I gave up shoes in 2009 when I started walking, running and, well, living barefoot or in Xero Shoes.
Soon after that I gave up sitting, too.
Okay, not gave up… but I got so sick of being planted in a chair all day that I throw away the chair, propped up my desk, and started standing instead.
After a while, that got a bit old, too. So I found a free treadmill on Craigslist, ripped off the handrails, mounted the controller on my wall, and started walking while I worked.
Now you may not go as far as I did, but I highly recommend that you spend less time sitting and more time standing. And doctors agree (seriously, get off your butt right now!).
One “problem” with standing, especially if you do it 8-10 hours a day like I do, is that, well, it’s kind of boring for your feet. You’re standing on the same surface, at the same angle in, roughly, the same place.
So I loved when my friends from Quitting Sitting showed me their new product, Topo (not to be confused with the shoe company of the same name).
Topo gives you varied surfaces to stand on, with angles you can explore, a mild texture, and some cool colors.
Here’s a video they produced about Topo:
I’m writing this a bit prematurely, I’ll admit, because I haven’t received my Topo yet (and, yes, I’ll put it on top of my treadmill for the times when I’m standing instead of walking). But for those of you who do stand (and that could be in the kitchen or anywhere else, too), I thought I’d give you a heads up.
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?
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.
We’re selling Xero Shoes at the Hanuman Yoga & Music Festival in Boulder this weekend and while playing with some Earth Balls, Cindy and I came up with a great foot strengthening game. Whether you’re a barefoot runner or barefoot walker, this is a great game to play
The Wall Street Journal online published an article describing the research of James Collins from Harvard. James wondered why people get less steady on their feet as they get older.
His conclusion: They get less feedback from the ground and lose the ability to balance.
So far so good.
His solution: An insole that provides random vibration to stimulate the nerves in the feet.
Can anyone here think of another way of doing the same thing, but without all the electronic bells and whistles? Anyone? Beuler? Beuler?
If you said, “Take off your shoes!” you win any prize on the second row!
If you said “Take off your shoes! And if you don’t want to step on unpleasant things, wear Invisible Shoes!” you get a prize from the TOP row!
I discussed this idea with Dr. Michael Merzinich last year. He, too, thinks that the continued lack of sensation that comes from wearing shoes — especially the big orthopedic shoes they put on elderly people who can’t balance! — results in the brain map of your feet “de-differentiating.” In other words, your brain thinks you have a big paddle at the end of your foot, rather than a highly flexible and strong appendage.
And it’s hard to balance a paddle.
If you think about this, it sheds light on another bit of research on balance and the elderly: Studies have shown that Tai Chi can help elderly people regain their balance. But it’s probably not the Tai Chi that’s causing the effect (BTW, I have nothing against Tai Chi… I did it and taught it for years). It’s the time spent barefoot, FEELING the ground.
I hope that someone does a study with Invisible Shoes and balance sometime. I’d place a bet on the outcome.
The gist of the study: by stimulating the feet of “older fallers” with textured insoles (I think with something like a “reflexology” insert), they got an immediate effect of a slower and more cautious gait.
What does this have to do with barefoot walking and running?
One of the premises touted by those of us who are fond of barefoot living is that our feet are designed to be used, to be stimulated by surfaces, to send information to our spinal cord and to our brain, to Feel The World™!
This study suggests that when you give the feet stimulation — feet that have, for years, or decades, been made numb in smooth insoled, padded shoes — your brain and body work better. In this case, elderly people who are prone to falling change their gait in a way that should lead to fewer falls. And fewer falls means fewer broken bones. And fewer broken bones (especially hips) can mean a longer life for some of these people… people who, some day, we will be.
I talked with Dr. Michael Merzenich about this last year. Dr. Merzenich is featured in the book, The Brain That Changes Itself, and PBS puts him on-air when they want to raise money.
In our conversation, Dr. Merzenich and I discussed the brain’s “map” of the body. Think of your hand for a moment. In the “brain map” for the hand there’s a separate area for each finger. And, not surprisingly, the part of the brain-map for your first finger is next to the part of the map for your second finger… and so on down the line. Each finger’s section of the map is “differentiated” from the next.
If you taped your first two fingers together, after a while your brain-map would change. The sections for the first and second finger would essentially merge. The brain-map for those two fingers would de-differentiate.
At that point, you would experience your two fingers as one slightly bigger finger.
Well, Dr. Merzenich thinks that the same thing happens to the brain map for your feet. Over time, and after wearing shoes that, basically, “tape” your foot together, not allowing it to move with the full flexibility it normally has, not feeling all the different sensations it was built to feel, your brain-map for your foot de-differentiates.
At that point, from your brain’s perspective, you don’t have 5 flexible toes on a strong, flexible arch. You have a paddle.
And it’s hard to balance a paddle.
So, Dr. Merzenich and I outlined a number of experiments that could show how taking elderly people, and getting them out of their support shoes and off their walkers, might demonstrate how their brain map RE-differentiates, turning the paddle back into a foot, and allowing them to walk with more stability and balance.
The study hasn’t been done yet. But we hope it will soon.
Thinking of the issue of elderly people’s balancing problems being due to de-differentiated brain maps also removes some of the mystery of certain studies about Tai Chi’s value for the elderly.
A number of studies (I’m too lazy at the moment to look them up, let alone read them and determine whether they were well done… let’s assume they were) show how Tai Chi helps elderly people regain their balance.
It may be that the effects have nothing to do with Tai Chi, per se, but with being barefoot and USING your feet. That is, the elderly people in the study may have gotten the same effect if they went for a barefoot walk in the park. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Tai Chi — I did it and taught it for years. But in this case, it may be extraneous.
Similarly, there’s a study by Dr. Kirk Erikson where he found that elderly people who walked retained more brain mass over 9 years than those who didn’t walk. He thinks that the added brain stimulation that came from walking is what led to the “use it or lose it” results he got. I suggested to him that if he had a third group — who walked barefoot — they probably would have kept even more gray matter.
Sadly, he doesn’t have the funding or another 9 years to test that theory, but he suspects I could be right.
Maybe the barefoot trend will take a sharp detour and become more about healthy aging than about running, walking and hiking.
One of the things Ross discusses is how, when he told people that he wanted to make the barefoot attempt, he was met with disbelief, mocking, and all manner of non-support.
Sound familiar, barefoot runners?
I emailed him in advance of his trip to show him my video of shoveling snow barefoot and let him know I was positive he would make it, and have fun doing it. In fact, I was totally jealous and wished I could make the flight to do the trip with him (besides, since I live at 5600′, I thought I’d have an advantage).
Now, Ross and his team didn’t take this mission lightly. They didn’t wake up one morning and think, “Hey, let’s take a hike… barefoot… up the tallest mountain in Africa!”
They did a lot of preparation — Ross did less than the others because he joined later. I argued that they did more than they needed. But the point is that they built up to the task rather than simply pretending they were still wearing shoes. I say this to the runners who think that they can simply take off their shoes and pop a barefoot marathon (I know people who’ve done that without a problem, but they’re the exception, not the rule).
I can’t wait to see what new barefoot adventures people tackle in the future.
Barefoot hiking may be the next minimalist/barefoot trend.
While barefoot running is the thing that became popular (thanks in large part to Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run), I’ve noticed in the last few months that:
Many new barefoot runners haven’t read, or even heard of, Chris’s book
A significant percentage of our customers are not runners, but hikers, walkers, gym-goers, yoga practitioners, and CrossFit-ers
And, more and more, I get emails and photos from people showing them at the top of some mountain, either barefoot or in their Invisible Shoes. A lot of times their emails will say, “I brought my running sandals with me to use around the campsite or if I was going through water and didn’t want my shoes to get wet. But it was so much more fun to feel the ground as I hiked, that I just put my hiking boots in my pack and wore my huaraches instead.”
I know the feeling. I haven’t worn real shoes for anything like a hike since the Summer of 2009, and the idea of balancing on my stiff hiking boot soles instead of gripping the rocks and roots isn’t at all appealing. And it’s definitely one of my favorite moments when I come upon a small stream to cross, and see a handful of hikers trying to figure out how to make it without getting their feet wet… and then I just plod through the water without breaking stride
Frankly, I love the idea that minimalism and barefoot and natural movement make it beyond the world of running, beyond the question of performance (e.g. “do you run faster barefoot?” or “is barefoot running better than shod running?”). After you’ve been barefoot for a while, you simply love the way it feels in every circumstance.
Granted, I also think that being barefoot or truly minimalist has other advantages — all those nerves in the bottom of your feet are there for a reason; use ‘em or lose ‘em. But if the only reason people take off their motion-controlled shoes is for fun, that’s good enough for me! And if they decide to wear Invisible Shoes for those times where a little bit of protection or style are needed, I won’t complain
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