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. Thank you so much for this! My 14 year old runs 4 mi a day on the treadmill in socks no matter what expensive or cheap shoes I try to thrust on her. I’ve been so worried, but she never ran in shoes and refuses. I feel much better! And she’s been injury free for more than a year.

    L L Sage wrote on October 16th, 2013
  2. After having run for years in supportive cushioned shoes, with many injuries and visits to the podiatrist, the diagnosis was, I needed orthotics. Did the injuries reduce? No, they just changed and actually increased.
    Two years ago, I switched to minimalist/barefoot and now run in Vivobarefoots (the most proprioceptive shoes around). I worked back up to my previous distances slowly, backing off when things started to get painful. I was getting an injury every six months or so that would inhibit training when wearing orthotics and cushioned shoes. Now, I have run marathons and ultras on road and trail with no major injuries and no time off the road or trail.
    My stride is now much lighter than previous and my recovery is also far faster so I can run more frequently than before.
    Is it a fad? Maybe, but one I will continue with for the rest of my running life.
    I think Grok did wear shoes, but they were probably just a piece of flat leather tied around his ankles.

    Chris wrote on October 17th, 2013
  3. You gotta use common sense a lot of times when reading the news. Thanks for putting us into perspective about barefoot running.

    Jessica Vergara wrote on October 17th, 2013
  4. I’ll have to agree with the FAD theory on this one. It would just be common sense to use shoes to protect the feet from harmful objects and filth when walking in the streets and elsewhere, and the best shock absorbing shoes available for more strenuous activities. Surely, we can run barefoot, and many other things, but is that really a good idea. We can also not use sunblock and end up looking like old women in Peruvian villages or not wear a helmet and risk getting a serious head injury. Shoes are just a modern means of protecting the feet and allowing us to engage in various activities with more enjoyment and comfort. I believe in getting back to the basics of natural living and eating, but rebelling against shoes seems a little overboard… my opinion of course. May each person do what he enjoys.

    Anna wrote on October 17th, 2013
  5. Nice article Mark,

    As a therapist I do occasionally see someone who hurt their feet from switching to barefoot shoes too frequently. I think the backlash is just because therapists are seeing these injuries when they didn’t before as they become more popular. I feel that most of the backlash is coming from people who don’t properly break into these shoes slowly, which could take a long period of time.

    If I see someone with pain during running one of the first things I’ll try is to change something about the way they run (shorter stride, more knee bend, landing under your body better). I’ve been in clinics in the past where they’ll give barefoot running a shot to decrease pain. I think this automatically changes the way you run (Not always)

    Ultimately I don’t think that we’ll ever be able to beat feet (After all we evolved over a long time to use them) but I don’t think that shoes should be condemned either. All depends on the individual. My goal is to get people back to what they enjoy doing.

    Dan Pope wrote on October 17th, 2013
  6. I have been running barefoot for 4 years now, before that I ran in shoes for 18 years. I told myself that I was starting all over with running, like I never ran before and took a good year to development certain muscles and tissues I never used before, and to learn the craft of barefoot running. It’s not something you just jump into.

    The reason people get injured is because they rush the process.

    Good article.

    Barefoot Gentile wrote on October 17th, 2013
  7. This entire argument is rediculous – I lived at the beach most of my 20’s and shoes were just a formality to get us over the pebbles in the parking lot. Once we hit the sand, we would fling them over our shoulder or toss them in our pile of towels to go running along the waterline. I can’t remember anyone wearing shoes to run or getting injured. Now that I am older (58), I still have that tendency to go barefoot as much as possible. I admit my legs will get tired, but going barefoot has never caused a foot or leg cramp or a sprained ankle or damaged tendon whereas the wrong shoe can pull your groin down to your ankle in a flash. And lets face it, running barefoot in damp morning grass, even chasing the grandchild around for a few minutes, is refreshing and renewing.

    Robie Zelman wrote on October 17th, 2013
  8. After a long-standing knee injury and a series of foot/leg problems, including planter fascitis, and painfully tight calves, I switched to barefoot running. The difference was amazing. All of those problems have gone away.

    And then I got new ones. I have several tendon injuries in my feet. The last one had me in an air cast for 4 weeks. I thought I was transitioning slowly, but I guess not nearly slow enough. And that’s the problem. No one offers a real plan of how slow is slow enough. It’s too bad, because I absolutely loved barefoot running as a sheer sensory experience in a way I never connected with running in shoes. I’m not sure when/if I will return to either form of running. That makes me really sad.

    Lauren wrote on October 17th, 2013
  9. I have been barefoot running for several years. I recently switched my audio device to earbuds vs. over the top of the ear headphones. The difference of the impact of my foot strike became an audible experience with the earbud style head phones. As I became more fatigued and my form was a bit sloppier I was immediately aware of the difference due to the sound made by the vibrations. It is such an dramatic difference my ears were telling my what my lower body was feeling and absorbing.

    BTW I took up barefoot running after a back injury and surgery. I have not had a back or lower body injury since I began training this way.

    Marshall wrote on October 17th, 2013
  10. Switched to minimalist shoes about 2 years ago. First time I ran in them I felt so light and at ease that I ignored my husband’s suggestion to ease into it, 10 minutes at a time and ran for 40! I couldn’t walk for about 3 days my calves were so sore. Next time did it right. I loved my shoes so much that I bought a pair appropriate for work. Those are all I wear. I have less back and knee pain. I wear them for hiking with light weight. Will never wear running shoes or heels again. Well maybe low heels for dancing…

    Julie barker wrote on October 17th, 2013
  11. Backpack and hike in Vasque’s. Twisted ankle numerous times into Havasupai trip – 8 miles in. Rest of 4 days used Vibrams and hiked out with them. Ran for 8 month’s im them before getting some Merrill minimalist’s with a bit more padding. After 1500 miles moved on to Altra minimalists. One marathon, multiple 1/2s no issue. Went for a run on a cool Phoenix evening tripped, stepped over a curb to catch balance and tore calf prettty bad. Four weeks into therapy, no running yet. Wondered if minimalists somehow produced undue strain on calf. Doc and trainer indicated no. Have never had an issue before in minimalist’s, so maybe this was just a freak accident. Snorkeling in Maui with my diver fins is helping with my rehab.

    AZEAGLEYE wrote on October 17th, 2013
  12. I’ve been running in Vibrams for about three years. But I also waitress in padded shoes. I have very low arches and my shoe size has went up a size since barefoot running. But I enjoy running a lot more than I used to. The only down side to Vibrams, (for me) is that my big toes always get rubbed raw after 4-5 miles.

    Emily wrote on October 17th, 2013
  13. I look at the feet of my mother and aunts and cringe from the abuse they have taken from years of wearing shoes and high heals.
    I am frequently mocked when I walk around with my fivefingers on, and have heard many times “you’re not really going to wear those, are you?” when choosing them over a pair of “traditional” footwear.

    I sit all day at work, and am forced to wear safety shoes so I try and make up for it by wearing minimalist footwear in my off hours.

    Running, or even long distance walking did take some getting used to. I heal strike like there is no tomorrow and boy oh boy did I feel it once I cast of my traditional runner.

    Nell wrote on October 18th, 2013
  14. I suffered Sciatica for 7 years and barefoot running cured it when traditional PT could not.

    I dove right in from shoes to bare feet and kept up the same routine (and should have allowed more adjustment time); as a consequence, I went through about 2 months of Planters Fasciitis. However, it did fade, I haven’t had a single bout of Sciatica since, my posture has never been better, I have a much better sense of balance… I could go on and on.The ultimate irony is, however, that when ever I HAVE to wear shoes, my knees, feet and middle back bug me the next day, lol.

    Here’s a tip for the skeptics: wear shoes when you need to; when you don’t HAVE to — don’t. Give it a couple months, see how you feel. Being skeptical is one thing; being reflexively dismissive out of experiential ignorance or the inability to think and critically analyze criticisms of bare footing is quite another.

    Shoes are not doing anyone any favors if they don’t have to be wearing them. Especially people who have to wear shoes all the time and stand quite a bit of the day.

    Aaron wrote on October 18th, 2013
  15. I have been wearing my five finger shoes for about three years now and I had so many foot problems before then that I can’t even count them. Plantar fasciitis, hallux limitus, arch problems just to name a few. Then I was introduced to CrossFit and the concept of barefoot running and while I still have difficulty running I really don’t have many foot problems anymore. Although maybe a flip side of the coin some people haven’t mentioned is that I now find it almost impossible to wear regular shoes. Living in the mountains in the middle of winter this can sometimes be a problem. Last year my family and I decided to climb Mount Whitney. If you don’t know it it’s the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states at 14,508 feet above sea level. It’s not just a walk in the park, it’s a tough hike with 30 pound backpacks and solid granite. it’s a challenging hike I did it in my five fingers . During the entire hike, people kept stopping me and commenting on my shoes. Most people said I was crazy and was going to get seriously injured particularly this one gentleman who was an orthopedist and told me that I had no business being on the trail and I must be an idiot. The rest of the people who I encountered on the trail pop commented on my shoes all said amazing things like I can’t believe you’re doing this and you must be really bad ass! Frankly I found it really amusing that people even cared to look down at my feet, but really I was just doing it because I think it was the only way I would’ve been able to accomplish that hike because regular shoes make my feet hurt so much. Later, at the conclusion of our 22 mile hike I ran into the orthopedist again who was sitting on a rock applying moleskin. adjusting his orthotics and cursing at his shoes. I had no blisters, use no moleskin, and successfully completed the hike in five finger shoes and felt more healthy and More fit than I ever have in my life.
    One month later, as I was participating in an athletic event, I ruptured my Achilles tendon and ended up having to have surgery. I walked around for almost a week on this injured leg not knowing that my Achilles was completely ruptured and when I finally went to the doctor they said that obviously it was my Achilles but that obviously it wasn’t completely severed because I was able to walk on it. During the surgery the doctor was stunned to find that the tendon was not only completely severed but completely retracted up into my calf muscle. Tendons rupture because usually the supporting muscle is stronger than the tendon itself, subsequently the tendon just can’t handle the stress. My point here is that the surgeons all felt that because I walk run do everything in barefoot shoes that This was the reason I was able to walk on my injured leg for so long. After a long and horrific recovery and many months of physical therapy I am now back to my barefoot shoes and couldn’t be happier!

    MountainGirl wrote on October 18th, 2013
  16. Let me start by saying I am a big dude, at my worst I was just over 400 lbs.
    I suffered for a long time with Plantar Fasciitis. I assumed it was because I was fat. I tried to lose weight, but how can you lose anything when you can barely stand to walk due to the pain. I tried everything I could try, stretching, immobilizing, pain meds etc. After suffering for a couple years I gave up, and started researching the surgery (that I REALLY didn’t want). I stumbled across an article in my searching that explained the barefoot running and the benefits of it on foot pain. I thought to myself “barefoot is free, what the heck!”. For two weeks I walked barefooted almost exclusively. I was able to work from home which helped this process. After the initial “holy crap” time I spent while my legs and feet acclimated (which I have to admit was probably easier than most since my feet already hurt like Hades), I noticed a lot less pain in my feet. I got some vibrams and have been wearing them ever since. My foot pain is gone, bye bye, adios. So to be honest, I don’t care if the doctors came back tomorrow and said I was going to hell for going minimalist. The fact I don’t lay in bed half an hour just preparing myself for the agony of standing up is worth it. I of course do not “run”, because like I said, I’m a big dude. But I do have a regiment now of very fast walking/jogging 5K 4 days a week, and I am down over 60 lbs since I read some silly article about cavemen not wearing shoes.

    The only issue I have really encountered since going minimalist, and it could be due to my complete immersion into the world of being barefoot, is that my normal shoes, like my dress shoes for my suit, or my boots for working in the yard make my feet/legs hurt after prolonged wear. Anything outside of a zero drop or a 4 mm drop (to an extent), throws it all out of whack. Of course this is a small price to pay for being able too take control of my body, my health, and my life,

    Scott Jones wrote on October 18th, 2013
  17. Here’s my scientific study: I had been running for dozens of years in shoes and was constantly getting injured. I was battling a 3 year bout with plantar fasciitis in both feet when I read Born to Run and discovered barefoot running. I was smart about my transition and, as a result, have logged 3,000 barefoot (not minimalist) miles in 4 years……WITH ZERO INJURIES! I run on sidewalks, streets, and trails. My yearly average shod was 550 miles (mainly due to injuries) and now I’m running 750 miles per year barefoot and injury free. I’m also 45, 6’1″, 195 lbs. So yeah, barefoot running is a fad and bad for you. LOL.

    Barefoot Damon wrote on October 18th, 2013
  18. My transition from traditional running shoes to Vibram FiveFingers was literally seamless. I loved them from the first time I took them out and never looked back. I recommend Vibrams wholeheartedly to everyone I know, but do warn that my experience might be atypical and that they may very well need a transition period. The biggest difference I notice is that my balance is vastly improved with Vibrams. With traditional shoes stepping on a tree root or rock or some other uneven surface could easily cause a mistep or loss of balance, but with Vibrams that stuff doesn’t even phase me. Between having your toes spread in a natural fashion and actually feeling the terrain beneath your feet, I found the balance benefits really remarkable. Also, I very much recommend Vibrams over actually going barefoot to eliminate the risk of puncture injuries from accidentally stepping on something sharp and to protect the feet against bugs, parasites, fungus, etc.

    Vibra FiveFingers 4 life!

    Mark wrote on October 18th, 2013
  19. I’ve been a runner since 1974. Recently, I spent three years barefoot running. That is, barefoot. No minimalist shoes except for soft leather moccasins for running in the ice and snow in the winter. I turned to barefoot running after rolling an ankle multiple times while running in shoes. Turns out (pun) I supinate, not pronate, which means my foot rolls from the inside out, less common than the other way around. This meant that the lever arm of the running shoe sole made me prone to roll the ankle. Yikes! A painful and slow healing process ensued each time I hurt the ankle again, so I turned to Five Fingers. Boy did they stink! Then I went completely barefoot. It was extremely difficult for me to re-learn how to run. I have never liked running on roads, but they were far easier than trails. At least most roads. The so-called “chip seal” roads are really hard to run on. So is crushed stone and gravel. Flat concrete is easy. Grass was pleasurable, but teaches nothing.

    Anyway, I could never get my heart rate up to the point where I was really out of breath. Yes, my fault for having bad form, but still frustrating. I never race. I don’t do marathons, and I’ve never been a chronic cardio guy. But I do like to get a good pump when I run. So, in frustration, I started to experiment with minimalist shoes. I tried everything. Water shoes, neoprene scuba socks, “barefoot” sandals, etc. etc. Eventually, I was wearing one of these minimalist shoes and ran probably 7 miles or so, finally getting a good workout. But what I did not realize was that I was damaging the nerves on the bottom of my feet. Had I been barefoot, I would have noticed (duh). Long story short, I may have permanently hurt the nerves in my heel and under three little toes. Morals of the story:

    1) If you want to go barefoot running, go barefoot running, not minimalist running. Or at least don’t be as much of a bonehead as I was and overdo it. You can’t overdo barefoot running, your feet won’t let you. But you sure as hell can overdo minimalist shoe running.

    2) If you want to go barefoot running, then be patient. I may take you 2-3 years, 3-4x a week, 3-5 miles per run to learn how to do it well. I didn’t learn well enough despite having spent that much time doing it.

    3) While you learn, do something else to get your interval training in. Use a spin bike, play ultimate frisbee or soccer or something.

    N=1, your mileage will vary

    Tim wrote on October 18th, 2013
  20. I have been running in Vibram now for 18 months and it has completely cured both my knee and ankle issues, which were causing me incredible grief as a newer runner (I started running again around three years ago).
    I was miserable thinking I was going to have to stop running as after every run I would spend the next day in pain. The pain was also starting to affect my hips.
    Since checking out Vibram and barefoot running and one wearing them for every run I am completely pain free! Also issues completely disappeared. My first run in them was 7km and it was fine too.

    Kevin Tunstall wrote on October 18th, 2013
  21. Great article.

    I been using minimus running shoes for about 2 years now and they are great. I developed bad tendinitis in my knee when I used to wear the large sole shoes and I wasn’t able to run anymore. So I switched over and it made a huge difference.

    I honestly feel the people posting these anti-barefoot articles are being funded by the shoe companies.

    Brendan wrote on October 18th, 2013
  22. I have been wearing Vibram Fivefingers for almost 4 years now and hardly ever wear anything else. My feet feel stronger than ever and never hurt any more, not even after being on my feet all day. Over that past 4 years I have accumulated 6 different pairs and love them all. I also wear them backpacking and hiking and love being able to feel the textures of the ground under my feet. My father has Plantar Fasciitis and used to wear normal sneakers all the time (usually even around the house) and I recommend he switch to fivefingers (with a slow transition) and since he says his Plantar Fasciitis is about 80% better. I also first started talking to my boyfriend because I saw him wearing fivefingers and struck up a conversation about them :) So thank you MDA for originally introducing me to fivefingers, they have made a big difference in many aspects of my life.

    Sloane wrote on October 18th, 2013
  23. I started exercising barefoot about a year ago and now you can’t get me to put on shoes. My balance has improved, my exercise form has improved and I can feel my muscles work better when I’m barefoot. For me this is the way to go!

    It definitely takes some getting used to, especially if you’ve always worked out in shoes, but ones you’ll get used to it, you will love it.

    Tatianna wrote on October 19th, 2013
  24. I love running barefoot and minimal! I have been doing it for several years now and feel like I am finally finding my stride. You could say I was very slow in my transition because I knew that my muscles had become weak by what I call the clunky chunky shoes that I was wearing. I love feeling like I have nothing on my feet! It is freeing! No more clunky chunky shoes for me! Thanks for the article!

    Hayley wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  25. Watched the final hour of the ironman championships in Kona on the official website. The commentary was on the upright form of the two male leaders (not sinking into their hips, etc) and that both were fore foot striking. Then came the female leader absolutely flying and also fore foot striking. Her split in the marathon was actually faster the the winning male.

    Splayhooray wrote on October 22nd, 2013
  26. My backlash is the the US Army banned Vibram Fivefingers from being worn with the Army Physical Fitness Uniform (APFU). The reason stated was that multiple compartments for toes detracted from “military appearance” (as if black shorts and a gray t-shirt with ARMY written on them make for a wonderful military appearance. I solved the problem by avoiding wearing my APFU when I work out. If I have to wear the APFU, I wear Saucony Hattoris. Still, occasionally other Soldiers will say things like “those things cause injuries”. Whatever. I also train in ninjutsu, and the VFFs are very popular among ninja. We always wear either VFFs or jika-tabi for proprioception. Jika-tabi were the original zero-drop toe shoe.

    Nukenin wrote on October 23rd, 2013
  27. Transition was slow and awkward at first. It’s slow because of stretching and lengthening the Achilles, rebuilding muscles, and toughening the soles. It’s awkward because there’s a lot of motor learning that has been engrained for decades in how to step (it’s so engrained, it just happens without thought) that has to be unlearned and then retrained. It takes a lot of time, and I found wearing minimalist shoes all day without going back to bad-habit-enabling shoes very important in learning consistency.

    Ultimately, I’m glad I put the time in and had patience as I ran a half marathon pain free (OK, aside from fatigue) instead of giving up running. The lack of pain in my knees, hips and back was dramatic.

    John wrote on October 24th, 2013
  28. I find that minimal support shoes help me be on my feet at work all day better than shoes with lots of support. I hear my coworkers complaining about their legs and feet being tired and they think the solution is more support in their shoes. I tell them they should try minimal support and I get the “this guy is crazy” look. :-\

    Nathaniel Russell wrote on October 25th, 2013
  29. I have enjoyed minimalist shoes but I now have what feels like a bone spur under my pinky toe . not painful to walk or run on yet though thank goodness. anyone had this experience ? I may have gotten it with or with out the shoes in all honesty , Im a trainer and I stand on my feet all day . wondering of maybe I should wear flat yet more cushioned shoes for work??

    MIchael Brooks wrote on November 30th, 2013
  30. The “Runners” magazines will condemn this practice because all the advertisers will tell them too

    MikeD wrote on January 2nd, 2014
  31. Almost two years ago, I began wearing barefoot running shoes (Merrell brand). Prior to that, I had a lot of problems with plantir faciitis. It was so bad, I could barely walk when I woke up in the morning. After I bought the minimalist shoes, I started running again; I stopped when the PF got too bad and it had been over a year. I trained for and ran a half marathon, with minimal discomfort from the PF. I loved my barefoot shoes so much, I bought barefoot cross trainers, which I use for CrossFit and Insanity. The PF has subsided to the point I don’t remember which foot it was in anymore, mind you, I am very mindful about stretching my foot and calf muscles. I didn’t notice any big foot transformation, but I have always had high arches. People can criticize barefoot/minimalist running all they want, I’ll never go back.

    Carrie wrote on May 22nd, 2014
  32. I switched to 5 Fingers shoes 5 years ago after back and knee issues had me in a place where it seemed unlikely I’d be able to continue running at all. That said, I did it all wrong. I loved how it felt—I felt like a gazelle!—and started off with a run that lasted for miles, and until I felt actual pain: the beginnings of blisters, and a bad feeling in both my arches and my calves. Well, no shit, amiright? Haha, you are striking *radically* differently than you did just yesterday, and hitting different parts of…well, pretty much every part of your lower legs with each stride.

    I ended up having to stand on cold packs for hours. Everything hurt from the knees down (particularly my arches). Yet I persisted in running miles every day or so. Each time it ended in pain. I know, ridiculous. Because I did, in fact, know this was not the right way to segue over; I was just impatient and enjoyed the feeling of the run itself.

    Because of my asinine refusal to transit slowly and methodically, I spent more time icing and being sore than was remotely necessary. That said, I eventually did complete the transition after a month or two. My calves got stronger, more muscular, and my arches *seem* to be higher (I was fairly flat-footed before). My ankles may have thickened up a hair, which I wasn’t crazy about, but I figure there’s a purpose to that: I have not twisted my ankle one single time in the last five years while on trail, track or road runs. Not once. I have felt a near-twist *beginning,* but have always been able to correct it. That’s pretty huge, as I think I’d had at least one moderate ankle twist a year in conventional shoes.

    I’ve tried several other barefoot shoes (New Balance and Nike) in addition to the FF but I still and always prefer running in FF. I hate the look of them, to be very honest. I think they’re hideous to behold and I get occasional rude comments and snarky looks from women when running in them. But my main issue is that when running in reeds or tall grass or forested settings, I’ve had strong vines go between my toes and almost been tripped on occasion (other times, it’s just annoying).

    I can’t emphasize enough that people really should transit slowly (I am a cautionary tale) to avoid serious arch pain. Hilly walks seem like the perfect entree to minimalist running. And I think there’s a real ceiling to how many miles you can/should run in them if you’re road running (but then, I tend to agree with people like Mark who question how much hard surface-running we should really be doing anyway, as muffling the *sensation* of shock with thicker-soled shoes doesn’t mean it’s not happening :)

    Necia wrote on October 14th, 2014
  33. I have been running barefoot for about a year and a half. I have run half marathons with no trouble at all. Learning the right technique is important, but once you get it down, it is much more enjoyable to run barefoot. I would advise anyone who is interested to start with short distances and work their way up. For me, it’s better if I strike with the outside of my front foot and pronate inward. Some people can probably land on the ball of their foot, but for longer distances, outside-in might be better.

    Kevin Leslie wrote on November 19th, 2014
  34. Ive been looking through the comments but cant find an answer. I am a bartender ,very busy on my feet for work for over 20 years. Obviously cannot go barefoot. What are my options? Everything I read deals with barefoot tech for office work, dress shoes,moccasins etc.Nothing for service industry Advice please?

    Rob Rimavicus wrote on March 23rd, 2015
  35. I would point out that barefooting isn’t always practical. If you live near a nice sandy beach with year-around temps in the 70’s or 80’s, then yes. But if you live in a cooler climate, as I do, barefooting can mean some pretty cold tootsies, to say nothing of needing an eagle eye to watch for varying surfaces, occasional trash, bits of glass or metal, etc. I barefoot around the house and sometimes in the yard, and that’s plenty for me.

    Shary wrote on October 16th, 2013
  36. I don’t see how the defense of barefoot running has anything to do with how Mark and team earn their living. Given the fact that the guy is a former marathon runner, I pretty much trust him when it comes to things related to running. This was an enlightening post, well balanced and completely truthful.

    einstein wrote on October 16th, 2013
  37. Jerky Boy! I am truly LMAO. Thank you for lifting my spirit up today after my Tigers lost yesterday Frank Rizzo.

    Bill wrote on October 16th, 2013
  38. You completely miss the point of the barefoot movement. It is not about going shoeless everywhere, it is about adapting to shoes that allow us to move “as if” we were barefoot. My six different pairs of barefoot-style shoes can take me anywhere in most any clime.

    Paula wrote on October 16th, 2013
  39. Wow, one of the first sensible posts I’ve read about barefoot running. Shoes were made for a reason, its because people by and large don’t enjoy puncturing their flesh with nails and glass, and jagged rocks hurt!

    Joe Samson wrote on October 16th, 2013
  40. I wear VFFs precisely because my neighborhood sidewalks are littered with broken glass and rubbish (such is life in a neighborhood full of students).

    But I live in Seattle, and have worn them on rainy days, even though it means having wet feet–and surprisingly, I haven’t been uncomfortable, or felt all that cold. I’ve also worn them to a nearby park, where I peeled them off and wandered the trails barefoot–and done it in the rain just to see what it was like.

    I definitely had an initial, “Eew! My feet are wet! And it’s cold out!” response. But I decided to just roll with it, and see how I felt about it in a little while. Invariably, I forget that my feet are wet, and barely notice the chill.

    Granted, the temps haven’t yet dipped toward freezing, and I don’t know if we’ll get snow this year or not. But we have a native species here in the Northwest–the “Cargo Shorts All-Year-Round Guy”–whose weatherbeaten legs go exposed in all but the coldest conditions. And if they can handle being bare-legged, I imagine being bare-footed can’t be too hard.

    Artemis67 wrote on October 16th, 2013

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