Barefoot Running: The FAQ’s

by A Manly Guest Contributor on May 17, 2012 · 131 comments

in Fitness, Health & Sports, Sports

Abebe Bikila, Ethiopian who trained for and won the 1960 Olympic marathon while barefoot.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Shaun Daws from Beginning Barefoot.

For millions of years, our ancestors spread around the globe, treading the earth barefoot over all manner of terrain. As we walked and ran, our feet developed an intricate web of nerves, matched only by those in our hands, which allow us to sense the smallest deviations in the ground. They became capable of withstanding fierce heat and blistering cold by altering the flow of blood and fluids found in our soles.

Over the past two thousand years, as we have moved from a hunter-gatherer society to an agrarian one, the importance of using the full advantages of our feet has been forgotten, in exchange for the comfort and ease of wearing padded shoes.

With the resurgence of walking and running as leisure activities, the importance of healthy feet is once again becoming a serious issue. On average, runners today can expect a 30-80% chance of injury, and this rate hasn’t changed since people started wearing running shoes. In contrast, most of the running injuries seen in the West are nearly non-existent in cultures where shoes are not habitually worn, such as Kenya and Ethiopia.

Recently, people around the globe have been rediscovering the benefits of running barefoot. Even Nike, whose shoes kicked off the jogging revolution nearly half a century ago, has started to release shoes that are designed to mimic barefoot running. For the most part, these have taken the form of “barefoot” shoes that promise to allow your feet to work as they were intended, without extra padding and motion control features to add weight and change how your feet contact the ground.

Despite the increase in popularity of barefoot running, it can be quite daunting to try to weed out what the pros, cons, dangers, and benefits are. The more you search online, the more contradicting opinions, facts, and anecdotes you will come across. So, to set the record straight and give you the most important stuff in one place, I’ve created this Barefoot Running FAQ.

1. Why barefoot running?

The barefoot running movement seems to have sprung up almost overnight a couple years ago. It was around this time that a book called Born to Run was published by author Christopher McDougall, who chronicled his search for an injury-free way to run. The book takes the reader on a journey through the Copper Canyon in Mexico, where a tribe of runners called the Tarahumara live and run incredible distances completely barefoot (or in simple sandals).

The publication of the book coincided with a Harvard study by Prof. Dan Lieberman, which showed that people who grow up running without shoes run differently than those of us who run shod. Though the study did not speculate as to whether barefoot running was better or worse than running in shoes, it did demonstrate that making the switch resulted in softer landings and reduced impact force.

The conclusion that many barefoot runners take from all this is that running unshod reduces the chance of injury from impact and repetitive stress. At the moment there have been precious few studies on the effects of running with and without shoes, but the hope is that the anecdotal evidence of the barefoot community will be borne out as more people become available to be included in studies.

2. Doesn’t it hurt?

If you do it wrong, then yes, it will hurt. If you do it right, however, it will probably still hurt a bit, but it will ease off as you get better at it. The reason for this is that when transitioning to barefoot running, even if you’re running in “barefoot” shoes, you’re changing how you run. This means that you’re using muscles that have likely been underused for years. It takes time for your body to get used to the change, and if you rush through this bit, it can take even longer to adjust.

Interestingly, the most common site for pain in new barefooters is not the soles of the feet as would be expected, but in the calves and Achilles tendons.

If you run in shoes, then you likely land heel-first every time you take a step. Heels aren’t meant to absorb the impact of your stride—only the padding of modern shoes allows the heel-first landing—and the shock goes up the leg to the knees and hips. When you transition to barefoot running, you will learn to land on your forefoot, which allows you to use your body’s natural shock absorbers: the arches, Achilles tendons, and lower legs. This transition takes time and as you get used to the new style of running it can be very easy to overdo it and find yourself needing to take a few days off to let your limbs recover.

One of the great things about barefoot running is that it’s unforgiving. The pain that you feel is your body’s way of letting you know that you’re doing something wrong. By listening to the pain, you can adjust your form, and before long, you’ll be running with excellent form, and pain-free. This is why a lot of barefoot running gurus say to start out on rough gravel instead of grass. The more pain you feel at first, the quicker you will learn to adjust, and the less likely you will be to develop bad habits.

3. How do you transition from running with shoes to running barefoot?

When you start using any muscles that have been dormant for a long time, it takes a while for them to get built up. It’s the same as if you’ve been a couch potato for years, then decide to go out for an afternoon of football with the boys. If you overdo it, you’re going to feel it.

You can lessen the amount of discomfort you feel during the transition period by taking several steps to get your body ready for running barefoot:

The 100-Up

An excellent preparatory exercise is called the 100-up, which is an exercise that has been used by track and field coaches for decades.

The exercise itself is simple: Take your shoes off and stand in place. Now lift one leg up to knee height, then place it back down, being sure to gently place it down, forefoot first. Now repeat with the second leg. Start slowly and work your way up to 100 reps (50 each leg). When you can do 100 of these back-to-back, try doing the same exercise, but faster. The point is not to do as many as you can, as fast as you can, but rather to take your time and focus on doing each repetition perfectly. Here’s a video showing how it’s done:

This deceptively simple exercise works nearly all the muscles involved in barefoot running, and lets your body start to build up the areas that will get the most work when you run. By mastering the 100-up before your first barefoot run, you will dramatically reduce the chance of overdoing it.

Stretching Your Achilles

If you’re a heel-striker, you will probably find that your Achilles tendons have grown tight from years of underuse, so when you finally get out there and start giving them a workout, you will likely induce micro-tears and even tendonitis. To avoid all this pain and aggravation, it’s important to stretch out your Achilles tendons and calves for a few days or even weeks before you do your first barefoot run. Simply stand with your heels hanging off of a step, and dip your heels down, then back up onto your tip-toes a few times. After a week of this, you should be much more prepared to make the transition to running unshod.

Ease Into It

Start your journey into barefoot running by doing a couple of short walks in bare feet or tacking a couple hundred meters of barefoot running to your usual run. Then slowly increase your mileage. Taking the first few weeks slowly will save you a lot of discomfort and make the transition process much more bearable.

4. Will my feet become calloused?

Your soles will also take a little time to adjust to being in contact with the ground. You may experience blisters at first, but this is not because your feet aren’t “tough” enough, rather, your form is not perfect yet and you are creating friction between your feet and the ground. As you learn to run with better form, the amount of friction on the feet is greatly reduced, to the point where your feet don’t need to protect themselves from the ground by developing blisters and callouses. If you ever get the chance to meet a seasoned barefoot runner, ask them if you can look at their soles. What you will see may surprise you: on the whole, the feet of barefoot runners are callous-free and tend to have a slightly puffy sole, with lovely, healthy skin that is kept fresh and new from the constant contact with the ground.

5. What about dirt, glass, syringes, infections, etc?

If there’s one thing that stops prospective barefoot runners from taking their first unshod steps, it’s the fear of treading on sharp objects, such as glass and needles. There is a perception that the roads are littered with all manner of foreign objects just waiting to puncture your feet. The truth is that the amount of glass out there is not nearly as high as you’d expect, and what glass there is is often safety glass from car windows, which is unlikely to cut you. By keeping your eyes open and planning your routes to avoid any likely danger spots (such as bars and convenience store parking lots), you will miss the vast majority of what’s out there.

The great thing about running barefoot is that even if you do happen to step on something sharp, your step is so light, and your foot so pliable, that though it may hurt a little, it’s unlikely to break the skin. The thing to remember is that the human foot evolved out there in nature, where there are all manner of sharp rocks, thorns, and sticks, so the debris found on city streets should not pose a significant problem.

6. Isn’t pavement too hard for bare feet?

Running in nature isn’t the lovely, springy experience that most people think it is. Trails can be incredibly hard, with all sorts of debris strewn about. In contrast, city streets are lovely highways that allow you to run farther and faster than you ever could in the woods.

Your feet are built to handle pretty much anything, and even in a city, the sensations underfoot are many and varied. As you start running barefoot, you will notice how many different types of terrain even a city block can include: pavement, grass, gravel, rough asphalt, sand…you name it. Running barefoot will greatly increase your awareness of terrain and you’ll never look at the road outside your house the same way again.

By learning to use your body’s built-in shock absorbers, you’ll find that even the hardest or roughest surfaces can be managed with ease. When you leave your shoes at home, you are leaving behind an inch or so of padding, but you’re regaining the use of your body’s natural springs which more than makes up for it.

7. Should I get a pair of those feet-gloves?

Minimalist, or “barefoot” shoes are getting more and more popular every day it seems. Like regular shoes, they now come in a huge range of colors, shapes, and styles, and choosing the right pair can be daunting.

The best way to select a pair is to first try running without shoes at all. Give it a go, and see how you like it. You may decide not to buy a pair, in which case, you can spend the $100+ on something else. If you still want shoes at that point, then at least you have a basic understanding of how your feet should move and feel.

The best minimal shoes are those that most closely mimic the function of the foot. They may or may not have toes, but they should have very thin soles, be very lightweight (ideally less than 5oz), and not require socks. It’s highly recommended that you try them out in-store and not just take a chance online, as many of these shoes will fit differently from regular running shoes, especially as most minimals don’t require socks. This will also give you a chance to talk to a (hopefully) experienced salesperson who can ensure you have the correct fit.

8. How far can you run in bare feet?

How far and fast you can run barefoot is largely dependent on how much running you do. For a first-time barefooter, you may only be able to manage a couple hundred meters, but there are plenty of experienced barefoot runners, such as Ken Saxton, who have run full marathons at fast paces without any trouble at all.

Still have a question about barefoot running? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer it!

____________________

Shaun Daws has been an AoM reader since the beginning and has been closely involved in the annual Movember effort. He runs BeginningBarefoot.com, a site dedicated to helping people to transition into barefoot running safely and enjoyably. Follow him on Twitter or visit the BeginningBarefoot Facebook page.

 

{ 131 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Josh May 17, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Something that should be emphasized over and over again is to ease into barefoot running SLOWLY. Also, understand that foot-glove “shoes” are basically the same as barefoot running with a bit of protection, so you must ease into those just as SLOWLY.

Far too many people try to go straight from their highly-padded shoes to a minimalist shoe without transitioning. If minimalist shoes have a bad reputation, it’s because of those ignorant people. Don’t be one yourself – take it slow!

Me, however… I prefer in-between. I’m not a hardcore runner, so the benefits of a barefoot/minimalist shoe don’t really appeal to me. However, I don’t want lazy feet (asking for injury) so I don’t like overly-padded shoes either. I generally go for a closer-to-the-ground full running shoe. Without arch support. Darn arches in my shoes make my feet hurt like none other. My arches can hold themselves up, thank you very much.

2 Dane May 17, 2012 at 5:45 pm

I bought into the barefoot movement a few years ago, and ran my first 10K, half-, and full marathon in a pair of Vibrams. About 8 miles into that marathon, I suffered a metatarsal stress fracture in my left foot. I was able to limp through the rest of the race, taking about two hours longer than I was tracking up to the break. I also broke the same bone again right at the end of the race.

I saw a foot/ankle orthopaedist, and the first thing he asked upon admittance was whether I was running barefoot. When I told him I was, he pulled out facts and figures on the actual science and biomechanics of barefoot vs. shod running. The long and short of it was that barefoot running is what caused my injury, and that a heel-toe stride is far more efficient than a mid-foot stride.

3 Phil Bear May 17, 2012 at 5:59 pm

#6 – False
Concrete is bad for barefoot runners not because of the hard surface, but because of the unnaturally consistent terrain – because of this you are striking the same points on your foot repeatedly, which can lead to a stress fracture.

4 Mike May 17, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Just no! Unless you absolutely know what you’re doing, barefoot running isn’t worth it. The strength increase will only be noticed by elite runners that have already conditioned their bodies for the stress. Even then, it’s dangerous. Your feet have been babied by shoes for years and this stress will most certainly cause injury.
In response to Dane, a heel-toe stride is inefficient. In essence, it’s like running with your brakes on. Also the foot was designed the land mid foot (watch a professional race) and most true running shoes will allow such a motion without injury.
I’ve put in a hair of 22k miles in my 9 year career, and I’ve dealt with half a dozen stress fractures resulting from poor mechanics. I hope that’s all the credibility you need to believe me.

5 JRThom May 17, 2012 at 6:08 pm

The thing you need to look for in a good shoe is zero rise from ball to heel and enough room to let your toes splay.

The first time I ran with minimalist footwear I ran for 45 mins because I considered myself to be a seasoned runner. The next day my outer calves were very sore but after one more day I was good to go again. It took about four 45min-to-1hr runs before my calves would no longer get overly sore the day after. The first time I ran it felt like I was running on my tiptoes and I Immediately noticed that the impacts were much softer. Its also a really efficient way of running at high speeds. I find that my strides are shorter and my calves act like a spring. As the speed increases I can just add some spring to compensate instead of increasing my stride up to a certain speed of course.

If you run and aren’t running barefoot or with minimalist footwear I highly recommend you make the switch immediately and gradually.

6 Dan May 17, 2012 at 6:11 pm

“I’ve put in a hair of 22k miles in my 9 year career, and I’ve dealt with half a dozen stress fractures resulting from poor mechanics. I hope that’s all the credibility you need to believe me.”

Uh, believe you about what? That you’re wrong about barefoot running? Who would want to end up like you with 6 stress fractures?

I dealt with plantar fasciitis for years before I got into barefoot running. After a year of running barefoot, it’s gone. I am injury-free. Follow in my footsteps if you want to run without injuries.

Good post, Shaun.

7 Alex May 17, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Changing my stride to fore-/midfoot strike made all the difference for me when I decided to run. When I first started, with regular sneakers and a heel-to-toe stride, within a few months I was experiencing pain in my knee, which has bothered me on and off for most of my life. The pain got so bad that I had to stop running for a while until it went away.

This was a big disappointment for me, as I was enjoying running quite a bit. I read about barefoot running, and started running (in the same sneakers) with a different stride. After a couple weeks of this, I noticed no pain in my knee, but it still felt ‘off’, for lack of a better term. I decided to get a pair of minimalist shoes, and I’ve been enjoying them since. I don’t know how it changed the mechanics, but it just felt better with those shoes.

I’m not exactly a heavy runner – maybe 8 miles a week – but before I made these changes I was managing half that, and ending each run with a pain in my knee that increased each week. For over a year now, I’ve experienced no pain.

Except, of course, for the day after my first run in the new stride. I pushed myself too hard, and the next day, I swung myself out of my loft bed as usual, climbed halfway down the ladder, and jumped down, only this time I collapsed in a heap, my calves having given up on life sometime in the middle of the night. I had to call into work sick that day; I couldn’t walk. After that initial shock, however, it quickly got easier.

A friend of mine who has had bad knees most of her life just got a pair of vibrams, and after putting her calves through the same hazing is now enjoying running without any pain. Only time will tell, of course, how this will play out for both of us in the long run, but for now the “barefoot craze” seems to be working out pretty well for us. This is purely anecdotal – results may vary, I suppose. In any case, the important thing is to Do What Makes You Feel Good.

Dane, I have to ask: Though in this case barefoot running may have caused your initial injury, why would you continue to run on an injured foot?

8 Mike May 17, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Dan,
Sorry, for some reason I a paragraph didn’t copy.
I do most of my mileage barefoot (well, minimalist using Asics Gel Pirahna’s). My feet are overly strong, causing me to hyper supinate (roll outwards) and at the recommendation of a doctor with running knowledge (running knowledge is key***) was able to make the transition.
Most runners pronate and doing this barefoot will cause injury. The stress of the roll will first cause medial tibia problems ranging from shin splints to full fractures.
Like I said, you have to know what you’re doing before trying barefoot running, it will be a detriment to *most* people.

9 Richard May 17, 2012 at 6:23 pm

“Over the past two thousand years, as we have moved from a hunter-gatherer society to an agrarian one”
Ahem…

10 JRThom May 17, 2012 at 6:24 pm

If you were injured running barefoot I’d be willing to bet that you were doing it wrong. Its extremely easy to injure yourself if you don’t understand the concept before you start.

If you think about it theres a reason why a recent college graduate like Jeremy Lin and many many other basketball players have to get knee surgery or at least have occasional sprains while a small percent of olympic runners have any injuries at all.

11 Loren Wade May 17, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Long time fan of Shaun “Barefoot” Daws(y) here.

He’s a great friend and an incredible teacher when it comes to this stuff. Great article, man.

12 JS May 17, 2012 at 6:30 pm

I’m not going to say barefoot running is a bad idea for everyone, but it was a bad idea for me.

I’m a decent runner, I can do 5 miles with relative ease. I bought into the barefoot running craze and got me a $100 pair of Vibrams. I started off slowly, going only a few blocks, then a half mile, then a mile, slowly working my way up to the distance I run with regular shoes. Exactly how they say you’re supposed to.

I ended up with tendonitis so bad I could barely walk for an entire month, much less run. Now I have a $100 pair of water shoes, for using in rivers and lakes.

13 Tim May 17, 2012 at 6:33 pm

I started barefoot like the article recommends and I’ve been running in vibrams for about two years now. I’ve done 5 half marathons and one full in them. My opinion is that they are fantastic for getting your mechanics in order, strengthening your calves and also generally make the running experience more enjoyable. I think that unless you ramp up very very gradually they are inadequate for distances longer than a half marathon. The pounding that the bones in your feet take at distances over 15 miles or so is pretty serious. I’d recommend using them for training runs but doing the long distances in a more substantial shoe.

14 John B. May 17, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Would it be better to try on grass, instead? I’ve run bafefoot in martial art classes,andwith a padded mat, all I experienced was calf soreness.

15 KariKlay May 17, 2012 at 6:39 pm

If I were a man, I’d want to be as manly as Shaun ‘BarefootDawsy’ Daws! There are some great comments here about peoples’ success with barefoot running the *right* way. If you are injured, you’re doing it wrong. Isn’t that how it goes for everything? Check out Daws’ blog IMO for pro tips!

16 Barefoot Dawsy May 17, 2012 at 6:45 pm

@Josh You’re exactly right. Slowly easing into barefoot running is the way to do it, especially for those of us who have always worn shoes.

@Dane Running barefoot is a sport like any other and has its risks and rewards. There are no guarantees that you won’t get injured, and running too far or two fast before you’re ready definitely has its risks. Re-fracturing your foot within the same race is an extreme example of not stopping when your body tells you to.

As for heel-toe striking being more efficient, this is the first I’ve heard of it and would love to read the literature that you saw. In the sense that you use less energy to heel-strike I will concede that, however
you also get no energy back so the net difference is likely to favour the forefoot striker.

@Phil Bear As long as you run within your abilities, this should not be a problem. Issues arise when runners go too far and run while too tired. As your feet begin to tire, your form slips, which in turn reduces your
ability to absorb shocks. If pushing yourself beyond the physical limits of the body is the key, then by all means, wear shoes.

@JRThom Totally agree

@Dan Thanks :)

@Alex Yep, the initial transition is by far the hardest, but once you get through it, it’s life-changing

@Mike There’s nothing overtly wrong with pronation. It’s part of the natural movement of the foot, and stopping it from occurring can itself cause problems. You are definitely right though that barefoot running isn’t for everyone. It takes dedication and a willingness to listen to the singals from your body.

@Richard yeah ok, maybe it was a little longer than that… ;)

17 Barefoot Dawsy May 17, 2012 at 6:54 pm

@Loren thanks mate :)

@JS Tendonitis is a common complaint in new barefoot runners. A lot of it stems from using muscles and tendons that have been previously under-used, which causes them to tighten up. I’m sad to see that you gave it up for this reason, but I’m sure you’re not the first. Proper warm-up and cool-down techniques and stretching can go a long way to allieviating this problem.

@Tim I agree, starting barefoot is definitely the way to go. As for long distance running, it’s totally possible, but requires an additional level of commitment beyond what’s necessary for training up to the half-marathon level. I agree that for most people a little extra padding might help them reach a marathon goal sooner.

@John B Grass is definitely more comfortable, but is analogous to wearing shoes. By running on soft surfaces, you’re reducing the feedback received by your feet and lower limbs, so it’s really easy to develop bad habits. That being said, it is very nice running on grass, just don’t do it exclusively and watch out for sharp stuff!

@KariKlay thanks very much!

18 Paul May 17, 2012 at 7:38 pm

In the martial arts, all workouts are done barefoot, and my class uses ladder drills for a warmup. A rope ladder lies on the hardwood floor with the rungs spaced about 18 inches apart, and we run in several different stride patterns. Because the rungs are so close together, we have to land on the forefoot to hit every space between the rungs. Oh, and my dojang has a hardwood floor. No padding.

19 Cory B. in Broken Arrow May 17, 2012 at 7:39 pm

I’ve found it immensely entertaining at how zealous people get over their hobbies, sports, and obsessions. It seems everyone has a strong opinion that could be supported or denounced by one study or another.

Isn’t that how it’s been, though, on most every subject in the medical field over the past half-century? Just when you feel like you’ve finally mastered your diet by cutting out such and such by adding what’s-its-name, the latest ‘Dr. Oz’ of his respective field comes out with a new study informing you of how everyone’s been wrong all along.

Personally, I’m pretty new to this whole running thing at 38. So, to say I know what I’m talking about when giving a ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ opinion is exaggeration at its finest. However, after having been inspired by articles like this from AOM, it’s been my recent experience to never let a lifelong ignorance or hatred remain untested. Go out and buy a straight razor…you might just like it. Hate running?(like I am learning not to!) Try a different kind of running..ie. barefoot, Tough Mudder competitions, whatever.

In short, don’t let the ‘negative Nancies’ disuade you from trying something new. If the romantic notion appeals to you, try it. If you do, and get injured, don’t go on a friggin’ crusade about something you have only a cursory understanding of in the first place. But, most of all, quit whining and leave the rest of us to our exciting new horizons.

20 Parker May 17, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Be careful with minimal shoes or toe shoes. They provide little shock absorption, so unless you change your running style, you’ll get shin-splints quick. I’m a highly competitive cross-country runner in high school, and my mother works in the orthopedics department at Bethesda Army-Navy Medical Center. She says that they often see impact related leg issues as a result of people running in toe shoes. You have to make the transition slowly. You would be better off running barefoot in soft places and saving yourself the money of buying toe-shoes.

21 Barefoot Dawsy May 17, 2012 at 9:54 pm

@Paul interesting, my first barefoot exercising was on hardwood doing karate

@Cory B Yep, some things you just have to try for yourself!

@Parker Yep, slowly transitioning is the key, but rather than run on soft surfaces, better to learn to run softly on hard ones (with or without shoes)

22 cody May 17, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Great article! The only thing I thought was kind of funny was ” On average, runners today can expect a 30-80% chance of injury.” 30-80? That’s a huge range. Haha!

23 Gabe May 17, 2012 at 10:06 pm

“For millions of years, our ancestors spread around the globe, treading the earth barefoot over all manner of terrain.” To begin I use minimalist shoes and believe that if you are a healthy individual with relatively normal feet “barefoot” running is a great option. But the first line of this paper is ridiculous. The closest human ancestor to even fully bipedal locomotion is the Neanderthal, who at the most evolved around 500,000 years ago. Other supposed ancestors were not fully bipedal (that is they could stand up right and move, but not quickly and for long distances). My wife is a podiatrist and their is mixed scientific reports. The idea is to get to a more natural style of running on the balls of the feet not the heels. In order to transition it takes time so everyone is right begin slow, and if you have flat feet even slower. If they work for you great if not, just wear them as garden shoes. I just hate when people use ” evolution ancestors” as a way to promote their current health trend.

24 Aaron May 17, 2012 at 10:14 pm

I disagree with a major point in 7, actually. Going from shod running to totally barefoot is a huge jump that a lot of people probably won’t be able to do completely or comfortably. I wear my vibrams when I run as well as whenever I’m not at work so my feet are used to going around without support, but still with some minor protection. I went running once on my well known (to me) route and wasn’t able to even do all of it because of the varying terrain (asphalt, some rocks, concrete, brick, dirt, etc.). I haven’t done it again yet, I’ll admit, because my feet are still too sensitive to the surfaces I run on. If people do this to find out if they like minimalist running, it’ll scare everyone away.

I’d therefore highly recommend going from running shoes to vibrams (gradually!!!) and then to barefoot. Vibrams are the happy medium, really, and well received by lots of people.

25 mlehenb May 17, 2012 at 10:39 pm

After several attempts to train for a marathon, I found out that the injuries I kept experiencing were due the fact that one leg was 9 mm shorter than the other and with focused physical therapy combine with a heel lift and shoes with proper stability support, I was finally able to complete a marathon. I also found out that my afflictions are actually relatively common, and I think that a post like this is so likely to cause a great deal of injury is irresponsible. I believe that there is certainly a segment of the population that can benefit from barefoot running , but to suggest that anyone try it without extensive running experience or serious professional consultation is very irresponsible.

26 Rich May 17, 2012 at 11:50 pm

So, what of those of us with no arch? And I do mean NO arch, my wet footprint is a large oval with 5 smaller ones above it…

27 Thomas May 18, 2012 at 12:01 am

I’ve run in Vibrams for the past two years. I’ve run marathons in them, am about to compete in my first triathlon next week, and log about 70 running miles a week. I’m a high school track coach, and I’ve never been injured.

The key point, though, is that I’ve never been injured, even in the years I spent running in the “typical” running shoes I used to wear.

Good running form is the most important thing, even beyond shoes or lack of shoes. Runners with poor form are going to run poorly and injure themselves with or without shoes. Most people just go out and run, they don’t have the education or training to transition properly to barefoot shoes.

I’ve recommended Vibrams to three runner friends. Every single one ended up with a stress fracture. I’ve stopped recommending shoes completely. Instead of worrying about shoes, focus on good form running (GFR).

28 Barefoot Dawsy May 18, 2012 at 12:18 am

@cody I know! You’d be surprised at how hard it is to find decent and consistent data about running injuries. The definition changes from paper to paper, and depends on a lot of factors from training styles/times/speeds, etc….30-80% is the most honest statistic I could find

@Gabe The first line of this post wasn’t meant to imply that all of our ancient ancestors could run, but that we started using our bare feet and have been evolving since then. I don’t think that in this case you can really just discount evolution as relevant, since it’s been instrumental in how our bodies have ended up the way they are. You are correct that transition should be done slowly, but in truth, only a small percentage of the population should have issues serious enough to stop them from doing some level of running in bare feet.

@Aaron Generally there are 2 schools of thought on this. Personally, I too transitioned via Vibrams, but I have known people who jumped straight into bare feet and never looked back. It comes down to personal choice but both methods should be do-able by almost anyone given that they take adequate time to transition.

@mlehenb As I mentioned above, there is a percentage of the population for whom barefoot running will never be the best option, but for the vast majority, there is nothing at all wrong with learning to run barefoot. Out of curiosity, was your marathon training done barefoot or in minimal shoes?

29 Barefoot Dawsy May 18, 2012 at 12:43 am

@Rich I have limited experience with fallen arches, and don’t know any barefoot runners personally with them. I have read stories of people with fallen arches regaining them to some extent, some whose flat feet don’t seem to be an issue, and others who had no luck at all. This is one area I’d love to see more study done in, but so far it’s a bit of an unknown. That being said, you can always try it out by starting really slow and for short distances, with lots of recovery time and see how it goes from there. I’d probably go completely unshod to get maximum feedback and stop running when they start getting tired/sore.

@Thomas I totally agree…good form is abolutely key. I’ve found that barefoot running has helped me to learn correct form and can do the same for others. The hard thing is shifting the mentality of trying to run through pain I think…running might be uncomfortable at times, but it shouldn’t hurt. Add to that the erroneous notion that Vibram wearer need to ‘run on their toes’ and there’s plenty of opportunity for injury. Transitioning to barefoot/minimal shoes has to be done properly, or else the risk of injuries is very real.

30 M Hsueh May 18, 2012 at 12:58 am

I love love love barefoot running, but do I have to caution anyone who is considering barefoot running, PLEASE heed the advice to ease into it.

I am currently recovering from a rupture Achilles tendon (happened 2 months ago, total recovery time of 7-9 months after surgery) because I did not do this. I had been running with Vibrams for a a few months but stopped for about a year. I started running with them again doing sprint sets at a track which resulted tendonitis in my Achilles tendon. About 2 weeks later during regular practice (I didn’t do anything strange or fall or slip) I suddenly ruptured my Achilles tendon. It was not a happy event.

All of this being said, I still think that barefoot running is the way to go. Just please be careful about starting it up slowly!

31 Leont May 18, 2012 at 1:57 am

A few weeks ago, I was hiking, and my shoe’s were killing as I started to get wound because of them on my heels. So I decided to take them of and the 2 and half hours (this is one of the most difficult paths I took), and I was amazed how good I felt. The dirt felt amazing under my feet, with me feeling every change, even I could feel where water was running underground. Im not sure about running, I think its good, but its great for hiking :)

32 Jon May 18, 2012 at 2:40 am

@ barefood dawsy- I have flat feet and use both nike free and nike SF boots (I’m in the army), both are designed to be like barefoot and I run better/faster in them then I do my regular motion control nikes. In fact, I bought the new shoes to help with shin splints, but after training in the free, going back and forth really messes with my stride, so I stick to the free now. I like the free because I tend to run on gravel roads and snow here in alaska. they are also great for weights.

hope that helps! you should try it, I think my feet are stronger now than they were a few years ago when my arches fell.

33 Jonathan Bennett May 18, 2012 at 3:04 am

I’ve just switched to near-barefoot running (the New Balance Minimus 20′s) and I love it. It’s much more comfortable for me than running with running shoes. I did get some blisters last run out, but I think that’s partly because I didn’t tie the shoes tightly enough, they were slipping on my feet just walking in them. The advice about taking it slow is essential though, my roommate also just started running with the same shoes.

He didn’t take it slow and now he has tendonitis in the tendons that run beside the achilles heel.

Also, the best advice I got for it is that your foot generally shouldn’t land in front of your center of gravity. It should land directly under it.

34 Barend May 18, 2012 at 5:58 am

IF you want to start running, can you begin with running barefoot, or do you have to start with shoes?

35 Joseph Lalonde May 18, 2012 at 6:40 am

I’ve been running in my minimilst shoes around 8 months. I must say that I absolutely love them.

My feet and calves killed the first couple of times that I ran in them. I thought I was going to die. That didn’t happen.

In fact, most of the pain has gone away. No shin splints, no joint pains, etc..

Now I’m running further and faster than I ever have. Just completed a 25k in them as well.

36 Brian O'Keefe May 18, 2012 at 7:43 am

I tried to make the switch to barefoot running last May, but I definitely did it incorrectly even though I knew better. I made too many changes all at the same time: I switched to running barefoot using a mid-foot strike, on a track, and at the same time I was starting to do 400 repeats after not having done speed work for a few years. After two track sessions, I had Achilles tendinitis in both legs that still hasn’t not totally subsided a year later despite all the stretching I’ve done and compression wraps I’ve used. I’m back to running, but I had to abandon all the races that I had planned for last summer, and I’ve had to back off from playing basketball. I’m still intrigued by barefoot running, and may try it again, starting much more slowly this time.

37 R. Kelly Johnson May 18, 2012 at 7:55 am

I gotta get me some of these barefoot shoes.

38 Richard May 18, 2012 at 8:23 am

I asked my podiatrist about those foot-gloves and he said he loves them, they make him a lot of money. They’re OK if you have no foot problems, but if you do have any foot problems, they will make them worse. He recommends full, close-toed shoes with substantial arch support. I would venture to guess that he feels the same way about running barefoot.

39 James May 18, 2012 at 8:32 am

First of all, we should be not only running barefoot, but also doing all our day-to-day walking. Unfortunately, society dictates that we do wear shoes. And as for the running, most gyms don’t allow people to use the cardio equipment or even a track without wearing footwear.

Secondly, over the last few thousand years we haven’t been evolving that much of a foot for going barefoot. Footwear’s been around for thousands of years, so most people have been doing much of their moving on artificial soles of some sort.

Thirdly, another reason we haven’t been evolving ANY beneficial traits is that as humans we have feelings and empathy. The only way survival of the fittest and strengthening of our species would work is if those with the weaker traits died off quicker and had fewer offspring. This is more true with diseases and disorders, but much less true with smaller things like how well we run. Because nobody is going to let their family member die off just because they can’t run and catch their food, or run and get away from a predator.

40 Michael May 18, 2012 at 8:54 am

Barefoot running and walking is the best thing I have done for my feet since I was a little kid. Now that I am using the muscles in my feet (like we all were born to do) my arch is improving, I no longer get shin splints or sore knees when I run and the proprioception feedback has improved my mind/body relationship. I train barefoot, (I am a RKC kettlebell instructor) which gives me more strength, better form (more natural movement) and more efficiency.

41 Tin Man May 18, 2012 at 9:44 am

Dawsy! Great article. I’d like to add that I’m running in Altra Instincts, which are shoes that have no heel-to-toe drop. They get me running with better form but still offer some of the benefits of shod running.

42 Don F May 18, 2012 at 9:52 am

Another anecdote:

I switched from regular running shoes to Merrill Trail Gloves 15 months ago and love them. Zero drop, less padding than the NB Minimus for more ground feel. Bought the black leather version for casual Fridays and times when my Trail Gloves aren’t appropriate. I felt like the Vibrams would’ve caused havoc in between my toes and I probably wouldn’t have liked all the extra attention anyways.

The slow transition is key. Sore calves are (I think) inevitable but can be worked through.

I’ve run distances up to half marathons in them. Recently I used them for a trail half. Gravel at mile 12.5 isn’t a whole lot of fun. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of trail options around my house so I don’t get a lot of opportunity to build up that level of toughness. A pavement half earlier this year left me with a couple of blisters but otherwise OK. For me, 13.1 miles is probably the limit for me and my barefoot shoes. Unfortunately, I can’t go back to regular shoes because 1) my already wide feet have gotten wider and regular shoes make my feet feel like sausages and 2) regular shoes feel like high heels and feel unstable.

I don’t understand the hard line some people take for either camp. Some experts say barefoot is good, some say it’s bad. I think it’s safe to say that nobody actually knows 100% which is right. If you are interested, try it for yourself and see if you like it. No need to push your opinion on others as fact. Live and let live.

43 ~*~Wicked Pixie~*~ May 18, 2012 at 10:00 am

Great article.
Super informative and well written.

Everything that KariKlay said &

Cody, I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Just get out there and TRY something new. If you like it and it works for you, DO IT. If it sucks for you DON’T! Seems a simple enough concept to me!

44 Buz May 18, 2012 at 10:46 am

I don’t really run a lot and when I do run it is usually in cleats (soccer of course.) I wonder if you get similar benefits though because you are still forced to a forefoot strike. Do you know if anyone has studied the transition from cleats to barefoot? It seems that it would be easier than from running shoes.

45 Kyle L. May 18, 2012 at 11:24 am

As a barefoot runner, and the odd one out that rarely wears shoes even to the grocery store, I can say I can support this. However, for anyone transitioning I would say all the people who have had injuries have done it too fast! Just because you have taken time does not mean you have changed your stride and running mechanics, which is what you need to do. In short you are re-teaching yourself to run.
When i first started running seriously, I got myself some nice running shoes, and within two months I had an Achilles tendon rapture, among other stress fractures. It was not the shoes, it was because I was running out of my element. These are all things that literally never happen barefoot, for me.
So for everyone out there hating, I would not say that all injuries are caused by barefoot running, nor would I say shod running is the cause of any problems, it depends on how you learned to run, and even walk, because my natural gate is very different from people who normally wear shoes. Barefoot running just might be easier for those of us who were never into the shoe thing and I would not recommend the transition without a lot of practice out of shoe.

46 Barefoot Dawsy May 18, 2012 at 11:42 am

@M Hsuej Ouch! I hope that you feel better soon. Sprint training’s a tricky one barefoot. It’s so much easier for your form to slip when sprinting, as you tire more quickly and have less time to adjust your stride. Plus, with the added pressure from the pushing off involved when sprinting, I can see how it would be much easier to cause a bit of damage. Again, like you said, it’s all about easing into it.

@Leont barefoot hiking is amazing, especially on muddy tracks

@Jon Thanks Jon! I’m definitely going to do more research in this area. It’s great to hear first-hand accounts.

@Jonathan Bennett Good point. If you do run in shoes (of any type), fitting them properly is essential. Sorry to hear about your roommate…hope he’s fully recovered now.

@Barend You can definitely start barefoot, and in fact a lot of barefoot runners recommend it. The main thing is to take is slow, and build up. It means running fewer miles initially, but the long term improvements to your form are worht it

@Joseph Lalonde great to hear it!

@Brian O’Keefe sorry to hear about that…hope you recover soon. As mentioned above, sprint training is one of the harder styles of running to transition to and requires a bit extra care and time

@R. Kelly Johnson give ‘em a go!

@Richard there’s definitely a risk of overdoing it in minimal shoes when trying to do too much too soon. Ufortunately, just strapping a pair of minimal shoes is not enough to make you a better runner, and you have to work at it. As for adding arch support, it’s a sure-fire way to weaken your feet and guarantee a dependence on orthotics. An arch is weekened as you add support beneath it, and strengthened with use.

@James True, some gyms don’t allow bare feet (unfortunately), which is one of the great things about the new barefoot shoes that are now available. As for evolution, our bodies as a whole are designed for running. I very much doubt that a couple thousand years of shoe wearing will have undone that. The problem to overcome is that most people today have worn shoes their whole lives, and so have weakend the muscles used for barefoot running in the process. This is what makes transition difficult.

@Michael Excellent!

@Tin Man thanks mate, great to hear you’re enjoying the Altras

@Don F Totally agree!

@~*~Wicked Pixie~*~ Thanks!

@Buz Unfortunately, no, I’ve never heard of such a study, but that would make an interesting one indeed!

47 Stephen May 18, 2012 at 11:44 am

@Buz, You’ve picked a good period in history to try barefoot football. The old style balls would probably just break your foot.

I think you might see a good effect from the extra contact with the ball. You see incredible players who grew up playing barefoot out of necessity.

I can see a massive risk of slicing your foot if you clash with someone who is wearing boots, though.

48 Bill May 18, 2012 at 11:56 am

Oh, and don’t forget your tetanus shot.

49 Josiah Sorrels May 18, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Even the military has gotten into it. The Air Force is investigating the potential benefit and designing more minimalist running gear for airmen.

50 George May 18, 2012 at 2:03 pm

If you’re going to be running off the beaten path or in a park, I’d put on a pair of minimalist shoes rather than go pure barefoot. There are several helminth parasites that can enter your body through bare feet if you step on an area that has contaminated animal feces.

Roundworms can also be transmitted to humans in this way from household pets. I’d be especially wary of people who let their dogs crap on the trail and don’t clean it up.

Don’t let this hold you back, just be aware.

51 Barend May 18, 2012 at 3:01 pm

@ Dawsy, thanks for your replay!. Do you know anywhere where I can find a buildup program or something?

52 Tank May 18, 2012 at 3:56 pm

I am overweight and have not done any serious exercising in several years, however i am looking to turn that around. Is this something I can start in my current condition?

53 Woody waite May 18, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Like everything in life, one method does not work for everyone. I am a barefoot success story. Whether it is in swimming, cycling, or any athletic endeavor, one method or techinique does not work for everyone. All we can do is experiment until we find what works for us.
To those who are “experienced”, listening to your body should have givien you a clue to what is or is not working long before the injury occured. It sounds like most of the injuries discussed here were chronic in nature, and not caused by an acute inident. Even the stressfractures i experienced with traditional running shoes were of my own making. The pain was there long before the actual injury occured.

54 Barefoot Dawsy May 18, 2012 at 9:59 pm

@Bill Always better to be safe than sorry, though the chances of a puncture are much lower than you’d think

@Josial Sorrels Interesting…I’ll have to see if I can find out more about that! Thanks :)

@George You bring up a good point, though generally the risk of this sort of thing is very remote. Of course, you can never have too many reasons not to run through dog poo!

@Barend Have a look at my “6 weeks to barefoot running” series http://beginningbarefoot.com/2011/11/29/6wtbr-part-1-baring-your-soles/

@Tank you can definitely give this a go, though I’d emphasise the importance of starting slow and working on developing good running form. You might want to start out with walking barefoot/minimalist. I’d recommend checking out Chi Walking, which is a great way to learn the principles of walking while keeping your weight over your feet.

@Woody I totally agree. Pain is our body’s way of telling us that we’re doing something that’s causing damage. Ignoring these signals for whatever reason is seldom a good way to go.

55 Ben May 18, 2012 at 11:53 pm

In general, I like Cory B’s outlook on this, or really any, issue – try something or don’t but don’t allow some sort of blind fandom to dictate how other people should do things.

I switched to this style about 4 years ago. I never read Born to Run but I remember seeing the author on the Daily Show and thought it was interesting. I had been running for years and I liked what I heard so I tried it. To be honest, I did jump right into it but that is kind of how I always operate – impulsively rush into anything I undertake. I didn’t have any problems. I read some articles about how I would have to adjust my technique and running style and then let loose. My feet were sore at first but nothing I couldn’t push through and I kept my same running habits (about 6-10 miles, 5-6 days/week). I noticed that, contrary to what someone else said, I stopped getting shin splints, which would sometimes plague me, and an intermittent knee problem that had been plaguing me for a bit had not resurfaced. So, I like it and haven’t looked back – I also love that when I travel my running sandals hardly take up any space.

My only soapbox (because I don’t care to convert other people to barefoot/minimalist running or not ) is that I don’t know why anyone would pay $100+ for those ridiculous-looking Vibram five-fingers or the high price for Merrel’s, etc. I paid around $30 to make my own with a kit from Barefoot Ted (not advertising here, just stating a fact – I’ve bought supplies from Invisible Shoe as well; the only two suppliers I know of). I have one pair for the roads and another, slightly thicker and with nubs, for trail running (which is my normal run). With that initial small investment of money and time, I have not had to replace them after all of these years. I would suggest making your own for the low price, the ease and the packability – and you don’t look like a tool wearing expensive socks.

Good article.

56 Andrew May 19, 2012 at 12:36 am

This is a big thing among my running friends. Lots of debate back and forth and a few lone runners (pioneers?) advocating the bare foot approach. I would be keen to give a go one day, but still like my comfortable shoes.

Thanks for the fantastic post.

57 Deli May 19, 2012 at 4:24 am

The whole barefoot against heel-toe debate reminds of my friends, that do high-jumps in rollerskates or FSK (free-skate – urban environment cross-country-esque roller-blade marathons)

The guy who taught me about it said “first and foremost learn to amortize you fall with your legs, or you’ll be picking random pieces of your spine from your underpants”

58 Ken Bob Saxton May 19, 2012 at 10:22 am

Dane,

If you were running in minimalist footwear you were NOT running “Barefoot”. As Josh correctly points out, “Barefoot Running” gets a lot of the blame for people who want to run
“barefoot” but want to avoid the sensible solution (literally), by blocking the sensations that teach them to run more gently and avoid the excess stress and strain that cause stress fractures and other injuries in minimalist footwear runners who never even tried actual barefoot running.

59 Branden Smeester May 19, 2012 at 12:38 pm

I thought I would write my two cents about this topic. It always generates a lot of opinions, and as a barefoot runner myself, I am always excited to educate people on the pros and cons of barefoot running.

First and foremost, it is highly important that you try this technique with an open mind. Understand why you want to try it, what about it fascinates you, are you the type of person to give up easily, do you have pre-existing running problems (aches, tendonitis, PCL,MCL, etc. problems). What I have found is that beginners to this concept often hurt themselves early, thus creating a negative feedback in their minds about barefoot running.

Personally, in my opinion, barefoot running is no more ‘safe’ than running in conventional shoes. It wasn’t that ‘god’ intended humans to do, it doesn’t make you better than the next runner, you are not any faster without shoes than with shoes on average. It is just a different approach to an age old human condition, fighting obesity and staying healthy.

I don’t advocate either approach (shoes, minimalist, normal shoes), just educate those that want to try something different. My year of experience with barefoot running doesn’t make me the lead authority on it, just a satisfied customer.

Common issues among individuals on the fence with regards to trying it revolve around:

1. Dangerous objects in the road, path, etc.
2. Painful blisters, overly gross callouses
3. Furthering existing injuries

These are all real concerns to some individuals, which brings me back to my initial statement. Barefooting or really just trying anything new in general requires you to be a certain kind of individual. You must free your mind from others’ opinions and go for it. See what it’s like. Just try it. You may love it (like I do) or hate it. Which in the later case, just put your shoes back on and be on your merry way. Simple as that.

I have found like many individuals that my running injuries are now minimal. Barefoot running has brought a new feeling to me when I run, I am more excited and most importantly: AWARE. The world is not littered in syringes and sharp objects waiting to cut you. I mean how many nails have popped your car tire in the last year?

If anyone has questions on running barefoot, training regimes to get you started, fun exercises to get better at it, reasons why you shouldn’t try it, etc. just email me. smees001@umn.edu

60 Barefoot Dawsy May 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm

@Ben Great to hear you’ve had a positive experience. As for the Vibrams, it comes down to personal preference, but I agree, my $25 DIY Invisible Shoes are every bit as good as VFFs, though it’s debatable as to whether they look beeter or worse :)

@Andrew Give it a go, you may surprise yourself!

@Deli Love the quote lol!

@Ken Bob Saxton Thanks very much for commenting – feedback from the masters is always greatly appreciated! The main advantage of running fully barefoot is that you don’t get the luxury of forgetting to run with good form. When starting out in minimals, you can feel a lot more sensation than in regular shoes, but your feet become accustomed to this fairly quickly. I think this is one of the reasons why experienced minimal runners often start to see injuries – the sensations lessen and form starts to slip (especially over long distances). This is one of the main reasons that I shifted to full barefoot after initially transitioning with Vibrams.

61 Tim Luimes May 19, 2012 at 1:07 pm

the agrarian society has been around longer than just 2000 years.

62 Barefoot Dawsy May 19, 2012 at 2:05 pm

@Tim yes, yes, sorry about that, it was a typo

63 Benjamin May 19, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Maybe someone could do an Art of Manliness article on evaluating data and scientific claims. While there is some interesting data on barefoot running, there are definitely some problems with our current fund of knowledge in this arena:
1. A lot of the research is either lab data (pressure plate studies, etc.) or it is anthropological data. Neither of these types of data are capable of telling us whether barefoot/minimalist running is good for people on average.

2. It is very dangerous to extrapolate broad recommendations based on anecdotes. Just because my great uncle smoked a pack and a half a day and lived to be 80 doesn’t mean that smoking will help you live to be older than average. The same thing applies to barefoot running. People self-select to become barefoot runners, and many seem to thrive. However, this doesn’t mean that it is a good choice for people on average. The only thing that would be able to clearly establish the efficacy/safety of barefoot vs shod running would be though a large, long term randomized trial (obviously very difficult to do).

3. Many of the early studies on minimalist shoe gear are industry sponsored…

Not arguing for or against it, but I think that people should at least be made aware of the weaknesses in the existing body of literature. To quote one astute reviewer of “Born to Run,” “the plural of anecdote is not data.”

Also, if you want to look at an article that raises some interesting counterpoints, there is an article by Eric Blumen, MD PHD (also from Harvard) that chronicles injuries sustained by barefoot runners. Again, just a case series, but at least a sober dissenting voice.

Thanks,
Benjamin Carelock

64 Andrew May 19, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Thank you for that article. Now I know why I have constant calf cramps.

65 Barefoot Dawsy May 19, 2012 at 8:54 pm

@Benjamin Amen! I would LOVE to see some decent studies about this stuff. The few oft-quoted ones are, in my view, way too small and overly controlled to be of any use. That being said, finding ANY articles that explain how running shoes are in any way helpful is just as hard. In fact, there was a study out of Newcastle University in Australia whose purpose was to demonstrate there there were literally no articles available to support the claim that running shoes actually prevent injuries. It would be much easier to point to a paper that ends the debate and say SEE!!, but until then, we’re stuck with anecdote and self-experimentation.

@Andrew hopefully a little extra warming up, cooling down, and stretching will help that!

66 ManwallDotCom May 20, 2012 at 1:00 pm

They have pretty solid shoe/socks now, some even have separate toes, that help a lot. Running on grass is best.

67 Andrew May 20, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Thank you for taking the time to respond to our comments. Now that I have read them, more questions from me.

I have a treadmill, mostly so that I have a place to exercise in cold or rain; also because my damaged (acl/mcl) knee likes the softer impact. I have been doing mostly walking, especially since the transition to vibrams. I have worked my way up to an hour and half walking in comfort. That — and seeing the first 50 pounds come off — has inspired me to want to add running.

I have come to realize that, even though walking had a transition period, it hasn’t really prepared me for running. Maybe it was necessary, but definitely not sufficient.

I am also thinking that, based on your article, the barefoot (or minimalist) and treadmill combination could be a bad idea. The same softer impact that my knees were enjoying also isn’t doing much to build up my leg muscles (which would probably protect those knees).

1) I think I can guess you would recommend staying outside when I can, but even in yucky weather, would you vote against using a treadmill at all?

2) If the other choice were an elliptical machine, would it change your answer?

3) Ok, so here I am doing my hypthetical transitioning exercises. After I am done, should I stop, or do you think it is OK to put on traditional shoes and continue a workout? In other words, if I jog a quarter mile barefoot (or minimalist), and I still want more exercise, would you avoid having that exercise be running in padded shoes?

68 Andrew May 20, 2012 at 1:43 pm

OH!

4) I still have 50 pounds to go. Are there any additional, specific, recommendations you would make for fat people? I assume the extra weight affects our strides.

69 Dan May 20, 2012 at 8:00 pm

I switched to a pair of barefoot shoes a couple of months ago for work. Since then I’ve had some serious issues with one of my Achilles — it’s gotten super stiff, to the point that I no longer wear the shoes. Any recommendations?

70 Paris May 20, 2012 at 10:34 pm

NEVER DO THIS.

It’s cool until you tear a couple plantar plates. We’re talking permanent damage.

71 Barefoot Dawsy May 20, 2012 at 11:38 pm

@ManwallDotCom Yep, Vibrams as mentioned are great shoes with toes, and Injinji make excellent toe socks if you’re interested. As for running on grass, it’s more comfortable, but certainly not better, and can lead to bad habits

@Andrew My pleasure, keep the great questions coming! Here are the answers you seek:

1. Yeah, outside is best, but if you have to use a treadmill, make sure you use a moderate incline and try to run near the back of the treadmill. This should reduce a bit of the friction involved and reduce the chance of blisters. You may want to add some feet-strengthening exercises like 100-Ups, walking on your toes, and even writing your name on the ground with your feet. Definitely try to get outside though as there’s really no substitute for it

2. Elliptical will do nothing for your stride or form. I’d avoid it, personally, or else use it in conjunction with running to increase your cardio/leg strength

3. Running barefoot all the time is the ideal, but the main reason for doing it is to learn good form. Once you’ve achieved this, you should have the skills to run in whatever you like. Just bear in mind that when you put ‘regular’ shoes on, you lose the feedback you get from running barefoot, and may be prone to picking up bad habits

4. There’s no reason why overweight people can’t run, but make sure you bend your knees deeply when you run, and don’t worry about speed at first. Get your form down pat, and the rest will follow

@Dan Tight achilles is a big complaint for new barefoot runners. It comes from them being underused before transitioning. The best technique I’ve found so far is to do calf dips/raises by standing on a step, with your heel hanging over, and slowly dipping your heels down, then raising them back up again (3 X 10 before & after each run). Also, warming up before and cooling down after running will help.

@Paris Yes, tearing plantar plates would be very painful and serious, but by taking care and listening to your body, you should be able to avoid getting injured to this degree long before reaching that point.

72 dean May 21, 2012 at 1:32 am

interesting article – I’m taking the very slow route from full padded shoes, to Nike Free’s, then I’ll try vibrams and go from there.

I’m impressed to see the author of this article sticking around to have a really open & honest discussion with readers – rarely seen!

73 Barefoot Dawsy May 21, 2012 at 1:44 am

@dean slow and steady wins the race! I’ve been on too many forums where newcomer questions go unanswered. It was all new to me too once, so I remember how it feels :) Answering a few questions is the least I can do for people who took the time to post a comment!

74 Sandra from NZ May 21, 2012 at 4:43 am

I am a barefoot runner and love my VFF. So far I have just done one half marathon in them and lots of 10kms. No problems, no blisters. I did go through the sore calf muscles to start with and I would recommend regular sports massage to get you through that patch, it made all the difference to me.

75 Brian May 21, 2012 at 8:05 am

The only way to run barefoot is to run without shoes! If you’re wearing any type of shoes (water shoes, vibrams, toe shoes, etc) then youre not barefoot! The problem is that people “buy into” “barefoot” running but buy shoes to try it, they don’t adjust ther form, get hurt, then blame it on “barefoot running” or the shoes! The only way your body can provide proper feedback is to take the shoes off and then listen to your body! Please don’t say you’re running barefoot if you’re wearing vibrams or any other kind of shoes. The number 1 rule of switching to barefoot running is to take your shoes off (don’t replace them with another shoe!) and take it slow! While I do think it’s possible for anyone to run barefoot on any surface, it’s not for everyone mentally, if what you’re doing now is working for you, dont change anything! I used to hate running and run 95% of the time barefoot now and love it! I’ve done a half marathon unshod with no problems and when I was in the military I used to struggle with the 1.5 mile run (injuries were always an issue), now I have none! I started slow and listened to those who knew about barefoot running, read all you can and seek out those with experience. This was a great article by the way!

76 John B May 21, 2012 at 8:53 am

I was hooked when I started hearing about the barefoot running revolution. It didn’t matter to me I had never seen an olympic level athlete use a pair of “five fingers”. I was doing crossfit and looking for every edge to squeeze every bit of performance out of my self.

My injury was gradual. After the 4 – 5 months I eased into barefoot running I started to have a pain in my achilles tendons. It felt a lot like muscle pain after a workout (it was actually tendinosis). I would rest it for a week and get right back in. I was doing box jumps and sprints and during my jumps my right achillies severed. It was like someone kicked me from behind. I fell to the ground. I wasnt able to walk again unassisted for 5 months. I now carry a ball of scar tissue where it was severed.

My 2 cents: If you want to run with this fad don’t ignore your body. You could be damaging it beyond repair.

77 A DOCTOR May 21, 2012 at 11:55 am

People with flat feet should not be doing this. you put way too much stress on your metatarcels. Your feet have grown using shoes. good or bad thats what they have become accustomed to. you should definetly not be running on concrete. while dirt can be packed very hard it is not as hard as concrete or asphalt. stick to unpaved trails if you insist on doing this.

78 Nick May 21, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Great article and very in-depth. I love the concept of barefoot running but I’ve settled on using Vibram Bikilas. I feel I get all the same benefits of barefoot while still protecting my feet.

Also, Born to Run is an incredible book that changed my life. Even if you’re not into running, I highly recommend everyone checking it out.

79 Ben May 21, 2012 at 4:42 pm

One more note on minimalist shoes. Many have noted that they also require a slow adjustment period. I would recommend they actually require a SLOWER adjustment than pure barefoot. When the bottoms of your feet aren’t subject to an adjustment period, it allows the runner to impact the muscles and bones without the “warning” of torn or tender feet.
I would also recommend new barefoot runners do their adjustment outdoors, and not on a treadmill. The treadmill surface is so uniform that every step is basically the same, and the same parts of the foot are impacted over and over again.
Even with an adjustment period, the combination of Vibram Five Fingers and a treadmill left me with five stress fractures in the second metatarsal of my left foot. Recovery took three months.
Buyer beware and go slow!

80 the muskrat May 21, 2012 at 10:40 pm

I switched to a very basic Vibram 5-finger shoe a couple summers ago and really like running in them on the street. Trail hiking, however, hurt like hell!

81 Joe May 22, 2012 at 4:18 am

Great post. My friend and I, both experienced runners, went over to barefoot for a while. One thing I would like to add is that running barefoot greatly improves your posture. Poor posture is another source of first-world health problems we suffer in this country. After about 30+ minutes of barefoot, you feel truly tall and proud. And only because of the way your body has been forced to stand.
In my experience, poor outcomes from barefoot running stems from accepting an injury as the final say and/or going into it too hard too fast. A quick glimpse at the human leg makes it quite clear that we weren’t meant to heel-strike. It destroys the cartilage of the knee that cushions the space between the femur and tibia.
Just as stated in the post, be sure you listen to your body’s signals. If you’re getting stress fractures and such, you aren’t listening well enough. Keep in touch with trainers. They can help you to better your step, stride and, ultimately, your ability to run.

82 Joey Feci May 22, 2012 at 10:56 am

I got a pair of Vibrams about a month ago. I’ve been wearing them casually and finally went for a short run in them last week. The difference is amazing. I was aching in muscles I didn’t know I had, but it was a good ache. I actually felt like I was getting a workout even though I was keeping it light by waiting for my wife. It blew the experience I’ve had with my Asics away. I don’t think i’ll ever go back. That night I had some pretty intense pain. It felt like I had the flu with muscle aches all up and down my legs. Took some ibuprofen and the next morning I was fine.

83 Martin May 22, 2012 at 6:37 pm

Any doctors comment on this subject is a good pair of shoes provides the foundation for your body.

I heard a guy who has been running for 40 years say he has seen this barefoot running idea come and go 2 other times.

Experienced runners wear good shoes. Its the new runners who get into barefott running.

84 Rich K May 22, 2012 at 8:10 pm

I hated running all through school, hated it when I played rugby at university and had to run 5K a couple of times a week for training. All I remember was the pounding sensation in my hips & knees.
I’m now 44 and up to last year hadn’t run more than the occasional sprint for a bus for about 15 years. I got back into it as a show of support to my wife, who lost 70lbs and wanted to do a 5k to celebrate. I had a pair of Vibrams already, I wear them in the gym for lifting & strength training, so I started to train in them. And do you know, I actually started to enjoy running a bit. They pretty much force you into a shorter, lighter midfoot-strike running form. The pounding sensation I remembered in my knees & hips was gone. My knees are fine – and believe me, few things expose a weak knee like a set of 385lb barbell squats.
A couple of caveats, though. Firstly, if all you do is run, you’re asking for trouble. Do something to strengthen your legs, especially your calves. Heel raises, box jumps, heavy squats. I know they’re hard, but they make you strong, like bull. Second, go easy to start. Achilles’ tendonitis is very painful and a swine to get rid of long-term. And last, please, please, don’t ever stretch a cold muscle. Warming up does not mean put your shorts on & become the human pretzel. Google ‘Burgener warmup’ to see how the experts do it. Stretching should be the last thing you do before you hit the shower.

85 Michael May 23, 2012 at 10:22 am

Experienced barefoot runner here.
Since I was little (1 year old) I’ve hated socks and shoes. We live in a cold climate (-15f in the winters) and I would frequently walk outside barefoot and get the mail. I’ve run miles and miles barefoot, and I’ve always hated shoes. And so far, I’ve never had a problem, have great posture, and my feet are still tough as nails. I frequently go for barefoot runs in Sydney, but it is true that the pavement does a number on my feet. I find that I have to act very…. Childish, if you will… Jumping onto the grass, then making quick turns left and right, dodging in and out of areas. Basically, I have to constantly change the terrain my feet are running on, and never run in a straight line for any length of time. Parks are definitely a good place to run, jumping from grass to pavement to dirt.
Hope this helps anyone starting.
(and yes, I get funny looks from many other runners.)

86 Michael D. May 23, 2012 at 10:24 am

Experienced barefoot runner here.
Since I was little (1 year old) I’ve hated socks and shoes. We live in a cold climate (-15f in the winters) and I would frequently walk outside barefoot and get the mail. I’ve run miles and miles barefoot, and I’ve always hated shoes. And so far, I’ve never had a problem, have great posture, and my feet are still tough as nails. I frequently go for barefoot runs in Sydney, but it is true that the pavement does a number on my feet. I find that I have to act very…. Childish, if you will… Jumping onto the grass, then making quick turns left and right, dodging in and out of areas. Basically, I have to constantly change the terrain my feet are running on, and never run in a straight line for any length of time. Parks are definitely a good place to run, jumping from grass to pavement to dirt.
Hope this helps anyone starting.
(and yes, I get funny looks from many other runners.)

87 Karl May 23, 2012 at 10:55 am

Just tried it, ran 5k on mostly asphalt, grass and a dirt road, it was a truly lovely run – with a few exceptions when it came to the asphalt seeing as how it wasn’t very smooth.
However, when I came home I noticed that my feet were covered with blisters, my left in particular and I’m having trouble walking without looking like a complete dumbass.
Nevertheless it was a good experience and I’m sure I’ll try it again… as soon as these bloody blisters are gone.

Oh! As a side note, A LOT of people will look your way and have a funny “what-the-hell-is-he-doing” expression on their face.

88 Ogden May 23, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I’m a fan of minimallist shoes, but not a runner. Building up all of the stabilizing muscles that typical sneakers conpensate for or just mess with, to me, seems like a good way to build your overall fitness.

One thing that bugs me abo0ut these conversations though is that someone always mentions the “hunter-gatherer” argument. True, they were barefoot, but if you look at hungter-gatherer societies today, what you find is they spens a whole lot of time walking, squatting, and sitting, and some time sprinting, but not a whole lot of time distance running. They run to catch food and avoid becoming food, but they don’t, typically, go put in 6 miles of runing a day. Is it possible? Obviously, it may not be “natural” in that it is something that all humans did in the past, and in that “not-natural-ness” it still requires a huge amount of conditioning and conditioning for running with a runing shoe is very different than condtioning for running without one

89 Ogden May 23, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Sorry, hit “submit” beofre I finished the post.

I’m a fan of minimallist shoes, but not a runner. Building up all of the stabilizing muscles that typical sneakers conpensate for or just mess with, to me, seems like a good way to build your overall fitness.

One thing that bugs me about these conversations though is that someone always mentions the “hunter-gatherer” argument or “getting back to nature, or some equivalent argument.. True, hunter gatherers were/are barefoot, but if you look at hungter-gatherer societies today, what you find is they spend a whole lot of time walking, squatting, and sitting, and some time running and sprinting, but not a whole lot of time distance running. They run to catch food and avoid becoming food, but they don’t, typically, go put in 6 miles of runing a day. Is it possible? Obviously it is. However, it may not be exactly “natural” in that it is not something that all humans naturally did in the past, and due to that that “not-natural-ness” it still requires a huge amount of conditioning. I think that what people don’t always realize is that conditioning for running with a runing shoe is not the same as condtioning for running without one. It isn’t just a matter of “getting used to them”.
You have to condition your body to walk or run without the heel cushion and stabilizing effects of of a running shoe. What catches people by surprise, I think, is that they don’t expect their running shoe to do as much for them as it does, so when they switch to a minimalist shoe, they don’t take the time to train or re-train all of the muscles that their shoes were supporting and compensating for.

90 Kyle May 23, 2012 at 11:12 pm

This comment section is so long I doubt my post will ever be seen but here goes.

When I was younger and started running cross country (broke my wrist and couldn’t play football, had to do something,) I always ran on my forefoot. I never ran on my heels. I guess it was just because every sport that I had ever played was running on the balls of my feet. I was fine with it. It didn’t bother me at all and I was able to run the distance just fine. Then my teammates/coaches told me it was wrong, so I became a heel-striker.

I ran that way for 10 years. I ran track and cross country all through high school, then ran for a D1 college team. I wasn’t the best, but I was good.

Now running through college is rough. EVERYONE gets injured at one time or another. Regardless of how careful your coach is, you WILL end up on the trainer’s table saying “It hurts here”. Most of the time it’s when you’re a freshman and think you can run faster and further than everyone and despite what your coach says you decide to run further anyway and injure yourself.

Now here’s the thing, I worked at a running shoe store. I know about over-pronation and how shoes correct it. I’ve fitted people in shoes based on their wear patterns of their old shoes. (Which is actually quite easy.) What I’m saying here is I ALWAYS had the correct shoes for my feet. I also have high arches, so I’ve always used inserts (superfeet specifically).

Sure, this worked through college, but I always had arch problems. It would hurt SO bad that I would have to stop in the middle of a run to stretch. I would limp home some days. The trainers couldn’t do anything about it besides “roll your foot on this here device and it’ll make it better.” Taking the arch supports out didn’t help, running with slightly more supportive shoes (even though I suponate) didn’t help, nothing helped. So, I put up with it. I eventually graduated and I stopped running. After running competitively for 4 years, I didn’t want to do it anymore.

Then after about 2 years of not running, I felt lazy. Simply working out wasn’t doing it for me anymore, I had to go out and do real exercise, run or bike or SOMETHING. So I started running again. And I started having the same problems I had in college. My arches hurt and my one knee and opposite hip hurt. All the time. Then I read about barefoot running.

Now, I’m not stupid, I didn’t go out on my street with no shoes on and start running. I started running like I used to when I was a kid. I ran on the balls of my feet. It was REALLY awkward at first. Running downhill like that with normal running shoes on is…. tough to say the least. Now this type of running has always made sense to me. Let my calf absorb most of the shock instead of my knees and hips.

So I continued running like that for a few months. Eventually it went from me having to consciously tell myself to run on the balls of my feet to just doing it naturally, like I used to. The first time I did it, my calves were a bit sore, but after that nothing (could have something to do with all of the steep hills we have around here).

Now I have to mention here that none of my previous running ailments have been bothering me at this point. My arches NEVER hurt anymore, and my knee and hip are a non-issue anymore. Literally nothing hurt.

So from there I decided to buy some FiveFingers. I bought the lace up ones as I also have really skinny feet, and velcro shoes never get tight enough for me. Then I went for a run. Boy oh boy did my feet hurt. Yes running on your forefoot in minimilist shoes is SO much easier than trying to do it with a normal running shoe. However, my feet took a pounding. Running on asphalt with tiny rocks on it on the side of the road is a terrible idea. The asphalt isn’t bad, it’s the small rocks (1/4in roughly) that get you. Those things hurt. I ran in those shoes every day for a week.

What a terrible idea.

I ended up really hurting my foot. I think I had some sort of what they call “turf toe” where the ligaments in the top of your feet get hurt and are extremely sore to the touch. At this point I was devastated. I had just found my way to injury free running and I got injured. So I took a week off.

The following 3 weeks I ran in my normal running shoes. My foot slowly got better (I’m sure running didn’t help, but I couldn’t stop completely.) After it had stopped hurting for about a week, I decided it was time to try the Five Fingers again. I did, and I was fine. My foot didn’t hurt and neither did any of my previous injuries. I has home free.

From then on I run in my normal shoes about half of the time and the Five Fingers the other half. I’m (very) slowly transitioning to running completely in the Five Fingers then eventually barefoot. I’ve been injury free for a while now, and don’t really have any running problems whatsoever.

One of my favorite things about running in the Five Fingers is that you don’t have to worry about getting them wet. There is nothing there to absorb water. Three steps later all of the water/snow is gone. Every time it rains I wear them (I HATE running in soggy running shoes.) Heck, I even wear them in wet snow.

I guess the moral of my story is… take it slow. Running has been around forever and it’s not easily affected by fads. If you are comfortable running in your trainers, by all means continue doing that. But if you have some nagging problems that you can’t seem to shake, give barefoot running a try. It may help you.

91 Ed May 24, 2012 at 10:42 am

I started barefoot walking (with vibrams) 5 years ago when I blew out my knee playing lacrosse. thats when i found out I had a degenerative knee problem. I had never been a runner because i would get horrible shin splints within 1-2 miles even with expensive orthotics and running shoes. after a few years of walking barefoot and working out with weights i decided to try running again. I just completed my first marathon with them and only had a very tiny blister between my big toe and the one next to it. It is very important to start slow with barefoot running as diving into it can cause stress fractures in your metatarsels.

Since running barefoot i have gained 2 inches in my calves and lost a shoe size (my arch grew about 1/2 an inch).

As for trail running, i recently started that, and i will defintely be buying a pair of vibrams with the rock shield in them as the sharp stones are unavoidable over a half marathon distance and my feet still hurt from the Xterra half trail marathon last weekend.

92 mattd May 24, 2012 at 4:53 pm

I came into barefoot running from the opposite direction as most people it seems. I have bad knees from lots of contact sports in my youth and I noticed high heeled shoes (boots/dress shoes) made my knees ache much more than low heeled shoes (sandals/’driving’ shoes). I started buying low heeled shoes for work and not long after I saw Vibram’s on the web and bought a pair for yard work and non-office wear (when not wearing flip flops). Ever since I have worn very loose, very low heeled shoes when possible.

Not more than 6 months ago my wife started running and I joined her after being pretty much sedentary for a decade. All of my running, including a couple of 5Ks, have been done in my (now old) Vibrams without a hitch. She spends most of the year in flip flops (the original minimalist shoe) and has had no problem running in Vibrams either.

I know it’s just another anechdote. However, I’ve been living life in minimalist shoes (with a change in gait!) for years now and my knees and hips love me for it.

Thankfully minimalist shoes are coming available in office appropriate varieties so I can quit grinding off the heels of brand new driving shoes.

93 Andy May 25, 2012 at 2:44 am

Is barefoot running a good idea if you over pronate? Wouldn’t it just be even worse for your arches?

Thanks in advance!

94 Josiah May 25, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Yes. I love this. I am a barefooted man, always have been, always will be. I have backpacked up mountains barefoot, I have backpacked canyons barefoot. If it was not for goat heads and jobs, I would always be barefoot.

95 Barefoot Dawsy May 26, 2012 at 1:42 am

Great comments everybody, keep ‘em coming!

@Andy give it a go – you may find that you pronate less in bare feet. Just take it slow, and start barefoot, rather than in minimal shoes. Also, remember to listen to your feet and pull back/try to land lighter if you feel you need to.

96 MariJean May 26, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Andy, I used to pronate pretty severely and since I’ve started running barefoot, my arches have gotten higher and the pronation is nearly gone. Running barefoot has strengthened my entire foot/ankle enough that my step looks nearly like a normal person’s. (and I’ve had people tell me I have “muscular feet”! lol)

sorry – I’m not a guy but I had to check out this article. It was great! I’ve raced barefoot for five years – from the 400m to the cross country 5k, and its neat to see – well, that I’m not totally crazy!

97 Ian May 27, 2012 at 12:15 am

umm… I think its important to note that there’s little to no scientific evidence to support the notion that barefoot running is “better for you” than running in shoes. Also, Abebe Bikila, the guy who won the 1960 Olympics barefoot, won it again and set a new record in 1964… while wearing shoes.

98 Robert May 28, 2012 at 12:36 am

something i’ve found to be a cheaper but still very good alternative to the expensive barefoot running shoes is converse, after they’ve been worn for a while they mould to your feet and barely inhibit the movements. another great alternative is a pair of true moccasins. they add just enough protection from the elements that weather related injuries are almost nonexistant, while the thin leather sole doesn’t inhibit the foots ability to move freely and feel the ground

99 Barefoot Dawsy May 28, 2012 at 5:30 pm

@MariJean I think half the readers on this site are actually women sneaking peaks ;) Thanks for posting your story
@Ian Likewise there’s no proof that running shoes are better than barerfoot running. More/Better studies would be very welcome at this point! Also, true about Bikila, but it could be argued that a lifetime of running barefoot was also of great benefit/
@Robert I’ve heard good things about moccasins. Converse are good in that they are ‘zero drop’ (have no built-up heel), but they’re still way too thick IMHO.

100 fuchikoma May 29, 2012 at 2:42 pm

I have to disagree about the debris being a minor issue. I don’t live in a huge, urban city (60-100k population) but it’s a rare week that I can go out on my bike and not run over broken bottles spread across the trails. I would never go out barefoot running around here.

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