Meet Mark

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...

Tell Me More
Stay Connected
October 16 2013

The Barefoot Backlash: Are the Naysayers Right After All? (Hint: No.)

By Mark Sisson
235 Comments

BarefootingEvery few days, I get emails from readers worried about the growing barefoot backlash. The media has gone from shooting out a positive article or two every couple months about this “crazy, quirky new fad” of barefoot running to spearheading the charge condemning the practice as dangerous and unAmerican. It’s like clockwork; when something becomes too well known and popular to justify glowing, exploratory write-ups that interest readers, you start attacking it, and the readers come flowing back. They see the results of a perfectly reasonable study fall into their newsfeed and the wheels begin to turn. “How can I interpret this research in such a way to maximize ire raised?” The press loves a good backlash, even (especially) if they have to manufacture it.

And so the headlines come in droves. And boy are they scary and ominous.

The scare tactics used in these articles will be familiar:

Quotes from podiatrists and physical therapists who are seeing a “rash of barefoot running-related injuries” in their clinics. I would certainly hope that podiatrists and physical therapists are seeing people with injuries. It’d be pretty strange if people without lower extremity injuries were going in to see the podiatrist just for the heck of it. Besides, how does their anecdotal evidence compare with the empirical evidence that 90% of people training for a marathon (the vast majority of whom are wearing shoes) will get injured?

Construction of strawmen, like this idea that barefoot or minimalist runners are all doing it for the “increased running economy” and “to run faster.” Who says that? People generally switch to barefoot running to avoid (or fix existing) injuries, improve proprioceptive awareness, and increase sensory enjoyment of running. There’s even evidence that running in Vibram Fivefingers (and, presumably, in other minimalist shoes or none at all) results in greater improvements to mood than running in standard shoes. Besides, now that they mention it, there actually is evidence that minimally-shod runners are more economical due to greater amounts of elastic energy storage and release in the lower leg.

References to the lack of elite runners going barefoot. Well, yeah. Going barefoot has never been about maximizing your performance or destroying the opposition. It’s not about emulating what the elite do, because, let’s face it, the elite are sacrificing health for the sake of performance. Shoes allow you to tune out the pain and push yourself past your body’s naturally-endowed limits. That’s fine if you’re getting paid (well) to do it, but if your training is extracurricular, it should be enjoyable and health-promoting.

As is often the case, the blame lies squarely in the laps of the “journalists” salivating over the prospect of a controversial story that will populate the comment section with angry parties from both sides and drum up hits to their article, not the scientists behind the research. They’re generally just trying to figure out what’s going on with the barefoot running thing, and their conclusions are very reasonable and measured. Let’s look at some of the most recent research into barefoot running to see what’s really going on:

Study #1: Economy and rate of carbohydrate oxidation during running with rearfoot and forefoot strike patterns.

What an anti-barefoot article might say about it: Rearfoot striking is more economical than forefoot striking.

What the study actually says: “No differences in Vo2 or %CHO were detected between groups when running with their habitual footstrike pattern.” Habitual forefoot runners and habitual rearfoot runners were equally economical. However, when forefoot runners tried heel-striking and heel-strikers tried forefoot running, the latter group were less economical than the former group. This shouldn’t surprise you. Forefoot running takes practice, especially if you’ve been heel-striking all your life. Most people end up on their tippy toes bouncing up and down rather than smoothly gliding forward on their first try; the up and down motion wastes a ton of forward momentum and is anything but economical.

Study #2: EMG and tibial shock upon the first attempt at barefoot running.

What an anti-barefoot article might say about it: Barefoot running has “detrimental effects on the runner,” increasing strain on the calves and shocking the shins.

What the study actually says: Barefoot style running may be “ultimately less injurious,” but it poses an initially greater shock to the lower extremities that must be accounted for. Habitually shod runners who heel strike should “undertake the process cautiously” before switching to barefoot running.

Study #3: Minimalist shoe injuries: Three case reports

What an anti-barefoot article might say about it: Running in minimalist shoes has been shown to increase injury rates.

What the study actually says: “All three of the runners switched immediately to the minimalist shoes with no transition period. We recommend that any transition to minimalist shoe gear be performed gradually.”

So, is going barefoot totally safe? Do we really have nothing to worry about?

Well, no. I never said we did. No one said that. Nothing is inherently safe. It’s all in how you do it.

Barefooting is not a panacea. It doesn’t make you invulnerable to running injuries; it makes you more sensitive to their approach.

I’m not sure we’re even meant to run as much as some people like to do, whether barefoot or shod. As humans, we can distance run. As humans, we did distance run. But Grok wasn’t training for marathons. He wasn’t logging miles for the hell of it. The distance run evolved as a necessity, as a way to procure food: the persistence hunt. It was an intermittent event, an acute dose of endurance activity, not a chronic one repeated ad infinitum. Because of that, there’s a threshold – and it’s different for everyone – after which you’re going to incur injuries if you keep running. Being barefoot offers a good barometer for that threshold. When we’ve had too much barefoot running, we generally feel it in our feet. Our soles grow tender, the foot muscles themselves might get overworked and sore, and the surrounding and supporting musculature and connective tissue start to tire. That’s a feature, not a flaw! Our feet are telling us to lay off them, to take a break, and that if we don’t, we risk serious injury. Shoes sever that connection. They obscure the message and make us think we have more in the tank than we actually do.

You can’t just “go barefoot” and have perfect form. You have to work at it. Barefoot running and even walking are skills that must be learned, whether through expert instruction or careful exploration of one’s own experience.

I used to think that sticking someone in a pair of Vibrams or having them run barefoot on a beach would naturally and necessarily prevent heel striking. This is not always the case. As minimalist running has grown more popular, it’s become increasingly clear that some people are able to maintain their heel striking habits even while minimally shod. Heel striking in minimalist shoes or while barefoot is far more damaging than heel striking in padded shoes. The only advantage I see is that it’s such a jarring experience to slam your bare heel on the ground (seriously, try it: jump up an inch off the ground and land on your bare heels; you’ll feel the shockwaves up through your entire body) that you couldn’t keep it up long enough to do too much damage. Heel striking in padded shoes is tolerable, which allows the damage to accumulate inconspicuously. Similarly, boxers are more likely to develop brain damage than mixed martial artists, probably because the padding on boxing gloves allows fighters to take hundreds of blows to the head in a single bout. MMA fighters wearing smaller gloves with far less padding often end fights with a single blow. They’re actually better off because they take far fewer hits and fights are over far more quickly.

Barefooting is a big change for most people who’ve spent the bulk of their lives walking and running in shoes.

Barefooting feels natural for the majority of people, but just because it feels right doesn’t mean your feet and lower body musculature aren’t atrophied from years or decades of shoes. You have to make the barefoot transition slowly and deliberately or risk some of these injuries mentioned in the articles, especially if you’re planning on barefoot running, which places a considerably greater load on your body than walking.

Like the recent flurry of articles criticizing ancestral health and Primal living ended up lecturing us on things we’d already hashed out in the community years ago, much of the barefoot backlash involves breathless “experts” uncovering what we’ve already known for a long time.

What about you, folks? Have you experienced a barefoot backlash? If you’ve ever tried barefooting or wearing minimalist footwear, how did it work out for you? Stick with it?

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

235 thoughts on “The Barefoot Backlash: Are the Naysayers Right After All? (Hint: No.)”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    1. I’ve been wearing moccasins for a couple of years… 8 hours of standing shifts on concrete floors…and recently a 7 mile hike followed by another two days later on quite rocky terrain in the Black Hills wearing them. My feet and legs have never been better! In fact, my arches seem to have returned, because my shoe size went from 8 to 7. Amazing for someone in her 50s!

      1. Hey there 🙂 There’s actually one study showing that walking barefoot for an hour or so a day resulted in a shortening of the arch (increased arch) as well as an 4-5% increase in muscle mass of the foot (intrinsic muscles) developing in response. Let me know if you want that info first-hand.

        1. Hi Mary – I’ve had a similar experience regaining my arches after barefoot walking and running. Had been prescribed orthotics for many years, now ditched 😉

          Tony would love the reference you mentioned.

        2. I would really like to have the source of this info, if you can post it for us.

          I’d like to show it to some family members, especially those who thought I was crazy for tossing away my orthotics years ago.Orthotics were actually painful and I think they may have screwed us up more. I’ve noticed my arches return since switching to moccasins/ thin flat shoes of different kinds/ occasionally going barefoot. Unfortunately I live in a big, dirty city (Toronto) and there is smeared dog poo, broken glass, and unidentifiable liquids at different intervals along the sidewalks, so I tend to avoid barefooting it unless I’m in the backyard or someplace that I know is safe. I would like to be barefoot during mild/warm months in the future, though.

        3. Hi Tony, I am currently conducting research in this area and would love if you could share this and other research with me, because I am unaware of this study. I hope for this research to be published in a journal. Thanks in advance!

        4. Hi Tony,
          Thanks for the information! Yes, I would like to have that info first-hand. Thanks again. Sorry for the answering delay…I haven’t been back here since last month.

    2. Yes. You can’t just take off your shoes and begin to run barefoot. It takes time to get the soles of your feet adapted. But remember that barefoot runner, Abebe Bikila, who was a double Olympic marathon champion from Ethiopia, most famous for winning a marathon gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics while running barefoot? Of course you don’t. Most of you weren’t even born yet. He was a last minute stand in but couldn’t find any shoes that fit so decided to run barefoot just liked he trained at home.

      Also, the Tarahumara people of Mexico are famous for their barefoot running games in mountainous country that can last for two to three days.

      Baby steps… to slowly build up the thickness of the soles of your feet and to get your feet, ankles, calves, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones used to it, just like the babies of our paleo ancestors did.

      1. Similarly, the Inca were famous for having a barefoot runner relay system that could get messages from one end of the empire to the other in a couple days. It was actually their key to maintaining a large-scale civilization.

        1. if they wore shoes and discovered the wheel they’d still be around…….ya know?

        2. The presence or absence of shoes has nothing to do with losing 50-90% of your population to infectious disease. And the Inca did invent the wheel (wheeled toys), but the terrain was so steep as to render it rather useless. They built lots of stairs. Also, llamas are too small to use beasts of burden, so no large carts or wagons.

      2. You can’t just put on running shoes and run in perfect form either. Most people need to correct running form in general by fixing tight hips and muscle imbalances. I would say a lot of people are just one step away from plantar fasciitis as it is.

      3. Yeah, but don’t forget Bikila wore shoes for the 1964 Olympics, and he was faster.

        1. Faster doesn’t mean better or healthier. It just means you’re really pushing the envelope, usually at a cost.

    3. Olympic runners such as Abebe Bikila, Bruce Tulloh, and Zola Budd participated barefoot.

    4. I used to wear traditional running shoes, but that was in the day when I thought distance running was a good idea! Now I either train barefoot or with New Balance Minimus (Vibram sole, zero drop, 4mm tread). Running for me now is a weekly sprint session and also once a week chasing my daughter and her friends for an hour when they are horse riding….through rivers, over obstacles on rough terrain. Never had so much fun.

      I have absolutely no stresses or injuries whatsoever, but what a surprise in the first week or two of going barefoot I got a bit of a calf strain….yes, the hamstrings were working differently. I would further add that my balance control, strength and agility are all much improved.

      Out of interest I tried on a pair of traditional running shoes last month and found them dangerous (ankle movement more prevalent), uncomfortable (like wearing high heels!) and down right ridiculous (felt like I had boxing gloves on my feet). Laughed quite a lot….and bought another pair of NB Minimus

    5. I have been running in minimalist sneakers (Altra Zero Drop/Vibram Five Fingers) for a couple of years now, and I normally wear my Vibrams everyday. I injured my lower back a long time ago and running is my passion, I love it…if I hadn’t changed my footstrike from heel to forefoot I would not be running today! This year I was able to complete 3 half marathons and an obstacle course race. And it did take a long time to transition from being a heel strike runner/walker to a forefoot strike runner/walker. The impact of landing on my heels, even in top quality running shoes, was detrimental to my lower body! Since changing my strike I have minimal pain in my back. Barefoot or minimalist running may not be for everyone, but neither are the “traditional” sneakers for everyone…if it works for you, great, if not that is ok too!

      1. Yep..über fit friend of mine ended up with severe back disc issues…transitioned to minimalist shoes at the advise of physio. Ran her first marathon as a goal last May…more of an ultra/technical trail runner at heart and able to enjoy that despite prior back issues by change to mid/forefoot gait. I personally have loved my Vibrams especially for technical trail running…nothing beats gripping terrain with my whole foot…the switch resulted in feeling the effort in major muscles like glutes and quads instead of shin pain…I never foist my preference on others but get a lot of “hey….cool shoes”.

    6. I used to run barefoot to my grandfather’s house as a 6 year old, my parents -and grandparents both- used to chastise me about it. After seeing the curious Five Fingers several years ago (my ex-girlfriend criticizing their “stupid” looks) and reading about them in this blog, I decided to buy a pair. I use KMD Sport LS’ for American Handball (I live in NYC) and running/hiking through the NY Botanical Gardens (my apt is on Arthur Ave, The Bronx). There was an instant “muscle memory” when I started being active in them which was very cool. I took it slow as advised, and now “normal” shoes ironically hurt my feet. Try barefoot/minimal. Fun!

    1. Its kind of like what is preached in MovNat: Yes, we all have the ability to do the things involved in MovNat, but after years (and generations) of not doing them, they need to be relearned. We all have feet capable of running barefoot efficiently, but returning to the proper form takes time- as opposed to if we had been barefoot since infancy instead of learning to walk barefoot and having to relearn to walk in shoes…

    2. Before going barefoot, I couldn’t run without pretty bay ankle pain. After taking the time to adapt to it, I can go out and trot around through the woods enjoyably for as long as I want.

      I will say that the only way to really know how you run “barefoot” is to actually go barefoot. I have fivefingers and homemade huaraches, and each progressive step down (vibrams to sandals to naked) makes the previous one feel like nikes. The vibrams let you get away with too much compared with the sandals, and the sandals let you get away with way more than bare feet.

    3. I have wanted to get Vibrams in the past, but I don’t think they will do well on my feet. My second toes are much longer than my big toes. Plus my little toes are very short. I don’t think they will fit me well and will be uncomfortable on my feet.

      1. Ish– I would still give them a shot. My feet sound like yours; I have freakishly long ‘second’ toes and my pinky toes are stubby nubs which oddly enough lay almost completely on their sides. I think my Vibram’s are the most comfortable shoes I own & I wear them anywhere I can. On the Vibram website, they explain how to measure your feet; I made sure my measurements included my long second toes and they fit perfectly. Best of luck to you!

    1. That was exactly what I was thinking. Elite runners need sponsors and who other than a shoe company is going to spend big bucks sponsoring a runner.
      On another note, I have run outside (in the grass) barefoot but is it safe (or are there precautions that need to be taken) running barefoot on a treadmill, is this a big no-no or not?

      1. Depending on the treadmill, the belt may become hot during use. Other than that, it’s just like running on pavement, but without any turns. Running barefoot on a treadmill is as safe as being barefoot, running, and using a treadmill at the same time.
        That said, all objections to running barefoot on pavement and to running in a strictly straight line apply to treadmills. Additionally, it seems that tactile stimulation promotes thickening of the skin on your soles, while (obviously) friction will wear them down. A treadmill will be even less stimulating (read: interesting in texture and topography) than pavement. I do not recommend high volumes of barefooting on treadmills, but see nothing against their occasional use. It is worth noting that some barefoot runners seek out the hardest ground possible so that they can focus on their form.

      2. Beware that the treadmill belt gets hot from friction. I am a barefooter, but I use Vibrams or minimalist shoes when running on a treadmill to prevent burns/blisters..

    2. Remember what Mark wrote in his post though

      “the elite are sacrificing health for the sake of performance. Shoes allow you to tune out the pain and push yourself past your body’s naturally-endowed limits.”

      So with that in mind, its reasonable to assume that performance would be better in shoes due to the padding and associate comfort they provide.

  1. I’m glad I go barefoot every chance I get–the bottoms of my feet are like leather, and that’s the way I like it! I wear “Nature’s 5-finger shoes”.

  2. Imagine if the situation was reversed: we’ve been running barefoot or with minimalist shoes for centuries, and shoes were recently invented. Think of the backlash and negative press that shoes, with today’s research capabilities, would receive.

    Personally, barefoot/minimalist shoes make sense intuitively, and that’s enough for me.

  3. This is a very timely article for me. Two weeks ago, I got my first stress fracture ever from barefoot running. I switched to fivefingers three years ago, slowly and carefully. I love running barefoot, and I never had any injuries or problems, just fun.

    Then I moved to some place where the main sidewalk surface is brick and within a month of very low milage (<10 miles a week), I had a stress fracture. I had been running for years on asphalt and pavement, but brick seems to be uniquely hard and uneven.

    Most of these articles focus on the transition and neglect to discuss how changes in the running surface can impact even experienced barefoot runners.

    1. The main risks from running without shoes are stress fractures and slipping. There’s also a slight risk of picking some infectious agent off the ground.

      But, in all cases, this is something that can be mitigated. I wouldn’t personally recommend running on brick or concrete if you can avoid doing so as you risk the stress fractures. But, the bigger issues is that of traction. Brick and concrete tends to get rather slippery at times and VFFs and or no wearing anything greatly increases your stopping distance.

      1. I would never risk running with my VFF’s on concrete, brick, etc. Grok never saw/felt those surfaces. Stick with pre-industrial surfaces and start slowly. Just the thought of running on concrete makes my skin crawl and feet ache.

        1. If you run barefoot, not in vibrams, but barefoot, then you might think otherwise about concrete. Concrete, especially relatively new concrete, is the easiest surface to run on barefoot. “Natural surfaces” with their hidden rocks, gravel and thorns are much more challenging. (More fun, too, of course, but that’s a separate issue.)

          More importantly, if you are experiencing pain from the impact of running in minimalist shoes, you could benefit from taking your shoes off and running a short distance on a a hard surface. Barefoot on smooth concrete is the easiest place to give yourself the feedback to adjust your form, and learn to absorb the impact with your feet, ankles and knees.

          Running on soft surfaces is similar to wearing running shoes. The soft surface masks the impact and makes it harder to adjust your form to a barefoot style. Just make sure you don’t over do it.

      2. Re: traction
        As a barefooter for over three years, I beg to differ. Fingerprints improve grip, and we also have them on our palms, toes, and the soles of our feet. I have often seen shod people slip where I am confident. I have seen people in shoes skate 10 feet on snowy pavement where I manage a couple of inches. Moreover, I KNOW exactly how slippery the ground is and adjust my footstrike accordingly if needed.
        Cleats/spikes aside, the situation have found that shoes would reduce my stopping distance is when the friction of stopping faster would be painful. (Significant risk of) lacerations = bad.

        1. I run on paved surfaces in my vibrams- concrete, pavement, tarmac etc.
          I started out on the treadmill, until I got the feel of them, and was reasonably confident I wasn’t heel striking too much; and I walked outside in them.
          My first few runs I kept quite short (I’m not a long distance runner anyway- my normal runs are about 3-6 miles with my dog) doing only a mile or 2 at first.
          My natural gait seems to be more or less midfoot striking; when I start out in the Vibrams I’m much more on the forefoot without really having to think about it, but I do find as i get tired I strike further back, and this kind of lets me know I’ve had enough.
          I agree with Skinny- the paved surfaces are smooth, with no loose small stones, and as such are quite comfortable for me.

  4. To each there own. It really depends on what you are trying to get out of it. I run to be faster than I was yesterday. So I wear shoes, as it allows ME to accomplish that goal. I do get out of my shoes whenever possible, as I know a strong foot is a good foot. The problem with both sides, is that they care too damn much about being right, not what’s best for any one person.

  5. I really wish steel toe work boots would get in on the minimalist train. The wedge boots are close but there just isn’t anything really good out there for us in the steel/composite toe industry.

    1. Workboots & safety shoes need huge improvement. I found 1 pair that had a wide enough toe – but the sole was1.5″ thick, and the heel almost 3″ – knee pain in short order. I was walking on turf, cutting grass.

      I think part of the problem is manufacturers try to hide what they are. Instead of building a boot around the proper size toe box, they fit an undersized box into a boot that might have been wide enough. I have straight toes, not the mangled deformed twisted things I used to see in the ads for a certain well known running & basketball shoe company.

      1. The heel lift alone has repercussions for the knees, ankle mobility and even upright posture. Here’s a cheesy pseudo-study (class project) measuring the changes that stretching the calves x 3 minutes had on pre/post squat angles (measured dorsiflexion, knee and hip flexion) as well as a one or two degree change in the hip flexion. People stood slightly straighter after the stretch. Firefighters who wear high-heeled fire boots all day long are almost guaranteed to have knee and back problems. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cv2D3uyTto0

      2. My partner works as a courier and he’s required to wear steel cap boots for the first part of his day in the warehouse, then he changes into runners he takes with him out on his run. He recently found steel cap Volleys – I know, I laughed, I thought he was kidding but they’re real! Not a patch on barefoot shoes, but they’re “legal” in the warehouse because they have toe protection, but he can comfortably run about in them all day. It’s the stiffness of the sole in boots which really does the damage.

    2. Indeed, but the best you’re going to do there, is essentially zero drop platform boots, as they are designed for protection rather than the health of the feet.

    3. Feel your pain! There are few things less primal than having to wear steel toe boots every day.

  6. I’ve recently had the pleasure of training a handful of professional runners. It’s amazing how many, even pros have poor posture and major muscle imbalances. Running long distances like that is begging for an injury regardless of the shoe/barefoot.

    I get it though if you love your sport (I was getting punched in the head yesterday boxing, a lot of fun but of course terrible for you). It’s just sad seeing people still trying to slave away running, injuring themselves in the name of weightless.

    For me wearing minimalis shoes is the only way for me. Granted I’m of cranking out marathons. I used to experience throbbing heals by the end of each day. Switching to minimalist shoes cued me Into the fact that my posture was “heavy” towards my heals. Minimilist shoes give me instant feedback to carry the weight across my entire foot. Heal pain gone!

  7. I used mine for reffing soccer and found incredible improvement. No more shin splints, pulled hamstrings or knotted up quads. Tired muscles, but never sore. I still can hardly believe the difference. For reffing specifically, i also had better wet and mud traction and no more 5lb shoes from being waterlogged. Then I wore them out and can’t find the kso treksports for a good price.

    1. I am also a soccer referee, and I train in Vibram’s and NB Minimus. However, I stick with turf shoes when I’m reffing – I think they look more professional, but that’s just a personal opinion.

  8. Very timely indeed. I’m not a runner, nor do I aspire to be one, but I do like walking, preferably without pain. A lifetime of big, tight calf muscles have now resulted in Achilles tendinitis / back of the heel bone spur. Custom orthotics from the podiatrist have killed my hip / lower back and I’ve now stumbled into the barefoot thing (which I’ve always hated shoes and walk barefoot all the time at home – inside).

    There is a ton of info on running barefoot but not walking and there are so few acceptable women’s dress shoes that fall into the minimalist category – so my struggles continue somewhat. I did get one doc to actually agree walking barefoot helps strengthen foot muscles, but quickly said for my condition I must wear shoes and orthotics (which shorten up the Achilles even more to alleviate pain) I’m so glad I know better now.

    1. Susan,
      I started having the exact same issue two years ago with the Achilles tendinitis. I ordered the expensive orthotics, do stretches every morning, slept with splints, and even tried rub-in prescription steroids, all to no avail. They can’t operate because of the back-of-the-heel location, so I’m at a loss. I try to go barefoot as much as possible, but the podiatrist said I should always be wearing something for support. I’m at a loss.
      My pain is the worst in the morning when getting out of bed and after sitting for extended periods of time.

      Please let me know if you find anything else out that works.

      1. Brian, I’m sorry you are going thru this but you are definitely not alone. I would avoid surgery if at all possible. From what I understand, the recovery period is horrifically long and the odds are largely against it really helping in the long run.

        Google “the sock doc” a doctor in North Carolina — has a great website. I’ve only just discovered it and skimmed the surface. I bought “the stick” to use on my calf muscles (the main culprit for the Achilles issues) after seeing a couple of his videos and it has been wonderful so far (of relieving the calf tightness). I actually use the stick first thing in the morning on my calves before I get out of bed. The amount of relief is amazing. Highly recommend it.

        The sock doc is also a big advocate AGAINST static stretching and is a huge supporter of the barefoot / paleo lifestyle. Definitely worth looking into. I’m just at the start of this journey too but I don’t want my feet to get worse. I’m disappointed (though I guess I should not be surprised) CW seems to have let us down again in this area too.

        1. Susan,
          Thanks for the soc doc info. I’m perusing his site now. I had the stick but gave it away as it ripped out my leg hair like crazy. Ouch.
          I think I’ll buy either a rolling pin or make one out of a wooden dowel and some hard foam.
          Thanks again for all of the great info and best of luck to you.

        2. Brian, Susan –

          Locate a registered massage therapist near you. I know it is not a licensed medical profession in the US like it is in Canada, but do a bit of homework and ask about their credentials – any decent massage therapist can help resolve your achilles tendonitis, definitely no surgery needed.

      2. Go to muscleactivation.com and find a practitioner in your area that has taken the master level foot class or matrx class. It’s all based on science of biomechanics and neurophysiology. I haven’t found anything in regards to the feet that comes close to MAT muscle activation techniques.

    2. Susan,

      I had very painful achilles tendonitis for a couple years. It seemed to only get progressively worse–until it hurt so much that it would wake me up at night, and I could not position myself to relieve the pain, plus I had a noticeable and unsightly limp during the day.

      I don’t know what your situation is–but I gave up ibuprofen my dr. had ordered (was taking 600 mg 3/day for about three months) AND went gluten free (for other reasons). Within three days my pain unexpectedly and drastically diminished (on a scale of 1-10 from about an 8 to a 3).

      I can’t say for sure if it was the gluten or the ibuprofen that was exacerbating the inflammation. Probably both contributed to leaky gut/inflammation.

      It’s been two years, tendon isn’t healed, but much, much better.

      1. I love this site and everyone is so helpful! Thanks Linda and Darren. Alas, I’ve been gluten free for a few years now (very strict for the first 2 years, now an occasional cheat at the holidays) and apparently I don’t live in a state with the MAT practitioners. (And Brian didn’t think about the leg hair issue — being a girl that isn’t an issue for me using the stick!)

        My immediate plan is to ditch the orthotics and get a pair of the barefoot shoes (just ordered some Lems!). Use the internet, sites like this one and the soc doc, to learn all I can along with reading a new book I just got “Barefoot Walking” by Michael Sandler. I’ll start slowly as I’ve seen going from one extreme to the other is generally a recipe for failure. I’m hoping to piece it all together and get some relief. It is relatively early on for me so if I can even prevent it from getting worse, that will be a success.

  9. I have ignored all the nay-sayers and continue to run AND walk on the beach with my Skele-toes. The only reason I do not go totally “foot-naked” is due to potential glass and often tar globules that are on the beach. I ALWAYS got shin splints and a sore knee when I ran with shoes, thought that was just par for the course, but I was wrong. I have NO pain whatsoever when I ditch the shoes. BTW, I’m not a young sprinter, I’m 51, overweight, and trying to get back into shape, so you don’t have to be an athlete to appreciate the value and benefits of ditching the running shoes.

  10. The Golden Age of US distance running – the 70s to early 80s – was dominated by guys who began (there were all flats before Bowerman began putting padded heels in them), if not finished their dominance, in minimalist shoes.

  11. I got my first pair of Vibrams about 3 years ago, but I’m not a runner. I wore them at first around town on short walks (15-60 minutes), but soon found that I preferred to go completely barefoot. I walked the dog every day for an hour or so without shoes, and over the next year my feet became pretty well adapted to being barefoot

    I have never suffered any injuries as a result of going barefoot/minimalist, in fact, my chronic ankle and knee problems have begun to disappear. A watershed moment for me was a wiffleball game on a dirt/gravel infield. I had been barefoot for a decent amount of time, but was scared to go on the rough/abrasive surface of the dirt infield. I wore my New Balance 992s, my former go-to shoes for athletic comfort. Upon my first turn around first base, I felt like I was going to roll my ankle badly with the large, cushiony soles of the running shoes. I immediately took them off for the rest of the game, and the dirt didn’t bother me a bit.

    I have since gone on multiple backpacking trips with heavy packs, through difficult terrain (and/or snow!) wearing Vibrams with no trouble. I generally reserve the Vibrams for serious off-road terrain, and just go barefoot the rest of the time. I also bought a pair of Vivo Barefoot RAs for school and work, where I have to wear normal looking shoes. I still need some kind of shoe with a durable upper for my anatomy lab and hospital rotations, but I’m never going back to normal shoes again! I see the problems my Dad has with his ankles and knees at age 60, and I figure I might have dodged a bullet just in time (I’m only 30). Everyone always said that I needed orthotics for my flat feet, but barefoot has been the key so far.

  12. I’ve been in EVO II and MR10s as part time shoes for the last couple years but my PT wants me to use Newton Isaacs because of my weight and that I’m ramping up for a charity marathon. My first thought on reading this was to wonder what kind of relationship %fat had to injuries. Especially for newbies…

  13. Thanks for doing the heavy lifting for us. I switched to Vibrams this spring and wear them for all of my daily tasks. I have had far fewer ankle problems and less strain on my tendons. As a housewife and mother of small children I spend my days on my feet and I’ve noticed how much less tired I am. Most notable is lack of lactic acid build-up in my feet, something I used to think was normal when spending long hours on my feet.

    What I haven’t been doing is a lot of running, but as I’m trying to get all of us moving more, this should help to prevent injuries whether I’m sprinting or walking.

    1. Hmmm. Interesting about the lactic acid build-up. I just realized I don’t get foot cramps anymore since switching to VFF’s.

  14. “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

    LOOKS LIKE WE MADE IT TO STEP 2!!

  15. Happy to see you tackling this subject, Mark. I’ve been helping folks transition from shoe to no shoe (or minimalist fw) for 4+ years and couldn’t agree more with your post.

    Specifically, as you’ve mentioned above, I believe it all starts with walking. I like to say, “walk intentionally” and go from there. That creates a foundation for anyone to successfully and safely transition away from our tech-driven shoe-style!

    Serious props for your work.

  16. “unAmerican”, indeed! Prejudice against bare feet seems to be strongest in the US, but is also pretty bad in Canada these days, and is spreading to the UK. An older barefooter tells the tale of how all the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” signs went up during the Vietnam war as a way of getting at war protesters without openly challenging their freedom of speech. It has been so long now that people have forgotten that once no one really cared if you wore shoes or not (though barefoot has never been dress for success).

    I don’t run barefoot, because I’ve been sick (apartment mold) and haven’t had the energy, but I’ve been barefoot full time for more than four years now, and the ignorance still appalls me. Hopefully barefoot will become dress for success for the fitness-minded.

  17. It’s been nearly four years for me, since I switched to minimalist shoes for all my footwear needs — not just for running, but also casual, walking/hiking, and I even found minimalist combat boots, which is more of a fashion thing for me, since I’m no longer in the military.

    I can’t imagine going back to “normal” footwear. Even intermediate crossover shoes like the Nike Free feel like heavily-padded and awkward stilts, or like wearing a special heavy cast or something. I do tend to stick to New Balance Minimus for lifting or running on roads, since they have a slight lift and feel better equipped to handle the harder surfaces. But I prefer FiveFingers for natural surfaces or climbing.

    I also take Mark’s advice and avoid chronic cardio. Most of my road time is spent walking, with occasional sprints or runs just to mix things up.

  18. While I don’t run barefooted (or shod, for that matter), I enjoyed being in Germany last year and walking barefooted quite a bit, including up and down some marble stairs and across the cobblestone streets to my aunt’s car. The amount of “your feet aren’t meant to…” comments I got was very interesting, anything from “it’s too cold to walk barefooted” to “you need shows because the street isn’t soft enough”…

    I have over the past 3 years worked from needing to wear heavily supported shoes to now having issues finding a winter shoe that will keep my feet warm while not hurting them when walking the dog…and I love the fact that my feet generally don’t hurt unless I have just overexerted them.

    🙂

  19. I had a rough start trying to transition from heel striker to Skora Form (lots of recommendations) minimalist running shoes. Multiple calf and foot injuries. I thought I started slowly enough only running a couple miles a day, but no luck. Took a few weeks off and then tried again with New Balance Minimus which have a slight drop. Started a mile at time and worked up. Not sure if it is the shoes (much more comfortable) or the even slower start but loving minimalist running now. No knee or back pain anymore either. Mark nails it, “You have to make the barefoot transition slowly and deliberately or risk some of these injuries mentioned in the articles”….regardless of how good a shape you are in. I personally underestimated this and I’m sure is the primary cause of injuries for others. In 6-12 months I’ll give 5 finger a try…….

    BTW there are some great minimalist golf shoes out there! I walk 18 at least once a week in TRUE links golf shoes. Feet have never been more comfortable walking a golf course……

  20. Barefoot running, bad for you? Who would say such a thing and try to prove it? Maybe a multibillion dollar shoe company like Nike, who wants you to spend money on shoes. I’m not saying it was nike that is preaching against barefoot running, but I’m sure it had to do with some one in the shoe business.

  21. I switched to minimalist shoes (Merrell Barefoot Trail and New Balance Minimus) a couple of years ago. I ramped up my trail running slowly, and I felt pretty good after a couple of months. 3-8 mi, 3-5x a week was common for me.

    Then last year, I ran the Disneyland Half Marathon—on asphalt—and I ended up with a stress fracture in one of my feet. Of course, that was just dumb on my part. I didn’t train on asphalt, and I think it’s terrible to run on, but I was supporting a good cause. 😉 My podiatrist said she sees more age-40-plus dudes with barefoot-related injuries than they used to. (That makes sense, given that more of us are trying out minimalist footwear.) She said that, while our soft tissue adapts to this change in activity fairly quickly, our bones may need more time, especially for the 40+ crowd. She also said that going more than eight or 10 miles in minimalist footwear probably isn’t great for me. And that fits with my activity plan, except for the occasional Tough Mudder.

    I now stick with natural surfaces and that three-to-eight-mile distance, and my body is all the happier for it.

  22. Mark:
    I’ve always hated going barefoot. It’s always been a painful experience for me, When you came out in favor of Vibram Five Fingers, it got my attention and I got a pair to try. I’ve found that by wearing them around the house and eventually wearing them everywhere, I’ve been able to stay with them and now they feel great. It’s taken the better part of a year to make the transition. I now have a couple pair and even play golf in a pair with aggressive tread on the bottom.

    1. The mistake a lot of people make is going too fast too soon. Walking around the house barefoot is a good first step.

      As for pain, assuming you’ve given yourself the chance to learn to walk correctly, I recommend walking on gravel whenever you can. It hurts at first, but within a week or two of daily walks, you should see that the padding of your feet gets a chance to develop and those pebbles become barely noticeable.

  23. I walked “barefoot” in minimalist shoes for months before (spontaneously) starting to run. In a very real sense, it was learning to walk all over again, and who can run without learning to walk first? Recommended bookd: “Chi Walking” and “Chi Running” for the best advice on both.

  24. Another thing to consider, running long distances on hard substances is probably not natural. In nature, flat areas are usually dirt. Hard areas are usually rocky and require more climbing and a slower pace. I do think minimal shoes are often best for everyday walking around, but I am not yet convinced that the natural way is always the best for everyone when doing something that is by its nature unnatural. Air bags aren’t natural either but then again, neither are cars.

  25. I switched to a minimalist shoe about 3 weeks ago. I wore them in increments, first only walking a quarter of my usual route, then more, and more. This week I had a business trip to a big city, where I do a huge amount of walking, a trip I make two or three times a year. For the first time, my feet, back, and legs did not ache by the end of the day. My feet were tired (but not sore) at one point, which told me that it was time to rest for a bit. I love these shoes.
    But on the same issue, I do not run in them. I haven’t really tried yet. But even when I choose to, now that I’m used to them, I will only do short sprints. I’m not a distance runner.
    People can keep their padded, structured running shoes; that’s their prerogative. But I was tired of achy sore feet and of noticing how quickly all that structure and padding broke down anyway, necessitating the need for a new pair of shoes to get the “same level of protection.” No thanks. For me, I like my “barefoot” shoes. Even though they make me look like I enrolled in clown school…

  26. I began running for 23 year and running in Vibrams for about 4 years primarily because of the running partner I had at the time. I did initially make the mistake of not changing my heel-to-toe running form and trying to keep my normal distance the first couple of times. Of course my knees and ankles suffered but once I actually learned the proper technique I haven’t had issues. Prior to the switch I suffered from achilles tendonitis which went away after my ankles got stronger. I also had issues with spraining my right ankle every couple of years.

    I wear my five finger shoes everwhere now except at work and at times during the winter when the weather makes it too cold for my toes. My balance has improved dramatically, my ankles are stronger, and my calves look amazing. Vibrams may not be for everyone but they sure are for me.

  27. Sorry, but I fall into the naysayer camp. With 35 years of martial arts experience, I can say I have been playing sports in bare feet all my life. Today I suffer from severe plantar fasciitis. This was a direct result of not having support. 10 years from now people will look back on this bare foot trend and shake their heads at how foolish it was.

    1. Rich, I am sorry about your plantar fasciitis, I have had that also. But to say your 35 years in bare feet caused your plantar fasciitis is a leap, when there are so many confounding factors such as the over-use injuries from the physical abuse of martial arts on parts of the body. It is like saying “there is fat in your arteries, therefore stop eating all fat.”

      1. In the spirit of brevity I left out many of the details that I’ve shared with the many many many doctors I’ve seen. I can assure you its not a leap.

        1. Support from a shoe is somewhat of a myth. Being barefoot by itself doesn’t cause the problem. Over use and/or stressing ankles and feet with muscle imbalances and ROM limitations cause and perpetuate the problem. There are obviously plenty of barefooters that don’t have plantar fasciitis, so why did you get it, and they didn’t? It’s not as black and white as shoes or barefoot. There are way more variables.

      2. Precisely, how many shoe wearers wind up with plantar fasciitis every year? Being shod or unshod isn’t the issue, the issue is failing to properly pay attention to that part of the body and show it some respect. For some people it will need to be stretched, massaged and rested to prevent that outcome.

    2. I too have a similar amount of martial arts experience – 28 years of Kung-Fu & Judo & Karate before that. Along side this I have been a middle distance runner. I was told on numerous occasions that my martial arts was the cause of my knee problems, (which has developed into arthritis in my left knee), due to flattening of my feet, and that more arch support was necessary.

      Six months primal & Vibrams/barefoot, my arthritis has improved & I can now run without knee pain. I also noticed recently from wet footprints in the gym changing rooms that I have developed arches in my feet!

      What I have found is that “barefoot” makes me much more aware of my leg position & I have got into the habit of correcting my knee rotation to lift my arches.

      The only time I experience discomfort in my feet or knees now is when I wear normal shoes in work – trying to get into the habit of taking them off at my SUSD workstation!

      Calf muscles – now that’s a different story! You really have to learn to run again with small increases in distance (and not at all in the morning in my case) otherwise muscle tears.

      Last year I limped around the Cardiff Half-Marathon in supportive trainers (sneakers), with pain in both knees – next year my target is to do it without sugar in Vibrams – Will probably be limping around with tears in both calf muscles! Lol

    3. “severe plantar fasciitis” can also be a result of adrenal fatigue! (Who knew?!) I had bad fasciitis — and once I treated my adrenals (which, granted, took nearly 3 years on physiological doses of hydro-cortisone), my feet no longer hurt. (And I no longer wake up feeling like someone took a bat to my kidneys overnight; and I no longer jolt awake every morning at 3 a.m;, and I am not suffering like someone with a hangover in the morning, having to avoid noise and bright lights…) I blamed my sore morning feet on having taught tai chi on cement floors for years… Nope – all gone!

  28. barefoot running? meh, I prefer barefoot standing around. Or barefoot walking the dogs. And of course I surf and hang out at the beach barefoot, when it’s warm enough. But running? Only if I need to catch the subway or the ferry…

  29. I was never much of a runner, but suffered from hip pain since I was a preteen. I gave the five finger a try, thinking that not only would the relax fit help but also because the shoes are so light. I wore them with no problems until I walked around an aquarium with my husband for about 6 hours. Next day, I got out of bed and fell over because my calf muscles gave out all of a sudden. Every step hurt that day but after a couple weeks of “stretching” the muscle, they are my favorite thing to wear. If it took me that long just as a walker (and someone who stands at work) to adjust to five finger, I do understand why runners get turned off of them after only a few tries. It definitely takes patience.

  30. Switched to Vibrams about 4 years ago. Never gone back. Never been injured. Love “barefoot” running! I switch back and forth from the Vibram to the Merrill glove. Run long distances. Ran marathon in Merrills barefoot. Ran several half’s in Vibrams. 57 year old male. Made slow transition to barefoot.

  31. You have not mentioned the male vs female adaptation differences, as long as females are more acustomized to high heels walking vs barefoot, and therefore more prone to ankle or foot injury during the transition. Thanks, please forgive my spelling. Luis ( mexico )

    1. Sort of, wearing high heals, leads to a shortening of the calves, which will cause all sorts of problems.

      Going barefoot will require those women to take a longer approach as they have to give the calves a chance to stretch in addition to the changes to the feet.

      This is a great reason to buy 0 drop shoes. It can serve as a step towards going without. I personally like New Balance Minimus shoes for when I need to wear them, but I know there are others.

  32. I haven’t been in a pair of shoes with a heel in over a year now thanks to this blog. It took time to get used to it and early on I did have a bad bout with plantar fasciitis caused by tripping in a pair of “regular” shoes. (Thanks for the fix, Sock Doc!) Going minimalist helped that to heal and now my feet are stronger and in better shape than ever. I was NEVER a barefoot person, but I regularly go barefoot outside these days. Despite my previously tender feet, I now enjoy walking on different surfaces because of the feedback I get from barefooting or minimalist shoes. No, my minimalist shoes aren’t very pretty but I could care less. My feet don’t hurt at the end of a long day of walking, even on concrete. I appreciate the barefoot stance this blog takes and for the various reasons. I am no runner, but I certainly love my minimalist shoes!

  33. I have to laugh when I see articles like this. I have been going barefoot for as long as I can remember. When I was in junior high back in the early 60’s I ran barefoot in track. At only 4 ft. 8 I could outrun people twice as tall as me. My teacher tried to get me in the Olympics but at that time they forbade going barefoot so I couldn’t participate. Now when I have to wear shoes I wear western boots since they are the only shoes that fit my extremely high arch.

  34. Funny you should post this today, since just the other night I watched a show about the Mexican “running” tribe that as part of their culture run astronomical distances – sometimes upwards of 400+ miles at a time – and they do it either barefoot or with sandals made from old discarded tires.

  35. @N
    “I had been running for years on asphalt and pavement, but brick seems to be uniquely hard and uneven.”

    It’s not the hardness, it’s the unevenness. Concrete and brick are similar in hardness, but running on uneven surfaces is VERY different from running on flat concrete or asphalt. This is a SKILL and needs to be built up very carefully. Don’t avoid uneven surfaces, be respectful of their danger and learn them with the requisite respect.

    I’ve gone hiking with Barefoot Ted McDonald and watched Ted scamper up and down extremely hard and uneven granite covered with granite scree without any problem… but that’s what Ted does… as often as he can.

    Learning the skill of dealing with uneven footing is crucial as we get older. Falls kill seniors. Knowing how to adjust and move past uneven footing becomes crucial. I’ve seen a senior encounter a small rock in a parking lot, get their foot stuck on it, and fall. It looked silly, but in fact it was a near death experience they were lucky to survive. Get ready for these challenges now so you’ll survive them when you’re seventy.

    I’d recommend learning to walk on brick before you try to run on it. Low volume and low speed until you’re comfortable. Then try walking faster and upping the volume gradually. Finally progress to running carefully while lowering the volume again until you feel very ok with the new landing pattern. Brick is especially difficult since it is both uneven and hard. Starting with sand or turf for uneven training is preferable since they’re more forgiving of mistakes. Going from asphalt to brick running without any intermediate steps is sort of like hopping out of your Honda into a F1 race car with no training. Gonna go fast for a very short while and then wreck.

  36. It’s a fad. A rather eminent running guru (Jeff Galloway) says that he’s seen in come and go 5 times in his 70+ years on Earth. The reason it goes away is because people get injured who have no business running in bare feet or even minimalist shoes. My podiatrist and foot surgeon also tells me to stay away as their is no science behind the fad.

    Does it improve your running mechanics? There’s only anecdotal evidence of that. I just completed a 26.2 and saw a few Virbram and barefoots. Their running mechanics were no better than the people in shoes.

    The best running form is the one that you use that doesn’t cause you to get injured. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing shoes or not.

    Grok and Paleo with barefoot running? i’d imagine that Grok figured out how to shod his feet at some point in order to protect them.

    1. By historical standards..the “modern shoe” has been around since the 17th century….so minimalist technology…i.e. bare foot has been around since our ancestors first started walking upright! The first shoes found were 3,300 years ago made of bear and deerskin….used only in dry weather…barefoot in wet. Pheidippides ran to sparta barefoot.A nother thought too is it takes a shoe1000 years to degrade in a landfill….how many pairs go in a landfill annually????
      Also the bottom of our feet have 250,000 sweat glands…releasing a 1/2 pint of sweat a day…now in leather personnel carriers…that’s trapped… also there is more nerve innervation than anywhere on the body sans lips. That means the great creator saw fit that the bottom of our foot is the “sole” (yes pun intended) for proprioceptive reasons. Our feet have 26 bones, 7,800 nerves..17 ligaments not including the ones holding the digits together.They are our contact with the earth…they tell us where we are in space and time? Now…you want put pillow on the bottom and negate the full functioning of the anatomy of the foot? I would make an arguement that it is putting our feet in these proprioceptive “killers”that screws our feet, hip and backs up from the time we are two years old…they are little foot coffins. Also the lack of grounding, using synthetic materials is another area yet to be explored…
      I would love to ask Mr Galloway how many injuries relating to running he’s had and his back round in foot mechanics. Also, I have not met a podiatrist yet that looks at the bio-mechanics of the rest of the body looking for clues in the relationship of other joints to the foot…you can keep on changing your tires going bald..but till you straighten out the axle you will continue to get uneven wear patterns! We were not born with shoes on our feet …otherwise evolution would have graced us with 1 inch of phylon ( or at least thicker fat pads) on the bottoms of our feet…and yeas I am a therapist with a kinesiology backround and I work with elite US team runners and NFL players and I fix them in spite of their footwear choices. Many of my players train in the weightroom and drills in minimalist footwear. And suffer less injuries during the season.

  37. I love wearing minimalist shoes and that’s pretty much all I ever wear. Been doing minimalist footwear since 2008. Still, if I’m backpacking, if there’s not enough padding under my feet, it can get a little painful. So I don’t backpack in super minimalist shoes, just zero-drop or close to it running shoes with a little padding. In snow or places with cactus thorns, out come the boots. I hate the boots.

  38. This is one area of the primal lifestyle that I feel I miss out on. I am bowlegged enough that I start to feel pain in my ankles when on my feet for a good amount of time (I started noticing this after switching to a standing desk). My dad has similar legs and he’s at the point now where he can’t walk around or be on his foot a lot. Obviously this doesn’t take into account all our other lifestyle differences but it makes me worried. I’m currently wearing orthopedics which seem to help to a certain degree but I dislike having such a crutch. I’d love to walk around barefoot or in minimalist footwear but I don’t want to potentially screw future me.

    1. I’d like to address your reply. Notice in Mark’s post about “correct” walking…apply that to everything, standing, running etc.
      I have had many issues over the years and like you said, “hey my hips/legs/body are just like Mom’s”….so will probably have double hip replacement in my 50’s etc. To prevent that I’ve been on a quest for 25 years, lots of ups and downs to see what works. Turns out at 61 I have improved instead of replaced. Food choices/supplements….but most recently (last 5 years) consistant chiropractic and myofacial release therapy along with guided yoga. The best tip I got came recently in the last few months. When doing one of the standing poses with my knee over my heel. The instructor said push the inside of your knee to the outside of your hip. Did it and it was hard for me. Put have persisted and my walk has become almost effortless. Hips feel loose and my legs feel almost disconnected from my torso. I’ve decided that we need to be like rag dolls, are arms and legs need to be loose and moveable. One may think this is just a joint issue. It’s not. There is so much involved, hamstring tightness, inflammation, etc. Alignment and moving with muscle and not bone were my issues. I’m aware and improvement was swift once I knew what to do. I always thought I didn’t walk right, and now that I do what a difference. I understand there are even classes on correct walking…good luck

      1. Thanks for the reply. It’s something I have to put some more time into researching and working on. I know the correct form for standing/walking/running will be important but you make a good point about the other things to watch out for like muscle tightness, etc. I will keep that in mind as I do more experimentation.

  39. Wearing footwear when sprinting prevents the fun imaginary game of pretending that I am a heathen trying to slay a mastodon with a spear.

    And they still don’t know how to make a cool looking running shoe, in my opinion.

    -Taylor

  40. When I went to minimalist type shoes a year ago and started running, AND I HATE!!!!!! RUNNING. All kinds of running that doesn’t include to the frig for another beer(yea, I know) I just hate it. But, when I started back I started running at a local soccer field on grass. The ancestors hade something there, now I can run with out discomfort, and without losing focus. I have now fallen in love with being totally barefootin’ it. What a rush to actually feel the ground, the rise and fall even on flat ground is remarkable. Who trusts the media anyway?

  41. After being prescribed 2400mg ibuprofen a day and being told that my plantars would not go away for ten years until the nerves died in that area, I realized that plantars was more likely a result of atrophy of natural support musculature in my foot. I switched to Vibrams, LEARNED how to run properly, and in less than a month my plantars was gone. That was almost 4 years ago. Along with the plantars went the knee and hip pain common to heel strike runners. My sprint capability and box jump heights soared as my nearly 50 year old body re-adjusted to moving like it was supposed to. I don’t give a crap what pseudo science tries to sell. Our bodies are meant the move the way they have evolved to move, our bodies are meant to eat what we’ve evolved to eat, medicine sells crutches as there is no money in cures.

  42. I bought minimalist trail running shoes for my 60th birthday 2 years ago. The minute I put them on I wanted to purr they felt so right. I wear them for walking and running; by using the techniques in the books “Chi Walking” and “Chi Running” I had been able to decrease the back pain I used to get just from distance walking and with these shoes the pain completely disappeared. Around the house I wear lace up jazz shoes to continue being as barefoot as possible: I am a diabetic and am supposed to wear Something LOL. I take my dog out on our favorite walk in a field in my minimalist shoes and I can feel every rock and rut in the road (without pain) and it makes the experience much more real.

  43. Mark- I’ve been wearing Vibram’s off-on since last winter and love them! I did have an injury (fractured 2nd metatarsal) but that was because I wasn’t properly prepared. I’m 212#, have bunions and overpronate, which, according to my foot doc was a recipe for disaster. Add to it that I was doing extra leg work (sprints and such) to compensate for a shoulder injury, it just wasn’t the right time for me.

    It felt much more natural whenever I was wearing them and will go back to them once I’ve lost some of the weight and my foot is healed.
    – Adam

  44. Love walking in my Vibrams. I initially thought I would run in them, and thought I was moving slowly toward that but turned out my slow was not actually slow enough. I backed off and am now just walking and standing at my workstation at home in barefeet. Also trying not to overdo the cardio like Mark suggests. I love woring out so my focus really needs to be more on what I put into my body. I love being on this primal journey!

    1. My cardio fitness is way better than my foot fitness after 40+ years in shoes. So I did injure myself , even with short slow runs (4 miles) on the hardpack at the beach. Got “bone bruises” on my forefoot.

      Here’s what works for me: wear my barefoot shoes (Merrell’s) for hikes and walks. And go minimal-ISH for running. (for me about a 5mm drop and a little cushioning, like Asics Hyperspeeds)

      The upside is the barefoot shoes are manifestly easier on my knees, especially on varied terrain.

  45. I have been hiking, running, gardening or just generally existing in bare feet for some years now. No I do not like to run on hard surfaces but I can walk on gravel, grass, sand, dirt, whatever with no pain as my feet have reached a tough level over the years. At first my calves hurt and cramped but eventually got developed with repeated bare foot living. I’ve gotten where I don’t like to wear shoes much any more, and the muscle definition in my calves has enhanced. Take it slow and easy, try to land on the knife of the foot then roll to the toe and heel. It will also increase your balance.

  46. Whenever I hear about barefoot running injuries, I always think of the surface a person is running on. We are not supposed to be running on concrete. We are supposed to run on variable terrain, with some hard (though not as hard as sidewalks and roads) and some soft spots. No study ever seems to address this.

  47. I like the comparison with the boxer’s brain damage. But being knocked out fast doesn’t appeal to me either 🙂

  48. I broke my neck, jaw, and tore my ribcage from my spine 11 years ago. I bought my first pair of barefoot shoes about 3 years ago. The first two weeks I walked back and forth to work in them, and my feet and calves were on fire. But I started noticing that my posture and neck felt better walking in these barefoot shoes than without them. I recently walked around NYC for 8 hours in barefoot shoes, and I was amazed at how my legs were not tired and my neck didn’t hurt. It takes time to get used to the shoes and to let it change your gait, but once you do, it’s great. As for the running injuries, I don’t think running on concrete, bricks, or asphalt is “Paleo” anyways. Those surfaces are so hard, and it will take years to build up the strength in the feet to be able to run on those safely (if at all).

  49. I would LOVE to shed shoes, every day, everywhere. I’ve made attempts to do so over the past decade, but have been repeatedly stymied by cracked heels. When I go barefoot, the skin on the bottom of my feet naturally thickens to form calluses. The calluses feel great at first, allowing me to walk comfortably on sidewalks or asphalt, for example. But inevitably they crack, and the crack goes all the way to the “quick.” The cracks are painful, hobbling my walking and preventing me from exercising until they heal. The healing process is tedious, involving sanding down the calluses, twice daily washing out the fissures with Betadine, applying Kerasal foot ointment to soften the callus to remove the “tectonic plate” effect that is causing the cracking, and reverting to socks and sandals.

    Barefooting is difficult without protective calluses, and calluses, for me, lead inevitably to heel fissures. I’d love to find a solution to this unpleasant cycle!

    1. I wish I had a good answer for you, but I will contrast my own experience.

      I expected to see calluses form when I started going barefoot, but instead, the soles of my feet became slightly thicker, but more supple. I can walk on sticks, leaves, and gravel with no pain.

      Maybe you should try walking on naturally abrasive surfaces such as sand, and gravel rather than asphalt and concrete? I do try to avoid concrete and asphalt as much as possible, though they give me no great trouble when I encounter them.

    2. First off, a “callus” is an area of thickened, stiff, dead skin. What you want to have on the bottoms of your feet is “living leather” – thickened, flexible, live skin with no reduction in sensitivity.

      The cracks form around the edges, yes? This is a common problem, caused mostly by excessive pavement travel. The soles of your feet will respond to stimulation/use by growing thicker, because said stimulation/use *should* correspond to your soles getting worn down. Unfortunately, pavement, floors, and any other flat surface contact only the bottoms of your feet and not the perimeter of your soles. Those parts of your soles that are seeing actual use will turn into leather. Those that do not make contact will still grow thicker, but without any friction to remove the excess, dead skin. That increasingly thick layer of dead skin is the callus. As it gets thicker, it becomes more inflexible. But flex it must, and flex it does, with every step you take. When it cannot, it will crack rather than maintain shape under your weight. As you know, once a crack forms, it tends to spread and is very slow and difficult to heal.

      Now, the solutions!
      Eric already gave the ideal prevention, namely, to walk (and run, and whatever, etc.) on surfaces with bigger, higher, deeper textures. The idea is to make sure that the edges of your feet have enough ground contact and abrasion to turn them into leather rather than calluses. Natural surfaces generally work well for this. Sand and gravel are excellent.

      You can also provide the necessary friction to prevent/remove calluses yourself, by use of sandpaper or a pumice stone. I have also dragged them across concrete and used my fingernails in the shower. Remember, you are removing dead skin. If it does not hurt to remove it, it is dead. Moreover, dead skin (callus material) is easily sanded off, whereas live skin will basically ignore your attempts to remove it.

      For healing, use something containing lanolin and preferably urea. This will also help with preventing cracks from forming. “Bag Balm” is often recommended. I use Flexitol. Such products are exfoliators, so use it around the edges of your feet, i.e. on the calluses, only!

      Finally, use a moisturizer. Keeping your feet moisturized will help keep them soft and supple, which will increase the thickness at which your calluses crack. Also, frequent, rapid alternations between cold & wet and warm & dry causes skin to become dry …. and cracked. This is why many people use moisturizer on their hands and face (aka all exposed skin) during winter. You will want to use it on the soles of your feet if you often use exterior doors.

  50. I do not run, but, switched to wearing shoes like Sanuks, Vibram 5-toes, and wearing mostly socks around the house. For the first 3-5 years or so there were no problems. Recently, I developed plantar fasciitis and had to start wearing arch and heel supported shoes. The PF is starting to get better now. I am in my late 50’s and would really caution folks about the whole barefoot thing and to know the symptoms of PF – I did not know what was going in my feet and let it develop and now it is taking a long time to get rid of. Another thing that seemed to cause the PF was riding a bicycle with running shoes – doing a multi-day bike tour on platform pedals and running shoes was the final straw for my right foot. So, now I always wear bike shoes with a rigid sole when riding my bikes.

    This is not an indictment of barefoot running or lifestyle, but, rather a cautionary tale to really understand your body and possible cause/effect of pain. For example, my daughter was a NCAA Div 1 crosscountry runner and saw a major reduction in leg injuries and muscle pain when switching to a Nike Free shoe in spite of her coach’s extreme criticism of the decision. In the end if was the right decision for her. For me, not so much….

  51. I have extremely flat feet. To make matters worse, I have genetically weak ankles that caused me to wear high-top boots in my young years to support them. Over the years, my shoe buying experience got worse and worse as I tried on endless shoes to get the one with the exact height and positioning of arch support to prevent pain just standing, much less running. I suffered from chronic plantar fasciitis. Then I decided to start going barefoot more often. I had to start slow, since my feet were very weak. Now I regularly wear either nothing or Apache style moccasins (can’t wear VFFs, wrong foot shape) and do my sprints across rocky, uneven ground in my moccasins. I do get looks ;). I can wear just about anything with no pain now, but prefer minimalist footwear.

  52. I don’t care a hoot about any of these studies. I used to sell fancy ladies’ shoes at an upscale mall, and I’ve seen enough amazing bunions, hammertoes, etc. to last a lifetime. That’s what really started it for me, and the final catalyst was getting a dog that needed long walks every day. I transitioned to bare feet years ago, and prefer it above all else. My plantar fascism (yes, that’s right) went away, and only reappears in small instances when I’ve been on my feet too long. My toes are much happier, too, with room to breathe, and my pinky toes don’t crowd in. I wear my VFFs to the office, and either go barefoot or use my homemade ‘invisible shoes’ the rest of the time. Get lots of compliments/comments. However, winter is coming, and I’ll have to get creative this year. Last winter, I went back to my Doc Martens, and while they’re very comfy, I needed to transition all over again in the spring – my feet lost so much strength! Maybe I can talk my local cobbler into a flat sole for them…

  53. I consider myself pretty minimalistic but have a high arch foot… so I’m not so much into barefoot running.

    But I am, however, going to try out Brooks new minimalistic shoe. I think it’s called Pureflow or PureConnect.

    As far as this whole barefoot phenomenom, I heard a lot about runners getting stress fractures because they didn’t smoothly transition from a highly cushioned shoe to practically nothing. Makes sense.

  54. Love my VFFs!! I don’t run much yet, and probably won’t run a lot in the future. I’ve had them for 2-1/2 years and my feet, legs, and back have never been in better shape. I used to see the Chiropractor every couple weeks. Now I haven’t seen him in over 6 months. I wear them when I’m not at work. Gotta wear dress shoes and haven’t found a good pair yet and VFF stopped making the Bormio last year. Hope I can find some MFW that is a little dressy and ok for the office.

    1. Check out terra firma and vivo barefoot. I wear the vivo barefoot RA on a daily basis to school (we have a formal dress code).

  55. I find it hilarious that the ‘Media’ doesn’t see the irony writing articles implying something completely natural can be damaging! I’ve yet to hear of a baby being born other than naked, and that includes its feet!

    4 years of Vibram wearing (95% – the missing 5% is welly boots as Vibram haven’t quite cracked Scottish weather yet) my feet, particularly my knees, and back have never felt better – funny that!

    1. this rings true…. back when my kids were small, I can remember being told that when they were first learning to walk we should let them be barefoot as it allows them to develop the muscles they need in their feet and lower legs, and it aids healthy foot development. We were cautioned not to put them in “hard” shoes too soon… soft “padders” or socks only was the motto…. no hard shoes until they were ready to walk (even soft “pram-shoes” were frowned on!) for extended periods outside, and then only to protect their feet….

      And yet the “experts” say that walking barefoot harms our feet…. me-thinks the regular running shoe companies (and poss other shoe companies) are feeling the pinch because people are choosing to go barefoot because it is more comfortable!

  56. Barefoot was fun as a kid – I distinctly remember running the through the cow pasture to the creek – lots of dodging cow patties and sand briars and always landing on the fronts of my feet. It’s a good feeling. I’m always barefoot in the house and am saving to try some Vibrams in the spring.
    Thanks for a very informative article!

  57. I have fully switched to vibrams or other minimalist footwear. Regular shoes bother my feet now and I have started donating or getting rid of other shoes. I used to wear orthotics but faithfully did the exercises given me to strengthen my feet. About 3-4 years ago I started doing karate and being barefoot was very painful. I continued doing the exercises and when I saw the 5fingers shoes I looked into them first as a possible shoe for karate. I found their exercises on how to strengthen the feet and prep them for transition. My feet improved noticeably for karate. When I fully transitioned about 7-9 months ago everything is better.

    Anyone who says size and weight matter I call B.S. on. I am a rather large and sturdy gal who due to a more primal way of eating is smaller and stronger. However despite my size and weight my feet and legs have never been stronger. Using my deep squat I successfully lifted a full grown elderly woman off the ground who had fallen. She could not help at all as she was so unsteady but I know she weighed at least 150+. My vibrams give me a more steady ground feel. I have also been more active and had fewer injuries since transitioning.

    I even got my sister who runs to switch. She just finished her 2nd marathon and was injury free this time which she credits to her minimalist footwear.

    1. Thanks for your comment Stephanie. I am overweight and thought I should wait to try out vibrams until I had lost 40-50 pounds, thinking it would be too much for me just now. But your answer is giving me second thoughts…

  58. I hate running. I really hate running.
    So I don´t do it.

    But I did try. First with “normal” shoes. I felt like i was running with swim floaters or something attached to my feet. Clumsy and I never did get into “the flowing stride” I knew i could do (I did run fo the hell of it when I was a kid, you know, spurts, from school and such).
    So I bought myself Vibrams and I ran.
    Oh, the difference! Not that I had a “flowing stride” but I was MUCH closer. My knees didn´t take the same kind of pounding either.

    Still. Running was boring me out of my mind so I quit.
    Instead I use them for long walks in nature. Good ground feel and I always get a childish kick out of seeing the strange bigfoot tracks I leave behind.

    Oh, and I bought another pair of Vibrams. I dance zumba in them and lift. 🙂

  59. Took me 2 months to transition over to minimalist. I tried going Vibram but went out too fast and stress fracture ensued. Then I learned to “run with intentional thinking ” or RIT! One I learned to be in each moment of the step, I stopped running so hard or so fast ( what I thought running was). Now my running is enjoyable and free from clunky shod wear. I hope to run the Marine Corps full in a week and would not be doing this if I has stuck with heel striking. We were born to run on our forefoot, so why mess with Mother Nature???!! Good article Grok!

  60. What the “experts” say doesn’t necessarily jive with what my body likes and what makes it function well.

    My mother (a nurse practitioner) and the federal government tell me whole grains, dairy, and legumes are healthy and that cutting them out of my diet is bad. According to my mom, I will destroy my health if I continue down the Paleo path. So daily Montezuma’s revenge, wretching, anxiety, depression, extreme lethargy, ataxia, joint pain, stomach pain, and daily migraines are normal and healthy? That’s what was going on when I followed the SAD guidelines. Paleo has restored my health.

    I was concerned when I switched to minimalist shoes that I’d wreck my joints and make my flat feet even flatter. But I thought the possible benefits were worth a shot. I’m glad I tried. I walk daily and occasionally sprint with my dogs. I have a slight arch where there was none before. My toes, ankles, knees, hips, and back feel good. The early arthritis in my feet doesn’t bother me anymore. I can walk long distances and walk all day on any surface and not hurt. Feet coffins made my body hurt. I think I’ll stick with minimalist, no matter what the “experts” say. I like feeling strong and healthy.

  61. ShanaNa, I’m not seeing the connection between barefoot walking or running to supplements or powders. Lifestyle change, perhaps.

    Also, can you please elaborate on the non-schlocky Paleo (or alternative) blogs? I’d like to know where the quality (alternative to alternative) information resides …

  62. People need to trust their own senses. If running/walking barefoot feels right then do it .. when it doesnt then dont. Screw the naysayers .. u the boss of u!

  63. I wear Vibrams when I run for one reason…. it makes running fun. Having a pair makes me want to run. I don’t run that fast, and when I feel like it, I stop and walk for a bit, but I’ll happily cover 9 or 10 miles without it feeling like ‘work’.

    The problem I think that a lot of runners have when they switch to barefoot or minimal is that is it’s just a case of changing footwear, it’s about changing your entire approach. If you’ve spent a decade or so measuring your success against a clock, instead of how much fun you had and how good you feel at the end of it, it’s a tough adjustment to make.

  64. why not go back to nature and just run free a be done with it, then it might encourage people to make a more conscious effort in all departments

  65. I started with walking in Vibrams about 4 years ago, going day to day “barefoot” and really noticed a great relief in my lower back once I fully adjusted and was able to be “barefoot” all day long. Few people criticized me for it, most just thought it was odd, but I did run into the rude, snide remarks that I was young and naive and had no idea the pain I was getting into because I had no “support”. For the most part I tried to educate them after those comments, some listened but most had already made up their minds that I was crazy and didn’t know what I was talking about. I love being barefoot! Best thing I’ve done for my body! (Other than primal!)

  66. I was one of those who switched to barefoot style shoes just for walking and ended up getting a stress fracture. I used my brain, however, to analyze the cause which was a) my feet were weak and my bones were soft from decades of atrophy in “comfy” shoes, and b) I felt so great so quickly that I walked too much too soon. It was my fault, not barefooting. So, I backed off, healed, and kept barefooting but at a slower pace. Won’t wear any other style shoes any more, for anything.

  67. Barefoot running always feels SO much better to me. I shaved 30 secs off my 1 mile time running barefoot (on asphalt) vs my wearing shoes time. My feet toughened up pretty quickly. Sprints however are another story! Although I was fast and it felt good, I did develop a couple blood blisters from a sprinting drill on asphalt!

  68. I am personally curious about the barefoot thing- I have only been doing this for two and a half weeks after all. I already walk around barefoot in the house and in my yard, but I wonder what the process is for transitioning to being able to do it out and about? I work out at a gym so I am not sure I could actually be barefoot while exercising, but I like feeling like I am in bare feet if I can… Are there particular shoes (reasonably priced) that you all recommend? Just barefoot curious 🙂

  69. When I first transitioned to vibrams. I ran 5 miles the first day because it was fun and easy. The next week I could barely walk up the stairs my legs were so sore… I now always suggest that people learn from my mistake and take it slowly.

  70. I started running about 10 or so years ago and at one point went to a running store and had one of the analysis of my “running style” they said I needed the most support and I needed inserts and highly supported shoes. The pain continued even after a few years in a few different shoes. Eventually I chucked the shoes, ran in VFF and then worked into Barefoot run and LOVED IT. I live in a pretty urban setting and have to watch for rocks and debris and other crap (literally sometimes.) I have been running Barefoot for about 3 years and my knee and hip pain has all disappeared! Last summer I switched to running in cheap water shoes and it felt good too! So to avoid running on the above mentioned ground stuff I switched to the flat cheap water shoes and they seem to be working great.

  71. are there any studies on walking in barefoot shoes? I’ve been wearing five fingers and lems for several years, but am not a runner, therefore heel strike. Is it only the striking of running that is of concern?

  72. When I decided to start running regularly about a year ago, I started researching proper form. I wondered if my knees were simply doomed to hurt forever, or if there was a “correct” way to run which might give me every advantage possible to stay healthy, pain-free, and efficient. The best advice I took was to learn to run barefoot BEFORE wearing minimalist shoes — and to keep running barefoot at least occasionally to maintain the proper barefoot form. Long story short: it has worked out great, but it takes persistence. My calves were sore for months, but they do finally get built-up, and I never have knee pain anymore.

  73. I’ve been running in and wearing barefoot shoes for about 27 months (when I wear shoes, which isn’t often). Made a gradual transition, as I was advised to do, and within two or three months I was fully accustomed to them, and had, without quite realizing it, switched from a heel-strike to a midfoot-strike, and a toe-strike in the sprints. Can’t wear shoes with a heel at all any more any more. They do strange things to my walking gait. I love the shoes (NB Minimus) for running, and walking, when necessary. Haven’t had a running injury in 27 months. At 64, I hope for another twenty years or more running (I don’t do long-distance running any more-just intervals). Barefoot shoes are clearly superior.

  74. Once again, an excellent article Mark. Your introduction explained the situation well – the media isn’t really interested in informing us. They want to attract readers/viewers so they can sell ads. Anything that gets attention wins and attacking new trends once they gain momentum is a common tactic.

    You countered the anti-barefoot arguements well. I especially appreciated your comparison of the the articles explanation of studies vs what the studies actually said.

    Lots on insightful comments. Erok’s observation about the devastation caused by footware can be informally verified the next time your at a swimming pool or a beach by taking a casual look at the feet of your fellow citizens.

  75. I switched to Merrell barefoot shoes last summer and started doing a Couch to 5K program, hoping it would be gradual enough — turns out it was still not gradual enough to prevent injury (probably a mild tear in peroneal tendon – 8 wks in a boot!). I’ve been wearing barefoot shoes about one day a week since then and walking barefoot inside our house, but even 1 year later, my tendon still bothers me if I’ve spent too much time barefoot.

    Anyone have tips or links to good exercises to strengthen barefoot feet and ankles other than spending a little more time barefoot each day? At this rate it will be years before I can wear barefoot shoes daily! 🙁

    1. Strength is the less important deficit. Flexibility is usually the larger problem for lifetime shoe wearing people. The foot stretches in Aaron Mattes’ Active Isolated Stretching pp. 93-103 are excellent. I’ve used them with numerous clients with excellent results.

      But don’t stop at the feet and ankles. The entire back chain needs to be both strong and supple to have a comfortable low injury potential efficient stride. Stretch everything and go back and restretch everything that’s particularly stiff regularly to balance out your physique.

      Especially watch out for left/right asymmetry as that’s a strong injury predictor. Make sure both sides work as close to identically as possible. Bring the weak side up and make it stronger. Bring the stiff side up and make it more supple.

      Be well,
      Ben Fury

    2. Find an MAT muscle activation techniques professional that has taken the master level foot function class or the MATrx class. They can help your feet function better. I had the same peroneal over use problem. My problem was due to limited dorsiflexion and eversion motion in the ankle. Stretching alone will NOT fix it. Stretching alone could make it worse. MAT improved my range of motion, durability, and strength of my feet.

      1. Thanks for the pointers! I will check them out.

        I definitely have a suite of issues (lifelong knee & hip pain, mostly in right leg) that probably contributed to my (surprising) left foot injury. Been doing Feldenkrais sessions + massage (same person), + chiro + physical therapy. Without the Feldenkrais to get to the bottom (or pelvis, ha!) of my movement patterns, I don’t know if I would ever be able to resolve the knee & hip stuff.

        End result is, I highly recommend working with experienced bodywork people to resolve underlying issues that could set you up for extra difficulties with transitioning to barefoot! I’m determined to stick with this transition process no matter how long it takes….

      2. Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) very likely WILL fix it and is highly unlikely to make it worse. I’ve been using AIS clinically for 8 years and AIS creator Aaron Mattes has perfected this method for over 40 years. I’m in touch with many AIS practitioners and I’ve yet to hear of AIS worsening any condition. That is why AIS is commonly used on conditions that respond poorly to conventional stretching and PT techniques including CP, Parkinsons, fibromyalgia, etc.

        The Mattes Method of AIS is extremely detailed when it comes to the foot and includes separate stretches for inversion/eversion and pronation/supination. The feet, toes and ankles are all actively stretched and strengthened with AIS protocols without any excess force.

        Darren, I would recommend investigating any proposed method before categorically denying it could possibly be efficacious and asserting it might be dangerous. I’m glad MAT worked for you, but it’s not the only game in town.

  76. I started wearing my first pair of fivefingers about two years ago. Initially I loved the feel of them and wore them most days just walking around. I danced competitively from the time I was 3 years old until I was 18 (I’m now 27) and I think that this gave me very strong and dexterous feet, which has really helped my transition. It took me a long time to learn to run in my fivefingers, and I did some training on an inclined treadmill to help with patterning. I still find that running on concrete can be pretty hard on the feet, but trail running is AMAZING. I have six pairs of fivefingers now, and I tell everyone how much I love them.

    I’m an Orthotist, so I do get a lot of questions about them (I wear a pair to work nearly every day). I have not done a lot of research (yet) on the effects of barefoot shoes, and I certainly don’t think they’re right for everyone (especially those with any sort of pathology that adversely effects their foot musculature etc). Although, I am beginning to think that some of the problems that adults experience with their feet stem from them wearing too supportive of footwear as children…. I plan to research this more (when I have time :)), but for now, at our pediatric facility, I try to do as much as I can to promote free foot movement and foot muscle development in the children that we treat (where suitable).

    Great discussion and article, thanks!

  77. Same thing is happening with Crossfit. First there was a little positive media attention, and BOOM! Crossfit is now the worst thing in the world for you and it will kill you.

  78. I bought a pair of Vibram 5 fingers this past July. I LOVE THEM! I would wear them to work if it was safe/practical. I had to stop and pick up a pair of little 5 finger socks this past weekend as my feet were freezing. I love them. They are the greatest. I don’t like my feet to be calloused up, or the feel of sand between my toes. I have a few quirks about myself. lol So, I chose the 5 fingers way to go. I love them!!!

  79. Thank you so much Mark or your thoughts and extremely valid points on this. Its an interesting debate. I am a ChiRunner and ChiRunning Instructor who is moving from Marathon to Ultra distances at present. I am always interested ( obviously!) in finding the best shoe for me and also how to address that question with my ChiRunning students. It usually the first question out of their mouths:) Its a natural human tendency to hope for a magic pill, cream, diet, shoe etc that will fix everything all at once so that we don’t have to do the work required to enjoy the reward. My personal experience is that I love minimalist shoes for the feel of the earth beneath my feet. I love the contact with the ground on softer, flatter trails or when running slowly on the road for relatively short distances. It helps me to relax my feet and lower legs and be in the moment. I don’t know about the science of this, but I could swear that I feel more feelings of well being from running in shoes that allow this contact and relaxation. It seems to calm me down. I feel more connected, as though I am an integral and worthy part of this wonderful planet that we are so lucky to enjoy. As a result I am happier and kinder to those around me. Its a beautiful feeling. I also get that from lying on the ground and looking up at the sky or the branches and leaves of a tree, or lying in the sand at the beach and listening to and feeling the rumble of the waves. My feet have also become much stronger and my arches have lifted considerably. Where I dont like the barefoot style shoes is when I’m racing on very technical trails ( sharp rocks & stones, dips and divots, shale etc) and racing downhill on trails or asphalt over longer distances. I find that for this because Im going a lot faster I prefer a semi minimalist shoe, neutral but with some cushion under the forefoot and good grip. This may be because I lose my good ChiRunning form when I’m focused on speed or just because I haven’t done it enough. It is true that we have to acclimatize slowly to these changes in footwear. But I did want to bring your attention to a very interesting independent study that was done at Chapel Hill in N Carolina. Here’s a link http://www.chiliving.com/blog/entry/2012-scientific-study-shows-chirunning-technique-reduces-impact/. The study basically shows that form is more important than the shoe for preventing impact and over use injuries. The ChiRunners in the study had less impact and fewer injuries than others, no matter what kind of shoes they were wearing. Those heel strikers that switched to minimalist shoes and didn’t change their form received the most injuries and had the highest Ground Impact Rates etc….. So what I take from this is that, in order to be able to enjoy the many benefits of running barefoot or barefoot style, we must mind our form first. I’m very interested to hear others’ thoughts and experience with this, so please, keep sharing! Serena

  80. I am a big guy, 6 foot, 240. A year ago my feet felt very beat up. I decided to try barefoot walking, and then barefoot running, using a very disciplined approach, laid out by the natural running center. Only 200 yards to start, with a 200 yard increase, every other day. A year later, my feet feel great!! You have to be smart about doing it, and increase gradually, and work on form. Of course you are going to end up injured with same mileage, or poor form.

  81. I have barefoot ran and walked for two years and will never go back to wearing ‘regular’ shoes any longer. My husband, after rupturing his Achille’s tendon last year, also transitioned to barefoot walking lifestyle. It took us about six to nine months to make a smooth transition. We had our ups and downs but learning how to run and walk properly from decades of bad posture and walking/running gait due to modern fancy shoes pay off for us, talking about the eventual savings of hip, knee, and back surgeries among shoe population. Primal people have always used simple shoes or gone barefoot. So ditch the ignorant mass media’s bias against barefooters and stick to what is primal and true.

  82. Sensory input is what I love. And the gentleness of it. As soon as I use the xero’s or the merrell vapor gloves I can feel the added strain on the achilles and calves. Take them off and you’re floating. Originally from Africa, I always think of how King Shaka made his warriors lose their sandals and run barefoot. The gentle, quiet stride. I sometimes give dogs a fright :)… And those guys trotted for miles and miles over all sorts of terrain, some of it covered by 3 inch thorns. Shoes off, eyes open…
    But I agree that if you’re competitively minded and don’t like being passed, then bf is probably not the way for you. And then there’s chipseal – still ouch for me…

  83. When articles attack something like this it makes me think of a great gandhi quote:

    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
    ~Mahatma Gandhi~

  84. Unfortunately I think it is just too late for me. At 54, with high arches and a lifetime of high heels and other bad shoes, I am now left with bunions and have had a bout of plantars fascitis. I have gotten rid of all the heels and uncomfortable shoes, and practically live in thick-soled flip flops, and have avoided further PF and bunion pain since going Paleo. Bunions run in my family.

    I cannot even walk around my house barefoot, much as I’d like to. I develop pain and also feel achy joints if I don’t have supportive footwear now. My kitchen floor is lined with Gelpro mats.

    The only place I can walk barefoot is on the beach and, fortunately, that’s five minutes away. The sand is wonderfully forgiving. I’ve been doing that at least once a week.

  85. So, while I am quite fond of my Vibrams, I have a peculiar problem in that my middle toe is substantially (e.g., 2-3 cms) longer than my first toe. Running in my “size” quickly causes pain and numbness to my overgrown second digit. Even fivefingers a size large causes this problem, and the rest of my foot is swimming in two sizes up. Anyone else find a good solution to this prehensile problem? Can’t go all the way bare for a variety of reasons.

    1. try a different “brand” of barefoot runner… what you have is a Mortons Toe (where the second toe/second metatarsal) is longer than the first.. very common in people from Northern Europe…. I also have this, although I can wear five fingers… but I also wear a different brand of barefoot shoe for work and they work great… shop around, try different versions. TRY them on…. make sure they are comfortable. I had to try 5 different versions of 5 fingers before I found one that worked for me!

  86. I think we do tend to keep our feet encased in shoes for too long of a time. I believe it’s beneficial to walk around the house or whatever sans shoes as much as possible. As far as running or walking over rough terrain including concrete, maybe glass, nails, whatever other rusty stuff or even toxins are out there … not something I care to do.

  87. Timely article for me as well. I have been considering getting a pair of minimalist shoes. I have a receipt still (I hope!), essentially for store credit, at REI.

    A couple years ago I went running barefoot on the beach. Did it for an hour or so. And I’m not a runner per se. It was very enjoyable. My feet, I think more the heels, perhaps the shins too, were a little sore for a couple days afterward. Earlier this year I competed in the Tough Mudder and landed hard on my heels multiple times in a row for several consecutive jumps and had a sore heel for several weeks. I had a custom orthotic boot. It’s pretty clear to me that I would need to transition.

    (On a treadmill:) In shoes, I have always landed on my heel. I have begun landing on my forefoot instead and believe I like it better, but my shins have gotten sore from that too.

    I just hope I can find my comfort level and transition to more frequent barefoot running soon and decide on forefoot vs. heel strike.

  88. I was not able to run four years ago. My knees hurt so bad I had to stop running. A doctor I know told me about barefoot running after he had read Born to Run, a couple of weeks after the book was released. I thought he was crazy, but I gave it a try, bought myself a pair of Fivefingers. And I havent. stoped running since that day. I just finnished a 30 km race in Stockholm Sweden, in my fivefingers. It might be the best thing ever.

    Grok on!

    1. Me too! Switching to VFF and a natural running form has meant the difference between being able to run and not being able to because of constant knee, calf, and foot injuries. I still have to work on my form, and I was very careful during transition. Being pain and injury free is a godsend. Running is enjoyable again. I thought my running days were over but at nearly 56 it’s the best it’s ever been.

  89. My transition took over 18 months. I managed then to run up to 3 miles completely barefoot before switching to Vibrams. I’ve never looked back and refuse to run in ‘normal’ running shows anymore. I now mange a 10k with ease in Vibrams. Naysayers will always exist because others will always punch the boundaries of ‘normality’.

  90. I had a rough start with my Vibrams about 3 years ago…I got them and was ecstatic at how much easier running was with them. No knee pain and a little more “spring” to keep me going. I watched all the videos and was sure to practice good form on my first outing. Probably didn’t do more than half a mile. The next day, my calves were so sore I could barely walk. I didn’t even think about my history of calf injuries (small striations in the muscles from years of muscle cramping issues during volleyball). Boy, the rest of that week was rough. After that, I only used my vibrams for walking and hiking.

    About 6 months ago though, I decided to give barefoot another shot. So I started wearing my Vibrams to work, then purchased a pair of Vivos that were a little nicer looking so I would be more “professional” or something. I walked to and from work, and walked for about 30 minutes on my lunch break. After doing that for about three months, I finally went for a mile jog, stopping half way to really stretch out my calves. I felt GREAT the next day, and loved how I could run pain free in them. I’m not a “runner” by any means but have enjoyed it more recently with fore-foot striking form. I even did a half marathon in July (which I can happily say I will never do again, haha).

    But anyway, this is a great article that addresses all the naysayers. I find that I get a lot more push back on the barefoot shoe thing than I do on eating Primally! I always bite my tongue when people talk about getting shoes with enough “support” because they always seem offending when you offer a different take on shoes.

  91. My n=1 says I’ll never go back to traditional running shoes. The chronic shin splints and knee pain I would get after a couple of kilometres have disappeared since going minimalist. Love my VFF and Skora’s (especially for kicking around in).

    For those looking for dress shoes I love my Pikolinos. No heel (although they are stiff in the heal) and super flexible forefoot. I think I have the Puerto Rico’s. Very comfortable.

  92. I’ve had a tendon injury for about a year now decided to buy some vibrams injury vanished.
    But I have developed a sprain on the top of my foot I should rest it but training wins.

    Definitely ease your self into them I tried a really tough run and after a mile I was in so much pain with my calfs by the 4th mile I was walking.

    O also I went boxing in them (still do) and the cramps in my calfs was horrendous been going for a few years and never experienced that much pain in my legs.
    But they dont play up anymore so at the minute I’m seeing a few positives and a few negatives

  93. I used to run barefoot when it wasn’t in style. At age 16, back in 1976 I used to run a 3.8 mile circuit on paved roads barefoot until I developed shinsplints. In my early 20’s I loved running barefoot on the beach and then I developed severe plantar fasciitis that plagued me on and off for 25 years. Even for a while – in between bouts of it – I ran barefoot on trails at times. I now trail run twice/week and would love to run barefoot again, but don’t quite trust it. I don’t want to re-injure myself. I am incorporating more barefoot walking again after years of constant arch support. I am loving the feel of the earth under my feet again. Any suggestions?

  94. I wear VFF’s all the time. For almost 2 years now. Bought my first pair while in Las Vegas..put them on and started walking..no transition period..no problem. Do weekly sprints as well. Hike, scramble, ride bike, etc. VFF’s is the only footwear for me. Bought a pair of speed xc to use in the cold, but am wanting to get a winter type minimalist boot. In terms of naysayers, I could give a dump. My feet, ankles, calves, knees, legs, back, posture, strength, balance is a whole lot better now than it was two years ago. There is absolutely no way I could “enjoy” wearing anything else.

  95. I belong to the local running club and regularly volunteer for the group long training runs leading up to the club’s marathon, manning a water station w/other volunteers. A couple of summers ago one of my coworkers was a guy in a cast who had fractured his foot running in Vibrams. He was an experienced marathoner, and I asked how it had happened. He told me he bought the Vibrams, then wore them for a 5-mile run for his first run ever in them. He then wore them again for another 5-miler in a day or 2. He then wore them for a THIRTEEN MILE RUN!! HIS THIRD TIME OUT! And yes, that’s when he fractured one of his metatarsals.

    He absolutely condemned the Vibrams. When I suggested that maybe he should have eased into it a bit, he looked at me as if I had 3 heads and said “I DID ease into it, duh! I only went 5 miles the first time!” I tried to explain that there is a lot of info on the internet about exactly how easy it’s necessary to go when making the transition, and that 5 miles is NOT “easing into it”, but his mind was made up. Can’t say I felt too sorry for the guy–and I’m sure he’s happy to tell anyone who asks that Vibrams are the work of Satan.

  96. Suspect the general problem people may have when they first try barefoot running walking is that there are some complicated arrangement of muscles in the foot…..these are not necessarily working in the order they need to be to give a balanced properly working foot and often by the time people ditch their shoes this has caused other issues up the chain – i.e. how the knees are sitting etc.

    Sadly people just assume that this will fix itself…….it doesn’t necessarily do that…….some improvement may happen…….but if the foot was collapsing, had toes doing hammers or twisted etc it may not necessarily just revert to what could be called normal………

    At this point there are very few people in the fitness/physio etc industry who seem to have a deep appreciation for this……..far easier to tell people that barefoot doesn’t work or feet need support rah rah……totally ignoring that we have perfectly good muscles to do that support if they are brought into action……….

    Hopefully soon this will change……….
    Edith

  97. I love my Vibrams and wear them all the time. The argument that we “evolved to go barefoot” may be true but it tends to mislead. People hear it and think that they have some kind of natural ability to run long distances on paved roads because it’s usually not mentioned that humans did not evolve to run for miles on uniform, hard surfaces like streets and sidewalks. Beaches, grass, gravel, sure. But humans definitely did not “evolve” for long-distance running on pavement; it is an unnatural, novel activity, barefoot or shod.

  98. I was born with partially-clubbed feet (surgically corrected, at least most of the way, when I was an infant). I grew up hearing that I had “bad feet,” in need of supportive shoes, and that’s what I wore for most of my life. Walking barefoot for any distance was painful, and running during gym class put me off running (or any athletics, for that matter), for life.

    So for the last few years, my go-to shoes have been Dansko Professional clogs. I’d still get tired, aching knees and ankles, and sore feet and an aching back if I walked too far, but they were generally comfortable, so I blamed my “bad feet,” never considering that the shoes were the problem.

    Then, earlier this summer, I was reading Norman Doidge’s ‘The Brain That Changes Itself,’ and in it he briefly mentioned how elderly people end up prone to falling because, after a lifetime of wearing shoes and walking on smooth surfaces, their neural “maps” that processe information received from the soles of their feet shrinks. With so little information about surfaces and terrain to work with, the brain assigns the unused neurons to other tasks. But elderly people *can* improve their balance by going barefoot more often, thus strengthening the brain’s awareness of and responsiveness to what’s happening beneath their feet. The diminished neural “map” gets re-written.

    I’d had balance problems for years, and earlier this year had two nasty falls in short succession. I wasn’t badly hurt, but still–If there was anything I could do to avoid a repeat, I would. So I saw myself in what Doidge wrote, and decided to try going barefoot.

    Trouble is, I live in a neighborhood where broken glass and other drunken fratboy rubbish makes walking barefoot hazardous. So I invested in a pair of VFFs, and started wearing them as much as possible.

    That was in July. I now own five pairs of VFFs, and wear them all the time. My balance has already improved–I expect it will take at least a year to get the full benefit, but I am already much less stumbly. I had to re-learn how to walk in them, taking shorter strides and developing a forefoot (or occasionally midfoot) strike, rather than slamming down on my heels. But now that I’ve done that, I’ve discovered that I can run without pain for the first time in my life. I don’t do any distances yet, but yesterday I sprinted a block and a half on concrete to catch a bus with no ill effects. I mean, *none.*

    During the “breaking in” period, I discovered muscles in my feet and ankles I never knew existed. I’m 46, and all those decades of supportive footwear didn’t do me any favors. But I can get out and walk for miles now with no knee or ankle pain, no sore back, and no aching feet. I still sometimes have to remind myself to shift weight to the outsides of my feet as I walk, rather than letting them roll inward, but most of the time it comes automatically.

    As for the Danskos, I still have to wear them to my animal shelter and zoo volunteer shifts for safety reasons (and because porous shoes and step-pans full of trifectant are a bad combo). But they feel like hooves, or like blocks of wood strapped to my feet, and I can’t wait to get back into my VFFs at the end of each shift. I’m ruined for normal shoes, now–and precisely no fucks are given. I can’t believe what going “barefoot” has done for me.

  99. Actually, being a PT… I can honestly say that (anecdotally), I see LESS running injuries with the vibram and barefoot trend. I’m one of them… 🙂

  100. Mark: I started wearing Vibrams about a year ago on the treadmill and sprung hardwood for running and other training and thought it was going OK – slight discomfort which I expected to work through. Over the summer i was running on grass which was unpleasant because the uneven hard clay in my neighbourhood created an unforgiving non-uniform surface – but I endured. In the last month I have developed some significant soft tissue damage in my hip area. As soon as i switched back to regular style shoes the injury started to clear up. I practice a kung fu form daily and with wetter weather have been practicing on concrete. The form I practice involves a lot of heel first movement and a lot of twisting. Since the Vibrams have no padding and a lot of grip, I have come to the conclusion they are not suited to this type of exercise. It might be alright if I could go back to grass or pea-gravel. I jump rope a lot also and find that jumping rope the way i was trained involves the whole foot. it makes the aerobic exercise low impact and requires a bit more coordination. The ropework made it easier to adapt to running “barefoot”, but again I would not recommend Vibrams or other unpadded shoes if you have to exercise on concrete or other synthetic surfaces – they are just too unyielding. This isn’t a backlash – just a caution that training style and surface must be considered.

    1. How on earth does one get calcaneal stress fractures going from heel striking to forefoot striking – aka barefoot running? That’s odd.
      Unless of course one changes footwear but nothing else, then the heel takes a pounding…
      I’d love to hear your ideas on that Anthony.

  101. “The press loves a good backlash, even (especially) if they have to manufacture it.”

    Thus my complete distrust and contempt for the journalism profession and its members.

  102. I love the boxing/MMA gloves analogy, it’s a really interesting thought about how we distance ourselves from pain. When you consider the variety of strikes that are legal in MMA bouts (though granted, it’s not often someone will be able to clip their opponent with a roundhouse kick to the head) this is really a stunning result.

    Similarly, I wonder how a study examining the incidence and severity of concussion in rugby players vs American Football players would look on the whole. The helmets aren’t the only issue, the sheer mass of gridiron players, physical power and difference in technique will all play a role in how injuries pan out, but the helmets are definitely a significant factor.

  103. If the weather were not turning cold, I’d be training my feet barefoot. I have lots of clean sidewalks around my work building to start off slow.

    But I sure do seem to encounter hostility to everything I do, from cutting carbs and eating fat to wearing VFF (or even suggesting barefoot running) to cold showers or not using shampoo.

    I don’t even try to be preachy or obnoxious. I just see it as something I do that I know is not mainstream.

    But folks mock and nitpick every thing despite obvious evidence right in front of them. I don’t even try to convert anyone. It’s not worth even trying to overcome their mental inertia.

  104. To start you need to know I am an overweight, 66 year old female. I never run. I spent most of the spring and summer barefoot or wearing leather moccasins. I developed ankle pain which turned out to be related to fallen arches. I now wear orthotic insoles which made my ankle pain disappear. So no more barefoot but the insoles fit in my moccasins just fine.

  105. I have a cousin that is huge in all the naturopathic ways. Doctorate and all that. Doesn’t run but does all the yoga. She was always in Vibram’s but her foot started to have to much strain. She had to switch to Merrill’s. I’m thankfully still in my Vibram’s but it flip flops all summer.

  106. G’day, Very interesting article. Years ago MOST people didn’t wear shoes.
    As mentioned that two time Olympian who WON his marathon was running in bare feet and left everyone else far behind. I watched (quite enviously I must admit as I am not a capable runner) and it was a highlight of the Olympics.

    In a lot of countries, most people do not wear shoes (certainly not those restrictive and injury inflicting MODERN FASHION shoes- includes sneakers etc.) and they do not seem to have any major problems. Possibly as much as preference as well as not having sufficient money.

    Here in Queensland, quite a lot of people just naturally do not wear shoes – they have feet like leather and do not seem to have any foot injuries. My own sons used to walk about barefoot even on hot concrete with no problems. In fact they still walk about (after work that is) barefoot. I prefer to go barefoot whenever I can otherwise I like to wear leather sandals all year around (that is when I can find them to buy). I loathe thongs(flipflops) those horrid rubber flappers.

    In Australia, there are still very many native people (Aborigines) who just naturally do not wear shoes and they can travel long distances without footwear.

    Wearing footwear CAN cause injury. A podiatrist friend said wearing things like thongs/flipflops or incorrectly fitted running shoes, sneakers, fashions shoes especially high heels and stilletoes have caused a huge amount of injury to a great many people as well as knee and back problems. He is in favour of going barefoot on beaches and lawns, and wearing good quality leather sandals then correctly fitted leather shoes.

    The media beat-up at least gets people thinking and talking about footwear or barefoot.
    Cheers Peggy in Queensland Australia

  107. This is a great article. People are so scared these days to try something new. Doing any type of exercise barefoot is always a good idea because it gives your body natural leverage.

  108. I wore a pair of Xero sandals 4mm all summer. I’m used to being active barefoot (contemporary dance, and just roaming around the yard), but walking in town on pavement took some getting used to. My feet definitely ached the first few times. The only injury I got was having a massive thorn go through my sole right into my foot, which certainly slowed me down for several days. Though it was a random accident, that is actually a considerable disadvantage to minimalist shoes. If I had been truly barefoot, I probably would have been paying more attention.

    On the plus side, now that is is cooler and I have switched back to conventional shoes, I notice that my gait is different – longer, smoother strides and stronger push off through the forefoot. It feels more efficient.

  109. I don’t barefoot run (TBH I don’t do any more running than running to catch a bus!), but I do wear barefoot shoes all the time… A pair of Merell Pace Gloves for work, and five fingers (also known as my “fingery shoes” in my house!) the rest of the time that I am outside.
    And at home I walk around barefoot all the time – don’t even wear slippers.
    TBH the barefoot shoes are the best thing I ever had for work – I stand/walk all day long (I am a massage therapist), and these are the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn.
    No foot/calf ankle issues at all with these, and I have been wearing them for a good 10 months now.

  110. I’ve been wearing “barefoot” style shoes for about a year. I absolutely love them and my posture has gotten MUCH better. I had to start off slowly to build muscle in areas that weren’t used to being used, but that didn’t take very long. I never want to go back to regular shoes.

    One caveat: I recently had to take a job requiring “protective” footwear and LOTS of walking. By the second day, my feet actually felt like they were being tortured. The pain was excruitiating to the point the I went home at lunch and put on my barefoot shoes and took the chance. Instantly, the torture subsided, although my feet were sore for a couple days. My point is that once your feet get used to being natural and free, it can be very dificult to go back if necessary.

  111. I’m a journalist and someone who believes fully in barefoot or at least minimalist running. It’s worked remarkably well for me, and I enjoy running more than ever. But to imply that journalists are somehow responsible for seeking to profit from a controversy is absurd and weakens your argument. It’s simply not how responsible journalism works. Maybe you are referring to bloggers and other citizen journalists who masquerade as experts, but in the real world of journalism stories are vetted and fact-checked and balanced and offer context. Is there sloppy work at times? Of course there is. It would be asinine to say there isn’t. But to take the low road and assume it’s a massive grab at headlines and website hits is short-sighted and diminishes your argument to that of those who don’t do their research. Run happy.

    1. “controversy is absurd and weakens your argument. It’s simply not how responsible journalism works.”

      Ha — you’re not seeing your premise: “responsible journalism” requires responsible journalists. You’re glossing over that premise — which affects everything published!

      Of course it’s how journalism works. If a journalist wants to get published, then the article HAS to get approved — and the ‘approver’ (editor / manager / publisher) looks for controversy and ‘selling ad space’ — appropriately! (That’s the gatekeeper’s job; keep the paper/news media alive.) If writing a glowing (and scientific) article about running barefoot and how it helps increased ad revenue, then that’s the article that would be approved and published. But without ‘manufactured’ controversy, the article won’t get published.

      Journalists who wish to keep their jobs must get their articles published. “If it bleeds, it leads.” And manufactured controversy is the “bleeds” part. Just like doctors have to stay off the radar of their local medical boards (by doing what’s expected, not necessarily what works!) — or risk their livelihoods, so journalists have to ‘play the game’ or risk their livelihoods! I don’t blame them (docs or journalists) because their first and highest goal is — understandably — their family’s financial health! But please don’t pretend they’re doing “responsible journalism” by writing the articles they must to get published!

      1. Elenor,

        Twenty years into this business and not once in a newsroom have I heard “if it bleeds it leads.” It catchy and sounds great, but it’s just not how it works. By the way, most journalists are salaried employees who don’t have to worry about drumming up a controversy to get published. They are assigned a beat and cover the news on the beat. It’s not nefarious and it’s not a conspiracy. If you just publish interesting and important stories that are balanced, readers come to you. You don’t have to manufacture controversy.

  112. I am a 52 year old grandma, who also teaches Zumba Gold® (a lower intensity form of Zumba) for 4 hours per week. I TEACH it showing both hi and low impact options, but default to the high impact option during most songs. I am heavy (178lb), and once upon a time wore Asics with orthotics to manage my knee issues and pain (almost contintual). Now I wear minimalist shoes, and have NO PAIN in feet OR knees. I bounce around like a kid, hard impact and all, and never a problem. My entire movement pattern is healthier and looser, including old sciatic issues and neck pain – I believe that dancing in these shoes has helped my rediscover my natural movement patterns and I am stronger all over. I will not be going back any time soon to more supportive (aka more foot weakening) types of shoes. Vive les minimlalists!

  113. In the 60’s I was a kid growing up in Hawaii. None of us urchins wore shoes back then. We considered shoes a punishment! Moving into adulthood, I became one of the Shoeshod, even though I preferred cute strappy sandals. Well, after a couple of broken feet (dancer’s fracture) I decided it was time for ugly “sensible” shoes. Got plantars.

    Then a lightbulb went on in my head. Got rid of ugly shoes and went back to barefoot, which is great for me since I spend most of my day at home, with many stairs to climb. It’s been a year and the plantars is gone. And, barefoot, it’s unlikely you’ll roll your foot and break it!

    I’ve been wearing Vibram’s (my froggy shoes) for a month when I go out in the world and love them. They cause me Fashion Angst, but at least they don’t look like granny shoes. And now I can wear my heels for dress up occasions without my feet dying.

    As a barefoot kid, I can tell you my feet still look really cute. Just the way they’re supposed to look. So, I have that going for me ….

  114. the most important thing is the slow transition ( mine took about 1 year) and learning the right technique. running barefoot suddenly will injure you as a sedentary person running 10 miles the first day flat out ( if possible) will be injured.when starting out i run 1 mile and for two days my calves and achilles tendons got very inflamed. running barefoot involves different bones, muscle, tissues that we don’t normally use. but after that it is fun.

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

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

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

  118. Nice article Mark,

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

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

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

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

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

    Good article.

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

  121. After a long-standing knee injury and a series of foot/leg problems, including planter fascitis, and painfully tight calves, I switched to barefoot running. The difference was amazing. All of those problems have gone away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  127. I suffered Sciatica for 7 years and barefoot running cured it when traditional PT could not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Vibra FiveFingers 4 life!

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

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

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

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

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

    N=1, your mileage will vary

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

  134. Great article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  143. The “Runners” magazines will condemn this practice because all the advertisers will tell them too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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