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
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.
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.
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?
In short, neurophysiologist Johanna Meijer set up a running wheel — yes, the kind you would put in a mouse, or rat, or hamster cage — in her backyard and, after enticing animals to come near with the help of some food, watched that they ran on the wheel. Not to get the food. Just to run.
Wild mice would often come back and run as much as caged mice — mice who usually have nothing else to do — would.
As Emily Underwood says of the study,
Rats, shrews, and even frogs found their way to the wheel—more than 200,000 animals over 3 years. The creatures seemed to relish the feeling of running without going anywhere.
Ron Hill ran the 10k in the Mexico City Olympics barefoot.
When asked why, he responded, “They were the lightest shoes I could find.”
At Xero Shoes, we believe the best running shoes are, well, your feet. Bare feet.
You don’t need pronation control. You don’t need a bunch of padding.
You need to be able to move your feet naturally. To flex, to bend, to stretch, to feel the world.
Now, that said, barefoot isn’t always practical or ideal.
Ron Hill was on a track — even, basically smooth, no obstacles or rocks or uneven patches. That’s the best place for his barefoot running shoes — his feet.
But what about you, on a road or a trail.
There are a lot of times where you’ll want some protection, but with as close to a barefoot experience as possible.
That’s why we developed Xero Shoes.
When you’re looking at footwear that simulates being barefoot, please be careful.
Almost all of the shoes sold by big companies that call themselves “barefoot” or “minimalist” are about as close to barefoot as a pair of stilts. I’ve seen shoes with an INCH of padding that still advertise themselves as “just like being barefoot.”
The next wave of “barefoot shoes”?
The Running Clinic Rates the Best Barefoot Shoes
Canada’s The Running Clinic devised a rating system to evaluate the best barefoot running shoes.
I’m happy to say that Xero Shoes came out on top. The next closest competitors are not shoes that you want to run in, frankly… unless you like replacing your footwear every few miles. And most of those cost way more than a pair of Xero Shoes.
Our 4mm Connect DIY sandal kit is the closest thing you’ll find to barefoot. The Amuri Cloud is next, though with the addition of a tiny bit (3mm) of BareFoam, it feels like even more protection. The 6mm Contact DIY kit and Amuri Venture give a great barefoot feel with a bit more protection.
Dr. Daniel Lieberman is one of the fathers of the barefoot running movement. His study showing how barefoot runners strike the ground with less force than shod runners, combined with Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run, catalyzed the growth of barefoot and minimalist running.
Well, it’s as if Dr. Lieberman had a child with BTR, since his new study looks at how the Tarahumara run. And, more, it compares Tarahumara runners in huaraches to younger Tarahumara who run in padded running shoes.
May 5th is an important day in the barefoot running world. And, for the same reason, it’s one of the most important days in the Xero Shoes world.
What makes it so important?
As Brian Metzler from Competitor.com reminded me, “Journalist Christopher McDougall’s best-selling book “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen” hit bookstore shelves five years ago Monday—on May 5, 2009.”
Brian describes 11 ways that Born To Run influenced the running world, from simply being a really great read, to inspiring the growth of ultrarunning, to creating a number of great races, to inspiring people to run barefoot, to encouraging shoe companies to make minimalist footwear (of course, if you’ve read anything I’ve written, you know I think most “minimalist shoes” are as close to barefoot as a pair of stilts).
The 12th way that Chris’s book influenced the world is that it was one of the inspirations for Xero Shoes.
If you’ve read Lena’s and my story, you’ll know how BTR inspired us. But, more, the success of the book created a wave that we surfed. Were it not for the millions of people who read BTR, Xero Shoes would have remained a goofy little hobby.
Now, on days when we work 12+ hours, I sometimes long for those hobby times … but given the thousands of people we’ve been able to help — people who can now run or walk or hike enjoyably and pain-free — and the fun we have when a new person discovers the fun of being able to feel the world when they’re out and about, we couldn’t be more thankful for this anniversary.
Congrats again to Chris for his success. Thanks again to him for all he’s done for ALL of us. And stay tuned and cross your fingers for the Born To Run movie!
Harvard’s Daniel Lieberman is one of the two or three people most responsible for the barefoot running boom (Christopher McDougall, who wrote Born to Run, is another… you can vote for who the third should be).
Daniel is an anthropologist and has some fascinating ideas about why the way humans run (and sweat) gave us such an evolutionary advantage.
In this video he talks about some of aspects of human anatomy that suggest we were “made to run.”
I don’t agree that you don’t use your butt when walking. Rather, you can and, in my opinion, should walk with your glutes. In fact, if you use your glutes as the prime movers when you walk, you’re more likely to not overstride and put too much force on your heels when walking. I talk more about walking, barefoot or otherwise, here.
Now, I don’t think that everyone must run. Some like it, some don’t. And I don’t agree that we’re all meant to run long distance (Lieberman doesn’t discuss that here, but it’s something he and I chatted about). But it sure is compelling to see that we may be built so that we CAN run.
What inspires someone to take off their shoes and run barefoot?
For Khanh Nguyen it was knee pain and the hope that barefoot running would help.
Once he got started, in bare feet and in Xero Shoes, he was on fire. He’s run 1/2 marathons, mud races and, most recently, he ran UP the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas in his Xero Shoes. AND, he did it in our Bigfoot, the Xero Hero costume!
Enjoy this really fun interview with Khanh, and see what motivates him to run (hint: his brother dared him!)
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
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“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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