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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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February 03 2010

A Sea Change Coming to Wash Your Shoes Away

By Mark Sisson
145 Comments

I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s all over the news. People are finally beginning to come around to that inconvenient truth about our feet, that dirty little secret that shoe companies would prefer to keep under wraps: barefoot is better.

There has been media coverage of the barefoot trend in the past, mostly intermittent, in running magazines and always taking a patronizing tone. It follows the same formula: more idle speculation on a bizarre fad that a select few crazies are promoting, with plenty of “balance” from stuffy foot specialists expressing doubt that the inherently fragile, gentle human foot could ever withstand the rigors of walking unshod without “serious injury,” than any serious consideration of the merits. But now we’ve got a nice, juicy study to hang our hats (or our shoes) on, and media outlets are falling over themselves to get the scoop.

Witness the Boston Globe’s take on the whole thing, or the LA Times feature. The Edmonton Journal got into the action, too, as did the Telegraph, while even San Jose’s Mercury News mentioned the study. The Popular Science blog did a piece on it. And of course, the rest of the blogosphere picked up on it, too: Open Water Chicago, Conditioning Research, and the Chi Running blog, to name just a few.

The study in question was Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman’s on “Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners.” (See comparison videos below. The difference between shod heel strike running and barefoot forefoot strike running is visually and graphically captured. For more on what you’re seeing check out NPR’s coverage.) It’s hard to believe that this is the first study of its kind, though, probably because it actually isn’t. Last year, researchers ran a similar study and decided that “Footwear Alters Normal Form and Function of the Foot” by exerting acute pressure to sensitive areas of the foot, whereas barefoot walkers enjoyed wider forefeet and more evenly distributed locomotive stress. Interesting, but probably because it didn’t make any bold pronouncements and because it dealt with the relatively mundane act of walking (rather than running), the study didn’t get any press. They could have recommended people throw off their shoes, but that wouldn’t be prudent. It wouldn’t be responsible. I can’t fault them for that, really. Researchers need funding, and you don’t want to make bold pronouncements if it means getting cut off or reprimanded. Unfortunately, scientists need to be bold to effect real change.

Even when the “experts” get it so, so right, they do their best to get it wrong in the end, or they hedge their bets and stick with the safe answer, rather than question Conventional Wisdom entirely (even if the data contradicts CW directly). I’m reminded of when Gary Taubes famously lamented a similar mindset in physicians and obesity researchers who, although they understood (and even witnessed in a clinical setting) the chronic insulin/body fat connection, continued to recommend the standard low-fat, high-carb, low-calorie diet to their patients. They connect all the dots, but fail to see the bigger picture clearly outlined by those dots. To their credit, though, researchers can and do make sensible recommendations within the context of Conventional Wisdom. The researchers from that walking study did ultimately call for the design of “quality footwear” that doesn’t “hamper the foot’s biologically normal function.” Better than nothing, I suppose.

Now, even though I agree with Lieberman’s conclusions (actually, because I’m such a huge fan of barefoot), it pays to be critical. I know Lieberman has affiliations with Vibram – in fact, he may have even helped them design the Fivefingers – and that they probably funded the study, and I know that we hem, haw, and cast skeptical eyes on Pfizer when they fund yet another statin paper. There’s a major difference between the two, though: Lieberman is right. His data is strong. He isn’t hiding anything or fudging the results. We’re right. Barefoot is better. There’s no shame in that, you know – being right. There are objective truths out there, and the objective truth is that most people aren’t born with genetically defective feet. Everyone’s imperfect, sure, but for the most part we’ve all got the same basic equipment with the same basic biomechanics working under the hood. Unless you have a birth defect, no one is born with feet that “won’t work right” or that “require shoes”. The flat footed (no arch) argument doesn’t stand up as an excuse, except when you’ve already spent a lifetime coddling your feet in supportive casts. A cautionary word that anyone transitioning to a barefoot lifestyle should take it VERY easy at first.

There was one more response to the barefoot running study that bears mentioning: Brooks (world famous running shoe company) CEO Jim Weber’s scrambling blog post. You know – I feel for the guy. It’s gotta be tough to make a reasonable response to a scientifically sound piece of research that refutes almost everything you’ve built your business on. I mean, what is he supposed to do? Admit that he’s been wrong this whole time? Admit that his shoes are basically coffins for the feet? Naturally, he goes with the entirely unsubstantiated claim that the “vast majority of runners” should race “in a performance running shoe, not barefoot.” Apparently, we barefooters are a genetically gifted breed of athlete who are “biomechanically blessed” with “natural healthy gaits.” Hmm. So, the natural, normal gait is actually somehow rare and precious. It doesn’t occur naturally. Got it. Jim, did you ever stop to think why so many of your runners seem to lack that natural healthy gait? Perhaps it’s the shoes. Our “unique biomechanical needs” are only unique because we’ve been smashing, smushing, and confining our feet to too-small, too-constrictive, too-structured footwear for years. Check out your comments section, dude. The people have spoken. You can’t ignore anecdotal evidence pouring in from all sides forever.

I eagerly await your upcoming, inevitable barefoot-analogous running shoe model.

When the CEO of a major running shoe company makes a public acknowledgment, that’s a sign. A sea change is undoubtedly occurring here, folks. The media may help spur things along, but they’re just reporting what’s really happening out there. If there wasn’t a massive audience for the barefoot message present and willing to get out there and experiment for themselves, there’d be no story. Just check out the comment sections for all the blogs and all the newspaper articles dealing with the study. In previous barefoot articles, most of the comments were either dubious or dismissive of the “fad”; now, the naysayers clinging to their Nikes are being drowned out by barefoot evangelists. I applaud them.

You’re part of what made this possible. Now, let’s hope the rest of the Primal Blueprint gains some ground out there!

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145 thoughts on “A Sea Change Coming to Wash Your Shoes Away”

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  1. start winning marathons and other types of races barefoot. that will be irrevocable evidence of barefoot supremacy. go primal!

  2. I’ve come across a half dozen of these articles in the last week. Commented on all of them I think. Everything changes. Now I just need less snow and some VFFs. 🙂

    1. I agree! I’ve been seeing these posts alot lately just bouncing thru the interwebs. Canada, namely Saskatchewan, is not exactly VFF friendly. I got my flows, but pretty much waiting for a bit of a thaw. -28 is a bit much.
      Best reaction on them so far though, “So what are these on your feet now? Are they from the future?”

      1. Pardon my ignorance. Perhaps there are none in Australia, but what are VFFs?

        1. Vibram Five Fingers.
          Available from a distributor in the east only (Queensland i think). Google VFF and it will come up. Since i live in the south west of West Auss i bought mine over the net from the US (Kayak Shed – Oregon – cheers peoples for the fast efficient service) as they were cheaper.
          Absolutely love them. But i have been a barefooter for a long time, though these are the first (and really only) shoe that come close actually being unshod.
          Cheers
          Stuart

        2. The Aussie site is here:
          http://www.fivefingers.com.au/public_panel/index.php

          Problem is, competition hasn’t really started on them here and they sell them at RRP for around $189 – $219 AUD, which converts to $165 – $190 USD. So, I ended up getting mine in the US where I paid $80 USD for a pair of Sprints. I had them brought over by a friend, but even with shipping you’re much better off buying them that way.

        3. I have had a hard time finding 5 fingers. I found them on crossroadsonline.com for great prices. You can prebook certain fivefingers that will not be available until September. Its best to reserve them now before september rolls around and they will be harder to get!

  3. Hello – recent Primal convert here, but long(ish) time barefooter living in the snow up in Canada (!)

    My VFF’s are fun on the weekend, but not so good in the office. I have found that Wushu shoes are a great alternative to big clonky things, and I have some NEOS overshoes to keep things warm and dry between the house and the office.

    The overshoes themselves have a pretty flat sole (with good traction) and with the Wushu shoes it seems to do the trick for me.

    Plus, as soon as I get home, everything (on my feet!) comes off.

    1. Have a look at Vivo Barefoot shoes if you want something that’s close to barefoot but still looks like a normal shoe: very thin sole with a tiny bit of padding inside and a wide footbed at the front.

      1. Thanks Tommy – I’ve seen those, and was on the wait list for the style I want last time I checked (my feet are big!) – the Vivo shoes look awesome, I agree.

        I admit to kicking off the shoes at my desk anyway since I spend a lot of time writing, so that’s a plus 🙂

  4. I need Vibram Flows!!! I have been confined to “warm shoes” all winter because I don’t have the Flows, only sprints and classics 🙁

    People are incredibly intrigued by Vibrams, no matter where I am (farmer’s market, coffee shop, bookstore, work…) people ask how they feel (like walking barefoot, duh), what do I do in them (everything…and a weird question!), doesn’t it hurt to step on things (just watch where you’re walking!)…then the laugh and either “those are really cool” or “those are really cute” depending on the gender of the inquirer. I’ve even gotten into discussions about the importance of being barefoot in general, with someone else chiming in about what they’ve read or heard! People think I’m a little quirky, but I’ve had many friends/acquiantances go and try Vibrams on after seeing me wear them 🙂

    1. People at the gym ask me about my VFF KSO’s at least once a week. I wear them lifting weights too; just have to be careful not to drop anything heavy near my toes. I have also found it a bit easier to grip weights between my feet when doing pull-ups or dips 🙂 I love wearing them outside for sprints as well, when it gets a bit warmer here in Omaha! Also fantastic this past summer for hiking in the Steamboat area.

  5. Has anyone switched to Nike Free (or VFF), and have back pain go away?

    1. Oh yes. A resounding yes. Knee pain too (from partially torn ACL), big toe joint pain (from stubbing it way too many times), neck pain and shoulder pain. I have to say though, that these pains went away with VFF (or Nike Free shoes sans insoles) in combination with resistance training RTS style and TRX, of course, barefoot at home on hard-wood floor.

  6. I always hated sneakers, and they hurt my feet so bad. In fitness class I would get in trouble for being in the gym in socks, or barefoot. But man my feet, legs, back, hips, knees all hurt when I wore those stupid shoes. As it is now, i wear sandals, flip flops or ballet slippers when I have to have shoes on. It’s good to know that my poor tootsies were telling me the truth. Not that I ever doubted them.

  7. like everything – once they’ve made it “their” own idea and find a way to market bare feet, it’ll be the new sensation!

  8. I don’t think Lieberman had anything to do with the design of VFFs — the design was based on an Italian designer’s work in (IIRC) 2000. Actually, Lieberman had this to say about the connection to Vibram (via AZcentral):

    AZ: Vibram USA, which makes minimalist running shoes, is listed as a sponsor of your research. What is the extent of its support?

    Lieberman: Vibram USA paid for a research assistant and gave free shoes to some of our volunteers, but they have no special rights or access to any of the data, no input into our experiments, and no control over how and what we publish. Further, they have not paid me a penny, and I don’t own any stock or profit in any way from this research.

    Anyway, I definitely agree that the sea change is upon us whether conclusions about evolution of humanity w/r/t distance running have any merit … well it’s moot relative to the core argument that our feet are meant to be free.

    I’ve created a couple large, growing link repositories for press on the Lieberman work, as well as barefoot running, and barefoot running research:

    http://birthdayshoes.com/wiki/index.php?title=Links_to_press_on_barefoot_or_minimalist_footwear_running

    http://birthdayshoes.com/wiki/index.php?title=Links_to_research_related_to_shod_or_barefoot_running

    And also, any would-be FiveFingers wearers might benefit from this free [beginner’s guide] to VFFs (you can read about it here: http://birthdayshoes.com/index.php/the-beginner-s-guide-to-five-fingers — there you’ll find a link to download the PDF).

    Happy barefoot and/or VFF’ing!

    Justin / justinowings.com / birthdayshoes.com

  9. “I know Lieberman has affiliations with Vibram…”

    Private or corporate money is no more inherently corrupt than government grant money. All research, public and private, should be viewed skeptically on its own merits. Some of the worst research, such as cholesterol and climate “science”, is supported by government grants.

  10. So what kind of sandals do people recommend as minimal footwear? I have some VFFs but I don’t like wearing them to work etc because my feet just sweat in them. I’m looking for some thin-soled sandals to wear at work.

    1. check out chaco flip flops. i hate shoes with a passion and live year round in my chacos. best sandals out there. i run, hike, climb, bike,work,swim,raft,kayak, everything in these. there out of western Colorado and are made for outdoor enthusiasts.

  11. Mark,

    Long time follower, first time poster.

    I was a subject in Lieberman’s study. I was part of group 3 (North Americans that converted to barefoot running).
    Your claims that Lieberman helped design the Vibram Five Fingers and that Vibram funds his research are both false. Vibram did send shoes, free of charge, with which Lieberman tested barefoot runners. Vibram also gave participants a free pair of shoes (Unfortunately, I think only the North Amercian participants received the free shoes). Vibram does not send any money to Lieberman and the value of the shoes is far from covering the cost of this type of research.
    Lieberman’s conclusions are modest because he, like most scientists, realizes that extrapolation of data outside the context of experimental conditions is merely speculation, not fact. In this case, Lieberman established that there is significantly more impact upon heal striking when compared to forefoot striking. Whether or not heal striking leads to higher rates of injuries remains a hypothesis. Even though it makes sense to extrapolate the findings of the study and state that “running shoes increase the rate of injuries”, one has to remember that that is not what the study analyzed (I’ll remind everyone that it also made sense to think that “fat makes you fat”).
    Lieberman will attempt to address the rate of injury in the future but the problem has a daunting number of variables to take into account. As a result, a controlled trial will be extremely difficult to execute not to mention prohibitively costly. The next step may involve an observational study but we know that this will only establish correlation, not causation. That would at least be a first step and may encourage funding agencies to support the research. Currently, Lieberman cannot obtain funding from the NIH because the agency does not consider the research to be sufficiently important for human health (imagine that).
    With regards to the conclusion of the study, it is much easier to try to be nice to the shoe companies and get them on board. Sure, the Nike Free and other “barefoot” options might not be as good as the Vibram’s I run in, but it is at least a start. Let’s not forget that people can forefoot strike with regular running shoes. The problem is that the shoes encourage and facilitate improper running form.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, M@. If what you say about Lieberman and his connection with Vibram is true I stand corrected. Thank you for the inside scoop as it were.

      Sure, I understand the difficulty in drawing broad conclusions from scientific studies such as this and the complexity involved in showing causation. I hope to see more from Lieberman in the future.

      I’ve been one of the biggest Vibram supporters around for years now. I’ve supported others as well: https://www.marksdailyapple.com/barefoot-alternatives/
      By all means, it would be nice to see what these companies do become more mainstream.

      Thanks again for your thoughts.

    2. I thank you for clarifying the presumption that “shoes” cause the issue; as I watched the video the first thing that came to mind was ‘heal vs side of foot’ running. I run on my toes/side of foot when I run, I never hit my heal first, and that’s with shoes or bare-foot.

      I think the takeaway should be that people need to learn to run/walk the right way, and that big clunky heal on the shoe that “protects your heal” when you walk encourages poor walking/running habits. Ever stepped on a small stone with your heal barefoot? I’d bet most people have, but the shoe prevents that sharp (and usually persistent) pain, hence encourages bad walking/running habits.

      But that’s just me. And as such, I always prefer low/thin healed shoes since the thick heal gets in the way of my natural walking gate 🙂

  12. Interesting study, and as a scientist, I appreciate the comment from M@.

    We can’t extrapolate scientific data to match our intuition, or even our personal experiences. We barefoot runners should stick to our guns, encourage continued research, and wait for the data to back up what we personally believe. That may require accepting that we’re not 100% right.

    Having said that, my girlfriend and I converted to Vibrams last fall and we’re never looking back! I never had a prior running injury, but I feel noticeably lighter and quicker on my feet. For me, that alone is worth the change. Although I’m hoping for solid data demonstrating long-term health advantages to barefoot running.

  13. Disclaimer:
    I own and love my FVV KSO Treks.
    I go barefoot whenever I can.

    Query: the videos show a harder footfall strike in the shod state. However, doesn’t the equipment measure the force of the impact from the SHOE? In other words, isn’t it inapposite to compare footfall force between barefoot contact with the strike plate and shod contact with the strike plate? Doesn’t the material of the shod foot absorb the ultimate force “felt” by the bare foot in the running shoe?

    In other words, while it may be true that a shod footfall “lands” harder than barefoot, does that mean that the force felt by each barefoot is the same? I honestly don’t know…

    1. There are also vids showing heel-striking impact barefoot — the initial high force on impact heel-striking barefoot is similar to that in shoes.

  14. im always barefoot in the summer. however winter is another story. its far too cold here to be barefoot outside.

  15. Mark –

    I’m a long-time runner (though I never reached your competitive heights I was O.K. back in the day). Since adopting The Primal Blueprint to my life, I’ve actually eliminated most of the traditional running from my life. I sprint and jog at “move slowly” intensities. Barefooting (or VFF) works very well for those.

    Now I’ve done a little bit of what people would traditionally think of as “running” (we call it “chronic cardio”) in VFF and it’s doable for me. Still running 12 miles in VFF is not as pleasant an experience as doing it in traditional running shoes.

    Hold on. Flamethrowers down. I’m not going to conclude running shoes are good – quite the opposite…

    Maybe the real problem isn’t with “unnatural” running shoes so much as it is with the “unnatural” activity of quick (but sub-sprinting) running? Put another way a natural human activity would be one that we (and not just Bikila and “Barefoot Ted”) can do easly and comfortably in our natural barefoot state. If we need the unnatural intervention of a modern shoe, then isn’t the underlying activity that necessitates those shoes the “unnatural” problem?

    In some ways, that view makes Jim Weber’s blog piece look even worse than it does at first glance. The runners who said that the Brooks Beast “saved their lives” need to take a hard look at what they’re doing. Relying on a heavy motion control shoe to keep running is the same thought process that brought us low-tar cigarettes and diet soda, dubious inventions that make us feel better about doing something we shouldn’t be doing in the first place. My guess is that those runners would be far better off walking barefoot than running in The Beast. They’d also have a lot more cash to spare foregoing Brooks’ shoes.

  16. I have been trying to go barefoot as much as possible since I first read Mark’s article on how to strengthen your feet. I just purchased a pair of VFF KSO’s this week and in two nights of wearing them I can say I really like them. If you are interested in them I would recommend finding a local retailer. I walked into the store expecting to buy the Sprint model, but after trying on both the Sprint and the KSO I decided on the KSO. I was also in-between sizes so I was able to try the smaller and larger ones to find the best fit.

  17. any golfers out there who have worn vff?
    i just got mine and would like to wear them on the course but i’m afraid of slippage.

    Thanks.

  18. I bought a pair of VVF after Mark’s first post. I never looked back and I’ve never run better. From experience, you must make the transition slowly or suffer the wrath of “calf-hell” 😉
    For long distances on paved road, (which I don’t run often) I use my Nike free’s. The Nike Free’s are a wonderful travel sneaker also. Nice and light.

    Yay, the tide is turning, now maybe my kids won’t call me crazy in a few years 😉

    Marc

  19. I have a pair of Lucys from the Vivo Barefoot line at Terra Plana. They’re spiffy-looking and amazingly comfortable. I’ve been wearing them every day for running, walking, hiking for half a year or so. Still like new, except dirty, haha.

    Much to my surprise, I’ve gotten several compliments on how cool my shoes look, despite being barefoot-wear. They have a wide toebox than your typical foot-destroying shoe but are designed hide that fact from your typical non-meticulous person.

    I love the fact that I can feel a lot of terrain through the shoe despite the fact that they’re almost impenetrable. The soles are only 3mm thick (without padded insoles.) Also, when I walk in them I naturally step mid or forefoot.

    My only qualm with them would be that when you step on hard man-made ground, the sole hits the ground pretty loudly even if you step carefully. Such is the way of this particular (impenetrable) material, I guess.

    I can run in them, but they aren’t the most comfortable shoes to run long distances in, though they’re great for sprinting.

    The grip on the bottom isn’t particularly awesome, but it’s quite satisfactory.

    Vivo barefoot shoes are incredibly light. I can’t wear feet-killing sneakers anymore; they’re too heavy (and that’s only one of the many reasons).

    Also, when I got them, I thought they were too tight, so I had to loosen the laces a lot (I have big, wide ol’ feet, what can I say?) and the laces are somewhat short. It’s a little difficult to tie up the laces after loosening them, but boy did they feel wonderful!

    I 100% recommend getting a pair of Vivo Barefoot shoes.

    I got a pair from the trendy Lucy line for girls. The Aquas are a bit more comfortable, but are somewhat funny-looking on girls. The Aquas and the Dharmas are great on guys.

    1. I feel like the Vivo’s are uncomfortable and unnatural compared to the VFF. Yeah the sole is really thin so I can feel the ground and it’s got a wide toe box so I’m not cramming my toes but, I feel like I’m walking unnaturally when I wear them. Whereas, the VFF just feel so perfect.

      Don’t get me wrong the Vivo’s are a step above “normal” shoes. They are good to wear if I just can’t get away with wearing VFF (physically or socially). But they are still shoes.

  20. My question: If you are using conventional running shoes, couldn’t you just alter your gait and focus on landing on your arch as opposed to your heal?

    Do you really need to be barefoot in order to have proper running form?

    I’m very interested in learning more, but I don’t see that barefoot is always the way to go.

    1. From my own experience you naturally run with pretty good form when you go barefoot. The first time I ran barefoot on the road I landed on my heels a couple of times and the pain was so great my body just wouldn’t let me heel strike again. Over the last few months I have been wearing my running shoes because of the cold winter and I have to constantly tell myself to stay off my heals. When I run with running shoes I naturally heel strike, but when I go barefoot I naturally forefoot/midfoot strike. So, I believe you can train yourself to run in running shoes with a fore/midfoot strike but it’s just easier to let nature control your foot strike.

    2. You can definitely change your gait without running barefoot. I did this a few years ago after reading about the benefits of landing on the ball of your foot instead of your heal during running. Just make sure you take it slow because you’re using different muscles and it will take time to build them up. My calf muscles were extremely sore when I first started changing my gait.

      I thought the crossfit videos were pretty helpful: http://www.crossfit.com/cf-info/excercise.html#Run. Check out the one called “The Fall”.

  21. I am a big advocate of barefoot running just like I am an advocate of eating primal. I think it’s up to each individual to do there own scientific study on themselves. The problem arises when most people won’t come out of their comfort zones. I chose to eat primal and run barefoot as an experiment and found I love both. A large majority of people aren’t willing to try new things even if it will improve their health. It really boggles my mind, but each to his own. Great blog Mark!

  22. Mark – great post.

    Ever since reading Born to Run while wearing my VFF’s for the past few months I’ve been eager to see other bodies of evidence come to the forefront on this “fad.”

    I’m a long time sufferer of shoes. I have flat feet, overpronate, and spent more than $1000 in a year preparing for the Chicago marathon until finally someone suggested I get orthotic inserts.

    The inserts helped, but this year while training for the Twin Cities marathon I ran into another oddity. The inserts helped my overpronation – but it created something an experienced runner should not see too often – shin splints. This then lead to a stress fracture and I was out of commission.

    The VFF’s I have enjoyed to this point. My theories tell me that by running midfoot as opposed to heel to toe I should not have any overpronation problems. I’ve only run in them a handful of times so far due to weather, but when I have run in them I’m fully engaged in my running, the environment and what my feet are running on. It’s been great, but I look forward to the spring when I can really run in them and not just wear them during workouts.

    Let’s hope more research continues to pop up and Big Shoe can go find something else to make money on.

  23. The other day I passed a couple of high school boys running – I’m assuming training for some sport. The temp was in the 20s; he was in shorts and running barefoot! I smiled to myself when I saw that. I think the word is getting out…

  24. Once upon a time, shoes were only for the rich. And the rich wore shoes that showed off their elite status. They were often inconvenient to wear with long toes, rich fabrics and heavy embroidery and other endowments. A person wearing these things couldn’t get much done, and thus it richly displayed their wealth in the form of servants to run their errands for them. In other words, fancy shoes were a status symbol.

    Fast forward to the recent past and shoes were still a status symbol. Rich people wore shoes. ‘Civilized’ people wore shoes. If you didn’t wear shoes, you were considered poor, heathen and uncouth. Many stores in towns put up signs. The classic “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service”. Who wants poor, uncouth ruffians in their establishments ruining their business?

    Thus respectability was measured by shoes. Everyone wanted them to prove that they were not low class heathens and eventually they became the norm for society.

    Until today. 🙂

    1. I don’t think so. Medieval serfs wore shoes, so did Roman peasants. Many wore well constructed, functional shoes.

      Try getting through an English winter barefoot.

      1. Serfs and peasants did wear shoes. The most common type of shoe was called a “turnshoe”. They are made of soft leather and are sewn inside out, then “turned” so that all of the seams are inside. The soul often wrapped continuously up the heel in a triangular tab so that there were no seams to wear out with a normal gait. Basically, a thin moccasin. For rough outside wear these shoes would be protected with a pair of wooden “pattens” Basically, a wooden sandal that protects your shoes from the muck of the field. I’ve made several turnshoes and enjoy walking in them. They do require a proper gait or you will bruise your heel badly.

  25. I have a pair of Nike Free running shoes. They are great, it has changed my running gait and improved my posture. My Dr. recommended them to me. He also told me to read Born To Run by Christopher McDougall. It’s a great book and has reference to bare foot running. My son just bought a pair of Vibrams.

  26. Not to disagree with your article, but I don’t think the scientists who completed this study have come to a conclusion as to whether or not barefoot running is better yet. Yes, barefoot will force you to forefoot strike, but will that cause less injuries. According to Harvard site, who knows?

    http://barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/index.html

  27. Excessive heel-strike is common in untrained athletes. Once trained properly, quality athletes tend to run on their forefoot, much in the same way that the second video example gives. Agreed that excessive heel-strike is common as a result of overly protective shoes, but I believe that the goal of these companies is not to destroy the wearers knees, but to allow beginner athletes to train safely with cushioning (in an urban environment), with the hope that they graduate to thinner soled shoes as they improve their running. This is up to the runner of course, and probably doesn’t happen. This is not to take away from the fact that barefoot running is brilliant and should be done more often, but beginners should be wary of doing too much barefoot running too soon. As with aything, ease into it safely to allow a prolonged and injury free running life. Great work Mark, keep up the good work

  28. Im a big fan of Sanuks for everyday use. I have a pair of VFF, but cant really wear them around here with the winters and to work. Sanuks are basically sandals, kinda. Some have a fur lining inside of them (great for winters in the north) and they also make the “Boardroom” which would work with a suit.

    Check em… sanuk.com

  29. Clearly this study was deeply flawed and the videos prove it. You can plainly see duct tape on the side of the shoes, which would instantly throw off the delicate balance designed into such high-quality running shoes. One can easily conclude that the duct tape was a statistically significant factor in the study, and was added to skew the results in favor of the barefoot runner. On behalf of Nike, I claim foul!
    😛

  30. I definitely earned a reputation as the weird chick who sprints shoeless at the gym. Or the one with arches of steel. I absolutely love barefoot, so my pact with myself is that for every day I eat good Primal food, I give myself a dollar toward a pair of Vibrams. And then, a dollar toward some Vivos so I have nice shoes to wear around school. I can’t wait! It definitely stops temptation cold!

    1. I like your approach. I’ve been checking the budget to see how I can swing the cost for a pair of VFFs. I think you just gave me an idea!

  31. Don’t forget that Grok did NOT walk on hard surfaces (asphalt, cement, granite, tiles, etc) for long. It was either dirt or grass or a variation of.

    We evolved walking on something softer than our hard surfaces used today.

    A middle ground might be necessary, we we do need the cushion on those hard surfaces.

    1. Everyone says this, but they can’t actually back it up. GROK would have been running on game trails, which are hard pack dirt, and not soft at all. Grass is not soft (or it is too soft to matter, you foot goes right through the soft part to the hard dirt beneath)

      1. I don’t know, I remember as a kid I always preferred to play on grass or dirt than bare pavement. It was always softer on the organic side!

        Also, I am not sure Grok would have bagged a lot of prey if he actually walked on the animal trail. That’s a poor hunting technique. All you do is leave your mark on said trail. Tracking (not on their actual trail), ambush and trapping are more successful long term.

      2. Since Grok is a fictional character, how do you know what he would have been running on?

        Grok is a crock.

  32. I was chastised at my gym today for working out in my VFFs. I was NOT very happy about it. I’ve been wearing them there for over a year, but a new manager took issue with them. Perhaps he should take issue with his trainers sticking people on the smith machine to perform half squats, huh?

    I’m taking the battle to their corporate headquarters! Their published “rules” say I must wear closed toed athletic shoes. VFFs qualify for that, don’t they?

    1. I say they do – your toes are covered, so they are closed toe! It doesn’t say “closed-toe, all together int eh same spot” shoes, right? 🙂

    2. Conversely, trainers at my gym ask me about (and complement me on) my VFFs — particularly for things like squats.

      1. At my old gym they had a sign showing that Sprints were NOT okay, but that KSOs were. I don’t have KSOs, only Sprints and Classics 🙁 Apparently the “foot covering” part is important, even though it provides literally nothing more than another layer of fabric. I haven’t worn either pair at the new gym yet, we’ll see what they have to say 😉

    3. Looks like I won this battle. I received this email today:

      Good Morning,

      I apologize that you were approached by my assistant manager regarding your footwear. I am glad you are working out safely. The vibram footwear is highly recommended.

      My assistant was approached by a member that pointed out your footwear. That member was confronted the prior day for working out with no shoes. The assistant manager should have known better.

      Please reach out to me for any other concerns or feedback.

      (I decided I wouldn’t argue whether or not they should allow barefoot working out. I was scolded for that prior to using the VFFs. There’s only so far a globo gym will go.)

  33. Gordon Pirie had similar claims regarding “modern” running shoes over 50yrs ago, regarding how they resulted in bad running form, foot injury, etc. Interesting that it’s coming of age now…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pirie

    Also search for Gordon’s free ebook “Running Fast and Injury Free”

  34. I’m thinking the scent of change is in the air, Mark. Let’s just see what develops. A little frugal myself, I’ll probably make my own Raramuri’s before I go the vff route, but I’m a believer, no doubt.

    When will people just open their hearts to a little cynicism and accept the fact that just because something is purported-massly as beneficial to our bodies may in fact be a slightly insidious attempt to open our wallets.

    Until that time, Cheers!

  35. Two issues.
    One, clearly the video shows that if you are going to do heel strikes, you should wear shoes. The strike was much more round and buffered. Making the change calls for concerted effort at retraining.
    Two, I still want my feet protected from sharp things. I love the idea of VFF but haven’t yet had a chance to try them on.

    I remember running barefoot as a child in Florida, and recent efforts at running left me wondering why I didn’t feel the springiness on my toes I remembered. More, as the videos suggest, a strike and a roll. Too many shod years between I guess.

  36. Makes sense to me. However, I have Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome (Like carpal tunnel, but in the feet, not hands) and wearing shoes and orthotics helps. I also think that lots of people get plantar fascitis and shoes help the situation. I’m not sure I can come up with an evolutionary reason. It makes sense to me that the foot was designed to be barefoot. Shoes makes sense to me to avoid glass, bees, etc. But what could help with PF or TTS besides shoes (and rest, NSAIDS, shoes and other modern resources).

    1. I have plantar fasciitis and I’m firmly of the opinion that shoes caused the condition. Orthotics did nothing except drain my wallet. Stretching in the morning helped but didn’t cure. NSAIDS helped but didn’t cure.

      Going barefoot 90% of the time for a year has almost cured me of the condition. I still have the rare twinge in the early morning, but SOOO much better than it was. All of the healing happened immediately after ditching the orthotics and the shoes.

      Barefoot walking and running cures PF by strengthening the arch and calf. Since the plantar fascia pretty much is the spring in the arch, the condition seems to work itself out quite quickly once you let your arch support your stride. There is definitely a period where stretching and ibuprofen (good old vitamin I) let you get through the day without hobbling, but on the other side of that period is comfort and strength.

      In my experience, anyway. Your mileage, of course, may be quite different.

  37. What I’ve never understood is why they sinsist on making shoes so dang narrow for the toes, and we men have it easy compared to how high heel females have it. Ever seen how their feet can look after several years? It’s scary.

    Any idea what on Earth the shoeproducers are thinking?

    And why can’t anyone sell individual shoes, they are not always the same size you know 😛

    And a shame it’s pretty much impossible to find real shoemakers anymore.

    Last 5 years or so I’ve taken to wearing sandals for my wider than average feetall year around, except when snowy, for some reason people seem to have a bit of a problem with this *grin* And VFF is something of a godsend except that the pair i have is slightly small pressing down on my bigtoe. Just ordered a pair of VFF KSO one size larger in the hope they will fit better and NOT freeze my feet of in winter 😉

  38. I’ve had VFF KSO’s for several years now, and just bought my second pair today. Black… I figure that’s dressier, right? Vibram can’t keep them in stock online, but I found a local shop that had my size. There was a big guy trying on a bright red pair of classics, and I must say I was jealous that they don’t have that color for women. So people are definitely starting to get the word about barefooting around.

    I actually wore mine out of the store and home driving and they were super comfortable and you could feel the pedals. I usual put them on when I get to the trail. I am going to try wearing them more for everyday use and not just for trailrunning. It is winter so it is cold, and it would be uncomfortable to be out in them for too long.

    BTW, I had plantar fasciitis and piriformis which is why I gave up pavement pounding. Shoes and orthotics never helped the condition, and neither did physical therapy. Active release therapy was good for it. But the advice to always wear shoes never seemed to help. I was always “fitted” for heavy motion control shoes. I was looking for stores that might carry Nike free and the lady told me that they had an entire “fitting” process that I would have to go through. Nah, not happening. I want less, not more, and I don’t need you to tell me what I need.

    TrailGrrl

  39. I’ve had flat feet all my life (a condition I inherited from my father), and I’ve always worn orthotics and “supportive” shoes on the unanimous advice of a half-dozen podiatrists. If I don’t, my feet start hurting after less than a half hour of walking or standing.

    I think going barefoot would do more harm than good — any suggestions?

    1. I don’t have any real suggestions (I’m not a doctor), but I’m curious about something. Your feet hurt after half an hour or so without support — but what happens if you “train up” to it? I mean, if I never did any heavy lifting, and then suddenly tried lifting a lot, I’d say that I hurt after only a few minutes of lifting. But that’s not saying that I should always use braces on my arms; instead, I should gradually train up to the heavy lifting I need to do.

      Similarly, you’re asking your feet (with demonstrably weakened muscles) to suddenly support your weight on their own, when they’ve always been used to “supportive” shoes. Maybe they need time to build up and get used to holding your weight again. And just maybe, that muscle development might help your flat feet, as well.

      1. Not everybody who runs in shoes does heel strike. Infact, many runners who use running shoes have a fore-foot or mid-foot strike. Heel-striking is incorrect, biomechanicaly speaking. Further. the nature paper does not recommend running barefoot. The bottom line is, whether you use shoes or not, fore-foot or mid-foot strike is biomechanically efficient.
        To all those who are saying running shoes are evil, there are many runners who use shoes, have heel-strike and have no injuries whatsoever!.

        1. Your last sentence is not an argument. Data is not the plural of anecdote. Just because there are heel-striking runners who lack injuries does not invalidate the risk analysis presented in this paper.

          Also, I don’t think that running shoes are evil, nor is that really the conclusion of the post. I think that running shoes designed to cushion the heel and support the arch (which together make it much harder to mid or toe-strike) are worse than nothing at all. There are running shoes that work quite well for toe-first running gaits (like VFF’s) and I love mine.

    2. I have genetic flat feet, but I’ve always prefered hanging out barefoot and ignored a doctor’s advice to get orthotics (It was originally out of procrastination, but now I think it was the right choice!). I notice in the summer, when I’m suddenly free to wear flip-flops/ go barefoot all the time, that it takes a bit of time to get used to it again. After months of my feet being cooped up, unused to supporting me properly, there are muscles that have to remember how to work. It aches for a bit, but then I’m fine for the rest of the season.
      I’m also a runner, and in shoe stores when they see my flat feet, they immediately stick me in motion-control shoes. The pair of shoes that changed my world were New Balance, but I’m sure it was because they come in different widths, and I FINALLY had a shoe that fit my big, wide, flat feet. And I was still getting injured whenever I incresed my mileage. Then I read “Chi Running” — which basically teaches you to run as you would barefoot. No more injuries! (And you get faster!) Now I’m planning to wean myself off of my super-padded shoes, because I truly don’t think I need them. My husband runs in Newtons (a pretty minimal shoe) and he loves them.
      My feet — like your genetically flat feet — aren’t flat because they’ve collapsed. That’s just the way they are, and they’re built to be used by us.

      It might be worth trying to get your body used to standing/walking on its own, without the added support. (Building up, the way umuhk suggests.) Slowly and carefully, and listening to your body.

  40. Too bad I live in freezing cold Michigan… Can only go barefoot for 3-4 months out of the year 🙁

    Get me out of this silly region!

  41. Just in case no one else has mentioned it yet, everyone should read “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. AMAZING BOOK about a tribe in Mexico that runs everywhere they go with very thin sandles. Aside from the great story, McDougall talks a lot about the benefits of running and training barefoot or with FiveFingers. I am not even a runner and I LOVED the book. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the recommendation! I just added it to my books bookmarks and will hopefully purchased it soon.

      I remember reading about this book earlier, not sure from where. I compete in 5K Runs so this book really appeals to me.

      -Todd

  42. One cannot simply take one aspect of the Mexican tribals, the way they run, and try to implement it in our modern day lives. If barefoot running is better, then why is that nobody promotes barefoot walking and simply going barefoot every where?. The mexican tribes and our great great ancestors did not run on concrete. Run, with or without proper running shoes, but try for fore-foot or mid-foot strike!.

    1. “why is that nobody promotes barefoot walking and simply going barefoot every where?”

      I do. I live and work in urban Los Angeles and I’m pretty much barefoot/VFF unless I’m on my motorcycle.

      Also, it’s a rather gigantic myth that running barefoot on concrete is difficult or dangerous. The toe-strike gait makes it safe and comfortable to run on the hardest surfaces. Further, concrete is not significantly harder than packed dirt. If anything, I run much faster on concrete and asphalt because I can see hazards that are hidden by loose dirt and grass (sharps, etc.).

      I pull on VFF’s when I’m going to be running in grass or dirt, but go completely barefoot when my route will be entirely concrete/asphalt. It’s just not an issue.

  43. I went primal last year in late August, and the most surprising benefit has been that my plantar fasciitis is gone. I thought pf was almost impossible to get rid of.

    Briefly, I attribute this mainly to wearing VFFs while walking and sprinting, and doing the exercises in Mark’s post about strengthening and stretching the feet. It took several months, and it got a little worse at first before it got better.

    I think strengthening and stretching my hips and hamstrings through kettlebelling, squats, etc, may have helped too, since all the body parts work together.

  44. Great article Mark. I’ve been enjoying your posts for quite some time and finally decided to comment. I don’t run barefoot, but I have always run on my toes or forefeet – regardless of the shoes I wear. It just comes naturally to me. Striking heel first has always seemed awkward and uncomfortable, not to mention detracting from my agileness. Based on my personal experience, I think it’s more about the way you run than the shoe (or lack of) that you wear.

  45. Does anyone have experience in running on a treadmill with these “non-shoes”? I would love to hear about your experiences before spending some serious €s. Thanks!

  46. I grew up in Hawaii 1960-69. Never wore shoes to school, or anywhere, till High School and even in High School, we always ran track barefeet in PE and on our Cross Country team. It never occured to me that one would wear shoes to run. It was only after I graduated in 1969 and returned to California, that I bought my first pair of running shoes — Adidas for $9.95. I should have stayed barefoot.

  47. It really pisses me off when people sing the praises of Vibram and other “barefoot” shoes(the worst misnonmer I have heard) that cost exorbidant amounts of money for horrendously cheap production costs.
    This goes against the primal philosophy as I see it, please correct me if I’m wrong.
    If you want to run barefoot, why don’t you just run barefoot(god forbid) or wear a pair of thin sandals or lightly cushioned running flats.
    I see no point in spending good money on trendy foot gloves that will be ripped to shreds on a good trail quickly anyway.
    All of the best runners wear shoes, they are probably not the horrendously cushioned monstositys you see with microchips and gel cushioning but they are shoes.
    I do agree in running barefoot, but only on forgiving terrain, like the beach and grassy places.
    Even those are a bit iffy because of syringes, shards of glass and nasties like that.
    Obviously the human foot is a rugged mechanism that in healthy people can handle a herculean workload without mechanical help, but many people(especially these days) have to be very cautious because not all people are blessed with proper functioning feet,my self included(despite going barefoot for much of my child hood) and learn to be wary of these things.

    1. How does it go against the primal philosophy? Getting upset that VFFs are expensive seems like misplaced anger. For one, VFFs are apparently cheap enough to sell out everywhere over and over again. If they really wanted, they could make them even more expensive. In fact, many Europeans are paying an arm and a leg to get VFFs. I’m definitely not saying Vibram should jack up prices and I’d like to see the basic model prices drop a lot, but I think you’re anger here is misplaced.

      As for “if you want to run barefoot just run barefoot” I think this is a reasonable argument. Unfortunately, most of us are so conditioned to want something on our feet outdoors that people can’t swallow being actually barefoot on first blush to go run. That said, I think many VFF fans tend to start thinking more about trying actual barefoot running after having worn VFFs for awhile.

      Also, many people wear VFFs in casual settings or at the gym where footwear is expected. This affords them the ability to be close to barefoot but also meet some cultural norms.

      Re: best runners; what about Abebe Bikila running the 1960 marathon for a world record barefoot? Or Zola Budd? Or the Tarahumara?

      You agree with BF running on forgiving terrain? Do you think humans existed only in areas that had soft grass and sandy beaches? Most of the woods I traffic aren’t like that at all. Ground is hard. And BF runners will be the first to tell you that it’s *easier* to run BF on concrete and asphalt than on natural surfaces.

      Re: “blesssed with proper[ly] functioning feet;” how does that fit with the primal philosophy? Aren’t you really saying that people’s feet have gotten jacked up by wearing constricting shoes rather than going barefoot? And if you want to get your feet to function properly, the best step you can take is to start going around barefoot or in minimalist footwear. I’m guessing given most places expect you to have something on your feet, you’re going to have to find some minimalist footwear. VFFs work in this regard.

    2. “I do agree in running barefoot, but only on forgiving terrain, like the beach and grassy places.”

      I find it’s much easier and lower risk to run on concrete/asphalt than on grass in parks or on public beaches, etc. The risk of sharps make me pull on my VFF’s for those surfaces, while I am completely comfortable going barefoot on concrete or asphalt.

      Just wash up when you get home and take your time building up your calf, arch, and sole.

  48. Mark,
    I’m glad you still have feet to use yourself!
    That being said, all Vibram’s shoes are backorderd to all the stores in my area, I cannot find the pair that I like in my size, locally or from retailers online. The bottom line is this, they make a product people want. People buy them because it helps us move away from something like a nike shoe for running. Vibram didn’t think “we better only run barefoot on forgiving terrain” They risked stepping on syringes and broken glass and guess what? They ran into the problem of not making shoes fast enough. Sounds like a good problem to me…

    1. Vibram didn’t create a shoe for running.
      It was meant for kayakers, surfing, rafters etc to wear shoes that improved grip.
      When this barefoot trend came along, they saw how much money they could make from people who pay money for things that could free
      Consumer society.
      But I digress, you can get minimal footwore for cheap or make it yourself if have the slightest bit of know-how.

      1. Vibram didn’t actually come up with the idea of a foot glove — it was the brainchild of Robert Fliri who, out of discussions with Marco Bramani, brought his designs to Vibram for production.

        Sure they initially thought they’d work as boat shoes and had no idea they’d work for running — just like most people haven’t considered running long distances (or doing any serious activity) in anything other than heavily cushioned shoes.

        Even further, they didn’t just jump on the bandwagon — Ted McDonald contacted Vibram wanting to wear VFFs for running. Vibram apparently balked at the idea initially (source: Born to Run) but Tony Post (CEO) tried it out and was amazed to find how well they worked for running. Barefoot Ted then ran the Boston Marathon in them.

        That’s all ancient history now, but Vibram clearly didn’t just jump on the bandwagon. If anything, the bandwagon came to them, said “hey your foot gloves would work for running” and sure enough, they do work for that — just like bare feet work for running.

  49. As a long-time VFF wearer, and medium-time Feelmax wearer, I can attest to the fact that Feelmax are more of a barefoot shoe, in that the sole is softer, and you feel more through them. I still love my 5F, and tend to wear them when it’s warmer (London has had a ‘proper’ winter this year), and generally run barefoot, which is what this is all about really, but if you want to wear a shoe that allows to to really feel the ground, then Feelmaxes are great. But do run barefoot, not in 5F or Feelmax!!

  50. haha. I love it! I’m currently a student at a university in Iowa (ISU to be exact) and live a little over a mile away from campus. I have class every day and although I must carry some books and a notebook with me during the day, i’ve been looking for a way to get in more running and exercise. I was curious about a backpack for running so I looked them up. I bought one a few weeks ago and it came in the mail yesterday. So today I ran to class with two books! Idk why its so exciting to me. Maybe it has something to do with getting anywhere i want without using a drop of gasoline; with the exception of other towns, but I’m working up to that! 🙂

    I love running barefoot (can’t afford the 5 fingers, nor would i want them really except for winter) and can’t wait for the temperatures to climb a bit here and i’ll start running to class/work/parties/everywhere barefoot! I’m gonna train and run a marathon (barefoot!) this summer. And don’t worry, no chronic cardio here, I just take it nice and slow and finish.
    Any other barefoot marathoners out there?

  51. I tried the VFF KSOs but they just didn’t work for me. My left foot is smaller than my right foot so fitting was a problem. Also the VFFs caused a pain in the ball of my right foot for some reason.

    So…

    I said to hell with the expensive minimalist (isn’t “expensive minimalism” an oxymoron?) footwear and experimented with some $13 sneakers from Walmart. They have a wide toe box so no squashing of the toes and the cusioning was thin and cheap but I figured it would collapse after several miles and it did.

    I’ve walked/jogged approximately 170 miles (asphalt, concrete, and grass) in them over the past couple of months and they are now seriously comfortable. The soles, which I figured would wear out quickly, is holding up very well and I think with the judicious use of Shoe Goo, they will last for quite a while. (I even bought another pair of sneakers for public use since the jogging sneakers have turned rather ugly due to rain, mud, snow, etc.)

    I also discovered some $6 aqua shoes at the same Walmart and they are fantastic. VERY light-weight. I’ve put about 60 miles (asphalt, concrete, and grass) on them and they are working just fine. (I went back to Walmart last week and bought three more pairs on the theory that once you find something you like, you won’t be able to find it anymore.)

    I now use the cheap canvas sneaker with wool socks for cold days and the the aqua socks for warm days. Ignoring the $85 I paid for the Vibram KSO’s, I have paid about $20 for walking/jogging footwear in the past year. I don’t know how long the sneakers or the aqua socks will actually last and but at $20 a pop, I can afford to replace them four to five times per year for the same price of a pair of “pretty” shoes. So far my $20 investment has last almost three months and I’m confident the sneakers will last until summer, bringing my annual investment so far down to just the original $20.

    For the curious, it is almost impossible to run barefoot around here. Not only do I have to contend with the usual city trash but there are also grass burrs and mesquite thorns.

    The grass burrs come in two general varieties: one is fairly soft with lots of spikes, making it kind of fuzzy-looking. If it sticks you it hurts but not too bad. The second kind of burr is sometimes called a “goat-head.” This one has a few stiff spikes and hurts like hell. This burr can and does penetrate thick callous skin and the soles of VFF’s and sneakers.

    The mesquite thorns can actually be dangerous. Once dried they are very hard and will penetrate thin-soled footwear and can drive up into one’s foot. It is quite possible the tip of the thorn can break off, requiring surgery to get it out.

    There is a start-up footwear company , Skora (skorashop.com), that is gearing up to make shoes specifically for the minimalist runner. They promise shoes this year. I’ve been watching them for the past several months but information is lacking. Their website and blog has not changed ang the Twitter page is just a lot of blather. This shoe sounds like it will be the ideal shoe but if it costs more than about $50, I’m sticking with my Walmart Specials.

    1. James, great idea, I have thought about this as well for an alternative until I can obtain a pair of five fingers. Curious, are the canvas sneakers your referring to look like the old chuck taylors? I have a cheap pair I use to walk with and am considering them for hiking as well. I also have a pair of aqua socks but have not tried walking/hiking in them yet. Can you post pics, would like to see what you selected?

  52. This past Saturday, I did some sprints in the park barefoot. I did 3 with my sneakers on then took them off.

    What a difference. Even though the grass was wet (after a while I didn’t even notice), it felt great.

    What I discovered: Running without shoes was far less strenuous on my knees (I have osteo in both) then running in the shoes.

    Usually after a run I have joint pain and the next day it takes a while for me to get moving normally due to what I believe is swelling from the run.

    This time I did not find any of the ill effects from running without the shoes.

    I planned to test again this weekend but we are expecting heavy rains. So, I hope to test again the weekend after.

  53. I walk with a cane, so am at best peripheral to the running discussion, but I’ve been interested in the topic as applies to just walking, as long as I can manage to do that. I’m convinced that my tendency towards excess pronation has a lot to do with a lifetime of (bad) shoes.

    Unfortunately, I’m also diabetic, so I am pretty wary of being ACTUALLY barefooted — those minor contusions being potentially much, much less minor, as I’m sure you know. I have seen the VFF, but I can’t quite see myself wearing them to work. I’m curious if you or anyone else has any notions about some middle ground.

    R

    1. R,

      Look into TOMS shoes. They run about $30-40, and you can rip out the insole to leave a thin rubber bottom. They’re great for basic walking.

      VIvo Barefoot also makes a good “barefoot” shoe (I have several pairs), but they may be a bit tougher to find. You can order them online, and they have a liberal return policy. They do run a bit small, so order a size up.

  54. Hi, apparently my ankles are rotating in and dropping towards the centre line — podiatrist is recommending orthotics — any ideas? I also have Morton’s neuroma, and the orthotics are supposed to help with that too. My thought is that perhaps I could wear the orthotics during those times when I do wear shoes/boots here in northern Canada, then go barefoot AMAP at home, in the summer, etc. Or would embracing a more primal foot-style help treat the dropped ankles/neuroma? Any suggestions/feedback wld be gratefully received.

    1. I got a MN a while back. I have a friend who is an alternative health practitioner that really helped it, BUT, there is something simple you can do on your own that may knock it out 98% so it doesn’t bother you: Hydrotherapy.

      Foot doctors won’t help at all. Orthodics do NOTHING for it and all they can do is give a few cortizone shots.

      I started icing every day. Fill up a bin of water and pour ice in. Stick your foot in for a few minutes. I would go until it felt numb (don’t worry about frostbite, you would have to get the water much colder for that). Take your foot out, fill the bin (I got a container from K Mart my foot would fit in) with steaming hot water and put your foot in.

      I would do this about twice. You can feel it drain out of your pinky toe almost.

      I started out at twice a day and then eventually got down to twice a month. I haven’t touched it in about a year and a half thanks to my friend.

      But on your own this is probably your best bet and practically free.

      Your tolerance for the cold will build and it won’t be so bad.

  55. Found the lieberman videos on Scientific American videos a few days ago.

    Love this stuff!

  56. My bf hates that I am barefoot all the time and that the bottoms of my feet are tough, but hey, I can walk on almost anything!

    1. I was like that as a kid – barefoot whenever possible. I lived in rural southern California, so could get away with it almost year-round. My mom didn’t like it, though – so we compromised. I wore thin leather mocasssins instead of going purely barefoot.

  57. My PT has been working with me to fix problems in my Achilles tendons. The latest exercise is a sort of long-hop/walk. I automatically tried to land more on my midfoot than my heel, and she immediately corrected me “this exercise shoud mimic jogging, you land on your heel”. Ugh! No thanks…jogging and landing on my heel is one of the ways I messed up my AT’s!

    She disapproves of my VFF’s, but my podiatrist likes them.

  58. I don’t get the shoe hate. Can’t you just use shoes but make sure to land on the ball of your foot instead of the heel?

    *shrug*

  59. I received this email from Tony Post, the President & CEO of Vibram. I told him I’d post it here to clear up any confusion this post may have caused regarding the relationship between Vibram and Dr. Lieberman.

    Hi Mark,

    Hope you are well. I just read your February 3 blog post about barefoot running and the buzz created by the Lieberman research. A very enjoyable read, thanks for publishing. Just to help with the accuracy of your post, I thought I would drop you this note.

    The original Vibram FiveFingers concept was created by our team in Italy between 2003-5. A year or two before, a young industrial designer named Robert Fliri proposed the idea of FiveFingers (not originally the name) to Marco Bramani, grandson of Vibram Founder Vitale Bramani. Together, with a larger team from Vibram Italy, they collaborated to make what is now known as the FiveFingers Classic. Vibram USA got involved in late 2005. We helped to slightly modify that original design, then created an unconventional marketing plan that positioned the product for running and fitness. We then developed a business plan, intellectual property, marketing, and expanded the original item into a range of products that would better serve the concept and consumer need. Today, the business is managed in a collaborative manner between Vibram SpA in Italy, and Vibram USA in Concord, MA.

    As a runner and fitness enthusiast myself, I saw and experienced the potential benefits of the product early on. When we were starting this work, I had knee surgery and was no longer able to run as I always had – heel striking in running shoes. Personal research and a few friends recommendations led me to consider barefoot running. At the time, I didn’t know much about it, and it seemed a bit extreme and impractical living in New England. But by March of 2006, desperate for a solution, I decided to try running in a prototype of Vibram’s new invention — FiveFingers. Immediately, I found I could no longer heel strike comfortably, that I had to land on my forefoot. And in that first 7 mile run, landing with a forefoot strike, I ran without the usual knee pain I had been experiencing. Halfway through that run I realized we had something special. We launched the product 6 weeks later at the Boston Marathon.

    By late 2007, with growing consumer acceptance and a business that was taking off (we had 4 styles, a developing position in minimalist running, and our sales had just tripled), I contacted Dr. Dan Lieberman. As a user, I knew inherently what was going on, but I also knew we needed scientific research to understand it better. I had read some of Dan’s work and knew he was a biological anthropologist at Harvard with an interest/background in running research. But I didn’t know he was already studying barefoot running. We soon found out that Dan was interested in some of the same things we were, and by the winter of 2008 we started to discuss a research project he had in mind.

    We have always been very transparent about the fact we helped support some of the research. From some of the recent blogs I have read, a few folks might be ‘suspicious’ of our relationship, this is how I usually reply:

    Vibram USA supported this research via a gift to Harvard in accordance with Harvard’s rules on sponsored research. These rules prohibit Vibram from having any influence over the research, including the nature of the experiments and analyses, how and where the data are published, and what is published. Furthermore, Dan Lieberman receives no financial compensation of any sort for from Vibram USA.

    The NATURE paper compares the impact transients of runners wearing shoes to those of barefoot runners. It does not promote running in FiveFingers.
    Before it’s publication in NATURE, the research had to go through extensive academic peer review. This isn’t just Dan’s point of view, it’s now accepted science at several top universities around the world.

    The research has serious implications in the field of public health — our consumers and doubters have been asking for information. Fundamentally, if we can make running safer, we can help keep people active, reduce medical costs, potentially reduce the rates of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. I think Dan is a little more focused on the big picture here.

    It took about 18 months and lots of work from Dan and his team, but the information does help explain some important things.

    I’m sure this will continue to be a controversial topic, and I hope it will lead to more research and more healthy solutions in the future. We believe quite genuinely in the benefits of running barefoot or in minimalist footwear, but we try not to “preach.” In the end, most folks will do what feels right for them. As I often say to myself when I’m tired, uninspired, or just don’t feel like running — “just get out the door and start moving, you’ll feel better.” And I always do.

    Anyway, now you have a little more of the story. I hope this helps.

  60. Growing up in the mountains I wore shoes only when I went into town. I use to hike for hours barefoot, and while I occasionally got cuts my feet were otherwise strong and healthy. It has been very hard adjusting to living in a place where it is unsafe to walk my dog without shoes on (crack needle/glass/used condoms/my neighborhood is dirty). I’m glad to see some support though. Now when I go hiking and my husband starts to warn me about the dangers of bare feet, I will have evidence that I’m not just a crazy daughter of country hippies.

  61. I have been happy with Steger mukluks for many years now. I think they could be useful for many people dealing with extreme snow and cold. You have a lot of control about how much space you want to have around your feet, and how much padding you have under them. http://www.mukluks.com I’m so grateful I read everything you had to say about feet! Everything I thought was wrong about my feet turns out to be right!

  62. I am an Asian woman, 29 years old, 115 lbs. I’ve been a runner all my life. I grew up in a shoeless household. I have *very* flat feet. My ankles practically sit on the ground. At 18 years old, my feet started hurting too much so I got insoles that I wore only in my Mizuno’s/New Balance or Saucony’s when I ran. My legs are fit but crooked because of my wonky feet (and now ankles). I want to get VFF’s but my question is: WHAT ABOUT ABSORPTION? If there is no cushioning on the bottom to pick up the shock and impact of each time your foot hits the ground, how can the VFF’s be good for your knees?

    Thanks!!
    C Diaz of Victoria, BC

    1. If you think that the 1″ of foam under your heel is going to absorb heel-strike, you’re wrong. Landing fore-foot allows your legs to act like a piston, absorbing shock through lateral motion and without transferring shock up your legs and into your knees and hips. From another Victoria runner, I am once again able to run along Dallas rd, but now without knee and hip pain, which just about took me out of running altogether.

      1. Ahh… I see. So, the thinking is that big, cushioned running shoes cause us to heel strike? I tried running barefoot on a treadmill today and it seems I still heel strike. Any tips on how to train my foot to forefoot strike more?

  63. Not to sound like “I was cool before it was cool guy” but I have been wearing Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars for years based on the theory that flat is more natural. I wear them at the gym and for everyday use (I’m not a slave to fashion). They’re relatively inexpensive so I own several colors of both low and high tops. I’ve also started wearing skate type shoes like the Gates. Skater shoes are also flat and, for me anyways, they feel natural and comfortable. Man was not meant to wear heels! And the women in heels thing is just bizarre!

  64. Would love to get Vibram FiveFingers but couldn’t put them on as the last 2 fingers are linked together on my foot with some skin (like a birth defect…)

  65. I ran forefoot strike since I can remember, in any shoe I had. But I rarely ran on flat, concrete/tarmac surfaces, usually forests, mountains, fields. I think that’s the key.

  66. Before I began practicing yoga, thus becoming more foot conscience, my feet were very flat. Almost no arch at all! As I began STRENGTHING my feet through yoga and being barefoot more often, I started seeing an arch form! The shoes that had always bound me had caused the muscles in my feet to atrophy. So, ditch the shoes, and let your God-given muscles work!!

  67. I LOVE that my wide feet are so openly accepted in the barefoot community! Special thanks to my friend for getting me started on this! I just started frunning with my fivefingers last Friday, so I’m still transitioning, but SO looking forward to becoming stronger!

  68. I’m sorry, I grew up in the mountains of East Tennessee. Is this ‘running without shoes’ something new you are speaking of? I’ve always thought of shoes as something evil that was forced upon us by the city folk. 🙂

  69. Distance runners – there’s nothing superhuman or talented about the Kenyans. Forget altitude too. >60% of the reason (of many – all lifestyle related) why they’re so far ahead of the white man is that (in rural areas) they spend all their childhood with no shoes. Walking on hard, stony dirt tracks; progressing to running on them.

    The point here isn’t that they develop high arches in doing so, or tough feet. Or that it’s better to be materially impoverished (not spiritually though, more importantly); simple & uneducated. It’s that Africans learn to engage their glutes from an early age – even if they wear shoes nowadays they still know how to walk & run properly. Meanwhile us white runners have tree trunk hamstrings & no arse, no wonder we’re injured all the time & far slower.

    This link I came across might shed a bit of light on it: http://www.easyvigour.net.nz/fitness/h_gluteus_max_ap.htm

    Just food for thought. And no – Brook’s shoe companies or capitalism are not evil, they’re just natural progressions of human thought & innovation. But let’s just say: some things are best left in their primitive states. Great blog Mark (which has evolved into a chat room!).

  70. I think vibram fivefingers has a very very cool that just looking at the appearance of wears out,amazing footwear!!

  71. Fully agree with you Mark. However, all the barefoot evangelists fail to take into account the highly UNNATURAL modern world we live in. Grass, sand, soil is kind to feet compared to asphalt and concrete. Could you imagine being barefoot in New York City or at a local bar and somehow NOT go home bleeding?? It’s not practical to be barefoot in the modern world. It’s downright dangerous.

  72. I’ve been running exclusively in VFF for two years now, mostly road running with distances up to 19 miles, so you can be assured that I am not a barefoot running skeptic. That said, I must say that the two videos linked here are not only unconvincing, they actually seem to support the shod running. The plots shown under the videos display force on the y-axis. The shod runner maxes out at a force of about 2.4X body weight while the barefoot runner maxes out around 2.6X body weight. Assuming the same runner (and hence mass) for both runners, this means the acceleration is 8.5% higher on average for the barefoot strike. The foam shoes appears to spread the acceleration our over a longer period of time, resulting in less force transmitted to the runner.

    Really, and I think some others have noted this point, the issue comes down to whether running on the toes is better for the legs. If so, barefoot running is good because it encourages that type of strike. Barefoot vs. shod, on the other hand, is less relevant. One might do better with a good bit of foam up front and no heel padding.

  73. I had to use orthodics for years because my ankles constantly hurt after playing sports.

    Then I started martial arts practicing martial arts and kettlebell training barefoot. Within a few weeks my ankle alignment improved and I no longer even think about using orthodics!

    My feet and ankles just had to get strong.

  74. I’ve been “toe striking” for the past month or so in shoes to get my legs warmed up (and get past the microwaved calf feeling) and just started running unshod this week.

    AND I LOVE IT.

    Been wearing sandals my entire life. Keep it up everyone!

  75. side of the shoes, which would instantly throw off the delicate balance designed into such high-quality running shoes. One can easily conclude that the duct tape was a statistically significan

  76. If barefoot is so great, why did even the Indians use footwear? The Woodland Indians wore soft-sole mocassins, while the Plains Indians developed hard-sole mocassins. I am an historical re-enactor of the mid-18th century and I used to wear soft-sole mocassins all the time, until I went on a 30-mile trek and ended up having to walk for about ten miles on gravel and rock. I damaged the nerves in the bottoms of my feet, and I still have numbness from it. Now I wear historically-correct boots or shoes. Of course, if we went barefoot from cradle to grave, like some native peoples do, we’d have enormous callouses to protect our feet; but I doubt that few in our culture have that opportunity. So, yeah, it’s fine to go barefoot when you can, but when the terrain gets hot (try walking barefoot across a hot parking lot), rocky, or thorny, give me my shoes or boots any day.

    Once again, Grok is a crock.

  77. I LOVE my VFF’s
    I completed p90x barefoot and as a reward upon completion I purchased VFF’s to add running to my workouts when I began round 2 of p90x. A few weeks later I found out I was pregnant and could not continue with the regular workout routine… however, I do LOVE the VFF’s and wear them all day (most days) I found that my knee problems I had when running or even walking completely disappeared and the pain and numbness I was having in my toes from being scrunched up in regular running shoes was corrected almost immediately by having each toe free to move as it is in my VFF’s. I’m very happy and will continue to wear them throughout the pregnancy or at least until my feet are too swollen to fit into them, and you betcha.. I’m walking every day in them and can’t wait to get started on my workouts and running again. As a side note, we are an active family (husband has VFFs as well) and we thoroughly enjoyed wearing them on the river and hiking this summer. I’m so grateful to these shoes.. they are my favorites!

  78. commercial today for a running shoe that gives a “mid foot strike” so now we know how the manufacturers are answering the research.

  79. I’ve been wearing VFF’s at the gym for awhile. I mainly do calesthenics with them. Gone through about 100 sessions. They’re fantastic! I went out on a Friday night once, 3hours, was about 10 celcius … my feet were freezing.

    I have some Soft Star leather lace ups, fantastic as regular shoe, but the not enough room at my big toe. I feel like sending them moldings of my feet to make a custom pair.

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