The craziest thing happened to me once on a hike. It was a decent one—about 8 miles roundtrip, with plenty of elevation gain. I went up just fine, even picking up random logs and rocks to carry along the way to add to the experience (and intensity). But on the descent, about a mile in, my left quad started cramping. I changed how I walked, I took rests, I walked more slowly, I tried placing more emphasis on my hips and glutes, but nothing worked. The cramp was overwhelming and getting worse by the minute.
So I took my shoes off. When I say shoes, I mean my Vibram Fivefingers. If you don’t know, these are ultra-minimalist footwear with individual slots for each toe. They allow your toes to spread and your feet to feel the ground and everything on it. They’re about as “barefoot” as you can get without actually being barefoot. And yet, when I took my shoes off and put bare foot to ground, the cramp subsided. Within a minute, it was gone, never to return. I flew down the mountain, feeling faster, fresher, and lighter than ever. The fact that I was already in Vibram Fivefingers, which approximate the biomechanics of the barefoot experience about as well as anything out there, suggests that there was something else going on. It suggests there is something very special about being barefoot.
I have long advocated going barefoot as much as possible. I’ve written post after post on the topic. The simple fact is that the stiff shoes with pronounced heels and thick soles that don’t let you feel anything underneath you we wear today are evolutionary aberrations. They are totally novel inputs that our bodies haven’t adapted to. Barefoot is how we’re born and, for tens of thousands, how we spent our days. You aren’t weird for going barefoot. Everyone else is weird—on an evolutionary timescale—for wearing thick shoes.
For my money, it’s also the best way to train. Barefoot workouts provide a host of benefits:
Honestly, when’s the last time you paid attention to your feet unless they were causing you pain?
Granted, I haven’t extensively polled my friends about their foot care regimens, but it’s easy to surmise that we largely neglect our poor feet. I’m not talking about getting the occasional pedicure or attacking your calluses with one of those terrifying implements that looks like a cheese grater. Cosmetic treatments are all well and good, but they don’t address the health and strength of your feet.
As a society, our feet are suffering. Just look at the market for custom insoles and corrective footwear. One of the most popular videos on the Mark’s Daily Apple YouTube channel is 2 Stretches to Heal Plantar Fasciitis. Last time I checked, it had well over 500,000 views. But it’s not just foot pain that’s a problem. Over a million people receive total hip or total knee replacement each year in the U.S. alone. By age 80, one in ten of us has a bionic knee. A recent survey estimated that 577 million worldwide were living with lower back pain, at great personal and economic cost.
What does this have to do with your feet? Everything.
People rag on the holiday season for being too commercial. You can certainly go too far in that direction, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with giving meaningful gifts to people you care about. In fact, that’s one of the kindest acts a person can do. Today’s Primal gift guide does not consist of pointless consumerist pap that your giftees will enjoy for a day or two until the newness wears off and they move on to the next thing to spend their money on. These are useful gifts. Gifts that enhance life, that further our relationships, that expand our culinary horizons, that compel us to go out and experience the world. There’s no shame in celebrating the holidays in this manner, because these are good gifts given out of love, fellowship, and friendship—all of which embody the true meaning of the season.
Before the complex tools, before the projectile weapons and the wheels and the civilization, hominids stood upright and walked—and it made all the difference. Bipedalism freed up their hands to carry objects and manipulate the world around them and see for miles and miles across the horizon. They did all this atop bare feet that closely resembled our own; millions-year old hominid footprints from East Africa look almost identical to ones you’d see today at the beach. Not much has changed down there.
That’s the entire basis for the barefoot running movement. We were born barefoot, we spent the vast majority of our prehistory barefoot and history wearing the scantest of minimalist footwear. It’s only in the last hundred years or so that we began entombing our feet in restrictive leather and rubber carapaces that deform our foot structure and alter our gait and tissue loading. Running in bare feet or in shoes that mimic the barefoot experience can help us move and land the way nature intended, thereby increasing running efficiency and reducing injury risk. The science is sound.
Good morning, folks. My friend and frequent co-author, Brad Kearns, is stopping by the blog today with a follow-up post to his recent article here, How to Cure Plantar Fasciitis. You can catch Brad on the Primal Endurance Podcast, his weekly keto show on the Primal Blueprint Podcast, and on his new personal podcast venture called Get Over Yourself. If you haven’t checked it out, I’d recommend it. I stopped by a while back for a two-hour show Brad ended up calling “The Ultimate Mark Sisson Interview.” Thanks to Brad for sharing his experience with plantar fasciitis in today’s post and accompanying video. Enjoy!
Since you’ve worked so hard to heal your chronic pain by making longer, stronger, more supple muscles and connective tissue, let’s make sure you never again regress into plantar fasciitis hell! Today I’ll detail how to transition gradually and sensibly toward a more barefoot/minimalist lifestyle—and what types of shoes will interference the least in that process (when you have to wear them).
For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions from readers. First up, what was my main takeaway from the “Japan and meat” video posted last week? Second, are there any circadian-friendly nightlights—ones that don’t negatively affect our natural secretion of melatonin or disrupt our circadian rhythm? And finally, what are my tips for barefoot hiking? How can someone get their feet acquainted with the natural ground, deal with sharp rocks and gravel, and learn to enjoy their barefoot experience in nature?