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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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November 04 2010

The Inherent Absurdity of Barefoot Technology

By Mark Sisson
163 Comments

Vibram, Vivo Barefoot, Softstar, and the other shoe companies making an honest attempt at creating a viable shoe alternative aren’t the only entities capitalizing off the nascent barefoot trend sweeping the nation (and I’m not referring to podiatrists, as much as they like to claim barefoot running will create thousands of new patients). Several shoemakers have taken the barefoot ball and run the opposite direction – down the path of more shoe and more meddling into how the foot works – claiming to have improved upon the near-perfection of the naked human foot with (get this) bulky odd-looking shoes that weigh more than traditional running shoes.

Foremost is MBT, or Masai Barefoot Technology. MBT makes the “anti-shoe,” which is actually an unsteady, unstable shoe with a squishy, conspicuous “rocker” sole. The sole appears to be about 2 or 3 inches thick, and the instability is actually a feature. Yes, the most popular backed-by-internally-funded-science example of barefoot technology is a shoe that forces its wearers to teeter around. Sure, you gain a few inches, but at what cost? Without having tried them (and I honestly don’t plan to), the very notion of simulating barefoot walking by wearing big clunky shoes perplexes and confuses me. Talk about digging a hole to put the ladder in to wash the basement windows! Same goes for MBT’s claim of “natural instability” being the key to “recreating the barefoot experience.” Just what is so natural about being unsteady on your feet? I always figured feet were there to anchor us to the floor and provide stability. In fact, it’s that haptic perception (actually feeling the ground) in our bare feet that gives the brain the signals it needs to distribute shock effectively – tossed out the window now with MBT.

Then there are Skechers Shape-Ups, which are pretty similar to the MBTs: “rocker” sole, big wedge of material under the heel to “promote natural walking,” deliberate instability. They tighten abs, firm butts, and destroy cellulite. Armed with the Skechers Shape-Ups, folks can “get fit without stepping in a gym.” I’ll agree that a gym isn’t necessary for fitness, but strapping on a pair of magic non-shoes and standing there, or walking around the mall hoping for artificial instability to kick in won’t do it.

Bosu ball addicts have successfully integrated balls into many facets of everyday life. At the gym, they do squats, deadlifts, and bicep curls while balancing precariously on bosu balls; at the office, they sit on large balance balls instead of chairs; at night, they wrap their bodies around massive rubber spheres instead of beds. Locomotion was their white whale, though. They tried attaching handles to balance balls for easy bouncing to and fro, but they looked a bit too much like female bonobos in estrus (go ahead and Google that). Well, Reebok’s new(ish) EasyTone line of shoes slays the whale. They’ve actually installed three miniature balance balls into the sole of each shoe (I’m not making this up), allowing wearers to recreate the natural, evolutionary sensation of walking on inflated rubber balls.

This revolutionary barefoot technology, according to its hawkers, compels the wearer to move. Walking and exercising become almost passive acts; the shoes apparently propel you down the street. All you’ve gotta do is be carried away on a couple of foot clouds. Heck, even standing at rest in these babies is a constant, imperceptibly effective workout for your entire body. Who needs to consciously work out anymore?

Maybe the absurdity of barefoot technology isn’t evident to everyone, though. Condemning a non-shoe that’s actually a shoe for claiming to recreate the barefoot experience seems “reasonable”, but it’s always good to back arguments up with empirical data. And all the barefoot tech peddlers claim to have research supporting their products, so it’s only fair that we on the “nay” side also use research.

The American Council on Exercise, a non-profit fitness certification organization, recently put the claims of MBT, Skechers, and Reebok to the test and released the results (PDF) to the public. It should be noted that though the ACE is a non-profit, their continued existence depends on the certification of trainers that would be out of a job if the shoemakers’ “get fit without trying” claims were true, so I can see where some hackles about bias could be raised. Regardless, let’s check out their findings.

ACE conducted two studies. The first subjected 12 active women to twelve 5-minute treadmill trials at varying intensities while wearing different shoes (MBTs, Skechers Shape-Ups, EasyTones, New Balance runners). Each woman tried each shoe three times: a 5-minute, 3 MPH walk at 0% grade; a 5-minute, 3.5 MPH walk at 0% grade; and a 5-minute, 3.5 MPH walk at 5% grade. Oxygen consumption, heart rate, perceived exertion rating (RPE), and caloric expenditure were all monitored.

While all values increased across the board in response to increased work intensity, no significant differences were found in response to the different shoes. They all performed about equally.

The second study had a similar initial set-up – 12 active women, the same four shoe choices, the same 12 treadmill trials at the same intensities – but a different focus. Instead of measuring exercise output, this study examined specific muscular responses. Electrodes were hooked up to measure EMG activity in the gastrocnemius (or calf muscle), the rectus femoris (quadriceps muscle), the biceps femoris, the gluteus maxiumus, the erector spinae (back muscles), and the rectus abdominus (abs). An initial test was run to determine the EMG in response to a maximum voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC); the study would use EMG recordings from the treadmill trials and compare them to the MVIC EMG.

There was no significant difference in muscle EMG activity across different shoe types. EMG activity increased in response to the increasing intensity of the treadmill trials, as is to be expected. ACE’s ultimate conclusion follows thusly: “There is simply no evidence to support the claims that these shoes will help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone.”

The shoe companies counter with their own internally-funded studies. Here are Skechers’, Reebok’s, and MBT’s research.

All parties obviously set out to prove their point. ACE may have a dog in the fight, however convoluted it might be, and they ran a fairly limited study (small sample size, short duration), while the shoe companies have the obvious objective to sell more shoes and justify it by funding their own research. I’m immediately skeptical of industry-funded research that also happens to support the industry’s product, but that’s completely natural.

My take? I just find it all absurd, to be honest; a battle over which is the lesser of two evils. It’s like those studies purporting to show the benefits of “healthy” whole grains by pitting them against refined, processed grains. Or the study that showed ankle taping provides better ankle stability in people who wear athletic footwear, while completely glossing over the fact that athletes wearing no shoes and no tape performed best and evinced the highest level of foot position awareness (the key determinant in susceptibility to ankle sprains). Neither choice is optimal.

The standard running shoe (New Balance) performed similarly to the fancy barefoot tech. What can we glean from this? What does this say about the necessity of any footwear, let alone barefoot technology? You’ve got two bare feet at your disposal, and I think people should begin learning how to use them before giving up and relying on “barefoot technology” to save them.

Have you tried MBTs or copy cat barefoot/toning shoes? Share your thoughts in the comment board. Grok on!

Photo Credit: MBT

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163 thoughts on “The Inherent Absurdity of Barefoot Technology”

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  1. Hi Mark,
    Great article that I completely agree with; I begged my wife not to get those ridiculous EasyTone shoes and finally she caved. I love minimalist shoes and own Vibram KSOs and New Balance MT101s. (these are a thin trail runner, and inexpensive)

    However, I do have to say that the title of the article appears to attack those minimalist shoes that do try to just let the foot work as intended. I was very confused when I saw that in my RSS reader; just FYI.

    1. Re the title, I thought the exact same thing when I saw it, thought it would be about Nike Free

      1. When I saw this I thought “Oh no, not my MBT’s!”

        I have MBT’s, and I really like them. My favorite ‘shoes’ are my vibrams, second the MBT’s. I almost never wear my regular shoes, unless I’m playing basketball. Though I’d like to try out Vibrams some time.

        MBT’s help me with knee and back pain that I experience when wearing normal shoes (I created a standing work station so this is important). Toe shoes are also not allowed in my business setting (rule was put in place after I showed them off during a meeting – someone was offended). The MBT’s look like dress shoes so it’s my best option.

        If I could wear my vibrams every day to work, I would. I bet if I could just put a cover over the individual toes, everything would suddenly be acceptable.

        Kevin

        1. Thanks Kevin, for a good word about these style shoes. I too have a great deal of back pain from 12 hrs shifts on hard floors as a nurse, on my feet all the time. I was considering a career change, having tried nursing shoes, minimalist shoes, and various sneakers to no avail.
          Finally I tried the Sketcher’s Shape Ups. MY BACK DOESN’T HURT! I love that~~! True they are ugly (but so are Vibrams) but I don’t want to buy stock in Ibuprofen companies either.

          This is my second pair, and I will continue to use this style for workwear. Grok certainly didn’t stand for 12 hrs on man made flooring, so I don’t really care about whether or not it is primal!

          Oh, and they have not shaped up my thighs or legs at all. But the lunges and squats do that, lol.

    2. Ditto on the title. Judging from it, I thought you were going to go after Vibrams and the like.

      I was like, “woh, did Mark stubb his toe in his Vibrams?”

    3. My Chiropractor told me about MBTs today, so I was checking it out. Found this article, Dr. Roger would disagree with you. He has worn his pair for some five years for work. His only complaint was his more formal pair disintegrating in the heel with non-use, and the pair he uses for work is still in great condition. He was showing me the firmness of the sole compared to some new ones I bought. His recommendation was the MBT. Looks like good to find them on sale at a reasonable price rather than the suggested retail price.

  2. I thought fancy shoes that would tone were interesting, until I saw the price tag 🙂 Regular shoes work for me and the kids, and when mine are babies they get the little leather flexible shoes to protect them from the cold as needed.

    Barefoot would be great, if it weren’t for the glass on the streets and freezing cold winters!

  3. Doesn’t Reebok have some sort of shoe with that big heel? The zigzag or something like that? My vibrams are fine but outdoors in the winter in MN is a no-go.

    David

    1. why not man? I walk around campus here in Iowa barefoot through most of the winter. I wear slide sandals on the really cold day, and take them off when i get to class.

  4. Agreed that the title was confusing. I love my Vibrams; moving is a totally different experience. I can go “barefoot” on city streets and muddy cold trails, with INCREASED stability.

    It would be laughable to immobilize your bicep and cushion it from impact to strengthen it….why then do we immobilize and cushion our arches and feet?

  5. Just a quick note, again. I think you’ve gotten rocker-shoes kinda wrong. I doubt their idea is “to be unstable” rather than to provide a natural base for us to walk on no matter where we are. Or are you telling me humans were designed to walk on concrete? I think the Maasais walk on soft/semi-hard surface most of their lives. This is why their joints don’t get the treatment ours do: We’re children of the concrete jungle. Good or bad? You decide. I’ll keep wearing my rocker-shoes (which are not MBT, by the way) when I walk around the city, but when I hit the trail I go barefoot or strictly vibram.

    1. I have zero problem walking and running barefoot over the hardest of surfaces and have only been doing it for about three months. Join problems have very little to do with the surface that you land on and everything to do with the way that you land on it.

      My limiting factor so far has been the weakness in my feet which have been atrophied through many years of being shod. My joints have been happy from day one.

    2. I agree. When I ‘need’ shoes for Corporate ‘life,’ the rounded sole is more comfortable than the flop and slap of flat shoes.

  6. I’ve always found both the concept and design of these kinds of shoes to be absolutely ridiculous.

    It was quite sad for me to see Skechers go this route as they do make a number of comfortable, thin/flexible-soled everyday (unless you’re wearing a suit) shoes. They’ve been my go-to for a while now.

  7. My girlfriend has a pair of the Reebok easytones. She’s one of those people that really doesn’t like feet (silly, I know). So there was no chance at convincing her to try some barefooting with me. Within a month one of the Balls in the left foot popped!! She called and e-mailed and they basically told her she was S.O.L. So aside from disliking these products, I also dislike their business practice. I look forward to getting a pair of VFFs or other good minimalist shoes for daily life. But all of my exercise and running will be strictly in bare feet for both the neuralogical feedback, and because I love the way it feels! The long and short: to hell with shoes!!

  8. I read somewhere that someone has made a shoe to even help sooth the menstrual pains?????????? May have been on Chris Mcdougalls blog?

    1. …WHAT.

      Link if you have it, please. This I just HAVE to see for myself.

      My incredulity aside, if something like that were satisfactorily proven to work, I’d eat cereal for six months to afford a pair, paleo/primal be damned.

  9. From what I have read about rocker-shoes, their exact idea is “to be unstable”. In fact “Unstable rocker shoes are designed to induce instability in all planes of motion”, this is describing the two types of rocker-shoe: Unstable and Stable. A quick warning from Total Relief Footwear states: “If you have problems with vertigo or dizziness, for example, a rocker sole shoe may not be appropriate.” I don’t think there is anything natural about getting motion sickness from walking.

  10. I laugh every time I walk into a store and see those shoes! I was wondering when this topic would come up here! Nice post Mark!

  11. Michael, when you are walking or running barefoot, concrete is not a big problem. You learn to naturally eliminate the shock by landing on your forefoot, bending your knees and making quicker, smaller steps. Personal experience: when I was beginning to run barefoot I was often compelled to touch the concrete sidewalk with my hand – apparently my brain was convinced that it is soft! Now when I am running barefoot (not so often since following PB), I actually prefer hard surfaces.

    See Dan Lieberman’s study on impact forces in shod/barefoot running.

    1. Thanks for the information, I’ll look at Lieberman’s study. I’m adamant on my view, though. When you run on sand or grass it is more unstable to run than on concrete. Also, I’ve walked around our capital for about 8 hours in the rockers and experienced no pain whatsoever (literally, I only stopped once after 5 hours to eat a salad). Having done the same next month in the summer with the vibrams (that I’d already been walking in for over a year) I developed a crazy inflammation on the big-toe joint due to exactly this forefoot mechanism. Also, walking on concrete barefoot is just inconvenient and slow.

      I think if you haven’t tried rockers (not Tomasz, anyone saying they suck) you have no right to judge. I’ve been walking and running around in my rockers and vibrams for 2 years now, and I still say rockers rock on rock. Vibrams suck on hard surfaces.

      1. I second Tomasz. Concrete is one of my favorite surfaces for bare feet. Hard and smooth is nice, whether it be dirt or concrete. Polling my group of barefoot walkers/runners, concrete is near the top for 100% of those polled (three people 😉 ).

      2. In nature soft surfaces to run on do not exist. You either creep through thick cover, trying not to step on anything, or you run on a hardpacked trail. While the trail is softer then concrete, it isn’t by much. Grok did not spend much time on sand – nothing grows there so there is no reason for aythiing to be there. (Prey is near food)

        I love running not concrete barefoot.

  12. I think it’s voodoo, but I do have a friend a nurse, who has the skechers.

    For years she’s had an issue with a new replacement she had due to cancer. She would complain about her knee and having tough days to the point she’s thinking about disability.

    She purchased the sketchers about a year ago and she says the long days do not bother her.

    She’s not the type to buy into hype, she’s not an athlete, never heard of Vibrams, and thinks the Paleo / Primal way is suspect.

    But I do believe that she feels these shoes (the sketchers) help her do her job.

    But I like my Vibrams. 😉

  13. I have a friend who wore the Sketchers for about a month. She advised that since she started wearing the shoes, she suffered knee, hip and back pain which were not present prior. She’s decided to dump the shoes and go back to regular runners.

  14. If I want to be 2 to 3 inches taller and don’t mind some instability, I’ll wear high heels. At least they look good.

  15. I also think these shoes are absurd; however it will be a cold day in heck before I go around barefoot.

    Going barefoot is for people who are too poor to afford shoes.

    1. You are right. It’s also for people that don’t want to get hurt and want to feel more.

      You aren’t wearing gloves now, right? Or are you……

  16. Initially I got lots of guff from my chiro for going barefoot most of the time.

    He did eventually realize that I don’t turn my ankles or torque my knees the way I did when I was wearing my Danskos.

    Between you and me, though, I do still keep a pair of Danskos around for the tradeshows I work where I have to stand on a hard surface all day. I’ve tried moccasins for those but my hips feel better if I use the Danskos.

  17. Great info. I get asked about these rocker shoes all of the time…I hear stuff about relieving back pain, plantar fac. etc…great if that works for you. But, the claim of increased muscle recruitment etc…has proven to be BS. While I still haven’t attempted to run in my Vibrams, by wearing them for several hours several times/wk my feet are so much stronger and more stable. Balls in shoes? Seriously, crazy.

  18. I personally think that Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars are a good compromise, they’re cheap, they are so thin you can feel the ground through them and you don’t need to build up heavy calluses to use them.

    I play ball hockey in them which involves a lot of sprinting back and forth, I sprint in the park in them on rough trails and I have cleaner ones I just wear out and about.

    They have one downside: they don’t have ideal traction on wet pavement playing ball hockey but the ability to feel the ground more than makes up for that.

    Perfect shoe in my humble opinion.

    1. Hey there… I’ve been in that camp with you. When I saw what Vibrams were all about, I figured, “what’s wrong with a pair of Chucks?” After all, it’s just literally a few layers of fabric and rubber between you and the street. As long as the toe box is big enough to let your toes spread out, you should be good to go, right?

      In fact, I’ve always had a pair of converse in my shoe collection, but recently, I’ve been wearing them exclusively while traveling in London, because transporting shoes with bulky heels or platforms (my going-out shoe of choice in Chicago) means more luggage.

      But in the last five weeks of walking around exclusively in flat shoes (which I rarely do in Chicago, although I’m barefoot at home all day), I’ve had excruciating low back, hip, glute and thigh pain. I figured some of it was due to some heavy duty dancing I was up to, but it seems to really flare up if I’m walking around town.

      Have any women had this experience when transitioning from heels to flats while city walking? My arches feel better, the balls of my feet don’t have so much pressure on them, but I feel like my low back and hips got used to walking with an incline. Any thoughts from any ladies here?

  19. Quick question for you. For those of us that live where it snows, do you have a “shoe” that you would recommend? I have Vibrams but I think in the snow they would be unbearable. Anything you can think of as a minimalists winter shoe?

    1. Hey George,
      There is a neoprene version called the flow. Most of the time though I run in lightweight running shoes like the Adidas Mana. I have seen guys on days when the high is -20’C using the KSO VFF model, but to me its just a little too cold to wear them in those temps. On really cold days (yes colder than -20’C)I run in normal running shoes, like the Lunar Glide.

      Hope that helps

    2. George, I have seen suggestions that I am going to try this winter.
      * sandals, like huaraches.
      * Thick winter socks, with or without sandals, depends on temp/wetness of road. May have to do some sewing to make split socks that work with the sandals.
      * Some do go pure bare foot but don’t risk frostbite with temp that is too cold or too windy.

      1. If you’re going to walk barefoot outside in winter, practice curling your toes under each time you lift your foot off the ground and stretching them upward when you set it back down. Sounds weird, but it keeps enough blood flowing through them to stave off frostbite. I’ve gone on several hour-long hikes in a northern New York January this way, and I’ve still got all ten!

    3. Try Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars. I sprint and play ball hockey year round outside in them except in deep snow.

  20. Hi Mark,

    I just recently started following your blog and I enjoy reading it.

    Ah, as a newbie runner, newbie barefoot/minimalist shoe runner…..I cannot justify trying Shape-Ups, etc.

    The notion of needing a thicker sole on your shoes does not register in my head. The shoe companies really have people fooled.

    I wonder how many foot or ankle injuries these shoes will create.

    Melyssa

  21. A few years ago, before I learned about Vibrams, I bought a pair of MBTs. I have no idea why, but other than flip flops (and now My Five Fingers), they were the only shoes I could walk long distances in without experiencing foot and knee pain. They were the first thing I found that I could wear hiking that alleviated the pain I’d get in my knees coming downhill. Now my Five Fingers have become my preferred hiking/outdoors shoe. But the MBTs were great for me.

  22. My MBTs were the ONLY thing I could wear when out of nowhere plantar fascitis (sp?) hit and hit hard! I was in tears after being on my feet for any length of time. Now that most of that pain has gone, I’m great with barefooting, etc. But, I also had to learn to stretch properly, etc. I highly recommend the MBTs if, like me, you come from a bad place and didn’t know better to begin with to start your healing. Does that make sense? 🙂 Thanks much!!

  23. Totally agree about the potential dangers of MBT/Sketcher platform technology, and the ridiculousness of likening these unstable elevator shoes to aboriginal foot placement patterns.

    About a year ago, I (formerly chronic cardio, including ultra marathons) started wearing Vibram FiveFinger shoes for running. I did so thinking they made a heck of a lot of sense. Had great experience immediately, yet also residual doubts based, for sure, on years of exposure to running shoe propaganda about the need for heavily built-up shoes.

    I found myself wearing my Vibram FFs (Bikila model) for nearly every run, and loving it. Not long ago I switched to my pair of “minimalist” Newtons, which felt like orthopedic shoes by comparison. The simple fact is: I now wear only my Vibram FF shoes when running, one result being: my toes, feet, and legs are stronger in new and wonderful ways. Including that formerly sprained left ankle, which now feels no different from my never injured right ankle.

    My ultra days are over; no interest in that level, plus I know it’s counterproductive to health and longevity. I do plan to run the occasional half marathon on trails, just for fun and at a non-rushed pace.

    By the way, I follow Primal/Paleo diet guidelines and no longer consume grains, and have successfully transitioned from sugar- to fat-burning metabolism, and yes, it is possible to “be a runner” (including a distance runner, if you choose) without consuming the dangerously high-insulin diet on which so many marathoners find themselves sick and tired, literally. I feel stronger and more robust, and run better with greater vitality, than I did on a constant cycle of carb ingestion/carb depletion.

  24. All I know is that every person I’ve ever seen wearing these shoes has been middle-aged and overweight. I don’t see trainers wearing them at the gym, I don’t see runners running in them, and I certainly don’t see any professional athletes using them for any sport of any kind. They are marketed as an easy solution to a very complex problem: “lose weight and tone your muscles without actually exercising or cutting the garbage out of your diet,” which to me smacks of gimmickry.

  25. been using MBT’s for a while. they are ok..nothing beats barefoot on wet sand.

  26. I tried on the Sketchers Shape Ups and knew instantly that they weren’t for me. I would have broken my neck if I had tried to wear them!!

  27. I just wanna say, I have worn MBT’s for years and recently switched to Sketchers because they were more easily available. I love them. When I am on my feet all day at my two jobs or on vacation doing large amounts of walking my feet never hurt! I never have to sit down to rest my feet or get home and have sore feet. For me its just the added bonus of cushion on the bottom.

    I also have a friend that owns a bakery and is on her feet all day long, she wears her MBTs for the same reason. She is able to be on her feet all day without getting sore feet.

  28. The sad thing is these look normal so you can wear them to the office. Five Fingers do not look normal and your boss will send you home for wearing them.

    I’m wearing Nike Frees, but I hate them (first day). Seems all the normal looking barefoot shoes are sold out. I’l risk the five fingers on jeans Friday.

  29. Mark,

    Maybe the folks at Masai Barefoot Technology developed that absurdly unstable shoe to recreate the years when we learned to walk. Observe any two year old trying to walk, heck it looks a lot like an “anti shoe”.

  30. But Mark, what about the “extra benefits”? About a year ago (before I’d ever heard of paleo/Primal) a friend posted a picture of the Sketchers on facebook saying that she was going to get some. Somebody else called them “B.C.S.” because the shoes were so repulsive that they would qualify as Birth Control Shoes. 😉

  31. MBTs are crap. Period.
    I tried the MBT Shoes some years ago and they are stiff. You can’t walk normally. It’s true, the muscles have to work harder (the wrong way) and this will strengthen some muscles. It is like weightlifting with bad technique: you will gain strength but you pay the price later.
    Shoes as exercise tools? PLEEEEZE gimme a break! Toning? Last time I checked it was squats, lunges, sprints and a clean diet.

    I like Puma h street sneakers or Asics Tai Chi for walking or exercise outdoors. Minimal footwear is best. They strengthen my muscles in a better way. I have to use foot muscles more than in cushioned running shoes with footbed. Running (almost) barefoot gives you a a smooth gait because you can’t trample like an elephant on stampede without cushioned soles. You have to use muscle elasticity as it is supposed to be. Those cushioned wobble board shoes – like high tech running shoes- disturb biomechanics and proprioception. Poor knee joints, poor hip joints. Where’s my ankle mobility, my hip joint mobility?

    What’s the use of walking in a wobble board the whole day? Is this “natural movement”? Well – if you are living on a surfboard …..
    Shoes can’t improve bad biomechanics, only awareness can – and the help of a good coach or physiotherapist.

    Mike T Nelson has a nice post about shoes
    “Barefoot Training, Vibram Five Fingers and the Evils of Strength Sucking Modern Shoes”

    http://extremehumanperformance.com/blog/barefoot-training-vibram-five-fingers-and-the-evils-of-strength-sucking-modern-shoes/

    Nelson: ” The MBTs are actually VERY stiff and I feel promote an unnatural gait. They even had me walk backwards at one point with them on so that my body could adjust to the wacky shoes. What? I need to learn how to walk again? That sounds like a bad idea.
    If you refuse to do mobility work and continue to have stiff feet, they may be an option for you, but this is like putting a helmet on so that you can keep beating your head against the wall.”
    Head against the wall. Yes I do that reading the marketing sermon from Reebok, Sketchers and MBT.

    But their marketing is not adressed to athletes but at people who have pain because they move badly. They are meant as therapeutic device. And most people actually need a trainer to walk correctly in MBTs. So you can start a business: MBT Coach. No kidding.

    A physiotherapist told me: for folks with good coordination the shoes may be ok, for people with suboptimal movement patterns they are dangerous.

    Watch this:
    A Pose Coach on MBT Shoes
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgXxISPIqdQ&feature=channel

    Reebok Easy Tone Shoes: Fad Alert!
    http://www.businesspundit.com/reebok-easytone-shoes-promise-to-tone-your-butt-fad-alert/

    The barefoot professor
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jrnj-7YKZE

  32. I’ve had a pair of the Sketchers for a year now, and if I have any long distance walking to do or standing all day, those are the only shoes I’ll wear.

    I’ve tried to do standing jobs like tradeshows in flat shoes and I paid for it with knee, hip and back pain for days afterwards.

    IMHO, for some of us there is a time for bare feet and a time for thin soled shoes and a time for thick soled shoes. Just need to listen to your body and do what’s best for the situation. And have alternatives when called for.

    1. I’ve noticed that almost all of the people posting here who love the MBT-type shoes all say they are great for standing–nurses, people on their feet all day.
      I think for tourism-type all-day walking and standing on the job, the thick cushion and instability activating leg muscles would feel good.
      I always thought of myself as a walker, but I put my VFFs on for the first time, and I just wanted to RUN…

  33. I tried MBT’s, which I regret because even at clearance prices those things are absurdly expensive. They made things worse for me with my multiple joint and balance issues. I suppose they might be good for certain people, but I don’t know who that would be. I’m embarrassed to admit I tried them. It was a total case of falling for a gimmick.

    On the other hand, I LOVE my first pair of SoftStars and expect to make a habit of them. I like the grounded feeling from greater sensing of the surface I’m walking on. I think they make me more stable and improve my walking mechanics, too. The key thing I wanted them for was the natural materials against the foot. They are great on that count, too. I am one of those people whose skin blisters and peels from any vinyl foam. That stuff is in 99% of shoes anymore. Even drugstore inserts like Dr Scholl’s are made of that stuff now.

  34. All in all we’re just thrusting way too many unnecessary technology onto ourselves. Who’d of ever thunk that walking or running had to get so complicated???

    Although I do run with Vibrams on, I usually walk barefoot at parks. I hate getting attention in general, but when people watch me ‘being crazy’ it sometimes irks me. I want to say to them, ‘quit sitting on ura ss and MOVE!’

  35. Hello,

    As much as I love MDA and agree with you on most things, I think you missed the point behind MBT shoes — or it could be that their advertising is now more for toning and exercise than when I found them a few years back and they centered on providing a more natural walk.

    No argument that barefoot on natural ground is best. Unfortunately, we don’t always have that option in our vocations. My wife’s a nurse, and we’re avid walkers and hikers. She has been combatting work-related hip and knee issues for years since she was a CNA. When going barefoot or in soft mocs outside on trails, sand, and regular ground, she has no issues.

    During and after her shifts at the hospital (often reaching 9+ miles on the pedometer), or after an extended hike or walk on “improved” paths, her knees and hips pain her quite a bit. Soft mocs, airsoles, and similar “comfort” technology didn’t help, nor did physical therapy and kinesthetic/motion tracking; her gait and flexion were within the physiotherapist’s normal range of motion. I’d come across MBT shoes and read their claims about providing an unstable base to prompt our bodies to move more naturally. I bought her a pair for work.

    By the end of the first week she was in love with them. She said she felt like she was “walking normally again.” After three months, I bought her another pair for when we’re travelling and exploring new towns and cities.

    It’s been about three years now and there’s no sign of the hip and knee pain returning during her shifts.

    How are they for toning and exercise? No idea. Not what we tried them for, and not disputing you on that. For allowing a more natural gait across a hard flat surface? I disagree; MBT shoes work like a charm.

  36. Quite a few years back I wore a lot of MBT’s and thought it was the way to go (you learn to upgrade all the time and do what you think is best at the time!!). In those days I was quite flush (hence 4 different pairs of MBT’s) and also specialized in MRT (Muscle Release Technique) for repetitive use injuries and felt that all the info on them made sense.

    So I gave them a real good testing and was careful to increase wearing them slowly etc and after quite a long time I realized I was having hip, back and leg pain that I had never experienced before. This was not the good muscles being used kinda of thing, it was pain.
    I stopped wearing them completely and would never wear them again.

    I then wore earth shoes for a while until I found this wonderful site, thank you Mark. I now wear vibrams and soft star. I especially love the soft star as they are so easy to take off and on if you want to go barefoot and do some sprints. They are also yummy and fun – especially designing your own.
    My next purchase will be a pair of their boots for the winter.

    Awesome post as usual. Thank you for all you do.

  37. Tons of my co-workers wear those sketchers rocker shoes LOL. And then they asked me “how can you walk around in those thin soled shoes all day?!” So I tried to explain, but I don’t think they got it 😛 I wear Vivobarefoots to work and around town, but at home I tend to go barefoot. I was always like that, even as a kid I hated shoes, so thankfully I did something right and have super-strong feet now! YAY being barefoot! 😀

  38. I have tried the Reetones, and don’t like them. Admittedly they do seem seem to activate greater muscle/energy use in some way – walking just seems more challenging, not unstable at all, more like walking on wet sand, simply harder work which I guess is their selling point. But they feel clunky and not particularly comfortable, and I don’t like the restrictive feeling – it tires me out rather than giving me more spring in my step. I don’t know how the hell anyone could wear them all day long!

    1. But then again, I know several people who absolutely love them and swear by them. Horses for courses. Just not my thing.

  39. I spoke with an 80+yearold gentleman with a history of falls at the gym where I work who was wearing a pair of the Sketchers approved by his therapist. The poor man had to lean on the wall in order to stand while we spoke. Have the majority lost their good sense?

  40. What happened to the regular moccasins you used to be able to get (usually marketed as slippers), the ones made out of a single piece of sheepskin with a separate piece of leather for the tongue? All the SLIPPERS I see in the stores nowadays have rubber soles, and they’re supposed to be for wearing indoors! My grandfather and I had pairs of the plain soleless ones when I was little, but I haven’t been able to find them since.

    1. Search the web for “softsole moccasins”. Minnetonka manufactures quite a few styles, but you can also find a good many better quality ones from independent shoemakers’ websites.

  41. I did not have the time to read all of these great comments – NOR – read & digested your post completely.

    But with that said, I used to run 3-milers in bare feet when I was a 15-year old.

    Man! I used to run so fast w/o shoes!!

    Whoopie!!!

    If you can – go for it in bare feet!!! I do EVERY time I have the opp!!

    Grok on!!!!!!!

  42. My wife bought a pair of the easytones, despite my best efforts to dissuade her. The fat salesgirl who recommended them would obviously know better than her personal trainer husband.

    Myself, I do all my running barefoot now and use Chucks for most day-to-day stuff.

  43. Great post! I cannot believe how absurd some of these “new and improved” shoes are. I have been a bit of a klutz all my life, and buying my first pair of V-Fives was the best thing I ever did. Suddenly I was light on my feet and walked and ran with ease! Now, when I have to wear “regular” shoes (such as for winter, as I live in CO), I find myself tripping all over the place. Not fun!

    And all the people I have seen wearing those silly Skechers Shape-Ups have been overweight, and obviously out of shape, so I wasn’t sold on the ‘quick fitness without exercise’ bit.

  44. This is so dumb. It’s the same logic behind all the informercials touting “new and improved, effortlessly simple solutions” that actually end up being five degrees removed from the simplicity they’re trying to emulate. Anyone remember The Hawaii Chair (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9_amg-Aos4)? That sh*t was WACK.

    I think the difference between the obviously silly concept of the Hawaii Chair and something like “barefoot toning shoes” is that, as you said, it sounds like some kind of technological breakthrough. People who want fitness without effort will say, “Hey, this takes an asset I already have – feet – and allows me to utilize that asset to lose weight! Holy Moly, what an idea!”

    There are always going to be people out there who embrace the latest iteration of snake oil, and this fad, like others, will hopefully fade soon enough. In the meantime, Sketchers and MBT (does it bother anyone else that they’re referencing a group of African tribesmen who wouldn’t be caught dead in shoes like these?) are going to make a lot of money off of people who very likely will not get very fit — that is, unless they chuck their gigantic shoes in the trash and go barefoot.

  45. no vibrams..no minimal sho..i have been running totally barefoot for 6 months…all my injuries healed..i even do my sprints on grass and can run on rock terrain with a heavy backpack..it is even easier than with the shoes..go barefoottt:)

  46. Just thought I’d share this RL True story for people who love their shoes,

    One of the best jobs I ever had was packing parachutes, at a commercial drop zone.
    Now, you want to talk about a full-body workout,… lol.
    We were mostly packing the tandem chutes (designed to bring down two people) and this involved a lot of jumping up onto and off of

    the packing table – a long carpet-covered platform – to get these great beasts folded, smushed, & packed in a tiny bag, just the right

    way. You have to work barefoot – any shoe might damage the parachute; they tell me this is a bad thing.

    Our tables were set on gravel; the hangar, about 50 yards away, was connected by a path of 2″-3″ rounded river rocks.
    When I started, just walking barefoot, unencumbered, out to the hangar was torture.

    In a week or two after starting, hefting 3 or 4 packed tandems (they weigh about 45 lbs each) and taking them out to the hangar,

    barefoot, over those river rocks, was no big deal. Given the chance, feet are as smart, and tougher than, hands. They have to be.
    Right?

  47. I have 4 pairs of Vibrams. KSO, KSO trek, sprint and the Biklia. they are all I wear. I wear the Treks for anything that needs a professional appeal as the Kangaroo leather top gives it that better look. I recently wore the Treks while climbing Mt Shasta in june and more recently Mt Hood 3 weeks ago. I was on snow, ice axe in hand about 50% of the time. They did great! (although….my 2nd and 3rd toe on my left foot took about a week to get full feeling back :p).
    I have gone from walking flat footed all my life to having an arch now. My stability has increased, I run way better and overall I’m very satisfied. (took awhile to stop stubbing my right pinkie toe though :p)

  48. I have a pair of the masai-shoes and haven’t used them a lot because I’m afraid of falling og twisting my ankle, which I am wont to do.
    But still: Whenever I wear them, I definitely use another set of muscles and especially use more core muscles to balance myself and keep upright. To keep your balance in the masai shoes, you have to walk and stand very straight, so it IS a kind of training tool.

  49. My thoughts exactly with this post. I am a physical therapist, and I see more foot problems that are “cured” with orthotics, etc…..and now I’m seeing referrals from doctors to fit people with MBT’s?? I have to bite my tongue on this issue, as to not scare people off. I have been sliding barefoot exercises into my treatments, and people get better rather quickly. Go figure. I am so disgusted with this new shoe rave that’s swept the general public with all of this “scientific evidence.” I’ve yet to see a convincing article! For now, when patients ask about these shoes, I’m using this post as my new reference for them to read. Thanks Mark!

  50. It would seem to me from reading these threads that MBT type shoes may have a place in the world and that is in the podiatrist’s office and NOT the gym. They may help some people with foot abnormalities relieve pain, but to use a shoe as a substitute for exercise is ridiculous. I can also see how wearing them for walking vice running would make a significant difference in their usefulness. The biomechanics of a run and a walk are just that different. So IMHO, buy the NOATS, MBTs, DANSKO’s that look like street shoes and use them for that – not deadlifting, Fran, or a 5K.

    I sit here writing this after having surgery 6 weeks ago to reattach some ligaments and rebraid my pereonous longus and brevis tendons. So I am rocking along with a “walking boot” for the next 4-6 weeks. You can imagine my angst about shoes.

  51. My ‘wellness officer’ at work has a serious foot problem, she’s been limping for months. While walking together the other day, she told me she was wearing her son’s (oversized for her) 8 year old running shoes. “I can’t believe how long they last! He wore these in high school!”

    I train TKD twice a week, and workout at home barefoot. Nothing feels more natural, and it feels so good to ditch my shoes after a long day at the office!

  52. I tried Nike Free first, then Vibrams, and now I just run barefoot on the streets. I don’t ever want to run in shoes again and I workout at home barefoot too. After working thru some near stress fractures in my metatarsals when I first started running in Vibrams, I feel like my feet, ankles and lower legs have become exponentionally stronger since going barefoot almost a year ago. I won’t even wear shoes with big soles now. I look for flexible shoes with short, flat soles to wear to work or wherever.

  53. There are another couple of considerations for the MBT shoes, that being the matters of misrepresentation and cultural theft. Those shoes have nothing to so with the traditional footwear of the Maasai people. Maasai sandals do not cause them to walk in any manner like the MBT shoes force on a person.

    Also, in searching the MBT website, I find nothing demonstrating that the MBT company has the permission of the Maasai people nor have they compensated them in any way for using their name or reputation. (though that may have changed since the last time I looked, I hope so)

    If anyone is interested, I did a review of the MBT from the point of view of how the Maasai actually move that can be found here.
    http://tracelesswarrior.blogspot.com/2009/10/answer-on-mbt-barefoot-shoe.html

  54. As someone who spends most days on my feet the Skecher’s shape ups have made a big difference in the amount of pain I suffer. My feet, knees and lower back used to swell and throb by the end of each day and no longer do thanks to the shoes. I believe this is due to the strengthening of the core muscles which is a result of the constant contracting of the various muscles needed to stabilize and the unique cushioning has reduced the impact of the hard surfaces. I work with many nurses who wear them and love them as well. We are not allowed to work barefoot 🙂

  55. Sadly, this seems more like a disdainful attempt to prop up the primal lifestyle. How is this any more absurd than “primal” protein shakes? The same could be said for the absurdity of any Neolithic technology.

    Unfortunately, I feel this is one of the few blog posts that I have found to be absolutely uninformative and detrimental to the advancement of the PB lifestyle. It is bad enough that the forum members pile on anyone who questions the primal lifestyle (especially vegans), but now, if one doesn’t wear sufficiently primal shoes, they too will be attacked. Sad sad sad.

    Write about the healthy virtues of moving with bare feet as you have done so well in the past — that would be informative (so much so that I now wear Vivo’s and feel so much better too). Otherwise, why stop with just deriding a specific marketing niche of the shoe industry? Why not go after planes, trains, and automobiles — and bikes too for that matter? Are they not anti-primal enough?

    The primal blueprint is a great “blueprint” to follow and support. Don’t ruin it by turning it into a bigoted cult Mark.

    1. Sorry my opinion and analysis on this didn’t meet your standards, Asturian. I’ll try to do a better job next time.

      1. My standards for opinion and analysis are not really all that high Mark. And I have equal standards for your opinion and analysis as I do for those of vegans who prefer to eat bananas.

        I would rather you try to do a better job of revising the censorship policy standards of your forum.

        With all due respect,

        Asturian

  56. Despite the fact that I am a great admirer of Mr. Sisson’s philosophy and great advice, I must mention that the suggestion in this blog may not be the smartest for those of us who are diabetic. Diabetic feet are extremely sensitive to pressure and trauma and will take forever to heal, even with minimal injuries. Diabetics, PLEASE do not run around barefoot. Take it from me, a diabetic retired orthopedic surgeon (yes, the guy who does the amputations of the diabetic limbs).
    Respectfully,
    T J Huber

  57. @fitmom: That’s how I felt too with my KSO’s. Just wanted to run, and I did!

    @salim: I am slowly working up my distance going barefoot. It’s awesome!

    @DPT2008: That is awesome. I love reading about doctors that investigate and teach alternative medicines.

    @Hunter P: I try to everything barefoot at home. Working out in my home gym, running barefoot outside, etc.

    @M: I looked into that myself. It didn’t make any sense to me. I couldn’t find the correlation.

    @JohnC and others: you guys make me want to buy some chucks again. I had 2 pair during high school.

    @T J Huber: So there is absolutely no reason why a diabetic should be barefoot at all? Why do other drs say it’s ok? Just curious because my mom is diabetic and walks barefoot at home.

    @Armaan: I think my form is ok, but I know it could be better.

    1. Not all diabetics have the same degree of nerve damage (i.e: numbness) in their feet. If a diabetic has good sensation in the soles, I don’t think there is a problem. In my case, my wife has taken thorns and wire pieces out of my feet that I didn’t even know were there. I’ve given up being barefoot completely, the risk is just too high for me.

  58. Asturian, I don’t see why this doesn’t ‘fit’. Anything that supposedly improves the human form or condition deserves scrutiny doesn’t it?

    I agree with the gist of this post, although for me it’s Nike Free’s that have the most to answer for. At least MBTs aren’t emulating barefoot (I don’t think). Nike Free’s have taken a simple concept – barefoot works best – and then
    made the sole so padded you couldn’t feel the ground if it was shaking beneath you. Evos rule (for those that don’t fancy gorilla feet of Vibrams).

    1. All I meant to say is that Mark should focus on the “positives” of the primal lifestyle philosophy rather than on the negatives of Neolithic technologies. There is no need to put down the Neolithic age in order to prop up the primal lifestyle; it stands up well on its own. We live in a Neolithic age. There is no practical way of changing that short of stripping nude and running off to some uninhabited island — and even then, there is no guarantee that Neolithic technology will not find you there.

      I have great respect and admiration for Mark and his talent for explaining the seemingly obvious yet elusive path to the optimal genetic expression of our species. Before finding my way to MDA, I had already collected all the pieces of this puzzle but it was Mark’s talented words that helped me put the picture together and for that I am most grateful.

      Mark could have easily made his final point for this blog post, of walking the way our evolutionary blueprint intended us to walk, by focusing more on the morphologic design of the foot and how it connects the body/brain interactive response to the external environment. Most of us don’t live on a deserted island and consequently, some of us have to wear shoes. He could have then perhaps referenced how “ALL” shoes interfere with our interactive response to the environment and that some shoes are worse than others (or more positively, that some shoes are better than others).

      To spend 95% of his text on bashing MBTs/copy cat shoes was misdirected effort that may only serve to initiate more cult like extremism by some members of his forum against those who have minimal to no significant harmful side effects from certain Neolithic technologies.

      1. Asturian you need to chill out on Mark or… channel you energy into writing a book, directing a movie or become a film critic.

        If that doesn’t float your boat, go to godaddy.com and register the following url: asturiansdailyapple.com

        1. Seeing as how Mark has mysteriously removed my ability to “reply” directly to his last post, perhaps I should assume that you are the chosen disciple to take up his position to elaborate extensively?

          Then elaborate on this extent Brian; when spam or troll behavior is manifest within a forum thread, are each and every member who post to the said thread then defined as spammers and/or trolls? That is my current understanding for what constitutes spam/troll behavior on the MDA forum since the entire thread and ALL of the posts are removed, just as if nothing had ever occurred, with no PB member able to decide for themselves whether said troll or spammer had a legitimate debate challenge to the underlying primal philosophy, or clearly a trouble maker, or just clowning around. I suppose this method of handling such behavior works well to stifle challenging debates regarding the primal philosophy, except that, the primal philosophy doesn’t need such protectionism IMO. Cults however do need to protect their mysteriousness or “knowledge of the hidden”.

          Anyway, I won’t bother your worship further as I need to get back to work on my latest book, “Primal Occults of the Neolithic”. That is if I am to have a film to critique for the movie I plan to direct (based on that previously mentioned book). Oh and Brian, thanks so much for your daddy’s float-a-boat link. I may need it for a quick escape when I get kicked off the MDA primal island for saying what I think as opposed to what others may want me to think or chill or whatever.

          Grok on! (without MBT’s of course)

        2. Sorry, my bad. It appears that the “reply” link disappears after the thrid reply to a comment.

          Appologies for my ignorance on these rules.

      2. Asturian,

        Sorry for taking so long to repIy, you know, working and such. I doubt you’ll accept this but there’s no conspiracy here against you. You’re a good writer. Make the most of it.

  59. one person said she liked her soft star shoes–anyone else have them and like or dislike them? I am thinking about ordering a pair of the ramblers for winter as they are sheepskin and natural leather. so figure they will keep my cold feet warm and yet be minimal. I too thought these rocker types of shoes were absurd when I first saw them–how many people are going to have serious falls from wearing these shoes?

    1. I like my Soft Star Run Amoks…GREAT summer shoes and I’ll definitely be ordering some ramblers for the colder months we’re moving in to. I’m just trying to decide on colors.

      p.s. I’ve never fallen in my MBTs.

  60. Another nurse voting YES for the Sketchers Shape Ups. Back pain eliminated, even with 12 hr shifts on hard floors, on my feet the whole time.
    I haven’t needed Ibuprofen at work or after work since switching 1 1/2 yrs ago.

    And I developed plantar fascitiis this summer running barefoot. Even though I started slowly and built up. And used the proper form. Currently working with a sports medicine expert about what direction to take with conditioning at this point. I knew my feet were hurting every morning, I just didn’t know it had a name until recently.

  61. Asturian, fair points, indeed. And attacking things Neolithic seems counterproductive, even when promoting PB. But I think Mark has a point here – when Neolithic is claiming to be more primal or natural but is mostly doing the opposite. In such a case, I believe it’s not only permissible but even appropriate for Mark or any PB proponent to address the issue directly, even if only to spark further thought or discussion.

  62. Props to Mark for writing this. I had never been able to run more than 20 or 30 minutes without my herniated discs or shot knees acting up, then sidelining me for at least a week. Since going barefoot/minimalist, I’ve been on runs of 60 and 70 minutes, with no pain the next day. And equally important – running is fun again! It’s not an exercise in grimacing pain, slogging through lumbering strides. I actually don’t mind the odd looks from neighbors as I run up and down our streets and sidewalks barefoot or in Luna sandals. I’ve had a few minor TMTS injuries since beginning from my over-eagerness and not transitioning cautiously enough, but never any injuries that sidelined me like those mentioned above.

    I’m happy to see Mark write this, even if it’s an unpopular viewpoint among many.

  63. I haven’t read through all the comments but I have both MBTs and VFFs and SoftStar Run Amoks. I like the all.

    I get much more wear out of my minimalist shoes, but I enjoy wearing my MBTs. They’re fun. We live in fairly hilly terrain and they add a little extra oomph when I walk the dogs. Not super scientific, but per my HRM, they make me work a little harder walking the route in the same pace. Plus, I actually like how they look. But, I like weird/ugly shoes…Hence my affinity for the VFFs as well 😛

    If I could only keep one pair in my closet, the VFFs win hands down b/c I can wear them to pretty much do anything. The MBTs are just my dog walking and/or long days at the mall/costo/running errands shoes. My bad knee definitely appreciates the MBTs if I’m going to spend a lot of time walking on concrete. Just my n=1 experience!

    Are MBTs primal? Heck no. Will they whip you in to shape? Heck no. They are what they are and I enjoy mine when I wear them. That’s all that matters (to me).

    1. wow. that was helpful and really contributed to the conversation

  64. As much as I can see how fellow primals would find the concept of the MBT’s ridiculous (and the marketing is) I have to say that for me they just plain worked. After wearing them for two weeks on half hour walks, I completely relearned and regained my natural gait in “normal” shoes. I’d extend my hamstring and engage my glutes–something my neuromusculature had completely forgotten. I haven’t worn MBT’s in years but have not since lost that gait.
    I could see how wearing these sneakers for a short test would show no change in EMG readings because the brain has to be rewired to engage those muscles and that takes some time–at least it did in my case. Incidentally, I wouldn’t wear these shoes around doing daily chores, work etc, because you’re not supposed to break the sole, and I think there’d be some risk of injury in making constant turns and quick short movements.

    So with the caveats above, I would actually recommend MBT’s wholeheartedly.

  65. I had to convince a couple in DSW not to buy those ‘shoes’ with a very simple argument… “They look stupid, no one will ever take you seriously again.”
    I was wearing my Vibram Sprints.
    Imagine the conversation convincing “normal” people that Vibrams were not only better looking, but better for you than commercially over-exposed Sketchers LMAO! I then directed them towards CitySports.
    Then I wondered, “Why am I in DSW again?”

  66. Just a comment from someone who suffers periodically from plantar fasciitis. I realize part of the reasoning in going barefoot is that’s how we always used to be and you can’t improve on the human foot, etc. HOWEVER, there is one thing I never see people address: Before civilization, we always walked and ran on uneven surfaces. The human foot has evolved for uneven surfaces. But in modern society, we almost always walk on hard, even surfaces. When you’re young, perhaps going barefoot works and it won’t bother you. But as we age, perhaps the flatness of our floors puts a strain on the arch of the foot. Perhaps an uneven floor aids the health of the foot, but now we have floors that are inimical, which is why people try different shaped shoes and inserts.

  67. Sketchers and other huge soled shoes always rubbed me the wrong way just to look at them. I always felt that we were beyond the whole Frankenstein look and feel to footwear… But seeing this has proved me wrong.

    I was a kid who NEVER went out of the house without shoes on, now I’m the parent who tells their kids to take the shoes OFF before they go outside to play.

  68. Hi. Just my pennysworth: i think MBT’s look ugly, but when I saw a pair on ebay for £30 in my size, I thought I would give ’em a try. I have some fivefinger KSO’s which are my fave workout shoes (when I am not barefoot) but I need “proper shoes” for work – and after a week on MBT’s I have been sold on how really comfy they are. Did a 4 hour walk around London with my wife recently, and had a serious sensation of deep delayed-onset muscle stiffness in the deep stabilizer muscles of both calves – definitely got a workout there! I have good balance, do one-legged pistols for fun and to tease my teenage sons (who can’t do ’em) – but the MBT’s definitely gave my calves a fresh workout. If I worked on a beach, or could spend my time on sand or soft grass, my preferred footwear would be slipslops or nothing; as it is, I think the MBT’s are worth a go if you can find a pair on the cheap. They retail for £195 here in the UK (insane), but are probably worth about £65 in terms of build quality and comfort. I have found them much more comfy than my beloved Clarks, which was a real surprise.

    Try them for a week, Mark. you might be surprised too!

    Bill

  69. Yo….

    Once you use Kelso Neg. heel (3.7 degrees ) EARTH SHOES you will be a fan.

    Ebay sells them in your size ( new and used ). The idea behind them is solid. It’s like walking barefoot in wet sand at the beach…..your foot-ball is down 3.7 degrees deeper in the wet sand than the rest of your foot……very easy on your posture and sooooo easy on your back.

  70. Hi everyone,
    I actually have a pair of MBTs which I bought few years ago. I think that I understand the confusion here. These shoes were designed to mimic more natural surface then the concrete. It is true that walking in these shoes initially you feel like walking on a sand (the dry one not wet one) and there seems to be more effort and more muscle groups taking part in this balancing act. After few days you are getting used to it – and I honestly do not think it does anything special to you. On the bad side – these shoes are making your feet completely immobile in them and I think that a prolonged use (I used to wear them often for a year and a half) contribute to feet problems. I was getting horrible cramps in my feet. I took some tests but it was non conclusive. I stopped wearing them because when I felt theat the cram is coming I had to take them of quickly – Yo would not like to experience a cramp in a shoe in which you cannot move your foot – horrible. The only remedy I seemed to figure out was when I felt the cramp coming was to start intensive isometric exercise on big leg muscles. It was improving circulation. In a way by concidence I had to esign form MBTs and I was waking at home bare foot. After few months my cramps went away. I have this feeling that MBTs may be good for your hips and tights and maybe calfs but not so much for your feet. At least I think that this is my casa.

  71. I wear the Sketchers because I have severe arthritis in my back, lower spine, knees, and feet. In addition, I am woefully out of shape and overweight. What I can say is that since I started wearing these shoes (at $100/pair) I can now walk and my feet and knees don’t ache like they did. I am more mobile, and I figure some movement is better than no movement. My husband and I are in our early 50s and are embarking on a major lifestyle change in relocating to a new state and are at the same time, trying the Primal lifestyle. What can you do with so many strikes against you to start with, Mark? The shoes got me walking and with little to no pain, which means no meds. And that seemed a positive “step” in the right direction. What else is there for those like us?

  72. We had a client at our gym in DC who had a quad/TFL pull/strain pretty much all the time. The movements she could do without pain were VERY limited.

    One day, I asked her to workout in her socks instead of the “toning” shoes she usually wore, and BAM! That was it. The thigh issues went away that week and have never come back.

  73. I recently bought a pair of Sketchers. They are not the be-all, end-all pair of shoes, but the have a limited upside, at least for me. I have arthritis in my left big toe from what is essentially the dreaded “turf toe” injuries you hear about from football. My big toe does not flex as much as it does with other shoes. Otherwise the shoe is mostly hype. You do get more of a workout; but I compare it to riding a bicycle with under-inflated tires: it is less efficient so it takes more energy to move forward. They are at least a comfortable pair of shoes to wear.

  74. I wear MBTs. My understanding is they’re meant to simulate the action of walking on a soft surface, like sand, as opposed to a hard surface, like a road.

    My MBTs have helped amazingly with hip pain I had had for years which no medical professional was able to help me with. Also, finally, I no longer have flat feet. Walking barefoot on a hard surface like floor made things worse for me (at least until recently), it seemed to compound whatever issues the flat feet were causing.

    So, my gut feeling is, sure it’s better to just go barefoot rather than wear shoes that simulate the barefoot experience, but I already had foot problems and the MBTs helped me to the point where I’m now thinking maybe I could even try the whole barefoot running thing a la “Born to Run”.

  75. 2 inch sole!

    it’s even thicker than my dress oxford (0.5 ~ 1 inch). (probably more $$$$ too).

  76. Here is my little tale. After completing the Nike Women’s Marathon in 2008 and then training for the 2009 spring Robie Creek (half marathon) (8.5 up, 4.5 down) I developed my second ever, very debilitating case of plantar fasciitis. I ended up with orthotics (since everything on the market without these, I owned and tried). It made no sense to me to be instructed to wear these orthotics in all shoes (which I would have to buy all new so they would fit) – for the rest of my life. They were made using ridiculously poor science – but they did help me recover. I asked the doctor how never expecting my feet to do their job was supposed to help me and he did not have a good answer. Soon after, I read Chris McDougall’s Born to Run. The barefoot thing was very interesting to me. While I wasn’t excited about wearing the Vibrams, I was interested in making my feet work. And I thought the book’s information about traditional athletic shoes screwing up feet was right on. So, after getting through the acute phase, and learning some great stretches to use before I stood up, I embarked on making my feet work. I really like the exercises suggested by Bonnie Prudden. I also started collecting shoes with comfortable, thin, flexible soles that offered NO support. My feet got better very quickly between the stretches, the exercises and the non-supportive shoes. A while later, I decided to try the Skechers because I felt they were more comfortable than the MBTs. I currently have two pair. The reason I wanted to try the Skechers was because I wanted to avoid heel strike (like you learn with Vibrams). I didn’t think I’d be getting any exercise benefits – didn’t care. What mattered was avoiding heel strike. I still wear hiking boots and such as well, because on unstable surfaces, the Skechers aren’t a good idea…but for a relatively flat surface, they’re great. I don’t plan to go back to traditional athletic shoes unless I acquire some that have no support with thin, flexible soles that are ultra comfortable. My feet feel great. The Skechers are a fine addition to my footwear collection. And frankly, anything that convinces people to be up and moving is okay in my book.

    1. Hi, Kim,

      years ago, i had an chiropractor who had a more “aggressive” treatment for injuries than most MDs & therapists.

      he thinks one should get rid of all the braces/supports & start moving as soon as you comfortably can (as long as you’re no longer in pain).

      in his opinions, those are “crutches” that only weakens muscles.

      regards,

  77. Great article, thanks for getting so in depth. Lots of people say they “feel” the burn wearing these types of shoes. So do you think it’s all just in their heads?

  78. There are so many replies to this article that I got tired trying to read all of them trying to see if anybody else mentioned Dr. Paul Brand. So I’ll just toss in something about this wonderful person who did some incredible stuff in India around the late 40s and early 50s in healing people with what has been called “leprosy”. I won’t bore you with trying to remember all the details but Dr. Brand, a very special, lovely man who I had the enormous and humbling pleasure of spending some time with, developed a “rocker shoe” to help his patients. He said it was a life saver for many. He wrote several books about his work in India. The one that tells of the rocker shoes is “Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants”. I highly recommend it.

    I’m not sold on all the other health claims of Sketcher’s rocker shoes but there’s real science behind some benefits. It’s not ALL bunk.

  79. I was just wearing them. They make walking on concrete, asphalt and most indoor locations more bareable. My feet blister when I wear VFFS ( I use them for crossfit and sprinting) on those surfaces for extended periods of time. I don’t think you should put them down until you have worn them for a week.I have no stability issues with the shoe. And its a very stable shoe. I’ve been wearing them for several months now. My mom has been wearing them for work for several years now, no stability issues. The thick sole helps absorbs impact for me.

    How can you claim they are unsteady and essentially bad if you yourself have not worn them?

  80. I was bummed to see my favorite shoes so put down. As a waitress in a busy resort, I had excruciating heel and foot pain until I got my MBT’s. We log about 4 miles a shift, and I have not had ONE foot problem since wearing MBT’s. I might have had to quit my lucrative (for this resort town) job without my MBT’s. The high price tag is nothing compared to custom orthotics or visits to a podiatrist. Of course they are no substitute for working out but I didn’t know MBT claimed that.

    They do work the whole body and thus take stress off the feet themselves. When I get home, I don’t even want to take them off. Whatever else they do or don’t do, who cares, if it works for what you need! They are touted for only even surfaces, and whoever said we evolved walking on uneven surfaces, is right. That is what the shoe mimics: walking in soft sand.

    My income is probably at poverty level, but I have three pairs. Not for hiking or running, but for our modern travels on hard, even surfaces.

    And ugly? Hardly. How about those pointy-toed latest fad women’s shoes for ugly. No one has ever said they look funny to me, mostly people are just interested…

    However, like much of life, they don’t work for everyone.

    Sign me: “Saved by MBT’s”

  81. I wear the sketcher shape-up shoes.
    I like them because they are very “low impact” which makes it easy on my knees and feet.
    don’t know anything about their claim that you can loose weight or build muscle.
    I am a 60 year old woman. I am not fat. I love these shoes because they are so cushy.

  82. Nice one Mark. Because some peoples technique of movement is so poor, be it walking or running they think they feel comfort when they try on these numbing contraptions. Actually what they feel is less feedback of their poor technique and so it feels ‘better’ because they kill the feedback that’s trying to help them resulting in even worse movement. I don’t blame folk being sucked into the marketing behind these products. Looking at the big picture these shoe companies are worse for our society than drug dealers. It’s a downward spiral that tax payers are forking out for funding an unsustainable health system with escalating joint and back problems. If there were any justice these companies would be liquidated and the funds put towards real movement education programs.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgXxISPIqdQ

  83. Mark, what a disappointment this article was to read. In particular when you admitted that you have never worn MBT and “honestly don’t plan to”.

    Isn’t that the same close-minded, ignorant thinking that we make fun of people who still believe the SAD? Isn’t that exact kind of thinking what you are trying to change?

    If you DID try MBT, you might be very impressed. I am a HUGE fan. They are expensive yes, but they are built with exceptional quality and make walking so easy and fun.

    Here’s the thing, I love walking barefoot as much as you do. But I work in an office 9hrs a day! I can’t very well show up in a suit with Vibram 5fingers on! MBT actually makes very good looking black leather dress shoes that you can barely tell are MBTs! I love them. They help compression problems in my back and have motivated me to get a standing desk, simply because they are so comfortable to stand in.

    It’s basically like this, in order of preference:

    1 – barefoot
    2 – Vibram 5-fingers
    3 – MBT
    4 – conventional flat shoes

    Mark, I’m happy you lead a life where you can wear ridiculous looking shoes around. But most of us can’t. And you should give a pair of MBT’s a THOROUGH try before you dismiss them out of ignorance.

  84. I’ve worn MBTs. I’ve also had to relearn to walk the old fashioned way. I’m also a medical massage therapist married to a physical therapist.

    I regret the MBTs.

    When I injured my foot I was not supposed to walk unaided on it again. Possibly ever. Through intense barefoot physical therapy I was walking again in a couple months.

    Years earlier I had purchased the MBTs to help with some pain issues I had working on a tile floor 14 hours a day. Sure, it helped while I was working. What it also did was create issues that manifested in pain when I wasn’t wearing them. These issues hung around until I had to relearn to walk.

    In my case I was blessed to nearly amputate my foot. I was forced to truly go back to basics and relearn how to use my foot truly from the beginning and to do it the way it was physiologically designed to work.

  85. With all due respect, Mark, vibrams are great. If I didn’t have them, I would have to run completely barefoot, which would lead to all sorts of cuts, bruises, and infections.

    1. With all due respect… 😉 I prefer running completely barefoot to running in my vibrams, and I have gotten no cuts, bruises, or infections.

      With proper form, it’s possible to run a marathon and even longer distances barefoot. I am nowhere near that myself, but I can comfortably run 3-5 miles at a time through my city with zero footwear.

  86. My girlfriend got a pair of the Reebok Easytone shoes (before we were enlightened, when I was still buying supportive shoes to play tennis in).

    These days we both wear Merrell Trail Runners or thin flip flops every day (except for Tues-Thurs for me – stupid business casual dress code!)

    1. I should add what she thought of them, right?

      She said her legs would get incredibly sore by the end of the day, even when just standing instead of walking. The Reeboks had little packets of presumably air, like little pillows on the bottom of the sole.

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  88. I have been working and walking in the Merrell Pace Glove (Vibram sole) and I LOVE them. LOVE. They don’t look as weird as the toe shoes, and people actually comment on how cute they are! I am working on incorporating them as a running shoe, but my form needs a lot of work.

  89. I actually love Skechers Shape-Ups, no matter how ugly they are. I did not, however, buy them for the ridiculous claims. Even the “science” that the company supports those claims with shows modest results at best, so I wasn’t expecting miracles. I bought them because that big old cushy insert under the heel does an excellent job of cushioning my joints from the concrete floors I have to walk on all day.

    I live in a man-made environment and like a previous poster, I am not at all worried about how “primal” my response is to situations that humans were never meant to endure in the first place. My reality is that of an overweight woman in a professional job where barefoot walking is neither acceptable nor advisable. The claims may be silly, but in my experience, these shoes do have a place for some of us.

  90. I’m just beginning to work my way around this site, and I have to say, I find the judgmental nature of the comments on this thread to be very off-putting.

    We all believe, to a greater or lesser degree, in recreating, as best as possible in this modern world, the conditions in which humans evolved over millions of years.

    Those evolutionary conditions did not include walking on the hard flat surfaces of the modern world. Walking barefoot on those surfaces does not address that issue. Seeking to cushion or counteract those hard surfaces would seem the logical solution.

    For those of us who must walk on modern, hard, flat surfaces — which would be nearly all of us — MBT makes a shoe that cushions us from the surface and requires us to walk as if we were not on a flat surface.

    One would think this approach would appeal to readers who in their diet and lifestyle choices regularly defy the conventional wisdom of the day. Instead many have seized on this or that piece of marketing (“it tones legs!”), or this or that anecdote (“it requires imbalance!”), or this or that stereotype (“slothful people wear them to avoid exercising!”), in dismissing the MBT.

    We did not evolve in an evolutionary milieu of hard flat surfaces. Walking barefoot or in near-barefoot moccasins or shoes does not address that fact. MBT does. Stop snickering about it and try them before judging.

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  92. Hi Mark, I came here from an article on fasting and diet at Mercola’s site. Your take on the barefoot issue is similar to my experience.

    I am fortunate to live in a rural area and have made hiking trails in the woods. Every day that it is not too cold, I hike barefoot in the woods.

    Over time, barefoot hiking has brought an intelligence and wealth of feeling to my time in the woods. The loamy texture of the trails, cool smoothness of rocks and stimulation of some of the less sensual surfaces like pine cones and acorns – open a whole new awareness through the soles of the feet.

    My feet developed a stronger padded sole which has adapted to the challenge of barefooting. There is a little more callous layer but the main cushioning has developed UNDER the skin.

    Bare feet are more vulnerable to cuts and bruises and I’ve had my share – but that vulnerability just helps enhance a refined awareness of feeling.

    When I found myself digging in the garden bed standing on the pitchfork with bare feet -and enjoying it – it was clear that my feet had evolved into the competence they are meant to have.

    As far as the Vibrams and other ‘earth shoes,’ I had considered them and then said; ‘What is the point?’ Why would I put synthetic material between me and the ground? Nothing can compare to the joy of fully connecting with the earth.

    Thanks again for your thoughts on barefooting!

  93. I LOVE my Skechers Shape Ups. Scoff if you will. I have no cartilage in either knee and the extreme padding helps. Without them, I can’t bear the cement floors everything is built on these days.

  94. We are in the technological 21st century.Foot wear has become a part and parcel of modern gadgetry. Only humans wear foot wear. I will ask one question to all of you do you know how to walk correctly?

    It is pity so much of medical knowledge is pouring in Right walking is not defined and not taught to Kids and adults as awhole.

    MBT and Sketchers are trying to fill the void in the present scenerios.

    Walking consist of to the common man 1.Heel strike
    2.Foot flat
    3.Heel off
    4.Toe off

    These are the stages described by the old timers with their keen observation powers.

    These stages has backing from the body design of Bones and muscles. each stage is achieved by some stages of bony and muscular actions. hence any actions that promotes normal walking is fine. these foot wear are better than the flat footed foot wear.

    Medical science has not described how much is the angle at the ankle at Heel strike or How much angle should be there at Heel off stages In an ideal conditions.

    In such a scenerio lots of research needs to be carried out on walking.

    some of the claims are good but they have exagerated it. Hence apart form the cost trying a variety may be of great help to each of the individuals.

    Thers is little research in this regard in medical fields.

  95. How to walk correctly

    Human body is desgned for right walking. Walking consist of
    1.Heel strike
    2.Foot flat
    3.Heel Off
    4. Toe off.
    to the common man and visible to the eyes.

    Right walking stimulates all muscles of the lowe rlimb

    This increses the lower limb muscle
    This incresed muscle bulk and power has an enormous significane to the Health of an individual

  96. I love MTB’s. I’ve got high arches. When I walk on them, feels like walking on air. Sorry to hear about their recent financial situation.

  97. I love my MBT’s. What is all the negativity about. Some people love them, some don’t. We all have different feet. Please don’t knock them. Darlene

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  99. The founder of the University of Nigeria believed that there was need to train Nigerians locally, and sufficient in number for the formidable task of information and guiding contemporary and future generations. On the basis of this philosophy, the University had as one of its original curricula a degree offering in communication education.

  100. I find the article interesting. I cannot speak for others, but I can say that since I started wearing the Sketchers Shapeups, my back, knee, foot problems went away. I walk heavy on my heels and the flat soled shoes over time have caused problems, no matter how much cushion I put in there.

    Sure I think the claims may have been “overstated”, maybe way over stated, but in the end game it worked for me. I may not have lost weight/toned up/ect just by wearing a pair of shoes, but it did help other issues I have been experiencing.

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  102. What about the kyboot walk on air shoes? aren’t they what replaced mbt? anyone?

  103. Wearing MBT for ar least 10 years now. Don’t have or even would think of buying any other schoes ever again. My neuropathy and splayfoot forced me to by orthotics every other year. MBT saved the fun in my life.

  104. ANYONE KNOW WHERE THERE MIGHT STILL BE SOME SIZE 13 MENS SHAPEUPS OR SOMETHING VERY SIMILAR? THEY HAVE BEEN A TOATAL GOD SEND TO MY WEARY FEET. I USED TO HAVE HORRIBLE PAIN UNTIL I STARTED WEARING THEM.

  105. Love the site. Have Hallux limitus, ( Osteoarthitis in big toe, long first metatarsal. Podiatrist said MBT or boots. Also DDD of spine. Any ideas on walking shoes thanks Jack

  106. I have the merril barefoot shoe for about a week now should i not try them? Please advise need opinions