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Posts in Barefoot Running

Do not “transition slowly” to barefoot running

Transition to barefoot runningThe 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.

Admittedly, even on this site I say something that could sound similar about how to start running barefoot.

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

Barefoot running on Youtube – A webinar with Jon and Mel

Think you can’t run an ultra-marathon? Well, think again.

Maybe your limitations aren’t what you imagine them to be.

I just had a great chat with ultra-runners, Jonathan Sinclair and Melissa Gosse that I know you’ll love, whether you ever plan to run an ultra or not.

Watch the webinar and you’ll learn:

  • Do you need to do 100s of miles per week to train?
  • What’s the roll of cross-training?
  • How much of distance running is physical vs. mental
  • How do you deal with the mental challenges of ultra-running
  • What diet Mel and Jon have found that helps with their training and recovery
  • Why they run in Xero Shoes (and when they don’t!)
  • The value of barefoot running… at any distance
  • … and a LOT more

Share what you think of this interview in your comments, below.

Men’s Health Barefoot Running Article … more of the same

Men's Health Barefoot Running StumblesThe recent “Special Report” in Men’s Health about barefoot running has inspired me to help you make a career change.

You, too, can write an article about barefoot running that will appear in a major newpaper, magazine, or television show, if you do the following.

Ten Steps to writing a popular barefoot running article

  1. Open with a headline suggesting that barefoot running is evil or dangerous. Ideally, use some pun about feet, or running that if the reader only saw the title, would suggest that there’s no value in ever running in your bare feet.  Even if your article ultimately supports barefoot running, make sure the headline suggests that taking off your shoes could lead to injury, illness, and tax audits.
  2. Follow with a sub-headline that includes a “straw man argument” about the perils of not wearing $150 running shoes.

    A straw man argument is one where you introduce a position that nobody holds, or nobody of any import holds, and then attack that position. For example, I don’t know of any barefoot running authors or coaches that say “You’ll run faster in bare feet,” so the straw man argument is to say that barefooters make that claim, and then attack that claim.  Similarly, a recent survey I did with barefoot coaches showed that none of us ever suggested that running bare footed was more efficient, yet many articles and even university research is now “debunking” a claim that was never made.

  3. Start with a story about someone who switched to barefoot running and got injured, and then claim that it was being barefoot that caused the injury. Ignore that 50% of runners and 80% of marathoners get injured every year.
  4. Conflate “minimalist” running with “barefoot running” and talk as if a zero-drop pair of shoes with 1″ of foam is the same as running in your bare feet. Also, ignore that most “minimalist shoes” are about as minimalist as a pair of stilts. And forget that prior to 45 years ago, when the first running shoe was invented and sold, all shoes were minimalist.
  5. Quote doctors who say they’re seeing more and more patients who are injured due to running barefoot. Make sure these doctors have never run barefoot in their lives.
  6. Ignore statistics: Doctors will see more patients with injuries when more people are trying something (doctors made the same claims 40 years ago when running shoes became popular and you can find articles saying that running is bad for you!). Doctors don’t see patients who aren’t having problems.
  7. Don’t explore the doctor’s statements too closely so you don’t have to discover that these same doctors typically don’t ask, “Are you running barefoot or in minimalist footwear,” nor do they say, “Let’s take a video and see if your running form could be a problem.”
  8. Don’t include any stories from the myriad people who’ve taken off their shoes, switched to barefoot, and been able to run pain-free for the first time in years. Definitely don’t include stories from elderly people who have regained their balance once got out of orthopedic shoes and started using their feet again.
  9. Include some pro-barefoot info, but don’t be TOO pro-barefoot. Keep the pro-barefoot info until later in the article so that if people stop reading they’ll be left with the horror stories of running without motion controlled shoes.
  10. Ultimately, recommend minimalist shoes so that you don’t anger footwear ad-buying companies. Suggest that switching to barefoot will be an arduous, massively time-consuming process that, maybe, will have some benefits… but probably not.

To be fair, the Men’s Health article is better than some. It does include some info about transitioning, even though it succumbs to the idea that you need to get a lot stronger, rather than focusing on using less effort/energy.

And, I understand that if you want to sell magazines, television time, or eyeballs, it’s helpful to be controversial. But there are ways to be controversial that inspire conversation and investigation, and ways to be controversial that encourages less thinking and reason. Even though, when considered in it’s entirety, the Men’s Health article isn’t really anti-barefoot, I’m willing to bet that I’ll get emails and calls from people who only read the anti-barefoot headline and first page and tell me, with a certain better-than-though feeling, “Well Men’s Health said being barefoot is bad for you!”

Get Stronger. Run Faster.

I’m a total fitness geek.

I’m always on the lookout for a new workout, a new exercise, a new challenge.

I’m also an efficiency geek.

I like things that give the maximum bang for the minimum buck, if you will.

And, I’m a sprinter, so I pay the most attention to anything that will make my glutes, hamstrings, calves and abs stronger. Really, all runners, not just sprinters, should do the same. In fact, all the elite runners that I know (and, here in Boulder, there are a LOT that I know), also focus on strengthening those same muscles, the prime movers and the core stabilizers.

About 3 months ago, I stumbled on a workout designed by Chad Waterbury. His new workout promised big strength gains in specific body parts  — you can pick which one to focus on; my interest was glutes/hamstrings — with ultra-short workouts that you can do at home.

While I’ve followed Chad for a while, and like his work, I wasn’t in the mood to buy his new program… until a month ago when I realized I’d been so busy at work that I had been neglecting my training. And I thought that, hey, if the program didn’t work, I could get my money back anyway, so why not? Continue Reading

Pronation and barefoot running

pronation-imageWhenever we’re selling Xero Shoes at a public event, a few people will come up to our booth, examine our barefoot sandals, and claim (with a strange tone of almost arrogance), “I can’t wear these. I pronate.”

Sometimes they’ll pull out the third party endorsement, “My doctor says I pronate.” Or the less-convincing, “The shoe store did gait analysis on my and said I pronate.”

It’s as if they expect me to say, “Oh, my gosh! That’s horrible! I would never argue with an actual doctor or, even more, a 23-year old who works at a shoe store that sells ‘motion-controlled’ shoes! You  totally can’t wear Xero Shoes, then. In fact, I’m amazed you were able to walk over to our booth!”

Instead, I bite my tongue for a second (so I don’t say something incredibly sarcastic), and then say,

Pronation is not an issue. First of all, many world-class runners pronate more than you ever will. Pronation is part of the natural spring-mechanism of the lower leg.

Now, hyper-pronation (showing weakness) *might* be a problem, but it rarely is. And…

When you run with barefoot style and land on your mid-foot or forefoot, it’s much less likely that you’ll pronate at all, since those ways of landing usually put the foot and ankle in a strong position when you land.

But now I have something else to add to my “pronation isn’t evil” arsenal… SCIENCE!

Aarhus University in the Denmark just published a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine called “Foot pronation is not associated with increased injury risk in novice runners wearing a neutral shoe.”

What I LOVE about this study, reported at, is that it studied almost a thousand runners for an entire year. That’s a good amount of data to work from.

And, in short, what they discovered is that putting runners in non-supportive shoes did not increase their chance of injury (and this is with them NOT switching to a mid-foot or forefoot landing, which arguably reduces their pronation).

Says Rasmus Nielsen, the PhD student who led the study, “This is a controversial finding as it has been assumed for many years that it is injurious to run in shoes without the necessary support.”

My addition to that would be, “Well it was ‘assumed’ for many years because the companies making motion-control shoes TOLD us that and we believed it.”

Now, admittedly, the study is not the be-all-and-end-all studies about pronation. Even the researchers say that they “still need to research the extent to which feet with extreme pronation are subject to greater risk of running injury than feet with normal pronation.” And, I’m going to contact Mr. Nielsen and suggest he look at barefoot running in the future.

But, I’m never one to complain when another nail is added to the coffin of, well, foot coffins ;-)

The Death Of Barefoot Running

is barefoot running good for youImagine for a moment that you did extensive research into something, only to conclude that you need more research before you could make a meaningful statement about that something.

Is that news? I don’t think so.

Would any newspaper publish a headline: Scientists discover: We’re not sure yet!

Nope. No news is not news.

So, I’m once again dumbstruck by the latest article from the New York Times, “Is Barefoot-Style Running Best? New Studies Cast Doubt”

Let’s cut to the end of the article first, where it says:

None of this new science, of course, proves that barefoot-style running is inadvisable or disadvantageous for all runners; it proves only that the question of whether barefoot is best is not easily answered.

In other words, “Studies show we need more studies!”

Who are barefoot runners hurting?

To be fair, I’m okay with “Studies show we need more studies.” It’s not news, but it’s accurate.

So let me ask this: Why take what is essentially a barefoot bashing tack in the headline with “New Studies Cast Doubt?”

Sure, some people will argue that the headline is simply saying “Hey, we’re not sure.” But, is it really?

The clear implication is that there was proof that barefoot was great for you, and now science says, Not so fast!

This is like asking, “Do you know if your neighbor is a thief?” It’s not saying that your neighbor IS a thief, but it suddenly plants the doubt in your mind.

So, why the need for the mildly sensational and misleading headline?

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know this is a pattern: Some small, constrained, or poorly-designed study suggests that we need to do more research into barefoot vs. shod running, and the headline says “Running Barefoot might ruin your credit and lead to bad hair days!”

It’s like: “All you people who think barefoot is cool… we’ll maybe you’re wrong.” Even if that’s true…


Analyzing the bare foot analysis

Now before we jump back to the end of the article, which says something I agree with — more study is necessary, let’s look at a couple of points in the article itself.

First, it comments on “the most definitive” of the new studies that says, in essence, “Landing on your forefoot is not as metabolically efficient as heel striking in in RACING FLATS!”

Oy. Where to begin?

First, is the idea that barefoot running = landing on your forefoot.

That’s a straw man argument. Talk to those of us who’ve worked with thousands of barefoot runners and we’ll tell you that:

  1. There are MANY ways to land when running barefoot. Forefoot landing is only one of them.
  2. There are many ways to land on your forefoot, and not all of them are the same. For example, how high is your heel off the ground when you land? Does your heel ever touch the ground? If so, when, and for how long?
  3. It’s possible to have your heel touch the ground first, but still be a “mid-foot striker” (that is, your heel makes contact, but there’s practically no force on the ground until your mid foot touches down).

In other words, how they’ve defined “barefoot-style” for the sake of research isn’t how “barefoot-style” is defined by most of us who actually run barefoot and teach barefoot running (and who’ve given it a lot of thought).

You heels!

Next, the study has the runners switch from forefoot to heel striking, or vice versa, to compare efficiency… while wearing RACING FLATS.

While this may be an interesting bit of info about heel-striking in shoes, vs. forefoot landing in shoes:

a) What does this have to do with BAREFOOT RUNNING?

b) The argument from barefoot runners is not that heel-striking is more or less efficient, it’s that heel striking can INJURE YOU.

This was the thrust of Daniel Lieberman’s research at Harvard: landing on your heel, even in a padded shoe, sends an “impact transient” spike of force through your joints, whereas a forefoot landing eliminates that force through your joints…


If it’s done correctly.

Once again, the study doesn’t mention whether the runners were over striding or not, regardless of whether they were heel-striking or forefoot striking.

In other words, not all heel striking is the same. It’s possible, as I mentioned above, to land heel-first, but with your foot properly positioned under your body in a way that doesn’t cause that impact transient force spike.

In short, the variables (heel-striking vs. forefoot striking) and the measurement of them were too limited to come to a definitive conclusion… oh, right, that’s what it says at the END of the article, after suggesting in this section that barefoot is bogus.

But wait, there’s more…

Next, the article  says that 5 studies showed that switching to minimalist, barefoot-style footwear did not improve efficiency.

a) How many times do I have to say this: Barefoot-style and minimalist are not the same as barefoot!  Most of the minimalist/barefoot shoes that are available are about as close to barefoot as a pair of stilts. Just because a product SAYS it’s “barefoot” doesn’t mean it is.

b) Xero Shoes are consistently rated as the closest thing to barefoot (we were not tested in these studies)… and even our “barefoot sandals” are not the exact same as barefoot, because you feel the same sensation — the rubber sole — rather than the myriad varied sensations you get when you’re totally skin-to-the-ground.

c) What’s the big deal about efficiency? As one commenter pointed out, there are more than a few world champion runners who forefoot strike. Clearly their lack of efficiency hasn’t hurt them!

Honestly officer, I’m not drunk

Then the article adds, “The news on injury prevention and barefoot-style running is likewise sobering.”

Again, the implication is that here’s some big news that’s about to tell you that running barefoot will kill you in some way. But what’s the “sobering” news?

It’s the BYU study that we previously ripped apart, and an informal poll where 1/3 of the participants at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine had “tried barefoot-style shoes” and 1/3 of them had “suffered injuries” that they ATTRIBUTED to the new footwear.

So, now it’s not barefoot-style running, it’s the footwear itself that caused the problems? Make up your mind.

Or, better, THINK a little

FIFTY PERCENT of runners get injured every year. Almost 80% of marathoners get injured every year.

If only 1/3 of the people who went minimalist got injured… THAT’S BETTER than the average!

And  what about the happy barefoot runners?

I’m the first one to say that anecdotes are not the same as data. A story is not the same as research. (Unless, of course, you’re at the ACSM meeting, where a poll of people who claim that barefoot running hurt them — even though most of them probably never put their bare skin on the ground — counts as something worth publishing)

But that doesn’t mean one should ignore the thousands of stories — we get at least one every day — from people who took off their shoes and were able to run pain-free for the first time in years.

Further, there are many reasons to get out of your shoes beyond being able to run fast, or run efficiently, or even to run at all.

Why is running touted as the barometer for all things barefoot?

And, speaking as a sprinter — I don’t even like to go around the turns on a track, let alone do a 5k for the charity du jour — why is distance running the be-all-and-end-all of running?

Follow the bare foot money!

Finally, here’s a question I’ve never heard anyone ask:

Who is paying for all this “sobering” research that, when push comes to shove, is only saying, “we need more research”?

We know there’s a bias when labs are funded by companies with a vested interest in the outcome. When a lab studies Product X, and that same lab receives money from Product X’s manufacturer, a disproportionate percentage of the results endorse Product X. When the same studies are done at labs that don’t receive funding from Product X’s manufacturer, WAY less frequently do the studies endorse Product X.

The media is usually fast to point out when a drug study came from a lab that receives significant funding by the company that manufactures the drug in question.

I’ve seen none of that reported in the “barefoot is EVIL!” articles.

Do we think reality is any different when we’re talking about feet and not pharmaceuticals?

I know of more than a few labs that have received significant amounts of revenue from Nike, Adidas, and Reebok. Do we actually think that running studies are less influenced by money from “Big Shoe”?

I’m a scientist at heart. I’m interested in the facts.

If I saw a GOOD study that said running or walking barefoot will decrease your Donkey Kong scores and cause hair to grow on your knuckles, I wouldn’t argue. I’d weigh the value of video games and hirsute hands against the fun and freedom I feel when I’m out of shoes and either barefoot or in Xero Shoes.

Until then, I guess I’m destined to rant about studies with bad or no controls, and reporters who get all hyperbolic just to get readers, when all they have to say is, “Wouldn’t it be great to do more research into this barefoot running thing?”

The dumbest barefoot running study yet?

how to run barefoot safelyNational Taiwan Normal University recently published a study in the journal, Gait & Posture, that might be the dumbest study ever done about barefoot running.

Or, now that I think of it, it maybe it’s the best.


Let’s start with the study and then I’ll tell you why it’s so stupid and so awesome at the same time.

I don’t need to bother with how the study was conducted and the typical problems with the study design, which are common to most of the barefoot running studies that have been done (too small a sample size, too homogeneous a sample size, not a good control group, lack of barefoot experience when barefoot experience is called for, etc. — oh, I guess I did just bother  :lol:).

The important part is the conclusion:

Habitually shod runners may be subject to injury more easily when they run barefoot and continue to use their heel strike pattern.

Winner of the DUH! Award

For those of you with some barefoot running experience under your belt, you’ll immediately get the “this is a stupid study” idea.

For those of you new to the barefoot thing, let me ‘splain. In short, the one of the key philosophies behind running without shoes is that the typical heel-striking pattern that most people adopt when they put on running shoes, regardless of how much padding and motion stability is built into the shoes, is BAD FOR YOU.

Adding the padding and motion control is attempting to address a problem that the shoe caused to begin with. It’s like drilling a hole in a water pipe and then trying to patch it up with Silly Putty and saying, “See, it’s fine!”

Another philosophy of barefoot running is that it’ll get you to stop heel-striking because, news flash, landing on your heel while barefoot HURTS.

So, doing a study that says, “Running barefoot and heel-striking can be bad for you” is like doing a study that reveals, “Water is wet!”

There isn’t a barefoot runner on the planet who is surprised by these results.


Ironically, though, the obviousness of this study — problems and all — is what makes it one of the best studies about barefoot running yet.


Because it proves one of the core tenets of barefoot running!

Okay, again, it doesn’t unambiguously and completely prove it because of the limitations of the study. But by examining one of the simple ideas behind the barefoot movement and determining that all our anecdotal evidence has some scientific background, we can start to chip away at the nay-sayers who intone, “There are no studies that show that running barefoot is better for you.”

Ignoring the argument that there are no studies that show that SHOES are good for you, we now have a small study that backs up our claims.

Winner of the That’s What She Said! Award

One other conclusion that came out of this study is that, perhaps, the advantages that barefoot running seems to provide come not from having your bare skin on the ground, but from the change in gait — from heel-strike to, well, NOT heel-striking — is where the real value comes from.

That’s the message that many of us — including Chris McDougall, Daniel Lieberman, and Pete Larson — have been saying. That is, “it’s the form, not the footwear… but it happens that removing the footwear seems the best way to change the form… and it’s FUN, feels great, and costs less.”

Hopefully we’ll start seeing other studies that address some of the other simple claims of barefooters:

  • Running barefoot naturally leads to a change in gait, without supplemental instruction
  • That gait change, even in shoes, leads to fewer injuries
  • That gait change, without shoes, leads to fewer injuries
  • That gait change helps heal existing injuries
  • ANYONE can run barefoot, pain-free and enjoyably.

(Did I miss any?)

Barefoot Running Expert Daniel Lieberman on The Colbert Report

Most barefoot runners know Daniel Lieberman from Chris McDougall’s best-seller, Born To Run.

Dr. Lieberman is a professor of Evolutionary Biology at Harvard who has done some seminal research on barefoot running. One of his basic premises, from an evolutionary perspective, is that human’s ability to sweat allowed us to run for long distances, letting us track down prey that overheats and tires out.

While Dr. Lieberman is used to big deal academic situations, here he is on The Colbert Report.

(I used to have the video on this page, but it got moved and now you have to click to see it)

International Barefoot Running Day Donut Dash!

international Barefoot Running Day Join Xero Shoes for International Barefoot Running Day (IBRD) on Sunday, May 5th.

IBRD is the brainchild of The Barefoot Runners Society, and the Colorado chapter has something special lined up:

The 1st ever Barefoot Donut Dash!

We’ll start at 10am at the Xero Shoes office — 5470 Conestoga Ct, Boulder, CO, 80301 — with a barefoot running lesson. Whether you’re brand new to barefoot, or haven’t seen a pair of shoes in decades, you’ll learn from and enjoy this simple class.

Then, you can test your new (or improved) skills with either a 1k or 5k run/walk.

Xero Shoes CEO and Masters All-American sprinter, Steven Sashen, will lead the 1k. Xero’s Customer Service Manager and resident ultra-runner, Bill Babcock, will take people out on the 5k.

Both runs will end about 75 meters from the Xero office… at Dizzy’s Donuts, where you can get a gourmet doughnut (can you say, “Maple Bacon” or “Seriously Chocolate Cheesecake” or “Jalapeno Chedder”?!) at a special IBRD price.

No experience is necessary.

If you want to bring and wear minimalist shoes, that’s okay (though you may learn that your minimalist shoes are getting in the way of learning to master barefoot running).

Xero Shoes will also be on sale for IBRD participants.

Please fill out this REGISTRATION FORM. If possible, scan/email it back to us at, or Fax it to 303.786.9292… or just bring it with you when you come to enjoy International Barefoot Running Day and the Donut Dash!

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