The more time you spend around barefoot running and minimalist running — the more articles you read in magazines and newspapers, the more interviews you hear with doctors or runners, the more stories you see on the news, the more websites you see about it, the more research you hear about it — the more often you’ll hear one particular admonition.
Actually, if the piece is supportive of running barefoot, you’ll hear it as a recommendation. If the piece is anti-barefoot, then it’ll be a warning.
And that bit of instruction/caution is:
Transition to barefoot running SLOWLY. If you make the transition too quickly, you’ll get hurt.
But to focus on how quickly or slowly you make the transition is to miss the point. Running barefoot safely and enjoyably isn’t about whether it takes you a day, a week, or a year to do so. It’s about HOW you make the transition, not HOW LONG it takes to make it.
It’s about form and function, not about seconds on the clock.
In other words, the keys to running barefoot are following a few rules: Continue Reading
While barefoot running isn’t new, it’s popularity has been going through the roof since Christopher McDougall’s book, Born To Run, became popular in 2009.
Ironically, Born To Run isn’t really about barefoot running. It’s about the Tarahumara Indians in the Copper Canyon of Mexico and how they’re able to run pain-free and injury free for hundreds of miles, well into their 70s. It’s about the first ever ultramarathon held in the Copper Canyon. It’s about the fascinating characters around this race. And it’s about Chris’s exploration of safer, more enjoyable running.
It happens that around the time the book was becoming popular, one of the people featured in the book published a study about barefoot running. That person is Dr. Daniel Lieberman from Harvard University and, in a nutshell, what Daniel showed was:
Runners in shoes tend to land on their heels, essentially using the padding built into the shoes
Landing in this manner sends a massive jolt of force (called an impact transient force spike) through the ankles, knees, hips, and into the spine
Runners who run barefoot tend to land on their forefoot or midfoot, with the landing point nearer to the body’s center of mass (not out in front of the body, like shod runners)
Barefoot runners use the natural shock-absorbing, spring-like mechanism of the muscles, ligaments and tendons within and around the foot, the ankle, the knee, and the hip.
Barefoot runners do not create the impact transient force spike through their joints
In short, running shoes could be the cause of the very injuries for which they’re sold as cures!
Take off your shoes and you’re less likely to land in a biomechanically compromised manner.
This seems to explain why people who run barefoot often report the elimination of injuries (that were caused by bad form that they no longer use) and, more importantly, that running is more fun!
Now it’s not all as simple as this.
The shoe companies, realizing that barefoot was becoming a big deal, began selling “barefoot shoes”… most of which are no more barefoot than a pair of stilts.
Even the Vibram Fivefingers, which look like bare feet, aren’t necessarily as barefoot as they appear.
In an independent study, runners in Xero Shoes (formerly Invisible Shoes) were found to be biomechanically identical to when they were barefoot.
The key to successful barefoot running seems to be the ability to use the nerves in your feet, to Feel The World. Basically, if you try to run barefoot the same way you do when you’re in shoes, IT HURTS!
Figure out how to do what doesn’t hurt and you’ll be running in a way that’s more fun and less likely to cause injuries.
Now, I know it’s not as simple as that, and I’m the first to admit that the science supporting barefoot running isn’t in yet. But, then again, there’s no science that shows that running shoes are helpful.
Think about this: people lived for millions of years without shoes, or without anything more than a pair of sandals like Xero Shoes or a pair of moccasins. Runners ran successfully up until the 1970s with shoes that had no padding, no pronation control, no orthotics, and no high-tech materials.
The three parts of our body that have the most nerve endings are our hands, our mouths and our feet. There’s only one of those that we regularly cover and make numb to the world… does that seem right?
Put a limb in a cast and it comes out of the cast a month later atrophied and weaker. When you you bind your feet in shoes that don’t let your foot flex or feel the earth, isn’t that similar to putting it in a cast (or as barefoot runners like to say, a “foot coffin”)?
There’s a lot more on this site about what the benefits of barefoot running — and walking, and hiking, and dancing, and playing — may be. If you have any questions, ask them here, or on our Forum. Or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Pinterest.
Join the conversation. Join the conversion. Feel The World!
When I tell people that I run barefoot (or when they see me out running without any shoes), the first response I get is
“Oh, so you run on the grass?”
Or when I suggest to people that they might want to try running barefoot, the first thing they say is,
“With my feet/knees/ankles/eyelashes, I’d need to run on the grass.”
I mean, it makes sense, right?
Grass is soft. Feet are soft. Therefore, feet should be on grass.
Barefoot = Grass is the common wisdom.
But wisdom is rarely common, and what’s common is rarely wise.
Here’s what I can tell you, though. And it’s not just me, every accomplished barefoot runner I know will say the same thing. And all the other good coaches I know agree.
In fact, what I’m about to say is SO true, that if you meet a coach who tells you otherwise, RUN AWAY (barefoot or not, I don’t care) from this person as quickly as you can, because they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Here it is:
THE WORST SURFACE for learning to run barefoot is GRASS.
Three big reasons:
BIG: Who knows what’s hiding in the grass. If you can’t see it, you might step on it.
BIGGER: One of the principles of barefoot running is that you don’t use cushioning in your shoes… well, when you run on grass, you’ve basically taken the cushioning out of your shoes and put it into the ground.
BIGGEST: Running on grass, or any smooth surface does not give you the feedback you need about your barefoot form to help you change and improve your form.
The best surface for barefoot running is NOT grass or sand or anything soft, but the smoothest and hardest surface you can find.
For me, here in Boulder, Colorado, we have miles and miles of bike path.
In New York City, the sidewalks are perfect!
So, what makes a hard, smooth surface the best? It’s the biggest reason, from above:
Grass and sand and soft surfaces are too forgiving of bad form.
Hard smooth surfaces tell you, with every step, whether you’re using the right form.
If it hurts, you’re not.
If you end up with blisters, you didn’t.
Pay close attention and each step is giving you information about how to run lighter, easier, faster, longer.
I’ll never forget going out on the University of Colorado sidewalks with the Boulder Barefoot Running Club. I had a blister on the ball of my left foot (more about that in another lesson). But I decided to see if I could run in such a way that I didn’t hurt .
At first, each step sent a shooting pain up my leg. Then I made some adjustments and I just felt the friction on the ball of my foot.
By the end of the first mile, I had made some other adjustments — using each step as an experiment — and the next thing I knew I was picking up the pace while putting out less energy than ever. I was running faster and easier than I’d ever run without shoes… and it was painless.
This would have never happened on grass.
I needed the feedback of the hard surface.
If you want to see a barefoot runner get a wistful look in his or her eye, mention a newly painted white line on the side of a road. Smooth, solid, cool… it’s the best!
Oh, and it’s probably no surprise that the advantage of Xero Shoes is that when you wear those on the road, they still give you that feedback you need… but with protection from the surface.
Okay, so the big question is, “WHY use huarache, the Tarahumara running sandals?”
The answer is pretty obvious, but there are some important-yet-surprising pieces to the puzzle.
The obvious answer about huarache is: It’s the closest thing there is to barefoot running, without some of the hazards of barefoot running. Namely, you’re adding a layer of protection to your feet that bare skin simply can’t give you, no matter how well conditioned your feet are.
Especially with the 4mm Vibram Cherry sole material we use in our huarache kits and custom huaraches, you get what I like to call “better-than-barefoot.” The soles are so flexible it’s like having nothing on, so light, you barely notice them… except it’s blissfully clear that you’re not getting scraped up, cut up, scratched up and dirty like you would if it was just your tootsies on the ground.
That said, I’m not going to say “Don’t run barefoot and run with huarache running sandals instead!”
Well, because running barefoot gives you more feedback than running with ANYTHING on your feet.
If you want to know how efficient your form is, go barefoot and you’ll know (that is, if it hurts, you need to change something!).
If you want to know if you could be running lighter or easier, go barefoot and you’ll find out (did I mention: if it hurts, you need to change something?).
Conversely, putting ANYTHING on your feet, including huarache sandals, can mask some improper technique, give you the illusion that you’re better than you are and, possibly, lead to overtraining. Especially at first.
That said, since it takes awhile to develop that new barefoot running technique, and since it takes a while for your feet to get conditioned (btw, they do NOT get calloused), I recommend a mix of barefoot and huarache running.
In fact, what I often do is carry my huaraches with me when I go out barefooting. And if my feet start to get a bit sore, and I’m still a ways away from home, I’ll slip on my huaraches for the 2nd half of the run.
Or, I’ll warm up in my huaraches, and then slip ‘em off (using the method of how to tie huarache sandals here), and take off from there.
Oh, if I’m on serious trails — and by serious, I mean a lot of rocks, twigs, etc. — then it’s all huarache, all the time.
Here’s another Barefoot Running Q&A video, where I take an email I’ve received and give an answer on video.
In this video we look at the relationship between barefoot and minimalist shoes, foot and calf pain during the transition to barefoot, how minimalist shoes fit in with the transition to bare feet, and how to handle the cold.
“Barefoot Ted” sells a running sandal he calls the Luna Sandal. It’s similar to our custom-made Xero Shoes, but with a few key differences:
1) Did you know there are 18 different types of “size 9″? Rather than pick just one of those and pre-make our sandals, the custom-made Xero Shoes are, actually, custom-made for your unique foot. We use a tracing of your foot to make sure the length and width are correct for your specific foot — and if your feet are different sizes, you get sandals that match. We make sure that the toe and ankle holes are placed correctly based on the size and length of your toes and heel. With Xero Shoes, you’re getting a product made just for you.
2) We use the 4mm Vibram Cherry sole material or our exclusive FeelTrue rubber to give you the optimal barefoot feel, and for your convenience. Aside from really being able to connect with the ground with our soles, you can roll up Xero Shoes and keep them in your pack or pocket — go out barefoot, and come back with some protection on your feet. The thicker sole in the Luna is comparatively rigid and over 60% heavier… add some glue and a leather upper and you’re further minimizing the minimalist feel.
3) We use soft, durable polyester laces that don’t stretch or contract when they get wet and dry out, unlike leather or hemp. Our laces are round, meaning that there are no edges to rub on your skin. Polyester is a very strong material — I’m still using the original laces in my 12-month old huaraches that I wear every day — and after getting wet, nylon laces dry really fast. And with round laces, you don’t have to worry about “which side is up” or getting them twisted when you use the different tying styles (some of the clever tying variations people have developed require round laces. Plus, you can get our laces in a bunch of fun colors. And if you ever want to replace your laces or get other colors, they’re inexpensive.
4) Our product is “vegan friendly”. So is Ted’s basic Luna Sandal if you get the hemp laces instead of leather.
5) Luna Sandals have an optional leather footbed. Ted is making a fine product… some people like the leather upper — which, over time, molds somewhat to your foot. Any material upper, though, will wear and collect dirt. And, for those who are sensitive to these kinds of things: natural materials are not anti-microbial. While we don’t currently offer a material upper, we have heard from a couple customers who bought some leather and glue and added those to their Xero Shoes for only a couple of dollars.
I have a pair of your sandals and I really enjoy the freedom, strength and all around sensation I get running free!
My only hurdle has been steeping on rocks on the ball or knuckle of my feet and bruising an irritating the nerves. I have had bouts with mortons neuroma and whenever I land on that spot with a rock or hard object – I am back to my cushy runners. Maybe I am destined to be a shod runner or maybe in time my feet will toughin’ up? Any advice would be helpful!
Now, I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play on on TV (or anywhere else for that matter), so the best I can do is tell you what I’ve noticed since I ditched my shoes and started walking and running barefoot (in 2009).
I replied to Ben:
My experience has been that 4 things happened over time:
My feet became stronger and more flexible (so they bend around the things that used to be painful). In fact, I was at a clinic for chiropractors not too long ago and the teacher said to his students, “If you have to, pay Steven to let you check out his feet… you’ll be amazed at how strong they are, but really relaxed and flexible.” Sadly, nobody paid me… but a lot of people did check out my feet
My reflexes seem to have improved, so I step off things that might be painful faster, and therefore they don’t hurt.
My gait changed, so that I don’t have my weight on my foot until it’s a bit more flatfooted as I walk — with more surface area, there’s less force/stress on any specific part of my foot.
I pay more attention (effortlessly) to where I’m stepping, so I don’t put my feet on painful things as often. It seems like a combination of using peripheral vision, plus feeling what’s underfoot more quickly.
I hope that’s helpful.
And I hope that’s helpful for you as well.
If you’ve been barefooting, what have you noticed about your walking and running over time?
There are LOTS of reason you'll want to get out of your regular shoes and go barefoot or wear Xero Shoes. But the "barefoot world" is full of mythology, contradiction and, frankly, lies told to you by giant shoe companies. Even ones that sell minimalist shoes.
How do you discover the truth? How do you find the fastest and easiest way to start enjoying being barefoot or minimalist, whether you're a walker, hiker, paddle boarder, or runner? Simple. By signing up and receiving our free 7-part series: "Feel The World: How to enjoy the fun and benefits of being barefoot"
“An almost-barefoot feel, but with some protection... provides barefoot-like balance. It's so light you hardly feel it...” -Los Angeles Times
“Winner 2011 "Best Huarache" A powerhouse of a sandal that has no apparent weaknesses.” -Christian Peterson
“I was extremely surprised and delighted by how well the Invisible Shoes fit my feet... the closest to going barefoot without actually going barefoot...” -Jessica Lee
“It wasn’t until Steven made me my first pair that I understood how much fun they are to run in. My feet feel like they’re completely bare...” -Scott McLean
“If you are a barefoot runner or plan on running barefoot, you need a pair of huaraches!...”
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“These are soooo cool!! It really is like running barefoot, but with a little protective mat under your feet. Your foot is completely free, unlike the Vibram FiveFingers...” -Joy Frantz
“Running in my Xero Shoes is really enjoyable – they maintain almost all of the fun barefoot feel, and give me enough protection to take on more challenging terrain..." -Donald Buraglio
“These are pretty much the only shoes I wear now. It makes sense that being barefoot (or close to it) is the way to walk..." -Tracy Jones
“Xero Shoes are the closest thing to actual barefoot running. Putting them on made me feel like a Native American warrior! They're great for my strength training workouts as well as running..." -Al Kavadlo