have to get it right or you risk ending up worse than when you started. After reading Amazing Feets!, you’ll have learned:

  • How being barefoot made us human
  • Why shoes sever our connection to the natural world
  • Why the minimalist shoe industry has exploded in popularity — and how it’s not a temporary fad
  • How a barefoot-dominant lifestyle can improve your physical health, posture, and performance
  • How ditching protective shoes can improve your running efficiency and reduce the risk of injuries
  • The right way to stand, walk, and run
  • How to safely and effectively transition into a barefoot-dominant lifestyle using a detailed 3-tiered program
  • What to do, step-by-step, from the moment you remove your shoes
  • Specific exercises and stretches to prepare your feet, ankles, and legs for the barefoot transition
  • The best minimalist shoes, barefoot accessories, and additional resources to help your transition

Amazing Feets! is now available – and only available – as part of the Bodyweight Bundle 2.0, a premier collection of bodyweight strength and conditioning programs, bodyweight mobility guides, bodyweight fat loss manuals, bodyweight nutrition eBooks, and bodyweight workout videos.

For just $37, you get everything you’ll ever need to get strong, fit, fast, lean, flexible, and healthy using only your bodyweight. Purchased separately, the products in the package are worth $1033.97. So this is an insane deal.

Plus, if you hate it, you have 30 days to get your money back. No questions asked. But I’m pretty sure you’re going to love it.

$37 is worth it for the ease of a safe transition into barefoot living alone. That you also get 36 of the best bodyweight fitness and health eBooks around. This just sweetens the deal and, frankly, makes it a no-brainer in my estimation.

If you’re wondering how last year’s Bodyweight Bundle 1.0 compares to this year’s 2.0, Bodyweight Bundle 2.0 contains 20 completely new programs. So even if you were lucky enough to get in on 1.0, this year’s version has plenty of new eBooks to love.

The deal’s only good through Friday, March 27, though, so get on it. This is a huge opportunity that you don’t want to miss.

I’m extremely proud of Amazing Feets!, and if you pick up the bundle in the next few days, I think you’ll agree. Even if you’re not ready to make the barefoot transition today, taking advantage of this bundle now will secure the means to safely do it when you are.

Once you’ve read and digested the book, please let me know how it’s helped your transition to a barefoot-dominant lifestyle. It’s been very helpful to the beta-readers, and I can’t wait to hear how it works for everyone else.

Thanks for reading, everyone!

Get Your Copy of Amazing Feets! and the Entire Bodyweight Bundle 2.0 Here>>

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47 Comments on "How to Safely and Enjoyably Transition to a Barefoot-Dominant Lifestyle"

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Kathy
Kathy
2 years 4 months ago

I don’t wear barefoot shoes and probably won’t until my current shoes wear out. However I’ve always made it a point of never wearing shoes unless I am going out. In the warmer seasons, I am always barefoot in my yard.
I grew up on the beach. Never wore shoes at the beach and never knew anyone who did. I would still consider shoes essential for the more rough portions of Cliff Walk though.

Erica
2 years 4 months ago

My husband rags on me for walking around (inside and out) barefoot all the time. I remember growing up my Mom always did the same and her feet were always so hardened, but she never cared (nor do I) and I kinda thought it was cool she could walk around outside and never freak out about us having to put shoes on first.

Debi
Debi
2 years 4 months ago

I wish I could just get your book! My 13 yr. would like to learn more. I home school here , so this could be part of school. Is there any way to just get your book?

Damien
Damien
2 years 4 months ago

I’m only interested in this book too. Will it be avaible later alone?

Groktimus Primal
2 years 4 months ago

No more agony of dah-Feet! 🙂

starmice
starmice
2 years 4 months ago
Sold! Am purchasing this bundle today, sounds awesome! I had a question on the primal way to recover from plantar fasciitis. I work from home so am barefoot most of the time, and developed plantar fasciitis when trying to train for a 5K in minimal-ish footwear. So conventional wisdom is telling me that in order to heal from plantar that I have to wear supportive shoes or slippers all the time at home now, and to wear supportive footwear. Is this true because I’m injured? I’ve been doing Kelly Starrett’s stretches and smashes, which help, as does massage and myofascial… Read more »
b2curious
2 years 4 months ago
I developed plantar fasciitis when pregnant with my youngest. (Don’t hop off of a low stool when overweight and 7-8 month pregnant.) It was also several years before I discovered this site, or knew anything about Primal/paleo lifestyles. I thought I was doomed to a life of arch supports and Birkenstock type sandals. My advice is going to come from bits and pieces I picked up over the years. This site was the last step to ditching my arch supports. While your plantar fascia heals, you may need to wear arch supports at least part of the day, like when… Read more »
starmice
starmice
2 years 4 months ago

Very helpful, thank you!

b2curious
2 years 4 months ago

You’re welcome. I’m glad I could help. It’s better than what I got from my former family doctor’. His advice was: this is a form of arthritis and you’ll need to take NSAIDs for the rest of your life. His first choice was one that I couldn’t take while breastfeeding, so he had to look up a new one. I declined it and took ibuprofen as needed, and developed a new affection for Google.

Granny Gibson
Granny Gibson
2 years 4 months ago

Inside, all the time. Outside, we’re still waiting for the snow to melt. :p

ShaSha
ShaSha
2 years 4 months ago
I went barefoot as a child on the farm. Finally started wearing shoes when we moved to the city. Always have chosen super flat, wide toe type shoes that let my feet be as comfortable as possible, with no lift or extra cushion at all. These kinds of shoes (for women, at least) are widely available at places like Walmart, Target, etc. They are very inexpensive and last as long as anything else. I can’t wear vibrams because I have a very long middle toe that doesn’t fit in them, but that’s ok. I just keep wearing these flats and… Read more »
Stacie
2 years 4 months ago

Merrell makes a shoe with a big toe box and the Vibram sole, so still a “barefoot” shoe without the little toes. Just wore out my first pair after two years not too long ago, and purchased my second pair about a month ago. Merrell also makes a pace glove that is seriously just like the Vibrams but without the toes. Awesome shoes.

RobS
RobS
2 years 4 months ago

For those who don’t want to buy the whole pack, Katy Bowman has a new book out “Whole Body Barefoot: Transitioning Well to Minimal Foot Wear” available on amazon.com and other retailers or her blog.

Dawn from the Frozen North
Dawn from the Frozen North
2 years 4 months ago
Hi Mark, I just found your website last week. Love it. Thought you might be interested in a shoe story. My husband and i have been building our dream cabin over the last few summers. I am scared of heights, but that didn’t stop me from sealing the wood panelling on our cathedral ceiling. When i first went up on the scafold to paint, I would complain at the end of the day that my feet were just killing me in my every day running shoes. One day, after spending time earlier at the beach, I forgot to switch from… Read more »
Time Traveler
Time Traveler
2 years 4 months ago
Transitioning to barefoot running is extremely important. But so is the surface as I’ve learned the hard way. After walking barefoot for a while and running in minimalist shoes for a number of years (I love my Inov8 road-extreme 178), I thought that I was ready to run barefoot; only I choose to do it on cobblestone paved sidewalks. After my 3rd 5K run over a period of a month, I developed a stress fracture (metatarsal) in my right foot. What I’ve learned from the experience is that aside from choosing a better surface to run on, a longer acclimatization… Read more »
Jana
Jana
2 years 4 months ago
I absolutely used to love being barefoot as much as possible, until I had kids. Every winter I wore shoes. When it would get warm enough I would be barefoot all the time even to walk across the street to get the mail in 100 degree heat on blacktop. We used to walk on gravel to toughen our feet. Yet, when I had kids my feet started doing something weird. My toes would fray and peal and bleed instead of callous. My feet would start cracking too (this is something my mom has and no matter what she does they… Read more »
Curtis
Curtis
2 years 4 months ago

Off-topic: Does anyone have good suggestions for affordable, minimal work shoes for men? I’ve been going with cheap slip-ons, but the soles wear out fast with walking an hour every day on lunch.

Ben Whitaker
Ben Whitaker
2 years 4 months ago

Check out lems. They have several normal. Looking casual styles. I’ve got 2 pair, and and they seem to hold up decently. https://www.lemsshoes.com

Curtis
Curtis
2 years 4 months ago

Thanks, Ben. $120 is a little out of my price range. I’ve seen this brand before.

Mark
Mark
2 years 4 months ago

I only wish I had seen this a month ago. I switched to minimalist shoes then (Inov-8–they’re great) but got myself my first stress fracture of my 3rd metatarsal a week later at the end of a gentle and slow 10 mile walk. Definitely not ditching the shoes but being pretty immobile for a month or more is sure making me cranky. I walk a lot so I just thought I could switch without much of an issue. Good learning experience I guess.

MarielleGO
MarielleGO
2 years 4 months ago
This should have come earlier!!! After 6 months of bliss of walking on my vibrams I decided to play tennis on them. It resulted in a long term injury because I forgot that if you drag your foot behind you not all toes are forces into that position. Some might move differently now that they have freedom… I ripped apart multiple muscles and damaged bones… I would love to go completely barefooted but it’s not safe. There are so many unnatural dangers on the way, glass, needles, sharp plastics, etc… Around the house it is okay, on festivals it is… Read more »
Kelda
2 years 4 months ago

I’ve been in Vibrams now for 5 years, wear nothing else, play badminton, hike, have jogged off road (don’t recommend hard surface running), do lots of around town walking, would never, ever go back. Still encounter the stares and ‘look at her feet’ and the nudges. Always makes me smile, it’s as if people have forgotten they too have toes.

Duncan
Duncan
2 years 4 months ago

One of the downsides of living in snowy, Winter climate is that minimalist shoes just aren’t possible for a few months during the year. My back can really feel it, too. I noticed a huge difference in back soreness when I started wearing minimalist shoes (much less).

Laurie
Laurie
2 years 4 months ago
I loved being barefoot nearly all the time. Started gradually 4-5 years ago. Loved barefoot sprints on the beach. Foot doc warned me I’d develop heel spurs but I loved being barefoot so didn’t listen. Guess I should have! Started having heel pain a few months ago and tried ice, heat, etc but nothing helped until now it’s painful to even stand. Went for x-Rays that show a very large jagged spur covering half my heel! The doc was nice enough not to say “I told you so”. For what it’s worth, some people develop inflammation in the heel and… Read more »
Gail
Gail
2 years 4 months ago

Laura, prolozone shots have helped me with foot pain, especially the heel spur I developed a couple of months ago. Prolozone involves the use of oxygen (O2) and holistic medicine that heals and regenerates the impacted area. You will have to go to a holistic or alternative medicine doctor for the treatment.

Laurie
Laurie
2 years 4 months ago

Gail, thanks for this! I will definitely look into it!

Gail
Gail
2 years 4 months ago

You are welcome!

Stacie
2 years 4 months ago
I transitioned to barefoot shoes a few years ago by wearing a pair of VivoBarefoot shoes to work and walking on my lunch breaks. Then I started changing my gait on the run (without changing my shoes, which I think at the time were some Nikes with a big toe box and only a small elevated heal), and after 4 months of walking + changing my form, I started to run in barefoot shoes. Haven’t looked back. I used to have terrible knee pain when I ran, and really just hated all aspects of running. Barefoot running was pain free… Read more »
Robert
Robert
2 years 4 months ago

I been going barefoot along time now but I am having a problem with the back of my ankle. It hurts but mostly from over use or at least when I am using it a lot it hurts.
I believe the problem is above the plantar and right at the back of the ankle. Do you think this book would help or any other advice?
Thanks

Doug W
Doug W
2 years 4 months ago

Hi Mark,

Sounds like a good bundle and in fact I purchased it. pretty disappointed in the delivery though. VERY VERY spammy/gimmicky and you also have to download every item separately (not a big deal but kind of annoying.)

Love your stuff Mark but this partner deal looks like it wasn’t well screened.

keep up the good work.

De
De
2 years 4 months ago

I agree with the spammy/gimmicky part. You have to wade through several annoying pages of add-on pitches before purchasing.

Also, and while I haven’t downloaded every single e-book yet, I was disappointed that I don’t see much here for real beginners like me – looks like it’s geared to gym rats despite the premise.

Beatrix Willius
Beatrix Willius
2 years 4 months ago

Most of the “barefoot” shoes like the Vibrams are a no-go for the office. House shoes are easy: felt for the winter and espadrilles for the summer. But what about nice and warm shoes for the winter? With my arthritis I have to be extra careful about keeping my feet warm.

Coco
Coco
2 years 4 months ago

Depends where you live and what you mean by warm. Soft Star Shoes make a wide range of shoes and, according to their reviews, can be worn in the office and also in the winter. Where I live I need winter boots in winter so I feel like I can’t really help you.

Beckie
Beckie
2 years 4 months ago

Just wondering if anyone has any experience of transitioning to vibrams with club feet, as a child I always had to wear special shoes and then in my early twenties I devolved a knee problem from running in sports shoes and then saw a podiatrist who gave me custom made orthotics which I have found made the knee problem worse however now I find my feet and knees are best in least restrictive shoes. I normally wear converse and would love to go to vibrams but unsure if they are suitable
Would love to hear anyone’s experience

Silver
Silver
2 years 4 months ago

I am Indian, and live in the states right now. Growing up in India, the custom is to leave footwear outside the house. So effectively, we walk around barefoot for the most part. As a kid, I’ve spent hours running around outside with no shoes on. Even here, in Caliifornia, we walk barefoot at home. I use my Vibrams for bodypump and fitness class and love it. It feels great! I’m starting to appreciate a lot of things about my culture that I thought were uncool during my teenage years and early twenties. 🙂

barry
barry
2 years 4 months ago

Any thoughts on how this works for people with flat feet? Mine are ridiculously flat and I wear orthopedic insoles in my shoes. Standing up still for a long time will make my feet hurt like hell. The orthopedics help, but not enough. So any ideas of transitioning to minimalistic shoes could help more?

Maria
2 years 4 months ago
Storm
Storm
2 years 4 months ago
When I transitioned to “barefoot” running, it was like learning to walk all over again, but over time I gained efficiencies through a shorter stride and landing on the forefoot more, and I can now really “feel” the ground. Even though its only a slight difference in length, adding that extra length to the ground contact point increases leverage quite substantially if your aware of it and use it – think of like “whipping” your feet against the ground. This is not unlike the use of the “false grip” in gymnastics – substantial increased leverage form a slight change in… Read more »
Katie H.
Katie H.
2 years 4 months ago

I love the idea of switching to a more “barefoot” style shoe but am a professional dog walker and am on my feet 8-10 hours/day on sidewalks. Anyone know if that kind of time on hard cement could end up doing more harm than good in a shoe without much support? Thanks!!

Xavier
Xavier
2 years 4 months ago

Question for barefoot enthusiasts: We evolved walking barefoot, so ergonomically this makes a ton of sense, BUT grok walked on soil and leaves, and today we walk on contrete sidewalks, hardwood floors, and and generally surfaces much less forgiving than soft forest ground. It seems like a very small amount of foot cushion would actually get us closer to the ground grok walked on, yeah? I’m ready to be educated here, I’d just like to hear how general barefoot strategy takes modern hard surfaces into account. Thanks!

Frank
Frank
2 years 2 months ago

I’m interested on this answer as well. I have two Vibram 5-fingers, and when I use them for a few hours on hard surfaces I feel pain on some of the metatarsals. I don’t feel that when barefoot, but there is something on my shoes that presses more this specific metatarsals.

I love the vibrams shoes, but I have not adjusted to the 5-fingers model yet.

Dana
Dana
1 year 5 months ago
Not all our natural paths are soft and it is only when you are walking off the beaten path will you encounter the soft under footing. Nature has a lot of surfaces that are tougher to walk on then the nice smooth sidewalks we have today. Consider a rough rocky trail where you can never place your foot flat on the ground, here your foot now needs to support itself and can not depend upon the shoe for a firm platform. Areas filled with gravel are also a lot tougher on your feet then a smooth hard sidewalk. So while… Read more »
Xavier
Xavier
1 year 5 months ago
Thanks for responding, that comment has been dormant for quite some time! I probably should have elaborated in my original post. It sounds like you’re talking about the surface of our feet, and I’m more interested in the impacts to our tarsal bones, ankles, and knees. Concrete and hardwood floors have no “give” to them, and while they’re certainly smoother and more pleasant for the bottoms of our feet, it seems impossible they’re as gentle on our joints as a dirt path or beach sand. I’m asking about having a small amount of cushion in my shoes to account for… Read more »
Dana
Dana
1 year 5 months ago
I have to admit I am new to barefoot walking, but I don’t find hard surfaces unpleasant to walk on even though the have no give. I went barefoot running for the first time Sunday on the pavement and it didn’t feel hard on my joints. I’ve been running in minimalist shoes and have concentrated on landing softer. If anything walking/running barefoot has taught me to walk softer. I don’t land on my heel first so my muscles are absorbing a lot of the shock. I switched to minimalist style running because every time I took up running I would… Read more »
Xavier
Xavier
1 year 5 months ago
Do whatever works for you. Sounds like you’re newer to the barefoot lifestyle than I am, we probably have different experiences. One thing I WILL say, Google “barefoot running study” and you’ll see a lot of links that don’t even come CLOSE to scientific consensus. A study from Harvard claiming it’s the best thing you can do for your body, a study from Yale claiming it’s the WORST thing you can do! And pages more of contradictory findings. Unless/until we find a more unified scientific conclusion, I’ll be practicing moderation: minimal shoes with a couple millimeters of padding rather than… Read more »
Shaun
Shaun
1 year 6 months ago

I’m a bit bemused by this. In Australia we go barefoot all the time. It’s no big deal. All of a sudden there are all of these northern hemisphere gurus telling of the importance of going barefoot as if it’s the next big thing. What’s with that?

Blade
Blade
1 year 4 months ago

“further research is sorely needed to confirm the protective benefits,”

Honest research doesn’t set out to “confirm” a pre-existing bias. It takes a skeptical “show me” mindset. Start with the null hypothesis, that it is not any better at all. Then do the grunt work – experiments – to see if there is credible evidence that barefoot is better, or not. Anything short of that, you should stop saying that it is better. Be honest, admit your bias, and say that in truth you really Just. Don’t. Know.

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