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.)

BarefootingEvery 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. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. Same thing is happening with Crossfit. First there was a little positive media attention, and BOOM! Crossfit is now the worst thing in the world for you and it will kill you.

    Shereen wrote on October 16th, 2013
  5. I bought a pair of Vibram 5 fingers this past July. I LOVE THEM! I would wear them to work if it was safe/practical. I had to stop and pick up a pair of little 5 finger socks this past weekend as my feet were freezing. I love them. They are the greatest. I don’t like my feet to be calloused up, or the feel of sand between my toes. I have a few quirks about myself. lol So, I chose the 5 fingers way to go. I love them!!!

    Andrea wrote on October 16th, 2013
  6. Thank you so much Mark or your thoughts and extremely valid points on this. Its an interesting debate. I am a ChiRunner and ChiRunning Instructor who is moving from Marathon to Ultra distances at present. I am always interested ( obviously!) in finding the best shoe for me and also how to address that question with my ChiRunning students. It usually the first question out of their mouths:) Its a natural human tendency to hope for a magic pill, cream, diet, shoe etc that will fix everything all at once so that we don’t have to do the work required to enjoy the reward. My personal experience is that I love minimalist shoes for the feel of the earth beneath my feet. I love the contact with the ground on softer, flatter trails or when running slowly on the road for relatively short distances. It helps me to relax my feet and lower legs and be in the moment. I don’t know about the science of this, but I could swear that I feel more feelings of well being from running in shoes that allow this contact and relaxation. It seems to calm me down. I feel more connected, as though I am an integral and worthy part of this wonderful planet that we are so lucky to enjoy. As a result I am happier and kinder to those around me. Its a beautiful feeling. I also get that from lying on the ground and looking up at the sky or the branches and leaves of a tree, or lying in the sand at the beach and listening to and feeling the rumble of the waves. My feet have also become much stronger and my arches have lifted considerably. Where I dont like the barefoot style shoes is when I’m racing on very technical trails ( sharp rocks & stones, dips and divots, shale etc) and racing downhill on trails or asphalt over longer distances. I find that for this because Im going a lot faster I prefer a semi minimalist shoe, neutral but with some cushion under the forefoot and good grip. This may be because I lose my good ChiRunning form when I’m focused on speed or just because I haven’t done it enough. It is true that we have to acclimatize slowly to these changes in footwear. But I did want to bring your attention to a very interesting independent study that was done at Chapel Hill in N Carolina. Here’s a link The study basically shows that form is more important than the shoe for preventing impact and over use injuries. The ChiRunners in the study had less impact and fewer injuries than others, no matter what kind of shoes they were wearing. Those heel strikers that switched to minimalist shoes and didn’t change their form received the most injuries and had the highest Ground Impact Rates etc….. So what I take from this is that, in order to be able to enjoy the many benefits of running barefoot or barefoot style, we must mind our form first. I’m very interested to hear others’ thoughts and experience with this, so please, keep sharing! Serena

    Serena Scott Thomas wrote on October 16th, 2013
  7. I am a big guy, 6 foot, 240. A year ago my feet felt very beat up. I decided to try barefoot walking, and then barefoot running, using a very disciplined approach, laid out by the natural running center. Only 200 yards to start, with a 200 yard increase, every other day. A year later, my feet feel great!! You have to be smart about doing it, and increase gradually, and work on form. Of course you are going to end up injured with same mileage, or poor form.

    Tim White wrote on October 16th, 2013
  8. I have barefoot ran and walked for two years and will never go back to wearing ‘regular’ shoes any longer. My husband, after rupturing his Achille’s tendon last year, also transitioned to barefoot walking lifestyle. It took us about six to nine months to make a smooth transition. We had our ups and downs but learning how to run and walk properly from decades of bad posture and walking/running gait due to modern fancy shoes pay off for us, talking about the eventual savings of hip, knee, and back surgeries among shoe population. Primal people have always used simple shoes or gone barefoot. So ditch the ignorant mass media’s bias against barefooters and stick to what is primal and true.

    Connie wrote on October 16th, 2013
  9. Sensory input is what I love. And the gentleness of it. As soon as I use the xero’s or the merrell vapor gloves I can feel the added strain on the achilles and calves. Take them off and you’re floating. Originally from Africa, I always think of how King Shaka made his warriors lose their sandals and run barefoot. The gentle, quiet stride. I sometimes give dogs a fright :)… And those guys trotted for miles and miles over all sorts of terrain, some of it covered by 3 inch thorns. Shoes off, eyes open…
    But I agree that if you’re competitively minded and don’t like being passed, then bf is probably not the way for you. And then there’s chipseal – still ouch for me…

    Barry Eagar wrote on October 16th, 2013
  10. When articles attack something like this it makes me think of a great gandhi quote:

    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
    ~Mahatma Gandhi~

    harry p. wrote on October 16th, 2013
  11. Unfortunately I think it is just too late for me. At 54, with high arches and a lifetime of high heels and other bad shoes, I am now left with bunions and have had a bout of plantars fascitis. I have gotten rid of all the heels and uncomfortable shoes, and practically live in thick-soled flip flops, and have avoided further PF and bunion pain since going Paleo. Bunions run in my family.

    I cannot even walk around my house barefoot, much as I’d like to. I develop pain and also feel achy joints if I don’t have supportive footwear now. My kitchen floor is lined with Gelpro mats.

    The only place I can walk barefoot is on the beach and, fortunately, that’s five minutes away. The sand is wonderfully forgiving. I’ve been doing that at least once a week.

    Pure Hapa wrote on October 16th, 2013
  12. So, while I am quite fond of my Vibrams, I have a peculiar problem in that my middle toe is substantially (e.g., 2-3 cms) longer than my first toe. Running in my “size” quickly causes pain and numbness to my overgrown second digit. Even fivefingers a size large causes this problem, and the rest of my foot is swimming in two sizes up. Anyone else find a good solution to this prehensile problem? Can’t go all the way bare for a variety of reasons.

    Katya wrote on October 16th, 2013
    • try a different “brand” of barefoot runner… what you have is a Mortons Toe (where the second toe/second metatarsal) is longer than the first.. very common in people from Northern Europe…. I also have this, although I can wear five fingers… but I also wear a different brand of barefoot shoe for work and they work great… shop around, try different versions. TRY them on…. make sure they are comfortable. I had to try 5 different versions of 5 fingers before I found one that worked for me!

      salixisme wrote on October 16th, 2013
  13. I think we do tend to keep our feet encased in shoes for too long of a time. I believe it’s beneficial to walk around the house or whatever sans shoes as much as possible. As far as running or walking over rough terrain including concrete, maybe glass, nails, whatever other rusty stuff or even toxins are out there … not something I care to do.

    George wrote on October 16th, 2013
  14. Timely article for me as well. I have been considering getting a pair of minimalist shoes. I have a receipt still (I hope!), essentially for store credit, at REI.

    A couple years ago I went running barefoot on the beach. Did it for an hour or so. And I’m not a runner per se. It was very enjoyable. My feet, I think more the heels, perhaps the shins too, were a little sore for a couple days afterward. Earlier this year I competed in the Tough Mudder and landed hard on my heels multiple times in a row for several consecutive jumps and had a sore heel for several weeks. I had a custom orthotic boot. It’s pretty clear to me that I would need to transition.

    (On a treadmill:) In shoes, I have always landed on my heel. I have begun landing on my forefoot instead and believe I like it better, but my shins have gotten sore from that too.

    I just hope I can find my comfort level and transition to more frequent barefoot running soon and decide on forefoot vs. heel strike.

    Kevin Goldman wrote on October 16th, 2013
  15. I was not able to run four years ago. My knees hurt so bad I had to stop running. A doctor I know told me about barefoot running after he had read Born to Run, a couple of weeks after the book was released. I thought he was crazy, but I gave it a try, bought myself a pair of Fivefingers. And I havent. stoped running since that day. I just finnished a 30 km race in Stockholm Sweden, in my fivefingers. It might be the best thing ever.

    Grok on!

    FvanderB wrote on October 16th, 2013
    • Me too! Switching to VFF and a natural running form has meant the difference between being able to run and not being able to because of constant knee, calf, and foot injuries. I still have to work on my form, and I was very careful during transition. Being pain and injury free is a godsend. Running is enjoyable again. I thought my running days were over but at nearly 56 it’s the best it’s ever been.

      Lynn wrote on October 16th, 2013
  16. My transition took over 18 months. I managed then to run up to 3 miles completely barefoot before switching to Vibrams. I’ve never looked back and refuse to run in ‘normal’ running shows anymore. I now mange a 10k with ease in Vibrams. Naysayers will always exist because others will always punch the boundaries of ‘normality’.

    Stano30744 wrote on October 16th, 2013
  17. I had a rough start with my Vibrams about 3 years ago…I got them and was ecstatic at how much easier running was with them. No knee pain and a little more “spring” to keep me going. I watched all the videos and was sure to practice good form on my first outing. Probably didn’t do more than half a mile. The next day, my calves were so sore I could barely walk. I didn’t even think about my history of calf injuries (small striations in the muscles from years of muscle cramping issues during volleyball). Boy, the rest of that week was rough. After that, I only used my vibrams for walking and hiking.

    About 6 months ago though, I decided to give barefoot another shot. So I started wearing my Vibrams to work, then purchased a pair of Vivos that were a little nicer looking so I would be more “professional” or something. I walked to and from work, and walked for about 30 minutes on my lunch break. After doing that for about three months, I finally went for a mile jog, stopping half way to really stretch out my calves. I felt GREAT the next day, and loved how I could run pain free in them. I’m not a “runner” by any means but have enjoyed it more recently with fore-foot striking form. I even did a half marathon in July (which I can happily say I will never do again, haha).

    But anyway, this is a great article that addresses all the naysayers. I find that I get a lot more push back on the barefoot shoe thing than I do on eating Primally! I always bite my tongue when people talk about getting shoes with enough “support” because they always seem offending when you offer a different take on shoes.

    Stacie wrote on October 16th, 2013
  18. My n=1 says I’ll never go back to traditional running shoes. The chronic shin splints and knee pain I would get after a couple of kilometres have disappeared since going minimalist. Love my VFF and Skora’s (especially for kicking around in).

    For those looking for dress shoes I love my Pikolinos. No heel (although they are stiff in the heal) and super flexible forefoot. I think I have the Puerto Rico’s. Very comfortable.

    Ben wrote on October 16th, 2013
  19. I’ve had a tendon injury for about a year now decided to buy some vibrams injury vanished.
    But I have developed a sprain on the top of my foot I should rest it but training wins.

    Definitely ease your self into them I tried a really tough run and after a mile I was in so much pain with my calfs by the 4th mile I was walking.

    O also I went boxing in them (still do) and the cramps in my calfs was horrendous been going for a few years and never experienced that much pain in my legs.
    But they dont play up anymore so at the minute I’m seeing a few positives and a few negatives

    browndog wrote on October 16th, 2013
  20. I used to run barefoot when it wasn’t in style. At age 16, back in 1976 I used to run a 3.8 mile circuit on paved roads barefoot until I developed shinsplints. In my early 20’s I loved running barefoot on the beach and then I developed severe plantar fasciitis that plagued me on and off for 25 years. Even for a while – in between bouts of it – I ran barefoot on trails at times. I now trail run twice/week and would love to run barefoot again, but don’t quite trust it. I don’t want to re-injure myself. I am incorporating more barefoot walking again after years of constant arch support. I am loving the feel of the earth under my feet again. Any suggestions?

    Lisa Wolfe wrote on October 16th, 2013
  21. I wear VFF’s all the time. For almost 2 years now. Bought my first pair while in Las Vegas..put them on and started transition problem. Do weekly sprints as well. Hike, scramble, ride bike, etc. VFF’s is the only footwear for me. Bought a pair of speed xc to use in the cold, but am wanting to get a winter type minimalist boot. In terms of naysayers, I could give a dump. My feet, ankles, calves, knees, legs, back, posture, strength, balance is a whole lot better now than it was two years ago. There is absolutely no way I could “enjoy” wearing anything else.

    Rob wrote on October 16th, 2013
  22. I belong to the local running club and regularly volunteer for the group long training runs leading up to the club’s marathon, manning a water station w/other volunteers. A couple of summers ago one of my coworkers was a guy in a cast who had fractured his foot running in Vibrams. He was an experienced marathoner, and I asked how it had happened. He told me he bought the Vibrams, then wore them for a 5-mile run for his first run ever in them. He then wore them again for another 5-miler in a day or 2. He then wore them for a THIRTEEN MILE RUN!! HIS THIRD TIME OUT! And yes, that’s when he fractured one of his metatarsals.

    He absolutely condemned the Vibrams. When I suggested that maybe he should have eased into it a bit, he looked at me as if I had 3 heads and said “I DID ease into it, duh! I only went 5 miles the first time!” I tried to explain that there is a lot of info on the internet about exactly how easy it’s necessary to go when making the transition, and that 5 miles is NOT “easing into it”, but his mind was made up. Can’t say I felt too sorry for the guy–and I’m sure he’s happy to tell anyone who asks that Vibrams are the work of Satan.

    Beth wrote on October 16th, 2013
  23. Suspect the general problem people may have when they first try barefoot running walking is that there are some complicated arrangement of muscles in the foot…..these are not necessarily working in the order they need to be to give a balanced properly working foot and often by the time people ditch their shoes this has caused other issues up the chain – i.e. how the knees are sitting etc.

    Sadly people just assume that this will fix itself…….it doesn’t necessarily do that…….some improvement may happen…….but if the foot was collapsing, had toes doing hammers or twisted etc it may not necessarily just revert to what could be called normal………

    At this point there are very few people in the fitness/physio etc industry who seem to have a deep appreciation for this……..far easier to tell people that barefoot doesn’t work or feet need support rah rah……totally ignoring that we have perfectly good muscles to do that support if they are brought into action……….

    Hopefully soon this will change……….

    Edith Crowther wrote on October 16th, 2013
  24. I love my Vibrams and wear them all the time. The argument that we “evolved to go barefoot” may be true but it tends to mislead. People hear it and think that they have some kind of natural ability to run long distances on paved roads because it’s usually not mentioned that humans did not evolve to run for miles on uniform, hard surfaces like streets and sidewalks. Beaches, grass, gravel, sure. But humans definitely did not “evolve” for long-distance running on pavement; it is an unnatural, novel activity, barefoot or shod.

    Kevin wrote on October 16th, 2013
  25. I was born with partially-clubbed feet (surgically corrected, at least most of the way, when I was an infant). I grew up hearing that I had “bad feet,” in need of supportive shoes, and that’s what I wore for most of my life. Walking barefoot for any distance was painful, and running during gym class put me off running (or any athletics, for that matter), for life.

    So for the last few years, my go-to shoes have been Dansko Professional clogs. I’d still get tired, aching knees and ankles, and sore feet and an aching back if I walked too far, but they were generally comfortable, so I blamed my “bad feet,” never considering that the shoes were the problem.

    Then, earlier this summer, I was reading Norman Doidge’s ‘The Brain That Changes Itself,’ and in it he briefly mentioned how elderly people end up prone to falling because, after a lifetime of wearing shoes and walking on smooth surfaces, their neural “maps” that processe information received from the soles of their feet shrinks. With so little information about surfaces and terrain to work with, the brain assigns the unused neurons to other tasks. But elderly people *can* improve their balance by going barefoot more often, thus strengthening the brain’s awareness of and responsiveness to what’s happening beneath their feet. The diminished neural “map” gets re-written.

    I’d had balance problems for years, and earlier this year had two nasty falls in short succession. I wasn’t badly hurt, but still–If there was anything I could do to avoid a repeat, I would. So I saw myself in what Doidge wrote, and decided to try going barefoot.

    Trouble is, I live in a neighborhood where broken glass and other drunken fratboy rubbish makes walking barefoot hazardous. So I invested in a pair of VFFs, and started wearing them as much as possible.

    That was in July. I now own five pairs of VFFs, and wear them all the time. My balance has already improved–I expect it will take at least a year to get the full benefit, but I am already much less stumbly. I had to re-learn how to walk in them, taking shorter strides and developing a forefoot (or occasionally midfoot) strike, rather than slamming down on my heels. But now that I’ve done that, I’ve discovered that I can run without pain for the first time in my life. I don’t do any distances yet, but yesterday I sprinted a block and a half on concrete to catch a bus with no ill effects. I mean, *none.*

    During the “breaking in” period, I discovered muscles in my feet and ankles I never knew existed. I’m 46, and all those decades of supportive footwear didn’t do me any favors. But I can get out and walk for miles now with no knee or ankle pain, no sore back, and no aching feet. I still sometimes have to remind myself to shift weight to the outsides of my feet as I walk, rather than letting them roll inward, but most of the time it comes automatically.

    As for the Danskos, I still have to wear them to my animal shelter and zoo volunteer shifts for safety reasons (and because porous shoes and step-pans full of trifectant are a bad combo). But they feel like hooves, or like blocks of wood strapped to my feet, and I can’t wait to get back into my VFFs at the end of each shift. I’m ruined for normal shoes, now–and precisely no fucks are given. I can’t believe what going “barefoot” has done for me.

    Artemis67 wrote on October 16th, 2013
  26. Actually, being a PT… I can honestly say that (anecdotally), I see LESS running injuries with the vibram and barefoot trend. I’m one of them… :)

    Debi wrote on October 16th, 2013
  27. Mark: I started wearing Vibrams about a year ago on the treadmill and sprung hardwood for running and other training and thought it was going OK – slight discomfort which I expected to work through. Over the summer i was running on grass which was unpleasant because the uneven hard clay in my neighbourhood created an unforgiving non-uniform surface – but I endured. In the last month I have developed some significant soft tissue damage in my hip area. As soon as i switched back to regular style shoes the injury started to clear up. I practice a kung fu form daily and with wetter weather have been practicing on concrete. The form I practice involves a lot of heel first movement and a lot of twisting. Since the Vibrams have no padding and a lot of grip, I have come to the conclusion they are not suited to this type of exercise. It might be alright if I could go back to grass or pea-gravel. I jump rope a lot also and find that jumping rope the way i was trained involves the whole foot. it makes the aerobic exercise low impact and requires a bit more coordination. The ropework made it easier to adapt to running “barefoot”, but again I would not recommend Vibrams or other unpadded shoes if you have to exercise on concrete or other synthetic surfaces – they are just too unyielding. This isn’t a backlash – just a caution that training style and surface must be considered.

    Randall Templeton wrote on October 16th, 2013
  28. I agree that it takes time. See too many people with calcaneal stress fractures that jumped on board too quickly. Progression.

    Dr. Anthony Gustin wrote on October 16th, 2013
    • How on earth does one get calcaneal stress fractures going from heel striking to forefoot striking – aka barefoot running? That’s odd.
      Unless of course one changes footwear but nothing else, then the heel takes a pounding…
      I’d love to hear your ideas on that Anthony.

      Corey wrote on October 16th, 2013
  29. “The press loves a good backlash, even (especially) if they have to manufacture it.”

    Thus my complete distrust and contempt for the journalism profession and its members.

    James H. wrote on October 16th, 2013
  30. I love the boxing/MMA gloves analogy, it’s a really interesting thought about how we distance ourselves from pain. When you consider the variety of strikes that are legal in MMA bouts (though granted, it’s not often someone will be able to clip their opponent with a roundhouse kick to the head) this is really a stunning result.

    Similarly, I wonder how a study examining the incidence and severity of concussion in rugby players vs American Football players would look on the whole. The helmets aren’t the only issue, the sheer mass of gridiron players, physical power and difference in technique will all play a role in how injuries pan out, but the helmets are definitely a significant factor.

    Reventon wrote on October 16th, 2013
  31. If the weather were not turning cold, I’d be training my feet barefoot. I have lots of clean sidewalks around my work building to start off slow.

    But I sure do seem to encounter hostility to everything I do, from cutting carbs and eating fat to wearing VFF (or even suggesting barefoot running) to cold showers or not using shampoo.

    I don’t even try to be preachy or obnoxious. I just see it as something I do that I know is not mainstream.

    But folks mock and nitpick every thing despite obvious evidence right in front of them. I don’t even try to convert anyone. It’s not worth even trying to overcome their mental inertia.

    Michael Maier wrote on October 16th, 2013
  32. To start you need to know I am an overweight, 66 year old female. I never run. I spent most of the spring and summer barefoot or wearing leather moccasins. I developed ankle pain which turned out to be related to fallen arches. I now wear orthotic insoles which made my ankle pain disappear. So no more barefoot but the insoles fit in my moccasins just fine.

    Linda Sand wrote on October 16th, 2013
  33. I have a cousin that is huge in all the naturopathic ways. Doctorate and all that. Doesn’t run but does all the yoga. She was always in Vibram’s but her foot started to have to much strain. She had to switch to Merrill’s. I’m thankfully still in my Vibram’s but it flip flops all summer.

    Leea wrote on October 16th, 2013
  34. G’day, Very interesting article. Years ago MOST people didn’t wear shoes.
    As mentioned that two time Olympian who WON his marathon was running in bare feet and left everyone else far behind. I watched (quite enviously I must admit as I am not a capable runner) and it was a highlight of the Olympics.

    In a lot of countries, most people do not wear shoes (certainly not those restrictive and injury inflicting MODERN FASHION shoes- includes sneakers etc.) and they do not seem to have any major problems. Possibly as much as preference as well as not having sufficient money.

    Here in Queensland, quite a lot of people just naturally do not wear shoes – they have feet like leather and do not seem to have any foot injuries. My own sons used to walk about barefoot even on hot concrete with no problems. In fact they still walk about (after work that is) barefoot. I prefer to go barefoot whenever I can otherwise I like to wear leather sandals all year around (that is when I can find them to buy). I loathe thongs(flipflops) those horrid rubber flappers.

    In Australia, there are still very many native people (Aborigines) who just naturally do not wear shoes and they can travel long distances without footwear.

    Wearing footwear CAN cause injury. A podiatrist friend said wearing things like thongs/flipflops or incorrectly fitted running shoes, sneakers, fashions shoes especially high heels and stilletoes have caused a huge amount of injury to a great many people as well as knee and back problems. He is in favour of going barefoot on beaches and lawns, and wearing good quality leather sandals then correctly fitted leather shoes.

    The media beat-up at least gets people thinking and talking about footwear or barefoot.
    Cheers Peggy in Queensland Australia

    peggywh0 wrote on October 16th, 2013
  35. This is a great article. People are so scared these days to try something new. Doing any type of exercise barefoot is always a good idea because it gives your body natural leverage.

    Jason wrote on October 16th, 2013
  36. I wore a pair of Xero sandals 4mm all summer. I’m used to being active barefoot (contemporary dance, and just roaming around the yard), but walking in town on pavement took some getting used to. My feet definitely ached the first few times. The only injury I got was having a massive thorn go through my sole right into my foot, which certainly slowed me down for several days. Though it was a random accident, that is actually a considerable disadvantage to minimalist shoes. If I had been truly barefoot, I probably would have been paying more attention.

    On the plus side, now that is is cooler and I have switched back to conventional shoes, I notice that my gait is different – longer, smoother strides and stronger push off through the forefoot. It feels more efficient.

    Tracy wrote on October 16th, 2013
  37. I don’t barefoot run (TBH I don’t do any more running than running to catch a bus!), but I do wear barefoot shoes all the time… A pair of Merell Pace Gloves for work, and five fingers (also known as my “fingery shoes” in my house!) the rest of the time that I am outside.
    And at home I walk around barefoot all the time – don’t even wear slippers.
    TBH the barefoot shoes are the best thing I ever had for work – I stand/walk all day long (I am a massage therapist), and these are the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn.
    No foot/calf ankle issues at all with these, and I have been wearing them for a good 10 months now.

    salixisme wrote on October 16th, 2013

Leave a Reply

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

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

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