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...

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June 10 2010

Training Naked

By Mark Sisson
119 Comments

OK, now that I have your attention, I’d like to discuss the idea of you doing your weight-training (Law #4 Lift Heavy Things) with as few “joint support gizmos” (wrist wraps, tape, lifting belts, etc.) as possible. Maybe you already do, but if not…

By now you know how I feel about shoes in general – and workout shoes in particular. Along with grains and statins, they make my list of the top ten mistakes in the history of human health. High-tech, “comfortable” and higher-heeled shoes are probably the cause of more bad backs, bad knees, pulled muscles, hamstring issues, torn cartilage, tendonitis and myriad other lower- and mid-body afflictions than any other single factor. The reason is this: the more we’ve unburdened the important (critical) small muscles of our feet with “forefoot motion control”, “heel stabilizers”, and “rear-foot shock absorbers” – in other words, the more we’ve put our feet in these supportive and restrictive casts – the more we’ve disrupted the intricate biomechanical balance that otherwise naturally arises from using our feet unshod as designed by evolution. And, as a result, the more we can find ourselves on the slippery slope to injury and misery.

As we’ve discussed many times before on MDA, it’s the small muscles of the feet – and both the strength and the sensory feedback they provide – that begin to orchestrate the symphony of balanced movement that leads to functional lower-body strength and power. It’s also those small muscles that ought to be telling us when it’s time to quit doing what we’re doing. Instead, we often bypass that haptic feedback and burden the larger muscles and joints further down (or up) the line, setting ourselves up for much bigger – and potentially longer lasting – problems. While this concept applies to every aspect of foot use from standing to walking to lifting heavy things, nowhere is it more evident than with runners – my former self included. Balance and symmetry are tossed aside, along with discretion, in the pursuit of more garbage miles. My own injury issues (osteoarthritis, tendonitis, hip flexor problems) escalated linearly over the years as I went from being able to handle “only” running 35 miles a week in my Chuck Taylors and Onitsuka Tigers in the late 60’s-early 70’s to eventually running over 100 miles a week in my high-tech cushioned Nike LDVs. I drank the Nike Kool-Aid and I’m still dealing with the physical fallout 30 years later.

I was reminded yet again of the propriety of going barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes two weeks ago when I spent three days in Manhattan representing The Primal Blueprint and The Primal Blueprint Cookbook at Book Expo America (a huge publishing trade show). In an effort to look corporate and respectable, I found myself wearing my expensive “Sunday-go-to-meetin” shoes all day for the show (standing, mostly) and then walking 20 blocks back to my hotel. After having spent the past few years barefoot in my house, training, hiking and playing in my Vibram Fivefingers or my Feelmax Pankas, and just wearing minimalist “mock mocs” to the occasional business meeting, my feet have gotten much stronger and are used to having little or no support. Yet after binding them in my “ergonomically formed” dress shoes for three solid days, I was literally limping home to my hotel room each night, barely able to take a step without feeling like I was out of alignment everywhere. The message was loud and clear yet again.

But here’s where I’m going with this. Knowing (Grokking) what we know about feet and shoes, doesn’t it make sense that what applies to the small muscles of the feet, might also apply to small muscles in the rest of the body. I see people at the gym all the time with wrist wraps, tight Velcro lifting gloves, taped wrists and ankles, knee braces, weight-lifting belts and all other manner of “support gear.” I guess the idea is to be able to “safely” push or pull more weight without stressing or injuring the delicate tendons, small muscles, cartilage, etc. in the joints. I get what they’re trying to do, but it’s antithetical to true strength and power. In fact, use of this sort of support gear bypasses those same important small muscles and tendons in fingers and forearms we should be working as enthusiastically as we work those larger beach muscles. Furthermore, it’s the small muscles that ought to be telling us when it’s time to stop, or that we’ve hit our “max” (or even that we should take a few days off). Bypassing that critical feedback only places a greater burden on larger muscles and joints – or calls into play unusual or unsafe “workarounds” as the body intuitively tries (without our even knowing it) to recruit fibers from other areas to perform the intended work. The result is often a biomechanical imbalance that simply transfers the load to an inappropriate muscle or area, often leading to injury. In my own case, I re-learned this after I foolishly chose to go for a PR on the bench press some years ago. Because I have small “runners’ wrists” I would wrap my wrists tightly with the leather Velcro band that extended from my lifting gloves each time I trained heavy on the bench. This “small muscle/wrist bypass” enabled me to eventually achieve a one rep max of 275 at the age of 53 (I weighed 164). Not bad for an old skinny marathoner, but in the process I developed a rotator cuff injury and almost tore a pec muscle because I was doing more than my overall fitness was capable of handling in a balanced fashion. I should have used my wrist weakness – my weakest link at the time – as the ultimate indicator of what was prudent.

I see this same sort of thing happening a lot in the gym. Guys are squatting 300 pounds with a weight belt protecting their back and/or abs, when maybe they should instead be using 175 and doing a few more reps without “protection.” They should be developing acute proprioceptive and kinesthetic awareness around the lower back and abs, rather than blocking those sensations out. Similarly, if you have to tape your wrists because your grip is keeping you from completing that last pull-up, maybe you should be working as equally on your grip or forearm strength as you are on your lats. If you have to tape your wrists to do a handstand push-up, maybe you should back up a few skill levels and go through the progression that includes inclined push-ups first. Small muscles should dictate the max weights you do, and you shouldn’t move on to bigger weights until all parts of you are ready.

This is why I feel so strongly that bodyweight exercises are the ideal way to train small muscles as well as those beach muscles. Unwrapped and naked. Grip strength, balance, bilateral symmetry, haptic feedback, kinesthetic awareness and core function are all integral parts of Primal Fitness life skills. To circumvent them in the interest of building bigger biceps won’t serve you in the long run.

Stay tuned for The Primal Blueprint Fitness program, slated to drop early next month (for free to newsletter subscribers). It’s based around functional fitness and a few simple, balanced, full-body movements. Thanks for reading, everyone!

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119 thoughts on “Training Naked”

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  1. Hahahahahaha… Mark you are waaay too awesome!

    I remember coming across the comment with someone asking for more on this law. I wanted the same so thanks a lot!

    Of course there is alway simplicity… I enjoy pull-ups, push-ups, and squats as my workout for this law! It’s all ya need 😉

  2. Thanks for a great post, Mark. I agree with you 100% and have always instructed my clients to workout with as minimal gadget support as possible. I hate seeing guys at the gym use wrist straps to do pull ups. If they need the straps then maybe they are not ready for the load they are trying to move. As for me, I have been wearing my fivefingers for a few months now and have seen a gradual reversal of a leg injury I sustained from running way too much a few years ago. Those things are brilliant!

    1. After playing competitive indoor volleyball for about 14 years, I couldn’t agree with you more. A lot of players injure their ankles early on…start wearing active ankle guards, and then knee injuries result. After you tape up your knees, your hips start to hurt…this was my experience at least.
      I played with chronic tendonitis for several years until I graduated college…sooo painful.
      I decided to start running barefoot (in Vibrams) last year (a couple years out of school), and my knee pain is virtually gone.
      Beach seems to be the way to go…you always play barefoot, and no hard surfaces to land on 🙂

    1. Maybe you should just get rid of the gloves too. They can impede growth in your grip strength. I use nothing extra when lifting and am currently at 180 par shrugs and deadlifting 315.

  3. I agree 100% with the minimalistic weight lifting advice. It is basically what every real powerlifting / olympic weightlifting coach teaches. Rippetoe has a whole section in Starting Strength all about it.

    My favorite lift is deadlift and I get asked everytime I do it, “hey man, don’t you hurt your back since you don’t use a belt?” My response is always, “deadlift is a back exercise, how do I strengthen it when I have a belt on?”

  4. It seems like I’ve taken your advice even before you gave it to me.

    I haven’t used a weight belt in years for the same reasons you give here.
    I just lift less, properly.

    I’m lucky that I’m able to workout barefoot because I train in my garage.

    I’ve never used straps for chin ups (too complicated) and I don’t use gloves.

    I do have incredible calluses on my hands, though.

    1. My garage gym has been the greatest training facility i’ve ever used.
      Something very Primal about working out with no shirt and no shoes.

      Keep those Calluses strong!

  5. Mark,

    I completley agree. I lift weight with very little support. It makes me more aware of my other muscles.
    I do use weight lifting gloves minus straps to keep the calluses at a minimum, mostly b/c I am a girl and we don’t like that sort of thing 🙂

    I train at home barefoot, but when I train at the gym I train in the Nike Free 3.0’s. They are not totally like barefoot since they have arch support, but they are as close as I can get w/o breaking the gym rules.

    How do you feel about the Nike Free’s vs. the Vibrams?

    1. No input on the shoes questions, but I have to say that I’m female and I haven’t used gloves since I started lifting again in January 2009. I keep the calluses under control with a Ped Egg. Dustless climbers chalk is smuggled in with me in my gym bag (lucky you to be able to train at home). Then again, I used to be a gymnast, so calluses have always been little badges of honor to me. For the gnarliest hands, check out competitive rowers (no glove option there and the females are all Amazons).

      1. I was a rower for 8 years and still have the calluses to show for it!

    2. I love working out in the VFFs. My Nike Free are okay, but are second choice in my opinion.

  6. Barefoot,

    Rippetoe is a huge advocate of belt and lifting shoes, not really sure where you got the impression otherwise…

    That said, I agree with Rippetoe that belt and shoes are ok for lifting — it is a sport and some sport requires equipment

    1. Lifting shoes for sure. Unless you’re trying to build up to a monster weight, I’d skip the belt too.

  7. Please let me know when Vibrams Five Fingers comes out in a 14EE.

    1. I wear size 15s and the KSO 48 fits me. 48 on the KSO is larger than on the other models for some reason – check their sizing chart online.

      1. Same – I wear 15s and have VFF KSO 47s that fit perfectly.

        Though, I’m not sure what width I need.

    2. They basically do – I wear 14EE and my sprints are 46s, they fit great.

  8. Mark,

    Could it be that your body just wasn’t conditioned to walk “in those shoes on that terrain”? There’s a whole city full of people that walk there every day.

    Best,

    Jeff

  9. Great post!

    As someone who has to wrap his feet up in those torture devices called dress shoes for work every day, I feel for you. And people wonder why I take my shoes off as soon as I get to my car!

    Any chance you could recommend some minimalist shoes that are okay to wear at the office and won’t cost an arm and a leg? I’ve been thinking of just cutting the heel off a pair of the shoes to see how that works out, but the rubber is still pretty stiff with the rest of it, so I don’t think that would work too well.

    Thanks!

    Jim

    1. You might consider Terra Plana shoes, but they are a bit pricey. I picked up a pair of black Aquas (on a discount) and wear them at the office every day. At home, it’s VFFs or barefoot for me.

      1. I’ve been trying to find some of these myself. I’ve looked at the Terra Plana, but frankly, they are ugly as snot. Someone could get rich here if they recognized there is an opportunity in the market for this type of dress shoe.

    2. I wear my black Vibram KSOs to work in a business casual environment. To be even more stealth, I’ve heard of “blacking out” the KSOs with black sharpie or carefully removing the embroidered toe logo and popping off the glued-on logos on the side. KSO Trek and Moc are made of kangaroo leather and are a little dressier-looking too.

  10. You were in NYC and you didn’t tell a brotha?!?

    I see how it is…

  11. As a runner, I can’t imagine running barefoot very far or very long. I have seen an occasional barefoot runner in marathons. While I am running slower, and no more marathons, i still like to run, especially with my running group for the comraderie it provides. I do like the idea of barefoot running and the benefits it provides. Last year I switched to Newton shoes. They claim that there shoe actually mimics barefoot running as it forces you to strike on your forefoot as opposed to your heal. Newton Running encourages running on your midfoot/forefoot. While they took getting used to, i really like them.

    1. I still say you and many others are missing the point. Bottom line: a shoe is a shoe is a shoe. A shoe is a crutch. Even Vibrams are guilty of this. I can run a lot further in vibrams than I can completely barefoot because the shoe blocks the signals the ground needs to send to my brain. I bet if you took a survey 90% of vibram first time users had sever calf pain after there first run because they force you to run properly but they still eliminate the proper feedback needed with the ground. Honestly for me I think the best thing about barefoot running is watching my feet transform back to their correct shape. I think by the end of this summer my toes will be perfectly spread out and my big toe won’t be curving in from stupid feet coffins!

    2. how did you like the newton running shoes? i find them to be much more bulkier than the vff’s so hard to compare.. ot that or being barefoot..

      has it helped your form at all?

  12. Mark,

    this article is really exemplary, there is reasoning behind every sentence and the message is clear throughout.

    I think it should be read by everyone interested in any type of training. Bodyweight exercises are the best approach exactly because of the role of these ‘small muscles’. Too bad that many people are obsessed with the fake and unhealthy bodybuilder look. Those who are wise can still reconsider.

  13. Great article! Both on the shoes and the straps and bands.

    You are only as strong as your weakest link. Why would you bypass your weak link with a lumbar band? If your back can’t bear the load, there’s no way it will be able to do it in real life situations or in athletic context.

    The only thing I could agree upon are straps for better grip doing deadlifts, e.g. for a soccer player. He doesn’t really need the strong grip.

    Thanks

    1. What is he losing by developing his grip strength? I don’t see the connection.

      I don’t set extra time aside to develop my grip, I just exercise “naked” and the grip comes along with it.

      When deadlifting heavy I use an alternating grip, no straps.

      “for a soccer player. He doesn’t really need the strong grip.”

      what about for throw in’s or, better yet, jersey grabbing ; )

      1. damn, I forgot about the jersey grabbing…

        He’s not losing anything by developping grip strength, but from an training efficiency point of view, he could benefit from the straps.

  14. A logical construction on your whole philosophy of ergonomic exercise. Joint and small muscle strength are absolutely important to overall whole-body fitness. But, I wonder if this will extend beyond moving weight (body-weight or additional weight).

    Grok was a hunter-gatherer, and I imagine he encountered other wanderers chasing the same prey. Would Grok rely simply on his un-aided joint strength, if he has figured that wrapping his wrists would help lessen damage when he threw a punch? I haven’t read anything on this site about boxing, or heavy-bag excercises. I assume it’s because Mark doesn’t excercise in that way. But I think physical combat is very primal – whether it’s play or hostile. How do people feel about gear or support in martial arts, or even a round with a heavy bag?

    1. I think it would be helpful to train self-defense “naked” too, at least once in awhile to learn how to hit with proper structural alignment. Wouldn’t want to break your hand after a poorly thrown, bare-fisted cross in a real fight, right?

  15. As a I agree with 100% of your article I have to admit that despite the back problems high heels cause for the ladies that look pretty darn awesome in them.

  16. Ok, I normally love your posts Mark, but I have to side with Rippetoe on this one, at least as far as a weightlifting belt is concerned. When used properly (only once you can squat a good amount of weight without one, say 250 lbs for 5 reps for your average male athlete), a weight lifting belt does not protect or support your muscles or joints. It provides proprioceptive feedback for your abs to contract harder against, thus increasing your stability and trunk support under load. It should only be worn for your heavy work. But, if a good belt is used correctly it does not work by “supporting” your back or anything like that.

    Everything else, yeah, spot on. Ditch the gloves, wraps, etc…But a belt does have a place.

    1. Haha – So about 30 minutes before I saw this most recent post, I told a friend of mine about my new paleo lifestyle and to check out MarksDailyApple.com on her lunch hour. I can only imagine the look on her face when she’ll read “Training Naked” as the title of the first post!

      Hopefully she’ll continue to read on. Otherwise I have some serious explaining to do! Haha!At the very least it will be a great ice breaker into the website though.

      Nonetheless, thanks for all of the wonderful information and motivation that MDA provides on a consistent basis! It is much appreciated!

    2. If lifting heavier weights is your goal, belts are useful, but then you should always use them. If overall athletic performance or health is your goal, I don’t see the need to use them.

      Let your weakest link (as you say, it can be proprioceptive) guide you for dosage… Your nervous system gets additional proprioceptive input, but if you play e.g. basketball without the belt, you nervous system will feel, well naked…

      1. The point is that a lifting belt allows you to get stronger faster than you could without it. The strength you build will be used in whatever particular athletic endeavor you choose, even if you don’t bring the barbell + belt along with you. Saying that your nervous system will feel naked without a belt is silly, at best. Do your legs also feel like jelly just because you didn’t bring a barbell to squat with onto the basketball courts?

    3. Nick is right on this one … if I’m using a bar for squats, I’m using a belt to lock down my midsection for safety.
      Rip Rocks!

  17. I’m gonna play devil’s advocate for a moment:
    A weight belt isn’t solely for the purpose of protecting the back and abs. They are highly effective in correcting posture under strenuous loads and help the wearer perform the valsalva:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valsalva_maneuver True, spending time working on good form helps in naked lifting, but when the bar is trying to crush you around 300lbs +, the goal is to get it up without injury.

    I do crossfit, and I try to wear my vibrams as much as possible. I occasionally powerlift and olympic lift in them, but there is a point at which a belt and proper weightlifting shoes make sense.

    As far as Grok is concerned, I suspect lifting stones more closely approximate our paleolithic weight routine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifting_stone

    1. I was actually just about to post this very same link, Jon Stevens! Beat me to it. Info by Justin Lascek and Gary Gibson are what led me to purchase a lifting belt in the first place.

  18. Well said!

    bodyweight training is much more natural to your body in my opinion and yield better results in my experience.

  19. As a competitive powerlifter I have to use gear like wraps, belts and even supportive suits to be competitive (they help me lift more and everyone else uses them). That being said I much prefer to “train naked” because it feels better and helps bring up those weak spots.

    One the best decisions I made was to do all my kettlebell and body weight work bare foot.

  20. oops…I accidentally posted my original comment as a reply to someone else’s comment. My mistake.

    Here it is again:

    Haha – So about 30 minutes before I saw this most recent post, I told a friend of mine about my new paleo lifestyle and to check out MarksDailyApple.com on her lunch hour. I can only imagine the look on her face when she’ll read “Training Naked” as the title of the first post!

    Hopefully she’ll continue to read on. Otherwise I have some serious explaining to do! Haha!At the very least it will be a great ice breaker into the website though.

    Nonetheless, thanks for all of the wonderful information and motivation that MDA provides on a consistent basis! It is much appreciated

  21. I agree with the weight belt, but not for every lift it should only be used when performing very heavy lifts (scaled to ability) or when going for a PR. basicaly if you can do more than 5 reps with the weight you dont need the belt.

  22. Mark,

    what is your stance on high top chuck taylors? I wanted to buy Vibrams but they were sold out everywhere at the time so i just got high top chucks. There is plenty of vibrams around now but I dont have the money. I love lifting in chucks, squatting in them really lets me sit far back and drive off the heels.

    1. If you are using them for the big lifts (squats, deads, presses) then Chucks are great.
      A lot of powerlifters recommend them in training, especially if you use a wide squat stance as they allow you to “push out” on your feet without risking rolling your ankle.

  23. I can’t find it now, but at one point I read someone’s blog post, a review of Vibrams I thought, where he had posted a photo of the bare feet of a tribal dude who had spent most of his life barefoot next to a photo of a modern dude whose feet had been in shoes. The modern man’s feet were the SHAPE of the shoes, with toes all squished together, etc. whereas the tribal guy’s feet had toes all widely spread apart and looked healthier and more stable. I noticed that my feet look more like the modern man’s feet – my baby toe tucks under the one next to it, probably due to a lifetime of wearing shoes (despite wearing flip flops as often as possible).

    So my question is this: I’ve got two kids and we live in a pretty urban area. What kind of minimalist footwear exists for these kids, to make sure their feet grow healthy and their bodies grow strong, but will protect them from bits of glass on the roads, etc?

      1. Yeah, those are the feet photos! Thanks for that link.

        Right now (summer) when they’re not barefoot I have my kids in open-toed sandals with minimal cushioning. When it’s cold they’re in skate shoes (Vans-type) for the generous toe box and minimal cushioning. But it’d be great if there were something closer to what nature intended, for wearing to school, etc.

      2. Shoes for kids … barefoot style.

        Have you heard of Soft Star Shoes?

        This is a great little local company, and they have shoes designed for small children so their feet can develop right. They make everything themselves by hand, and will custom make to a customer’s directions. If someone loses one shoe, they will make another just like it!

        Website:
        http://www.softstarshoes.com/index.cfm

    1. I got my (three year old) son a pair of Feelmax Niesas, and a pair of TerraPlana Rookys. Both are good shoes, although the Feelmax shoes are the “more minimal” of them.
      Try to get one of those, I guess it’s easier to get the TerraPlana in the US, because the Feelmax come from Finland.

    2. You might want to look at Soft Star Moccasins — they make several different ‘barefoot’ type shoes for children, and you can customize them for fit and design preferences.

      1. Thx for the Soft Star recommendations. I think, since we’re on a tight budget, I’ll try my hand at sewing some at home. Hope it works!

  24. “Train Naked” keyword here is “train”.

    your everyday workout goal should be development.

    Save the weight belt for competition days.

    If you don’t compete, just lose the belt or save it for the occational max day.

    I used to do weighted pullups and deadlifts with straps. I thought I was super “strong”, but felt like an idiot when I started Crossfit and my grip was the first thing to give out during my WOD’s.

  25. i came in here expecting naked people. i am not as disappointed as i thought i’d be….

  26. My vibes split a seam recently, so at the gym I donned some socks for the treadmill (trained in flip flops but that place is dirty). Manager came up to me and asked me if I forgot my shoes. Said there are other things you can do etc. I asked if she was kicking me off and she didn’t say so exactly. I said i prefer to run this way. She said “even Nike free’s have ankle support”. I laughed and said if it made her feel better I’d sign a waiver but this is the way I run. If we stopped supporting our ankles, our ankles might start supporting us!”
    Was funny.

  27. All of those things (with the exception of lifting gloves) have their place in a properly designed workout program. If I plan on squatting 500 in competition, I only need the core strength to do it once. But in training, I may rep out with 450 for numerous reps for multiple sets. Why do I need the core strength to do a large volume of squats without a belt, when in competition I only need to do one rep? Granted, too many people use belts and straps as a crutch rather than an aid, but they do have their place in intelligent programs. People who wear gloves, however, are just clueless.

    1. There’s the problem though, squatting 500 pounds is about as primal as chronic cardio. You need nike’s to train 100 miles a week for a competitive marathon, and you need a belt to squat 500.

  28. I ditched the weight belt, gloves, and straps years ago much for the same reasons discussed here. It has helped to develop my abs,core, and grip strength more naturally, haven’t had any problems and haven’t looked back either…….

  29. I really like rock climbing and i think its quite natural. Its all body weight movements and gives you a strong total body. You must use your legs a lot when doing more complex routes and involves countless ways in which you move and pull/push, etc.

  30. With a headline like that I thought this was gonna be a post about one of the great benefits of working out at home! 🙂

    I think guys in particular are more interested in bragging about how much weight they put up than how they actually do it.

    Take a look on YouTube at the world record bench pressers and squatters and see all the gear they have on.

    It’s definitely a breath of fresh air to hear someone else advocating the minimalist approach.

  31. I think for martial arts, it’s obvious you may need pads. Getting kicked or punched repeatedly without the benefit of a pad might not be good for you! Same goes for sports. If you are lifting for health, I agree with Mark. If you are lifting as a sport and ‘IF’ some legal piece of equipment gives you a true advantage, you will probably want to use it at least some of the time.

    And speaking of Vibrams and barefoot, I personally would not suggest barefoot travel on regular streets. I have done this in the past and a number of times I have found myself sitting on the pavement trying to dig a small piece of glass out of the bottom of my foot. So I was excited about the Vibrams and went to REI to find that many sizes were sold out and the employee said they were having problems getting enough supply from Vibram. I tried some and they hurt like hell on my smallest toes. But I thought of another reviewer who said the same happened to him at first and it went away with time, so I stuck it out for a bit and now I really do love them, especially for steep crumbly slopes on trails.

    For those who need less freaky looking shoes for work, you might want to look into Minnitonka moccasins. Some of the men’s styles are mainstream looking but have no rubber souls, just leather underneath. Here is one of the best selling ‘soft soul’ styles: http://www.shoebuy.com/minnetonka-double-bottom-softsole/42385/124885 I suggest you contact Minnitonka to find a local vendor so you can try them on first though.

  32. speaking of running naked… some races do encourage running nude! think nudist spas having 5K races

    does primal ever offer race entry discounts for races or sponsor runners? I love running

  33. i walk, ridgewalk, hike, barefoot run, backpack and mountain climb more kms than is probably sane.

    i’ve got a pair of vffs for my monkeying around and two pairs of vivo barefoot shoes for when i have to look presentable. i won’t go back to conventional footwear if i have a choice.

  34. i guess vibrams with a suit would have looked freakish but you’d have been walking the walk while you talked the talk 🙂 yeah on the gym accoutrements, it happens in the pool, too. flippers. buoys. hand paddles. snorkels (!) heck why not just add a strap on (sorry)jet motor?! i say, suit, cap and goggles…tabata sprints in the pool have been incredibly effective–one of the best things i’ve picked up from this site (one of many). 2,000 yard workouts twice a week with 500 yards of tabata sprints are gaining me better times than my former 4,000 “garbage yardage” workouts 4x weekly ever did. i admit that until it broke i liked my swimP3 player but at least 80s Rock is not an aide, per se. i like to climb, carry a heavy pack, ride trail on my mountain bike, swim, hike and run a little. what with stretching and pull ups, a little weight lifting to work the shoulders and opposing muscles for climbing once a week, and a couple 6-week stints each year with serious weights (uppper body) and some play on the slack line…i don’t really need many formal stretches and exercises like all those things in the recent posts. I mean, if a part of your body is messed up, it’s good to work it and fix it. these exercises can certainly help. i notice that if I cut out the stretching, parts start hurting. i guess we all can find our own peronal balance point, both with our diets and exercise. focusing on a weak point can bring it back, it can really work (spoken by someone who had a seriously messed up hip from childhood displasia and RA)

    1. ps the ultimate body weight exercise, hauling oneself up a cliff on a steep technical route

  35. WHAT a post! I just went to my doc today for a rather mild hernia…no surgery required, but take it easy… this tells me i need to slow down on my crossfit progression… the mild hernia was likely a result of moving to kipping pullups too soon. Mark, I really appreciate your balanced approach to things. It just feels right. And you fellow Grocks out there- YEA!!! It is so cool reading about what y’all are doing- in a world where every time I respond to “what did you do to loose all that weight (response: no grains or sugar)”, i get funny looks… WHAT A COMMUNITY!!!

  36. Mark, I enjoy reading your posts and with this one you are right about a lot of things, but not when it comes to weightlifting.

    For deadlifts, benches and other lifts I always wear Chuck Taylors or other flat shoes. But for every movement that has squats in them I wear lifting shoes.

    All those guys lifting in vibrams or barefoot are simply retarded. Lifting shoes are not overpriced, overly cushy Nike Blabla gimmicks sold to fat and out of shape people. They make sense and they are efficient. Nothing gives you better support on squats then weightlifting shoes.

    Also a belt doesn’t protect your abs and back and it certainly doesn’t make these areas weaker. Sure a lot of guys wear them so tight that they work like a corset, but that’s not how they are supposed to be used.

    A belt gives you something to push against, making your core muscles a lot more stable and therefore allowing you to be much more efficient in moving weights. You don’t block out these feelings, in the opposite when you move a heavy weight correctly with a belt, you’ll get more feedback and not less.

    Also 300 pounds is not a big squat and doing “unprotected” 175lbs for more reps certainly isn’t going to give you the strength and healthy benefits that a properly executed 500 pound squat with a belt and lifting shoes will offer you.

    1. i completely disagree about the weight belt jonathan, its used for support, if you need that support its because you naturally dont have it, the more you rely on the belt for support the less work and the weaker your abs and low back become, you dont use it you lose it,

      check out my last post, what happens when you need your squat strength in a real world life or death situation, but you have never squated without your belt and you dont have your belt on you, what do you do? your body wont be ready for that shit, our ancestors never used “something to push against to make our core muslces more stable”

      1. Ian, my main question is: have you ever squatted regularly with a belt? Because you don’t seem to know what a belt is all about.

        A belt is not a squat suit or a bench shirt. Those two items allow you to move more weight than you could without it. However a belt is there to help protect your lower back, it doesn’t stabilize it. True, our ancestors didn’t squat with belts, but then again I don’t think that they squatted heavy at all.

        You say that the body won’t be ready for heavy action when using a belt, but let me give you an example: stand up and imagine pushing with your hands against an invisible wall. Bend your arms, contract your upper body muscles hard and push as hard as you can. Now do the same thing but this time push against a real wall. You’ll see that you can push much harder and with more force against the real wall than against the wall of air.

        Now nobody will say that pushing against walls will make you weak, because pushing against or pulling on immobile objects can make you plenty strong, that’s called isometrics. With the belt it’s the same thing: it gives your abs something to push against, giving you confidence and making it easier to keep everything tight. But it won’t make you squat an ounce more than without a belt.

        Also you just use belts for the heavy weights. You do plenty of squatting without a belt, even when you are a competitive, highly specialized lifter. Also I think that a belted weightlifter doing 500-600 lbs on the squat can easily outlift any of the “non-belt” crowd with ease even without the belt.

        Also this “real life” stuff is pretty much nonsense. When are you going to be in a life or death situation were you have to take a heavy weight out of the rack (that is perfectly adjusted to your size), a weight that is evenly balanced and easy to put on your back? When will you have the luxury of taking a correct stance, having a deep breath, contracting your midsection and do a nice and controlled squat with a picture perfect bounce at the bottom? Only to put the weight back in the rack and to take a break during a few minutes? Let me give you an answer: NEVER.

        As far as the Vibram discussion is concerned, there was a dude in my gym going on and on about the benefits of vibrams. I said: show me the strong squats that were done in vibrams! There weren’t any. So he said: but for deadlifts they are ideal! I showed him my cheap gymnastic shoes (a kind of small plastic sock to put over your foot) that cost me like 10$. Does the same thing as vibrams: you aren’t barefooted (which isn’t allowed in any real gym) while being very cheap. Besides you can wear socks to protect your shins while pulling heavy.

    2. Great posts (both of them), Jonathon! As Jonathon has already stated, the lifting belt allows one to contract their abs harder, allowing one to lift a slightly heavier load more safely. In the long run, one will become stronger, more quickly, with a belt than without one.

      I’m new to the MarksDailyApple and PrimalBlueprint crowd, but I hope I would suggest the following: the notion that a lifting belt will make your abs go to sleep is the Conventional Wisdom that just doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Give the belts a try if you’re serious about getting strong, Ian.

      1. I am serious about getting strong, but in a natural way. I do not work out in gyms and i do not use barbells and i wont be using gloves straps or weight belts, its just where i am at, at this point in my life, maybe it does work for some, just does not make sense to me,

        1. Fair enough, that is certainly your right and I wish you all the best. I apologize if my response was abrasive at all. I guess I was too quick to jump after hearing this misconception about belts. I certainly agree with the decision not to use gloves or straps.

        2. If you do not use barbells in your weight training, do not train in a gym, and do not lift belted, then why are you commenting on the ill-effects of that style?

  37. I lift in my Vibrams, before I had them I would wear some basic £10 plimsolls with no cushioning. I’d would still take them off to squat & deadlift barefoot.

    Whenever I wear my Vibrams, people always ask where did I get them & how much they cost. They are always shocked at the price tag (classic’s range from £60-£80 in the UK that’s $85-$120 USDs)

  38. I couldnt agree more, my trainer has preached this for years, if you need wrist straps because you dont have the strength than you dont deserve to do the lift, body weight and full body movements like pushing pulling, lifting across multiple planes and doing lower weight for long periods of time is what strengthens not only muscles but tendons ligaments and joints,

    you look at guys like the founder of movnat, or my training http://www.kegconditioning.com or google an image of a real hunter gathering, they look strong, and shredded but not bulky, most gym exercises are founded on body building principles, to make the muscles look good and have little to do with actually using those muscles

    what if you need that strength to pull someone out of a burning building to save their life, you going to have to time to get your gloves, and wrist straps and low back belt?

  39. Great article Mark!

    Just thought I’d throw this in, in case you’re ever in the situation where you need to wear dress shoes again:

    We solved this problem for my husband by getting him Soft Star Ramblers in black leather. He loves them, and the look “dressy” enough for him to wear to work.

    Since we can’t get Five Fingers for the kids, they also wear Soft Stars. We really love the shoes – and they’re handmade in the USA 🙂

  40. Wonderful post.

    To paraphrase one of my mentors:

    “Weight belts for for demonstrating strength not for building it.”

  41. I went glove free and haven’t looked back, and am really surprised at the results. I thought my hands would get rough and calloused, but instead I have deep invisible callouses that you would barely see if you looked closely. My equipment is old, dinged up, gnurlded pretty heavily, rusty and nasty, and it still doesn’t rough me up.

    The best advice after going glove free that helped me was “use more finger, less palm” on the bar. This keeps skin pinching to a minimum, which I believe prevents the blisters and rough callouses that many want to avoid.

    1. Good comment. I’ve had the same positive experience with bare-handed weight lifting and with indoor and outdoor rowing.

  42. I had plantar fasciitis a few years back and was treated by a chiropractor. He was able to completly cure the problem, but part of the treatment and ongoing recommendation was to use inserts such as superfeet to be sure all shoes had a good arch. If I try these minimal shoes, I’m aftraid the plantar fasciitis will return. Have you had any experience with individuals with this problem and their tolerance to minimal shoes?

  43. I know everyone here loves the Vibrams and the Terra Plana; and I in no way want to say anything about how they work for you, or how wonderful they are.

    I just find myself consistently surprised that this group of people seems to largely hew to beliefs about doing what is good for the people and the planet, especially locally… Except when it comes to footwear.

    So, I guess this will stir the pot, but it’s really made to generate thought…

    When you buy shoes made in China, how is that different than buying non-local food or children’s toys? For the employees or our environment.

  44. Good advice, Mark. The less your body is encumbered while using it, the better you can sense how it’s functioning and what it needs to function better. I will say, I do my most useful stretching in the bathroom when I’m minimally clothed! Sometimes even clothes can cause a person to perceive their body in a certain way. If you can alter your perception of your movement, you often find more is possible than you think.

  45. Well put, Mark. The only time I use any kind of strap is when I’m deadlifting 170 pounds or more. And it’s a physiological reason–I have really small hands and I can’t keep my fingers wrapped around the bar at heavier weights because they don’t reach all the way around. I’ve always worked to the weaker side, the weaker muscles, to strengthen and “catch them up.”

  46. Rule of thumb, never squat more than you can pick up off the floor. Will save you a lot of hurt. How primal are squat racks?

  47. Hello Mark, I’ll be one of the speakers at Anthony Johnson’s conference in July, different day than you (I think). Not to jump the gun on my presentation for him, but the issue isn’t whether you should squat with a belt, it’s whether you should squat with a barbell. The architecture of the spine, both bone and muscle, are pretty clearly suited to support a descending load as you move towards the head. The lumber are the thickest and least mobile vertabrae, to support the entire upper body; the thoracic, as you point out, are more mobile, and get smaller as they approach the neck; and the cervical are smallest. Some of the erector spinae group connect lumbar to head, but much of it connects further up the spine to the head. It’s basically a pyramid, and nobody puts a tabletop on a pyramid and expects it to work. Putting a barbell on one’s shoulders is about as counter “functional” as it gets, and downright dangerous at heavy loads.
    Look forward to meeting you in Fla.

    1. So you believe squats are nonfunctional, and (based on your youtube videos and my glance at an interview you did) machine training is beneficial? You have got to be kidding me…

  48. Hi Mark! First-time poster; my boyfriend and I have gone Primal for just over a month now, and we feel great.
    We do use tape for one purpose in the gym, however: to tape up our hands and prevent wicked blisters when we do pullups! 🙂

  49. I love lifting in my Onitzuka Tigers. They are the best for the half-ass parkour I engaged in lugging heavy books across my college campus.

  50. Great post! I’ve felt this way for a long time, and like you, I used to rely on the gear a lot.

  51. Love this naked post Mark.

    Some readers have mentioned calluses on hands. I too have them but they used to be far worse when I did unecessarily heavy deadlifts, now they are just small ones from some naked chin-ups 🙂

    My simple opinion is that if you need gear then the human body wasn’t really built to be put under that strain or do that exercise (I know olympic powerlifters would disagree) but for the vast majority of us, bodyweight work is sufficient and all we need is our naked selves!

    1. What is an Olympic powerlifter? Do you mean an Olympic weightlifter? Powerlifting is not in the Olympics.

  52. I inherited really bad feet; they are wide and have no arches. You cannot get good body alignment with flat feet. I find it painful to walk barefoot. Is there any hope for me?

  53. Mark,

    Have the courage of your convictions and go to meetings shod in barefeet or minimalist footware! You are a growing legend, if you are promoting Primal you need to be seen being Primal (I’m not suggesting a loin clothe!) but seriously don’t wear ‘shoes’ that make your feet hurt.

    I wear my VFF all the time, for everything, have various models and am looking forward to ordering the new Kangaroo Skin ones for the winter, I reckon worn with five toe socks they’ll be just the thing even here in Northern Scotland.

    Who cares what CW thinks … isn’t that the whole point?

  54. My son is an aspiring runner and basketball player. He’s 12.

    After spending the summer in his VFFs camping, he took up cross country at school.

    Moving from running 3-5 miles a week, he went to 25+ a week.

    Developed Sever’s in his heels and he is not a heel striker.

    Doctor’s remedies are all based on heel elevation and cushion.

    Perhaps the opposite might be true and he should go minimal?