Even If the Shoe Fits… Forget It.

When was the last time you left your house without shoes? Hard to say? When was the last time you ran without shoes? Summer, circa 12 years old? If you are to listen to the growing number of barefoot runners out there you are truly missing out.

This little piggie...

Ricardipus Flickr Photo (CC)

It turns out we were all born barefoot. No, really. As hard as it is to believe, no one came strolling into this world pre-packaged with a pair of loafers or Nike’s latest cross-trainers. That alone is a good enough argument for not wearing shoes, right? Yeah, yeah, so goes the same argument for public nudity. But there really is something to the notion that going barefoot (not bare-naked) is good for you.

As a devout Primal Health philosophy follower you can count me in as a believer. I mean, what could be more primal than running around barefoot? I don’t know about you, but the idea of darting around sans shoes immediately brings two images to mind. The first being a barbarous, crazed-looking Neanderthal with a spear in one hand and a half eaten rabbit in the other – ready to pounce at any given moment. Pleasant, I know.

On the other hand it calls to mind visions of happy children relishing the feeling of recently cut grass on their naked and nimble toes as they parade about an expanse of green lawn.

drp Flickr Photo (CC)

To your average tennie-wearing John Doe these words paint two seemingly diametrically opposed pictures. But viewed through the lenses of the barefoot enthusiast they both embody the essence of going shoeless. That is, the visceral, animal-like use of feet the way they were originally ‘intended,’ while at the same time fully appreciating the extra-sensory and tactile experience you can only get without sneakers.

The Primal Health philosophy supports the notion that the fewer man-made foot crutches the better. Think about it. We have these amazing feet with intricate structures designed to keep us upright and moving gracefully. What they weren’t designed to do is operate bound up in artificial materials. Our ancestors existed without foot protection for eons. Without shoes to keep their feet protected from this harsh world they developed tough skin and strong ligaments. They fared just fine without the latest high-tops. But in an effort to guard against any potential harm modern man has employed buckles, straps, laces, Velcro, soles and toe boxes. According to some we may have gone too far. We now have shoes that look disturbingly more like a device you would expect to see employed during the Inquisition than foot protection.

Don’t get me wrong. No one is suggesting that you head on into the office Monday morning with your ugly feet leading the way. Shoes are great. I have more pairs than I would like to admit. But there may be such a thing as too much shoe.

So what is the allure of running shoeless?

Here are just a few of the arguments:

– The elevated, softened heel support found in most shoes impedes our natural gait and can result in a shortened Achilles tendon and calf muscle.

– Running without shoes takes upwards of 4% less energy than running with shoes. It makes sense really. Some effort must go into lugging the extra weight around.

– Running shoes are designed to make you land on your heel as you step forward. Can you imagine running heel to toe without shoes? You wouldn’t do it. It would be much too traumatic. So why are we forced to do it with shoes? Landing on your heel results in undue shock and potential injury to your knees and back. The natural and most effective way to run, as exemplified by top marathon runners, is to land on the ball of your foot – keeping your steps light and smooth, and allowing your arch to act like the natural spring it is.

– It is cheaper! You no longer have to fork over your hard earned cash to shoe manufacturers.

– Running shoeless helps to improve your running technique which can result in increased speed. Just ask barefoot Abebe Bikila who won the 1960 Olympic marathon in Rome.

– No more athlete’s foot or foot odor! Both are associated with sweaty and poorly ventilated shoes.

– Going shoeless helps develop strength in muscles found in your feet, hips and legs that aren’t used when wearing shoes. This in turn can increase coordination, agility and balance.

– It feels good. Literally being in touch with nature at all times makes you more aware of your surroundings and can be very therapeutic.

Can’t imagine running barefoot? Yes, I know you love your Dr. Scholl’s inserts, padded cushions, arch supports, insoles and orthotics, but part of the reason you feel like you need them is because you have been using them for so long.

Our feet are soft and weak. There are no calluses to be found. Our feet have been locked up between layers of fabric and rubber ever since they saw the light of day. They have been babied and pampered to their own demise.

Just like the rest of your body, feet need tough love too.

But don’t go cold turkey. It’s not just your skin that is soft and sensitive. Your tendons and muscles will also need some conditioning. You’ve got to ease into it. Head for grassy fields or sandy beaches and begin by walking. Or do what we do and wear shoes that are barely there.

We here at Mark’s Daily Apple are all barefoot exercising fools. When we aren’t going outright barefoot we go as near barefoot as possible. You may have heard about Mark’s love for hiking in his barely-there Vibram Fivefingers.

Don’t take our word for it, though. The barefoot revolution has been touted by numerous newspapers (1, 2), magazines, and bloggers worldwide. It has even received the attention of Nike and well-paid world-class athletes.

Although it is becoming more popular every day running barefoot is still a contentious issue. What do you think, Apples?

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