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!)
Thanks to Frédérik Sisa, for asking me to answer a few questions about barefoot running on his site, The Front Page Online.
I want to highlight a point that I make in the interview, because I think it’s under-appreciated and under-discussed in the barefoot community.
If you haven’t been barefoot in a while – especially if you want to explore barefoot running – you probably are not used to using your muscles in the way that barefooting will demand.
Sometimes this means that the transition to barefoot may require strengthening. More often it means simply paying attention to your body, finding the comfortable way to move that doesn’t require extra effort (that is, I would focus on moving with less effort before trying to get stronger).
The key point I want to emphasize is use less effort.
Most people think that calf or Achilles pain is simply part of the transition process from running in shoes to running barefoot, that the cause is previous underuse, and that the solution is to get stronger.
More often than not, calf or Achilles pain is from using those muscles/tendons more than necessary, not that they’ve been weakened by wearing shoes for some amount of time.
If, when you land, you reach out with your foot (overstriding), you use your calf and Achilles to decelerate. Sure, getting freakishly strong may make that easier to do, but the correct solution is to “stop putting on the brakes” when you land by stopping your overstriding and, instead, placing your foot more “underneath your body.”
Similarly, if you remove your foot from the ground by pushing off with your toes, you’re essentially doing bodyweight calf raises every time you take a stride… and even a short run would be more than your body can handle. Again, the solution isn’t to hit the weight room and improve your calf raise strength. It’s to LIFT your foot off the ground (instead of pushing) by flexing at the hip. If you imagine what happens if a bee would sting your foot… you wouldn’t try to push away from the ground, you would reflexively (faster and easier) pull your foot from the ground with a hip flex.
In order to use less effort, you’ll probably have to start with less running. That’s fine. By the time you figure out how to make things easier, you probably will have gained any extra strength that you may need, if any.
Remember my barefoot running mantra: “How can I make this lighter, easier, and MORE FUN?”
There’s nothing I find funnier than when I’m running in my Xero Shoes sandals and someone asks, “Can you run in those?”
Uh… you’re WATCHING me run in them!
Well, when I tell non-runners that some people run 100k ultramarathons in huaraches, they’re incredulous.
Now I don’t need to explain anything, I can just show this video of the La Ruta Run, a 50k and 100k race that took place in Costa Rica. Arguably, La Ruta is the hardest trail ultramarathon in the world.
Check it out… but be careful. This video will make you want to run La Ruta!
Oh, and look at the 4:18 -ish mark for Jonathan Sinclair and Melissa Gosse running La Ruta in their Xero Shoes! Hear them talk about running La Ruta here.
And check out the women running in their cheap plastic sandals!
Dr. Mark Cucuzzella and the Natural Running Center have put out a great ebook about the benefits of being barefoot and natural movement.
According to the NRC site, the premise: Healthy Feet = Healthy Running.
I’d add healthy walking, hiking, strolling, yoga, working out… and everything else you do on your feet.
The free ebook looks at a study done in 1905 by Dr. Phil Hoffman, where he compared the feet of barefooted and shoe-wearing (shod) people, and includes commentary on the study by Mark, Dr. Casey Kerrigan, and Dr. Phil Maffetone.
There are LOTS of reasons 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!...”
“Xero Shoes for kids make an awesome summer sandal. They can be tricked out with beads and charms to make them even more fun. My daughter's daycare teachers always want to know where to get them!” -Justin Owings
“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