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

The Barefoot Backlash: Are the Naysayers Right After All? (Hint: No.)

barefoot3Every few days, I get emails from readers worried about the growing barefoot backlash. The media has gone from shooting out a positive article or two every couple months about this “crazy, quirky new fad” of barefoot running to spearheading the charge condemning the practice as dangerous and unAmerican. It’s like clockwork; when something becomes too well known and popular to justify glowing, exploratory write-ups that interest readers, you start attacking it, and the readers come flowing back. They see the results of a perfectly reasonable study fall into their newsfeed and the wheels begin to turn. “How can I interpret this research in such a way to maximize ire raised?” The press loves a good backlash, even (especially) if they have to manufacture it.

And so the headlines come in droves. And boy are they scary and ominous.

The scare tactics used in these articles will be familiar:

Quotes from podiatrists and physical therapists who are seeing a “rash of barefoot running-related injuries” in their clinics. I would certainly hope that podiatrists and physical therapists are seeing people with injuries. It’d be pretty strange if people without lower extremity injuries were going in to see the podiatrist just for the heck of it. Besides, how does their anecdotal evidence compare with the empirical evidence that 90% of people training for a marathon (the vast majority of whom are wearing shoes) will get injured?

Construction of strawmen, like this idea that barefoot or minimalist runners are all doing it for the “increased running economy” and “to run faster.” Who says that? People generally switch to barefoot running to avoid (or fix existing) injuries, improve proprioceptive awareness, and increase sensory enjoyment of running. There’s even evidence that running in Vibram Fivefingers (and, presumably, in other minimalist shoes or none at all) results in greater improvements to mood than running in standard shoes. Besides, now that they mention it, there actually is evidence that minimally-shod runners are more economical due to greater amounts of elastic energy storage and release in the lower leg.

References to the lack of elite runners going barefoot. Well, yeah. Going barefoot has never been about maximizing your performance or destroying the opposition. It’s not about emulating what the elite do, because, let’s face it, the elite are sacrificing health for the sake of performance. Shoes allow you to tune out the pain and push yourself past your body’s naturally-endowed limits. That’s fine if you’re getting paid (well) to do it, but if your training is extracurricular, it should be enjoyable and health-promoting.

As is often the case, the blame lies squarely in the laps of the “journalists” salivating over the prospect of a controversial story that will populate the comment section with angry parties from both sides and drum up hits to their article, not the scientists behind the research. They’re generally just trying to figure out what’s going on with the barefoot running thing, and their conclusions are very reasonable and measured. Let’s look at some of the most recent research into barefoot running to see what’s really going on:

Study #1: Economy and rate of carbohydrate oxidation during running with rearfoot and forefoot strike patterns.

What an anti-barefoot article might say about it: Rearfoot striking is more economical than forefoot striking.

What the study actually says: “No differences in Vo2 or %CHO were detected between groups when running with their habitual footstrike pattern.” Habitual forefoot runners and habitual rearfoot runners were equally economical. However, when forefoot runners tried heel-striking and heel-strikers tried forefoot running, the latter group were less economical than the former group. This shouldn’t surprise you. Forefoot running takes practice, especially if you’ve been heel-striking all your life. Most people end up on their tippy toes bouncing up and down rather than smoothly gliding forward on their first try; the up and down motion wastes a ton of forward momentum and is anything but economical.

Study #2: EMG and tibial shock upon the first attempt at barefoot running.

What an anti-barefoot article might say about it: Barefoot running has “detrimental effects on the runner,” increasing strain on the calves and shocking the shins.

What the study actually says: Barefoot style running may be “ultimately less injurious,” but it poses an initially greater shock to the lower extremities that must be accounted for. Habitually shod runners who heel strike should “undertake the process cautiously” before switching to barefoot running.

Study #3: Minimalist shoe injuries: Three case reports

What an anti-barefoot article might say about it: Running in minimalist shoes has been shown to increase injury rates.

What the study actually says: “All three of the runners switched immediately to the minimalist shoes with no transition period. We recommend that any transition to minimalist shoe gear be performed gradually.”

So, is going barefoot totally safe? Do we really have nothing to worry about?

Well, no. I never said we did. No one said that. Nothing is inherently safe. It’s all in how you do it.

Barefooting is not a panacea. It doesn’t make you invulnerable to running injuries; it makes you more sensitive to their approach.

I’m not sure we’re even meant to run as much as some people like to do, whether barefoot or shod. As humans, we can distance run. As humans, we did distance run. But Grok wasn’t training for marathons. He wasn’t logging miles for the hell of it. The distance run evolved as a necessity, as a way to procure food: the persistence hunt. It was an intermittent event, an acute dose of endurance activity, not a chronic one repeated ad infinitum. Because of that, there’s a threshold – and it’s different for everyone – after which you’re going to incur injuries if you keep running. Being barefoot offers a good barometer for that threshold. When we’ve had too much barefoot running, we generally feel it in our feet. Our soles grow tender, the foot muscles themselves might get overworked and sore, and the surrounding and supporting musculature and connective tissue start to tire. That’s a feature, not a flaw! Our feet are telling us to lay off them, to take a break, and that if we don’t, we risk serious injury. Shoes sever that connection. They obscure the message and make us think we have more in the tank than we actually do.

You can’t just “go barefoot” and have perfect form. You have to work at it. Barefoot running and even walking are skills that must be learned, whether through expert instruction or careful exploration of one’s own experience.

I used to think that sticking someone in a pair of Vibrams or having them run barefoot on a beach would naturally and necessarily prevent heel striking. This is not always the case. As minimalist running has grown more popular, it’s become increasingly clear that some people are able to maintain their heel striking habits even while minimally shod. Heel striking in minimalist shoes or while barefoot is far more damaging than heel striking in padded shoes. The only advantage I see is that it’s such a jarring experience to slam your bare heel on the ground (seriously, try it: jump up an inch off the ground and land on your bare heels; you’ll feel the shockwaves up through your entire body) that you couldn’t keep it up long enough to do too much damage. Heel striking in padded shoes is tolerable, which allows the damage to accumulate inconspicuously. Similarly, boxers are more likely to develop brain damage than mixed martial artists, probably because the padding on boxing gloves allows fighters to take hundreds of blows to the head in a single bout. MMA fighters wearing smaller gloves with far less padding often end fights with a single blow. They’re actually better off because they take far fewer hits and fights are over far more quickly.

Barefooting is a big change for most people who’ve spent the bulk of their lives walking and running in shoes.

Barefooting feels natural for the majority of people, but just because it feels right doesn’t mean your feet and lower body musculature aren’t atrophied from years or decades of shoes. You have to make the barefoot transition slowly and deliberately or risk some of these injuries mentioned in the articles, especially if you’re planning on barefoot running, which places a considerably greater load on your body than walking.

Like the recent flurry of articles criticizing ancestral health and Primal living ended up lecturing us on things we’d already hashed out in the community years ago, much of the barefoot backlash involves breathless “experts” uncovering what we’ve already known for a long time.

What about you, folks? Have you experienced a barefoot backlash? If you’ve ever tried barefooting or wearing minimalist footwear, how did it work out for you? Stick with it?

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. I love wearing minimalist shoes and that’s pretty much all I ever wear. Been doing minimalist footwear since 2008. Still, if I’m backpacking, if there’s not enough padding under my feet, it can get a little painful. So I don’t backpack in super minimalist shoes, just zero-drop or close to it running shoes with a little padding. In snow or places with cactus thorns, out come the boots. I hate the boots.

    Diane wrote on October 16th, 2013
  2. This is one area of the primal lifestyle that I feel I miss out on. I am bowlegged enough that I start to feel pain in my ankles when on my feet for a good amount of time (I started noticing this after switching to a standing desk). My dad has similar legs and he’s at the point now where he can’t walk around or be on his foot a lot. Obviously this doesn’t take into account all our other lifestyle differences but it makes me worried. I’m currently wearing orthopedics which seem to help to a certain degree but I dislike having such a crutch. I’d love to walk around barefoot or in minimalist footwear but I don’t want to potentially screw future me.

    Rob wrote on October 16th, 2013
    • I’d like to address your reply. Notice in Mark’s post about “correct” walking…apply that to everything, standing, running etc.
      I have had many issues over the years and like you said, “hey my hips/legs/body are just like Mom’s”….so will probably have double hip replacement in my 50’s etc. To prevent that I’ve been on a quest for 25 years, lots of ups and downs to see what works. Turns out at 61 I have improved instead of replaced. Food choices/supplements….but most recently (last 5 years) consistant chiropractic and myofacial release therapy along with guided yoga. The best tip I got came recently in the last few months. When doing one of the standing poses with my knee over my heel. The instructor said push the inside of your knee to the outside of your hip. Did it and it was hard for me. Put have persisted and my walk has become almost effortless. Hips feel loose and my legs feel almost disconnected from my torso. I’ve decided that we need to be like rag dolls, are arms and legs need to be loose and moveable. One may think this is just a joint issue. It’s not. There is so much involved, hamstring tightness, inflammation, etc. Alignment and moving with muscle and not bone were my issues. I’m aware and improvement was swift once I knew what to do. I always thought I didn’t walk right, and now that I do what a difference. I understand there are even classes on correct walking…good luck

      Pat wrote on October 16th, 2013
      • Thanks for the reply. It’s something I have to put some more time into researching and working on. I know the correct form for standing/walking/running will be important but you make a good point about the other things to watch out for like muscle tightness, etc. I will keep that in mind as I do more experimentation.

        Rob wrote on October 16th, 2013
  3. Wearing footwear when sprinting prevents the fun imaginary game of pretending that I am a heathen trying to slay a mastodon with a spear.

    And they still don’t know how to make a cool looking running shoe, in my opinion.

    -Taylor

    Taylor Rearick wrote on October 16th, 2013
    • Love that imagery Taylor! Made me smile!

      Patty wrote on October 16th, 2013
  4. When I went to minimalist type shoes a year ago and started running, AND I HATE!!!!!! RUNNING. All kinds of running that doesn’t include to the frig for another beer(yea, I know) I just hate it. But, when I started back I started running at a local soccer field on grass. The ancestors hade something there, now I can run with out discomfort, and without losing focus. I have now fallen in love with being totally barefootin’ it. What a rush to actually feel the ground, the rise and fall even on flat ground is remarkable. Who trusts the media anyway?

    mark riffee wrote on October 16th, 2013
  5. After being prescribed 2400mg ibuprofen a day and being told that my plantars would not go away for ten years until the nerves died in that area, I realized that plantars was more likely a result of atrophy of natural support musculature in my foot. I switched to Vibrams, LEARNED how to run properly, and in less than a month my plantars was gone. That was almost 4 years ago. Along with the plantars went the knee and hip pain common to heel strike runners. My sprint capability and box jump heights soared as my nearly 50 year old body re-adjusted to moving like it was supposed to. I don’t give a crap what pseudo science tries to sell. Our bodies are meant the move the way they have evolved to move, our bodies are meant to eat what we’ve evolved to eat, medicine sells crutches as there is no money in cures.

    barnamos wrote on October 16th, 2013
  6. I bought minimalist trail running shoes for my 60th birthday 2 years ago. The minute I put them on I wanted to purr they felt so right. I wear them for walking and running; by using the techniques in the books “Chi Walking” and “Chi Running” I had been able to decrease the back pain I used to get just from distance walking and with these shoes the pain completely disappeared. Around the house I wear lace up jazz shoes to continue being as barefoot as possible: I am a diabetic and am supposed to wear Something LOL. I take my dog out on our favorite walk in a field in my minimalist shoes and I can feel every rock and rut in the road (without pain) and it makes the experience much more real.

    Nancy North-Gates wrote on October 16th, 2013
  7. Mark- I’ve been wearing Vibram’s off-on since last winter and love them! I did have an injury (fractured 2nd metatarsal) but that was because I wasn’t properly prepared. I’m 212#, have bunions and overpronate, which, according to my foot doc was a recipe for disaster. Add to it that I was doing extra leg work (sprints and such) to compensate for a shoulder injury, it just wasn’t the right time for me.

    It felt much more natural whenever I was wearing them and will go back to them once I’ve lost some of the weight and my foot is healed.
    – Adam

    Adam Stewart wrote on October 16th, 2013
  8. Love walking in my Vibrams. I initially thought I would run in them, and thought I was moving slowly toward that but turned out my slow was not actually slow enough. I backed off and am now just walking and standing at my workstation at home in barefeet. Also trying not to overdo the cardio like Mark suggests. I love woring out so my focus really needs to be more on what I put into my body. I love being on this primal journey!

    Patty wrote on October 16th, 2013
    • My cardio fitness is way better than my foot fitness after 40+ years in shoes. So I did injure myself , even with short slow runs (4 miles) on the hardpack at the beach. Got “bone bruises” on my forefoot.

      Here’s what works for me: wear my barefoot shoes (Merrell’s) for hikes and walks. And go minimal-ISH for running. (for me about a 5mm drop and a little cushioning, like Asics Hyperspeeds)

      The upside is the barefoot shoes are manifestly easier on my knees, especially on varied terrain.

      George wrote on October 16th, 2013
  9. I have been hiking, running, gardening or just generally existing in bare feet for some years now. No I do not like to run on hard surfaces but I can walk on gravel, grass, sand, dirt, whatever with no pain as my feet have reached a tough level over the years. At first my calves hurt and cramped but eventually got developed with repeated bare foot living. I’ve gotten where I don’t like to wear shoes much any more, and the muscle definition in my calves has enhanced. Take it slow and easy, try to land on the knife of the foot then roll to the toe and heel. It will also increase your balance.

    Regis wrote on October 16th, 2013
  10. Whenever I hear about barefoot running injuries, I always think of the surface a person is running on. We are not supposed to be running on concrete. We are supposed to run on variable terrain, with some hard (though not as hard as sidewalks and roads) and some soft spots. No study ever seems to address this.

    Ruth wrote on October 16th, 2013
  11. I like the comparison with the boxer’s brain damage. But being knocked out fast doesn’t appeal to me either :-)

    einstein wrote on October 16th, 2013
  12. I broke my neck, jaw, and tore my ribcage from my spine 11 years ago. I bought my first pair of barefoot shoes about 3 years ago. The first two weeks I walked back and forth to work in them, and my feet and calves were on fire. But I started noticing that my posture and neck felt better walking in these barefoot shoes than without them. I recently walked around NYC for 8 hours in barefoot shoes, and I was amazed at how my legs were not tired and my neck didn’t hurt. It takes time to get used to the shoes and to let it change your gait, but once you do, it’s great. As for the running injuries, I don’t think running on concrete, bricks, or asphalt is “Paleo” anyways. Those surfaces are so hard, and it will take years to build up the strength in the feet to be able to run on those safely (if at all).

    LC wrote on October 16th, 2013
  13. I would LOVE to shed shoes, every day, everywhere. I’ve made attempts to do so over the past decade, but have been repeatedly stymied by cracked heels. When I go barefoot, the skin on the bottom of my feet naturally thickens to form calluses. The calluses feel great at first, allowing me to walk comfortably on sidewalks or asphalt, for example. But inevitably they crack, and the crack goes all the way to the “quick.” The cracks are painful, hobbling my walking and preventing me from exercising until they heal. The healing process is tedious, involving sanding down the calluses, twice daily washing out the fissures with Betadine, applying Kerasal foot ointment to soften the callus to remove the “tectonic plate” effect that is causing the cracking, and reverting to socks and sandals.

    Barefooting is difficult without protective calluses, and calluses, for me, lead inevitably to heel fissures. I’d love to find a solution to this unpleasant cycle!

    Steve wrote on October 16th, 2013
    • I wish I had a good answer for you, but I will contrast my own experience.

      I expected to see calluses form when I started going barefoot, but instead, the soles of my feet became slightly thicker, but more supple. I can walk on sticks, leaves, and gravel with no pain.

      Maybe you should try walking on naturally abrasive surfaces such as sand, and gravel rather than asphalt and concrete? I do try to avoid concrete and asphalt as much as possible, though they give me no great trouble when I encounter them.

      Eric wrote on October 17th, 2013
    • First off, a “callus” is an area of thickened, stiff, dead skin. What you want to have on the bottoms of your feet is “living leather” – thickened, flexible, live skin with no reduction in sensitivity.

      The cracks form around the edges, yes? This is a common problem, caused mostly by excessive pavement travel. The soles of your feet will respond to stimulation/use by growing thicker, because said stimulation/use *should* correspond to your soles getting worn down. Unfortunately, pavement, floors, and any other flat surface contact only the bottoms of your feet and not the perimeter of your soles. Those parts of your soles that are seeing actual use will turn into leather. Those that do not make contact will still grow thicker, but without any friction to remove the excess, dead skin. That increasingly thick layer of dead skin is the callus. As it gets thicker, it becomes more inflexible. But flex it must, and flex it does, with every step you take. When it cannot, it will crack rather than maintain shape under your weight. As you know, once a crack forms, it tends to spread and is very slow and difficult to heal.

      Now, the solutions!
      Eric already gave the ideal prevention, namely, to walk (and run, and whatever, etc.) on surfaces with bigger, higher, deeper textures. The idea is to make sure that the edges of your feet have enough ground contact and abrasion to turn them into leather rather than calluses. Natural surfaces generally work well for this. Sand and gravel are excellent.

      You can also provide the necessary friction to prevent/remove calluses yourself, by use of sandpaper or a pumice stone. I have also dragged them across concrete and used my fingernails in the shower. Remember, you are removing dead skin. If it does not hurt to remove it, it is dead. Moreover, dead skin (callus material) is easily sanded off, whereas live skin will basically ignore your attempts to remove it.

      For healing, use something containing lanolin and preferably urea. This will also help with preventing cracks from forming. “Bag Balm” is often recommended. I use Flexitol. Such products are exfoliators, so use it around the edges of your feet, i.e. on the calluses, only!

      Finally, use a moisturizer. Keeping your feet moisturized will help keep them soft and supple, which will increase the thickness at which your calluses crack. Also, frequent, rapid alternations between cold & wet and warm & dry causes skin to become dry …. and cracked. This is why many people use moisturizer on their hands and face (aka all exposed skin) during winter. You will want to use it on the soles of your feet if you often use exterior doors.

      Bill C wrote on October 17th, 2013
  14. I do not run, but, switched to wearing shoes like Sanuks, Vibram 5-toes, and wearing mostly socks around the house. For the first 3-5 years or so there were no problems. Recently, I developed plantar fasciitis and had to start wearing arch and heel supported shoes. The PF is starting to get better now. I am in my late 50’s and would really caution folks about the whole barefoot thing and to know the symptoms of PF – I did not know what was going in my feet and let it develop and now it is taking a long time to get rid of. Another thing that seemed to cause the PF was riding a bicycle with running shoes – doing a multi-day bike tour on platform pedals and running shoes was the final straw for my right foot. So, now I always wear bike shoes with a rigid sole when riding my bikes.

    This is not an indictment of barefoot running or lifestyle, but, rather a cautionary tale to really understand your body and possible cause/effect of pain. For example, my daughter was a NCAA Div 1 crosscountry runner and saw a major reduction in leg injuries and muscle pain when switching to a Nike Free shoe in spite of her coach’s extreme criticism of the decision. In the end if was the right decision for her. For me, not so much….

    Michael wrote on October 16th, 2013
  15. I have extremely flat feet. To make matters worse, I have genetically weak ankles that caused me to wear high-top boots in my young years to support them. Over the years, my shoe buying experience got worse and worse as I tried on endless shoes to get the one with the exact height and positioning of arch support to prevent pain just standing, much less running. I suffered from chronic plantar fasciitis. Then I decided to start going barefoot more often. I had to start slow, since my feet were very weak. Now I regularly wear either nothing or Apache style moccasins (can’t wear VFFs, wrong foot shape) and do my sprints across rocky, uneven ground in my moccasins. I do get looks ;). I can wear just about anything with no pain now, but prefer minimalist footwear.

    Damien Gray wrote on October 16th, 2013
  16. I don’t care a hoot about any of these studies. I used to sell fancy ladies’ shoes at an upscale mall, and I’ve seen enough amazing bunions, hammertoes, etc. to last a lifetime. That’s what really started it for me, and the final catalyst was getting a dog that needed long walks every day. I transitioned to bare feet years ago, and prefer it above all else. My plantar fascism (yes, that’s right) went away, and only reappears in small instances when I’ve been on my feet too long. My toes are much happier, too, with room to breathe, and my pinky toes don’t crowd in. I wear my VFFs to the office, and either go barefoot or use my homemade ‘invisible shoes’ the rest of the time. Get lots of compliments/comments. However, winter is coming, and I’ll have to get creative this year. Last winter, I went back to my Doc Martens, and while they’re very comfy, I needed to transition all over again in the spring – my feet lost so much strength! Maybe I can talk my local cobbler into a flat sole for them…

    Erok wrote on October 16th, 2013
  17. I consider myself pretty minimalistic but have a high arch foot… so I’m not so much into barefoot running.

    But I am, however, going to try out Brooks new minimalistic shoe. I think it’s called Pureflow or PureConnect.

    As far as this whole barefoot phenomenom, I heard a lot about runners getting stress fractures because they didn’t smoothly transition from a highly cushioned shoe to practically nothing. Makes sense.

    Jared wrote on October 16th, 2013
  18. Love my VFFs!! I don’t run much yet, and probably won’t run a lot in the future. I’ve had them for 2-1/2 years and my feet, legs, and back have never been in better shape. I used to see the Chiropractor every couple weeks. Now I haven’t seen him in over 6 months. I wear them when I’m not at work. Gotta wear dress shoes and haven’t found a good pair yet and VFF stopped making the Bormio last year. Hope I can find some MFW that is a little dressy and ok for the office.

    Bob wrote on October 16th, 2013
    • Check out terra firma and vivo barefoot. I wear the vivo barefoot RA on a daily basis to school (we have a formal dress code).

      Eric wrote on October 17th, 2013
  19. I find it hilarious that the ‘Media’ doesn’t see the irony writing articles implying something completely natural can be damaging! I’ve yet to hear of a baby being born other than naked, and that includes its feet!

    4 years of Vibram wearing (95% – the missing 5% is welly boots as Vibram haven’t quite cracked Scottish weather yet) my feet, particularly my knees, and back have never felt better – funny that!

    Kelda wrote on October 16th, 2013
    • this rings true…. back when my kids were small, I can remember being told that when they were first learning to walk we should let them be barefoot as it allows them to develop the muscles they need in their feet and lower legs, and it aids healthy foot development. We were cautioned not to put them in “hard” shoes too soon… soft “padders” or socks only was the motto…. no hard shoes until they were ready to walk (even soft “pram-shoes” were frowned on!) for extended periods outside, and then only to protect their feet….

      And yet the “experts” say that walking barefoot harms our feet…. me-thinks the regular running shoe companies (and poss other shoe companies) are feeling the pinch because people are choosing to go barefoot because it is more comfortable!

      salixisme wrote on October 16th, 2013
  20. Barefoot was fun as a kid – I distinctly remember running the through the cow pasture to the creek – lots of dodging cow patties and sand briars and always landing on the fronts of my feet. It’s a good feeling. I’m always barefoot in the house and am saving to try some Vibrams in the spring.
    Thanks for a very informative article!

    PrimalDuck wrote on October 16th, 2013
  21. I have fully switched to vibrams or other minimalist footwear. Regular shoes bother my feet now and I have started donating or getting rid of other shoes. I used to wear orthotics but faithfully did the exercises given me to strengthen my feet. About 3-4 years ago I started doing karate and being barefoot was very painful. I continued doing the exercises and when I saw the 5fingers shoes I looked into them first as a possible shoe for karate. I found their exercises on how to strengthen the feet and prep them for transition. My feet improved noticeably for karate. When I fully transitioned about 7-9 months ago everything is better.

    Anyone who says size and weight matter I call B.S. on. I am a rather large and sturdy gal who due to a more primal way of eating is smaller and stronger. However despite my size and weight my feet and legs have never been stronger. Using my deep squat I successfully lifted a full grown elderly woman off the ground who had fallen. She could not help at all as she was so unsteady but I know she weighed at least 150+. My vibrams give me a more steady ground feel. I have also been more active and had fewer injuries since transitioning.

    I even got my sister who runs to switch. She just finished her 2nd marathon and was injury free this time which she credits to her minimalist footwear.

    Stephanie G wrote on October 16th, 2013
    • Thanks for your comment Stephanie. I am overweight and thought I should wait to try out vibrams until I had lost 40-50 pounds, thinking it would be too much for me just now. But your answer is giving me second thoughts…

      Katrinka wrote on October 16th, 2013
  22. I hate running. I really hate running.
    So I don´t do it.

    But I did try. First with “normal” shoes. I felt like i was running with swim floaters or something attached to my feet. Clumsy and I never did get into “the flowing stride” I knew i could do (I did run fo the hell of it when I was a kid, you know, spurts, from school and such).
    So I bought myself Vibrams and I ran.
    Oh, the difference! Not that I had a “flowing stride” but I was MUCH closer. My knees didn´t take the same kind of pounding either.

    Still. Running was boring me out of my mind so I quit.
    Instead I use them for long walks in nature. Good ground feel and I always get a childish kick out of seeing the strange bigfoot tracks I leave behind.

    Oh, and I bought another pair of Vibrams. I dance zumba in them and lift. :-)

    Elena wrote on October 16th, 2013
  23. Took me 2 months to transition over to minimalist. I tried going Vibram but went out too fast and stress fracture ensued. Then I learned to “run with intentional thinking ” or RIT! One I learned to be in each moment of the step, I stopped running so hard or so fast ( what I thought running was). Now my running is enjoyable and free from clunky shod wear. I hope to run the Marine Corps full in a week and would not be doing this if I has stuck with heel striking. We were born to run on our forefoot, so why mess with Mother Nature???!! Good article Grok!

    Melanie B from Virginia wrote on October 16th, 2013
  24. What the “experts” say doesn’t necessarily jive with what my body likes and what makes it function well.

    My mother (a nurse practitioner) and the federal government tell me whole grains, dairy, and legumes are healthy and that cutting them out of my diet is bad. According to my mom, I will destroy my health if I continue down the Paleo path. So daily Montezuma’s revenge, wretching, anxiety, depression, extreme lethargy, ataxia, joint pain, stomach pain, and daily migraines are normal and healthy? That’s what was going on when I followed the SAD guidelines. Paleo has restored my health.

    I was concerned when I switched to minimalist shoes that I’d wreck my joints and make my flat feet even flatter. But I thought the possible benefits were worth a shot. I’m glad I tried. I walk daily and occasionally sprint with my dogs. I have a slight arch where there was none before. My toes, ankles, knees, hips, and back feel good. The early arthritis in my feet doesn’t bother me anymore. I can walk long distances and walk all day on any surface and not hurt. Feet coffins made my body hurt. I think I’ll stick with minimalist, no matter what the “experts” say. I like feeling strong and healthy.

    Katherine wrote on October 16th, 2013
  25. ShanaNa, I’m not seeing the connection between barefoot walking or running to supplements or powders. Lifestyle change, perhaps.

    Also, can you please elaborate on the non-schlocky Paleo (or alternative) blogs? I’d like to know where the quality (alternative to alternative) information resides …

    Bartles wrote on October 16th, 2013
  26. People need to trust their own senses. If running/walking barefoot feels right then do it .. when it doesnt then dont. Screw the naysayers .. u the boss of u!

    John Cleophas wrote on October 16th, 2013
  27. I wear Vibrams when I run for one reason…. it makes running fun. Having a pair makes me want to run. I don’t run that fast, and when I feel like it, I stop and walk for a bit, but I’ll happily cover 9 or 10 miles without it feeling like ‘work’.

    The problem I think that a lot of runners have when they switch to barefoot or minimal is that is it’s just a case of changing footwear, it’s about changing your entire approach. If you’ve spent a decade or so measuring your success against a clock, instead of how much fun you had and how good you feel at the end of it, it’s a tough adjustment to make.

    Iain Gray wrote on October 16th, 2013
  28. why not go back to nature and just run free a be done with it, then it might encourage people to make a more conscious effort in all departments

    brian wrote on October 16th, 2013
  29. I started with walking in Vibrams about 4 years ago, going day to day “barefoot” and really noticed a great relief in my lower back once I fully adjusted and was able to be “barefoot” all day long. Few people criticized me for it, most just thought it was odd, but I did run into the rude, snide remarks that I was young and naive and had no idea the pain I was getting into because I had no “support”. For the most part I tried to educate them after those comments, some listened but most had already made up their minds that I was crazy and didn’t know what I was talking about. I love being barefoot! Best thing I’ve done for my body! (Other than primal!)

    Angela wrote on October 16th, 2013
  30. I was one of those who switched to barefoot style shoes just for walking and ended up getting a stress fracture. I used my brain, however, to analyze the cause which was a) my feet were weak and my bones were soft from decades of atrophy in “comfy” shoes, and b) I felt so great so quickly that I walked too much too soon. It was my fault, not barefooting. So, I backed off, healed, and kept barefooting but at a slower pace. Won’t wear any other style shoes any more, for anything.

    Paula wrote on October 16th, 2013
  31. Barefoot running always feels SO much better to me. I shaved 30 secs off my 1 mile time running barefoot (on asphalt) vs my wearing shoes time. My feet toughened up pretty quickly. Sprints however are another story! Although I was fast and it felt good, I did develop a couple blood blisters from a sprinting drill on asphalt!

    Patricia wrote on October 16th, 2013
  32. I am personally curious about the barefoot thing- I have only been doing this for two and a half weeks after all. I already walk around barefoot in the house and in my yard, but I wonder what the process is for transitioning to being able to do it out and about? I work out at a gym so I am not sure I could actually be barefoot while exercising, but I like feeling like I am in bare feet if I can… Are there particular shoes (reasonably priced) that you all recommend? Just barefoot curious :)

    Stephanie wrote on October 16th, 2013
  33. When I first transitioned to vibrams. I ran 5 miles the first day because it was fun and easy. The next week I could barely walk up the stairs my legs were so sore… I now always suggest that people learn from my mistake and take it slowly.

    whit wrote on October 16th, 2013
  34. I started running about 10 or so years ago and at one point went to a running store and had one of the analysis of my “running style” they said I needed the most support and I needed inserts and highly supported shoes. The pain continued even after a few years in a few different shoes. Eventually I chucked the shoes, ran in VFF and then worked into Barefoot run and LOVED IT. I live in a pretty urban setting and have to watch for rocks and debris and other crap (literally sometimes.) I have been running Barefoot for about 3 years and my knee and hip pain has all disappeared! Last summer I switched to running in cheap water shoes and it felt good too! So to avoid running on the above mentioned ground stuff I switched to the flat cheap water shoes and they seem to be working great.

    Andy wrote on October 16th, 2013
  35. are there any studies on walking in barefoot shoes? I’ve been wearing five fingers and lems for several years, but am not a runner, therefore heel strike. Is it only the striking of running that is of concern?

    karen wrote on October 16th, 2013
  36. When I decided to start running regularly about a year ago, I started researching proper form. I wondered if my knees were simply doomed to hurt forever, or if there was a “correct” way to run which might give me every advantage possible to stay healthy, pain-free, and efficient. The best advice I took was to learn to run barefoot BEFORE wearing minimalist shoes — and to keep running barefoot at least occasionally to maintain the proper barefoot form. Long story short: it has worked out great, but it takes persistence. My calves were sore for months, but they do finally get built-up, and I never have knee pain anymore.

    Jarrod wrote on October 16th, 2013
  37. I’ve been running in and wearing barefoot shoes for about 27 months (when I wear shoes, which isn’t often). Made a gradual transition, as I was advised to do, and within two or three months I was fully accustomed to them, and had, without quite realizing it, switched from a heel-strike to a midfoot-strike, and a toe-strike in the sprints. Can’t wear shoes with a heel at all any more any more. They do strange things to my walking gait. I love the shoes (NB Minimus) for running, and walking, when necessary. Haven’t had a running injury in 27 months. At 64, I hope for another twenty years or more running (I don’t do long-distance running any more-just intervals). Barefoot shoes are clearly superior.

    Gary wrote on October 16th, 2013
  38. Once again, an excellent article Mark. Your introduction explained the situation well – the media isn’t really interested in informing us. They want to attract readers/viewers so they can sell ads. Anything that gets attention wins and attacking new trends once they gain momentum is a common tactic.

    You countered the anti-barefoot arguements well. I especially appreciated your comparison of the the articles explanation of studies vs what the studies actually said.

    Lots on insightful comments. Erok’s observation about the devastation caused by footware can be informally verified the next time your at a swimming pool or a beach by taking a casual look at the feet of your fellow citizens.

    Jake wrote on October 16th, 2013
  39. I switched to Merrell barefoot shoes last summer and started doing a Couch to 5K program, hoping it would be gradual enough — turns out it was still not gradual enough to prevent injury (probably a mild tear in peroneal tendon – 8 wks in a boot!). I’ve been wearing barefoot shoes about one day a week since then and walking barefoot inside our house, but even 1 year later, my tendon still bothers me if I’ve spent too much time barefoot.

    Anyone have tips or links to good exercises to strengthen barefoot feet and ankles other than spending a little more time barefoot each day? At this rate it will be years before I can wear barefoot shoes daily! :(

    Steph wrote on October 16th, 2013
    • Strength is the less important deficit. Flexibility is usually the larger problem for lifetime shoe wearing people. The foot stretches in Aaron Mattes’ Active Isolated Stretching pp. 93-103 are excellent. I’ve used them with numerous clients with excellent results.

      But don’t stop at the feet and ankles. The entire back chain needs to be both strong and supple to have a comfortable low injury potential efficient stride. Stretch everything and go back and restretch everything that’s particularly stiff regularly to balance out your physique.

      Especially watch out for left/right asymmetry as that’s a strong injury predictor. Make sure both sides work as close to identically as possible. Bring the weak side up and make it stronger. Bring the stiff side up and make it more supple.

      Be well,
      Ben Fury

      Ben Fury wrote on October 16th, 2013
    • Find an MAT muscle activation techniques professional that has taken the master level foot function class or the MATrx class. They can help your feet function better. I had the same peroneal over use problem. My problem was due to limited dorsiflexion and eversion motion in the ankle. Stretching alone will NOT fix it. Stretching alone could make it worse. MAT improved my range of motion, durability, and strength of my feet.

      Darren wrote on October 16th, 2013
      • Thanks for the pointers! I will check them out.

        I definitely have a suite of issues (lifelong knee & hip pain, mostly in right leg) that probably contributed to my (surprising) left foot injury. Been doing Feldenkrais sessions + massage (same person), + chiro + physical therapy. Without the Feldenkrais to get to the bottom (or pelvis, ha!) of my movement patterns, I don’t know if I would ever be able to resolve the knee & hip stuff.

        End result is, I highly recommend working with experienced bodywork people to resolve underlying issues that could set you up for extra difficulties with transitioning to barefoot! I’m determined to stick with this transition process no matter how long it takes….

        Steph wrote on October 16th, 2013
      • Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) very likely WILL fix it and is highly unlikely to make it worse. I’ve been using AIS clinically for 8 years and AIS creator Aaron Mattes has perfected this method for over 40 years. I’m in touch with many AIS practitioners and I’ve yet to hear of AIS worsening any condition. That is why AIS is commonly used on conditions that respond poorly to conventional stretching and PT techniques including CP, Parkinsons, fibromyalgia, etc.

        The Mattes Method of AIS is extremely detailed when it comes to the foot and includes separate stretches for inversion/eversion and pronation/supination. The feet, toes and ankles are all actively stretched and strengthened with AIS protocols without any excess force.

        Darren, I would recommend investigating any proposed method before categorically denying it could possibly be efficacious and asserting it might be dangerous. I’m glad MAT worked for you, but it’s not the only game in town.

        Ben Fury wrote on October 16th, 2013
  40. I started wearing my first pair of fivefingers about two years ago. Initially I loved the feel of them and wore them most days just walking around. I danced competitively from the time I was 3 years old until I was 18 (I’m now 27) and I think that this gave me very strong and dexterous feet, which has really helped my transition. It took me a long time to learn to run in my fivefingers, and I did some training on an inclined treadmill to help with patterning. I still find that running on concrete can be pretty hard on the feet, but trail running is AMAZING. I have six pairs of fivefingers now, and I tell everyone how much I love them.

    I’m an Orthotist, so I do get a lot of questions about them (I wear a pair to work nearly every day). I have not done a lot of research (yet) on the effects of barefoot shoes, and I certainly don’t think they’re right for everyone (especially those with any sort of pathology that adversely effects their foot musculature etc). Although, I am beginning to think that some of the problems that adults experience with their feet stem from them wearing too supportive of footwear as children…. I plan to research this more (when I have time :)), but for now, at our pediatric facility, I try to do as much as I can to promote free foot movement and foot muscle development in the children that we treat (where suitable).

    Great discussion and article, thanks!

    Kira MacLeod wrote on October 16th, 2013

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