How to Walk Barefoot – Xero Shoes

Walking barefoot outside on a boardwalk

How to Walk Barefoot

I expect (and kind of hope) that many people reading the title of this section will think, “Uh, I don’t need instruction about how to walk. I’ve been doing it all my life.”

I also expect (and definitely hope) that others will read the title and think, “Finally, the answer to my most burning question! I’ve been worried that I’m walking wrong.”

For those of you in the first group, let me ask you this: Do tribal women in Africa with water jugs balanced on their heads walk in the same way that Olympic race walkers do? And, do either of those people walk the way you do?

I’d bet that the answer you found for both of those questions is “No.”

That’s because walking isn’t just walking. There are ways of walking that are more or less effective, more or less efficient, more or less healthy and strong.

And if you accept that premise, that could put you in the second group.

Now, for those of you in the second group, I have what could seem like bad news. There is no one answer to “How do I walk.”

This article will not reveal the hidden secret of locomotion that only wisened Tibetan lamas from the Drepung monastery have taught to their senior disciples, or the geometrical relationships between your lower extremity joints that is optimal for effortless, pain-free walking, or the best footwear you can use for carrying a 200 pound pack on a 1,000 mile hike over broken glass.

It’ll actually do something better.

It’ll show you how to become your own best teacher and discover your own secrets for walking efficiently, enjoyably, and easily.

But first, the benefits of running barefoot

Before we can discuss walking, let’s review of the premises behind, and arguments supporting barefoot running, which will be important when we get back to talking about walking:

Landing on your heel, especially with a foot position in front of the knee and the knee almost straight, sends a shock through the joints — the ankle, the knee, the hip, and up the spine.

When you wear typical running shoes with padded, elevated heels, the elevation makes it more likely that you’ll land heel-first, and the padding makes it harder to get the feedback that you need to not put this extra force into your body.

And, research shows that the padding doesn’t actually reduce the impact forces.

This isn’t good.

Running barefoot reduces the likelihood that you’ll land on your heel… because, frankly, it hurts. Instead, what people naturally do is start landing on their forefoot or midfoot, with a bent knee and the ankle not in front of the knee. This reduces the force going through your joints, allowing you to use the muscles, ligaments, and tendons the way they’re meant to be used, as natural springs, shock absorbers, and joint protectors.

So, what does all this have to do with walking?

Well, the whole conversation about foot-strike rarely came up prior to the barefoot running boom. Now it’s practically dinner party conversation, where the barefoot gang looks down their noses in disgust at shoe-wearing heel-strikers.

And the increase in the volume of this conversation has led to another question, which probably nobody asked prior to the publication of the book Born To Run, the book that kicked off the barefoot boom. This is a question I’m emailed almost daily, namely,

“How should my foot land when I am walking?”

It sounds like a reasonable question.

If there is some optimal way for your foot to land when you run, there must be a “right” way for it to land when walking, right?

Well, among the barefoot running research community there’s debate about whether a forefoot strike is better/worse than a midfoot strike, or whether foot strike is idiosyncratic and different for different runners. There’s even an argument about whether heel striking is as evil as most barefoot runners take it to be.

How can this be? And how does this apply to walking?

Simple. Because heel strike is the effect of other aspects of your biomechanics, not the cause.

Think about it. The only way you can change how your foot lands on the ground is what you do with your ankle, your hip, and your knee.

To not land on your heel when you run, you probably need to bend your knee more than you usually do. But that alone could cause you to trip over your toes, so you also need to bend your hip a bit more. And then you may relax your ankle a little rather than pulling your toes towards your knee.

So “land on your forefoot” is really just a cue for “bend the hip and knee and relax the ankle.” For most people It’s a change in your whole posture of running. But if you told someone to change their hip, knee and ankle joint angles, they’d be too confused to even take a step.

Well, it’s similar with walking. Where your foot lands isn’t the issue. How you move your foot through space is.

When you walk, your foot can land in one of three ways: touching the front of the foot first, followed by the heel dropping to the ground; landing basically flat-footed, probably touching the midfoot first, or; touching/rolling over the heel… which is sort of still a flat-footed landing but with the heel contacting first.

Which one of these happens is a function of how fast/slow you’re walking, whether you’re walking up/down hill, whether you’re accelerating or slowing down, and what kind of surface you’re on.

Really, there’s no need to worry about foot-strike. It’ll take care of itself… if you pay attention to this next thing.

Here’s How to Walk Naturally

First, you’ll want to be barefoot, or as close to barefoot as possible. (In other words, if you don’t want to walk in bare feet, avoid a cushioned shoe and pick a pair of barefoot-inspired, or minimalist, shoes instead.)

Why? Because there’s value in being able to fully articulate your foot and in letting the nerves in your feet actually feel the ground.

If I then asked you to start walking, most people would basically swing their free leg out in front of them and, at the right moment, push off the toes of the back leg to pivot over the front foot, which has landed on the heel way out in front of you.

Try this instead: Lift your left foot about an inch off the ground and imagine the motion you might see in roller skating or ice skating. When you’re skating, you push yourself forward with the back leg, driving the heel backwards, which engages the glutes and the hamstrings.

In fact, If you can feel your glutes and hamstrings, tightening them will drive your heel back and move you forward. (“Drive the heel back” and “tighten your glutes” are two cues referring to the same thing.)

When you do this – driving the heel back and using your glutes and hamstrings – don’t worry about doing anything with your left leg (which is slightly off the ground). Don’t move it forward. Let it just hang there and use it to catch you from falling on your face.

As your weight shifts onto your left leg, don’t actively swing your right leg out in from of you. Just lift it an inch or so off the ground and repeat the motion I just described, driving your left heel backwards and using your right leg to catch you so you don’t face-plant.

If you simply place your foot down where it’ll stop you from falling (rather than swinging it out in front of you like you usually do), it’ll land closer to your center of mass, more flat-footed, with a slightly bent hip and knee, and with the now front leg in a biomechanically stronger position. You will have planted your foot.

If you repeat this — using your glutes and hips to move you forward, and placing your feet instead of swinging your legs forward — you’ll be supporting your lower back… and your knees, and your hips, and even your ankles.

Your foot-strike will take care of itself.

You’ll feel like you’re walking “on top of your feet” rather than behind them.

This motion may feel a bit robotic at first, but as you practice and relax, it’ll get smooth, comfortable, and efficient.

The Health Benefits of Walking Barefoot

Many podiatrists grasp the benefits of walking barefoot and recommend it as a cure for plantar fasciitis. Many chiropractors and orthopedic physicians recommend walking barefoot to cure lower back pain.

Being barefoot can help with plantar fasciitis because, when you walk barefoot, especially on uneven surfaces, you’ll use your feet in a way that “pre-loads” the plantar fascia, putting them in a strong position when you need them.

Being barefoot can help with lower back pain because it helps you walk naturally, the way human beings are built to walk. When you do that, as we saw above, you use your glutes and hamstrings as the prime movers. Using them makes them stronger, and stronger glutes and hamstrings support your lower back.

And using these big muscles is what can support you, whether you’re going for a stroll or carrying a 50 pound pack on a trail (which, by the way, will be easier because your engaged glutes and hamstrings support your lower back).

Foot Pain
Back Pain

When you think about staying on top of your feet, and using your glutes and hamstrings, you’ll naturally discover the easy and efficient ways to walk in any situation. You’ll understand it from the inside out, from your own experience, not from some guidebook about how many inches behind your knee you should have your ankle when you’re walking up a 10 degree incline in 50 degree weather on a Thursday.

Combine this with feeling the world because you’re barefoot or in some truly minimalist footwear (be warned, most major shoe companies claim their product is “barefoot” when it’s about as close to barefoot as a pair of stilts), and I guarantee that your next walk or hike will be a revelation… and a lot of fun.

I’m still working on a video to demonstrate what I mean, but in the meantime, check out this video from Dr. Justin Lin, which makes the points I made above:

A Few Common Questions about Walking Barefoot

Can I walk barefoot on hard surfaces?

People often assume walking barefoot is really only possible on soft surfaces like grass or sand. This isn’t true.

If you learn to move the way we described above, which running or walking barefoot teaches you to do, you can handle hard surfaces just fine.

Note, though, that there is a time for shoes. Sometimes surfaces are too hot, sometimes there are sharp objects around that can pose a risk of injuries, sometimes you want to go into a restaurant. More on that in the next question…

Minimalist shoes compared to barefoot.

Can minimalist shoes give me the same health benefits as walking barefoot?

I realize walking barefoot isn’t for everyone (and isn’t the best thing on all occasions, as I noted above). That’s why we created Xero Shoes, to give you an experience as close as possible to running or walking barefoot while still having shoes on your feet.

Xero Shoes are designed with a thin, flexible sole and a roomy toe box that let your feet move naturally. You can get the same kinds of health benefits (for instance, strengthening the muscles of your feet, as one study found) and other benefits, like greater feedback from your environment.

We make minimalist shoes, sandals, and even boots, that you can wear anywhere from the office to the trail.

Intrigued? Find your perfect pair here.

The content of this post does not constitute and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have about your health or a medical condition.

106 thoughts on “How to Walk Barefoot – Xero Shoes

  1. Another great form of feedback is walking on icy roads/sidewalks. I’ve found that since I switched to minimalist shoes, 2-1/2 years ago, I can comfortably walk on ice (at least moderately level roads/walkways) with great confidence where as heel striking is almost guaranteed to put you on your butt. I know instantly if my form gets sloppy because my foot will slip. If I keep my feet landing beneath me and on mid/forefoot I can move along at a normal (for me) walking pace. My wife and I do regular hour long power walks on our unsalted country road in the Northern WI winter with confidence. In the past we had to wear those spiky shoe covers to keep us upright.

    1. That’s a great one, Scott.

      You’ll love this video that shows someone running across ice. The video shows that, at full speed, most of the force is vertical an not horizontal, because if it were horizontal force you would slip and slide.

  2. Honestly probably the best articles I’ve ever read regarding barefoot walking. The difference in forcing your foot in front of you and using your glutes is subtle but significant.

  3. Nicely written piece there Steven.

  4. minimalist shoes..yeah, Avia & other major manufacturers who make expensive shoes in Vietnam. Walk barefoot..just do it. it takes awhile to get used to barefoot, but ohhh, it feels nice. you sleep better.

  5. I have a pair of Xeros for joy, and Vivobarefoot minimalist shoes. I am a teacher of The Alexander Technique which is the initial impetus for the whole Barefoot Running Movement ( 20 yrs ago or some such). Your advice re Walking barefoot ( or any other way) is insane, impossible, and does NOT conform to the natural human walking pattern. Suggest you contact RICHARD BRENNAN , trainer The Alexander Technique, (Ireland) or myself , or read THE ART OF WALKING author Marguerite Osler.

    1. Can you be more specific? Which part is “insane”? Which part isn’t “natural”?

    2. “everything I do is perfect in every way, nothing you do is acceptable, Stephen.” “Buy my book and shut up, you nitwit…”

      1. Ah, NOW I understand 😉

      2. One thing is for sure: what you just described is by far the most *elegant* way of walking – a high-heels kind of look in a natural and harmless way. Cheers!

  6. I don’t understand a word of this. I’m dyslexic. If I stand on one leg, nothing moves. If I contract muscles I’m still standing on one leg. Please explain step one, step 2 , etc for dummies. (BTW THE spiralling of the torso seems to have more to do with correct mechanics than thinking about the legs)

    1. I’m not sure what dyslexia has to do with it… but if you only contracted your glutes and hamstrings, they would shorten which would push you forward just enough to initiate walking.

      The gist is: don’t sit back over your feet; don’t just swing your leg out in front of you, plant it, and push yourself over it.

      1. OK. I’m standing on one leg. The other leg is suspended in the air. Now what??|
        Are YOu saying to contract the glutes and hamstrings of the standing leg? All that happens now is I fire up my core.
        Do You mean fire the muscles of the suspended leg? Can’t do it.

        So you must have something elso in mind.

        It Helps me to have instructions like. “StaND On one leg. Place the other foot behind , resting on heel, then….”

        PLEASE describe EXACTLTY WHAT you do, including every placement, focus, intention for one complete step cycle, including what should be noticed when doing it correctly.
        PLeaSE start with this, thanks
        “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.
        Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

        1. Yes, I mean the leg that’s planted on the ground.

          It is possible to contract the glutes and hamstrings without firing the core (in the same way you can isolate any muscle).

          But try it upside down… TRY to move forward while standing on one leg, without leaning forward (from the ankle) or bending forward (from the hips).

          The only way you can do that is with a contraction of the posterior chain, the prime movers, a.k.a. the glutes and hamstrings.

          1. Let me add… it’s not like contracting the posterior chain THROWS you forward. What it does it that it makes a minor change in the position of your hips, which moves your center of gravity SLIGHTLY forward… enough that if you did nothing else (like put your other foot down), would cause you to fall forward.

            And it’s not like you do a HARD contraction when you walk.

            For some, this is really more of a “cue” to get you “on top of your feet”. And for people who haven’t really used their glutes in a while it may be that you need to do things in reverse: Position yourself so that you’re “on top of your feet” and walk with that posture and you may feel your glutes firing in a way they haven’t in a long, long time.

          2. Stephen-Let’s start again. What do you mean walk “on top of your feet”? What is NOT WALKing on top of your feet. Maybe somebody else can explain this in step by step child language for someone completely ignorant of the subject.(Show your replies to a ten year old and see what his response would be)

          3. “On top of your feet” was something that customers of ours used as a description.

            It has to do with where your center of mass is as you move. If you lean back slightly as you walk, your feet are sort of out in front of you… you’re “behind your feet.”

            If, when you walk, your front foot lands under your center of mass, it feels like you’re “over your feet” (comparatively).

            Perhaps a video will help. I’ll try to make one soon.

            Here’s another image that can help, especially with the glute/ham contraction thing:

            Either lie face down on the ground or imagine doing so.

            By contracting your glutes on the right side (not by arching your back, that is), raise your right leg a TINY bit off the ground. Then notice that you can actually use your glutes more and raise your leg even more.

            When walking, many of us only do the smallest extension of the leg behind us. We don’t use the glutes to push us forward. And the glutes/hamstrings are at their strongest when we use them that way (muscles are strongest in the final degrees of their range of motion, when they’re more fully contracted).

            So, back to the standing on one leg thing… if, while standing on one leg, try to “raise” that standing leg behind you like when you were lying on the ground (which you do by contracting the glutes/hamstrings), it propels you forward.

            If you relax the other leg, but use it to keep you from falling on your face, you’ll probably find that you simply place it (perhaps a bit flat-footed), under your body rather than reaching out in front of you. Then “raise” that leg behind you and repeat.

            Again, many people describe this as feeling as walking “over their feet” because of where their feet land in relation to their center of mass.

            Fingers crossed that I’ve done a slightly better job with that description.

            As an aside: For people familiar with running biomechanics, what I’m describing is the difference between front-side and back-side mechanics in walking. Just as distance runners have more backside mechanics, that’s a smoother, more efficient way of walking as well.

          4. Look’s like he’s pushing you into doubt by picking at the weaknesses in the language of bio-mechanical theory. Not anyone can take a theoretical explanation of something as particular to the individual as walking and easily apply it to practice. Certainly, even the most astute of minds will not completely comprehend your aim. In any case, this is one of the best articles I have read on the subject, but it may easily confound the masses.

  7. When done correctly a person moves faster and looks like they are loafing along.

  8. I tried it in my living room just now, and it was so easy I wonder if this is what you mean. I found myself taking shorter steps and kind of shuffling along, with my feet much closer to the floor. It felt good. In general, my hips hurt (arthritis-type thing), so I am going to try this way of walking outside to see if it makes them hurt less.

  9. Can you please .ake the video? I still have no idea how to do it after reading the article and comments many times 🙁 When I stand on one leg I can’t move forward. It’s like a reflex to stay balanced and not let myself fall. Idk what to do.

    1. Hi Narek,

      I’ll try to get that video up as soon as the Shark Tank effect slows down 😉

      And, of course you can move forward on one leg… the whole point is that you’ll put your other foot down so that you WON’T fall. And when you do, you’ll put it closer to your body rather than kicking it out in front of you.

  10. This was great! Thanks for the clear — and engaging — explanation.

  11. Great Article – Thank you! I’m a BFRunner and JUST started to worry about how I should be walking in my vibrams or barefoot. This clears things up nicely. Cheers again!

    Andy from

  12. Great and informative article, we have been practicing bare foot walkingrunning for a few years now, and lately combining Barefoot & Breathwalk …. results are amazing in terms of stamina, mental clarity, physical wellbeing, focus, creativity… rejuvenation…. it is a WOW match made in heaven 🙂

  13. Steven,

    Like Laurence I also fail to understand the idea of moving forward while standing on one foot. You say not to bend either at the ankle or hips, so to my way of thinking that leaves no possibility whatsoever for movement. Am I missing something? Everyone else here seems to get it, but I (and Laurence) sure don’t.

    1. You’re missing something 😉

      To be technical, you’re going to put the hip into extension. Think about driving your heel backwards (while it’s still on the ground). To do this, you’re using your glutes and hamstrings.

      1. I too am having trouble understanding the walking technique. I can stand on my left right leg and contract my right glute and hamstring. My left (suspended leg) moves forward maybe a quarter of an inch. I can place my left leg down and raise my right leg. Contracting my left (support) glute and hamstring moves my right leg maybe a quarter inch. I can’t imagine getting anywhere only a quarter inch at a time. I tried laying down like you suggested to Laurence. Contracting one glute does shift my hips significantly but I think that is more because my “rear” has changed shape and essentially pushed back against the floor to shift my hip.

        1. Try this cue instead:

          Push the heel of your standing leg backwards, while keeping it on the ground.

          (What allows you to do this is contracting your glute/ham)

          1. I can contract my glute just fine. It just barely moves my opposite leg though. I feel as though in order to get any distance in my stride, I need to move the lower half (I.e. Below the knee) of my suspended leg out and away from my body a bit.

          2. Contracting your glutes has no effect on the opposite leg, nor is it supposed to.

            Driving your heel back is what MOVES you forward. Your opposite leg does very little (which is why this as an efficient way to walk).

            And you don’t need ta create distance in your stride by reaching out. Try using the distance that takes the least effort. It may be shorter than you’re used to.

          3. Hmmm. I was just thinking… Let’s go back a step to help understand. There are a couple ways to pick up a leg to be on one foot which produce very different effects. The thigh bone in a normal standing position is perpendicular to the ground. I can pick up a leg by moving my thigh bone up in front of my body and making it parallel to the ground. If I do this, I can have my lower leg either very relaxed which puts my elevated foot almost next to my support knee or I can have my lower leg contracted such that I am making a near right angle from my upper to my lower leg and my foot is going to be in front of me. I can also lift up my leg such that my thigh bone stays nearly still and remains near perpendicular to the ground but my lower leg moves back and my foot goes behind my body. When you first talk about standing on one foot, which of the three methods are you referring to? (Or do you mean a fourth?)

          4. I actually was not talking about the non-weighted leg with the cue I gave.

            And there are different stages of the gait where you’re doing different things with the non-weighted leg.

            The simplest answer I can give: Do as little as possible. Relax as much as you can. Don’t reach out with the non-weighted foot, but let it drop under your center of mass so you don’t fall on your face 😉

            What I’ve seen is that if you focus on the weighted leg, the non-weighted leg usually takes care of itself.

            For the sake of this experiment, though, to START walking, I just flex my hip and relax the rest of my leg. And I flex so that my toes are about an inch off the ground. Again, that changes with the 2nd step since the foot that’s about to become non-weighted will be behind you… so go back to “relax and focus on the weighted leg.”

    2. Maybe I can help a bit here. What I think helps is to understand that your muscles strength turns out really different for different muscles when you do that for a while. So if someone says “contract your glutes” and you think you do, does unfortunately not mean that they are strong enough to DO what is supposed to happen. So you might do the right thing but simply not have the strength for the necessary effect yet. Which will change over time!

      I’m walking barefoot for many years now where ever possible as I had problems with feet muscles as teenager and translating into back pain and all and I’ve been using very soft, thin soled shoes from physicians recommendation for over a decade now. By now using normal shoes feels very awkward for walking style and I get exhausted as my muscles are developed for barefoot – but no longer for heel based walking. My shin starts hurting when I wear hiking boots for example for more than two hours. Of course I can do “normal” (heel based) walking, but it seems very inefficient as I lack the training. So please don’t feel frustrated from the description, this isn’t some magic thing that just works because you change technique, the muscles need to strengthen for this type of walking to become efficient. For some more than for others, depends on individual walking styles too.

      Now a bit more specific at least from how I’m walking by now and trying to further explain what I think Steven means: If you stand on your right foot, weight on it, left foot just lifted a bit in the air but still below your body center … bend the right knee a bit so it is not locked. You will already at this point feel if your glutes and hamstrings are trained enough to keep that comfortably or are under strain. Now contracting your glutes and hamstrings is not about making a tight “butt” but your foot muscles are part of this too. So actually what it does (if the muscles are strong enough, leaning forward a tiny bit can help) your ANKLE pulls up. I know it sounds like just push with your foot up, but that is really only part of it, contracting the back of your leg is pulling the ankle upwards too. So you stand on your fore foot from it. And that is the whole push which makes you “fall” forward, where you land with your left foot (fore or mid foot again). Instead of pushing your left feet forward, leaning and then heel first land there, dragging the right foot behind which remains under your body.

      So short version:
      a) barefoot: keep free foot under body – bend knee of weight leg slighly – tighten muscles of back of weight leg so ankle comes up, pushing the body slightly forward – keep free foot moving with/under body by keeping it relaxed in the hip – land on fore/middle foot of free foot = force comes from the back of your weight leg (muscles will strengten, moving forward gets flexible and steps longer and easier)

      b) stiff shoe walking: swing free feet in front of body – lean forward to follow free foot – land on heel of free foot – drag weight foot along

      It really takes a while for the muscles to become strong enough so the contraction of the back of your weight leg is doing something to the ankle/foot. but you can help it by pushing up with your feet too, that is the other point of barefoot walking after all: strengthening the muscles of your feet structure a lot. It is not just gluts and hamstrings! And trust me, there is a lot of muscle there that is not very much trained otherwise, my massage therapist is always amazed, she did not know I’m a barefoot walker but she told me the first time already that she never had someone with even remotely so dense glutes, hamstrings and loin muscles. And we don’t talk muscle knots here.

      Maybe that helps.

  14. Didn’t fully understand until I stood up and tried it. Fantastic!

  15. You provided a great explanation for barefoot walking. I just gave it a try. It was a more graceful way for walking with MUCH less shock to the body.

  16. I’m not sure where to post this question, but this seems like as good a place as any. It seems to me after wearing these shoes for about a week, that they are super awesome if you are walking or running on the Earth (grass, dirt, etc) but that they are not so awesome on pavement or other hard surfaces. In fact, when I have worn them around town where I was walking on concrete, my legs and feet hurt quite a lot after even an hour or two. Am I just really sensitive or have other people experienced this? Obviously I would prefer that so much of the world was NOT paved and we could walk on soft surfaces all the time, but unfortunately that is not the case. How do you other barefoot fans deal with the concrete issue?

    1. Funny you should say that… my wife and I just came home from a 2 hour walk on pavement. 😉

      If you look at you’ll see that one of the first tips is: run on a HARD surface. The reason: it gives you the most feedback about your form.

      I don’t know if you’re “sensitive”, but it sounds like your form isn’t yet adapted to harder surfaces. That is, you don’t need to get stronger to handle hard surfaces, but you may find that as your form adjusts, you use less effort and muscular force.

      For now, use the same advice we give for getting started with running: START SLOWLY. Do a little at a time and build up your time based on how good you’re feeling.

  17. I’ve been using my xeros for over a month now, and have no problems at all except…
    I always seem to develop a blister on the side of my right heel whenever I spend more than about 45min in them.
    I’m pretty sure I heel spike a bitbut even trying these the closest I seem to get is more like a stomp.
    Any advice would be great 🙂

    1. Emilie, take a look at — the simplest thing I can say is: if you’re getting a blister on your heel, you’re not only heel striking, but adding EXTRA horizontal force on that spot.

      The only “advice” is to experiment with your gait and stop doing what causes the problem. If you use the instructions on this page, you *should* land more flat-footed and then have less horizontal force on the ground.

      1. Will give it a shot. Thanks

  18. Great article. My previous comment got lost somewhere. I recommend an outline or bullet chart as a lead in to keep people focused on the whole process. if the big picture is seen first the details will sink in.

    1. Great idea. I’ll get to work on it when I have some time.

  19. I’m working a retail job for the holidays and how I wish I could get my (mostly) just standing form and footwear down so my back (from my neck down) wouldn’t hurt so much.

  20. I am working retail for the holidays. I’m trying to get my (mostly) standing form and footwear down to relieve the back pain. Four days in various (as close to barefoot as I’ve got ) shoes and none seem to be any different. Not sure how to “get away with” wearing my xero shoes.

    1. Add REALLY contrasting socks so you’re not hiding them! 😉 Or, get green soles and red laces to blend in for the holidays (or red soles and green laces).

      BTW, the reason being barefoot should help with your back is that when you can’t use your feet to balance you, that job goes “upstream” to your knees, hips and back… which aren’t built for that job. Let your feet work correctly and they can take the stress off your back.

      1. Thanks so much! Maybe Xmas socks with Xero shoes will be upcoming in attire!

  21. Wearing-bearing movement, such as walking or using the elliptical, with a
    more minimalist shoe Begin to incorporate short intervals (seconds
    to minutes) of barefoot walking around the house while continuing to use minimal shoes walking or on the elliptical..

  22. walking like this makes me feel like a dinosaur

    1. Smooth it out and use a bit less effort and you’ll find a way that feels natural (because it IS a natural way to walk 😉 ).

  23. How about a video? :$

    1. Even though I’ve vowed not to make a “how to run barefoot” video (so as not to encourage people to think there’s ONE way to run), I may do a walking video. Once it warms up here in Colorado, I’ll see what I can do!

      1. Good. Looking forwad. It would be nice to see the exercises ’cause something can be missed in translation…
        I missed the webminar, and I was so going to ask about walking.

  24. This reminds me of chai walking. It could almost be described as falling forward and catching yourself although not really. That kind of walking leaves less of a foot print which to me says less harsh impact.

    1. Agreed on all counts!

  25. hello, I should be getting your shoes shortly. Any chance you already have a video of good barefoot walking?

    1. I don’t have one up at the moment. The challenge with posting “here’s what it should look like” videos is that:

      a) Two people doing the basics correctly can still look different, so do you emulate one, the other, or neither?

      b) Most people don’t have the body awareness to know if they’re actually imitating what they see in a video… so without video analysis software (like Coach’s Eye), using video as a guide can be challenging.

      Ideally, using the basic instructions/concept along with your own sensations will be your best teacher.

      That said, I’ll see what I can do about video. 😉

      1. thanks for the reply. Perhaps just a short video to demonstrate what you call “basic”? Just to show what you meant in your written guidelines (using glutes and hamstrings)

        1. Let me see what I can do. There’s not much to show, though: while standing on one leg, drive the heel of that leg backwards… let your front leg relax and only place it on the ground to keep yourself from falling on your face. Then repeat. 😉

  26. This ia interesting but I’m still a bit confused. Should I be trying to land on the ball of my foot as I stride instead of the “traditional” heel strike? Should I be flexing the ever living you-know-what from my glutes and hams as I walk? i really want to not get blisters on my heels from these shoes 🙂

    1. Which part of your foot touches first is less important than where your foot lands in relation to the center of mass of your body.

      And, no, you don’t need to “over-flex” your glutes/hamstrings. It’s that if you USE them as the prime movers and RELAX the leg that’s in the air, you’ll end up placing your foot under your body more than in front of it.

      Usually that means you’ll land a bit more flat-footed. But depending on your speed and whether you’re walking uphill or downhill, that’ll affect whether your heel touches first or your midfoot does.

  27. For the same reason we suggest starting SLOWLY by running for 30 seconds, or about 200 yards… and then increasing by 10-30 seconds on successive runs only after you’ve had a fun, easy, injury/hot-spot/blister-free time, we suggest the same thing for walking.

    So, I’d try doing less the next time you’re out and experiment to see how to NOT get those hot spots. See for some hints.

    Now, that said, here’s another way to think about how to properly use your glutes/hamstrings. Stand on your left foot and lift your right foot 1/2″ off the ground, straight up (you’ll have to sort of twist your hip to do this). This has nothing to do with how you walk… just something you need to do for this exercise.

    Now, keeping your right leg straight, and without arching your back, move your right heel backwards. You should feel that in your glutes and, possibly, hamstrings, too, because the only way to make this motion without arching, is by flexing your glutes/hamstrings.

    Now put your right foot back on the ground and KEEPING it on the ground, try to do the same thing… this will propel you forward. Keep your left leg relaxed as you do so (don’t swing it forward) and place your left foot on the ground, under your body, just so you don’t fall on your face ;-).

    Then repeat the same thing with your left leg, driving the heel back, relaxing in the right leg and letting the right foot land (it’ll probably be a bit flat-footed) under your body.

    Smooth it out and then use as little effort as possible (unless you’re in the mood for a glute workout, which is fine), and see how it goes…

  28. First I would like to mention what a great product and service you are providing for people. I have been training in Ninjutsu, a martial art, for over 15 years. For that time I was taught to train barefoot. It is nice to finally have something that is socially acceptable in public compared to just being barefoot. I always got funny looks when I was wearing my custom suits with no shoes on in our business meetings. If people would like to wear Xeroshoes and have them seemingly be un-noticed in business setting’s I find that when I wear my tabi socks with them nobody even notices.

    I am currently having some medical issues with my spine and having a very difficult time walking barefoot, something I have done on a daily basis for over 15 years. I am 230lb at 10% body fat with my thighs measuring 27in. When my physio therapist examined the sequence of my posterior kinetic chain he mentioned I would fire of the hamstring then proceed to the lower back, completely skipping engaging my glutes. They now have me walking in these ridiculous spring loaded super heel shoes.

    My foot still lands underneath my center of gravity. But for some reason I am always engaging my hamstrings and not my glutes. I am able to straight leg kick a 6ft tall guy in the chin, which indicates I have flexible hamstrings. But they are always very sore and over used.

    Could you please help me enjoy the benefits of being barefoot again? Possibly provide me some information on the sequencing of what muscle’s are engaged when walking or the desired bio-mechanics. It is as if my brain forgot how to walk & I need to re-think how to do it again. We took a video of me walking, my entire body appears to just have shut down the neurological connections. That’s the last time I try to catch an arrow being shot at me with my foot.

    Maybe some reference exercises to strengthen the glute muscles needed to be engaged for walking? Anything would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank You.

    1. Hi Asura,

      Thanks for your kind words. We’re thrilled to be able to give people a barefoot alternative that’s still as close to barefoot as possible.

      Onto your issues…

      First, unless your physiotherapist hooked you up to an EMG machine and measured your glute activation while you were in motion (walking, running), s/he can’t make the diagnosis you’ve described.

      Secondly, it wouldn’t be helpful to describe some idea of how and in what order your muscles should fire when you’re moving. In part because it’s not a simple on-off/on-off/on-off sequence, and in part because, like the testing, unless you were doing real-time EMG-based biofeedback, you wouldn’t be able to do anything with that info anyway.

      Regarding using your glutes when you walk. Try the experiment I mentioned earlier… stand on your left foot and, with the RIGHT leg straight, drive the heel back (this can only be done with the glutes). Relax the right hamstring as much as possible and really feel the right glute work at the end of the range of motion.

      Then stand on the right leg, bend at the left hip flexor and relax the left knee so that the left foot is about 1″ off the ground. Then drive the right heel back, just like you did before, only this time it’s on the ground… this will propel you forward.

      DON’T reach out with the left leg when you do this. Just relax it. You’ll naturally place the left foot on the ground, under your center of mass, so that you don’t fall on your face.

      Then reverse the process, driving your left heel back by using the left glute.

      Repeat and smooth things out so you don’t look like a zombie… then use less effort over time.

      For glute strengthening, go to youtube and search for “bret contreras glutes” “bret contreras hip thrust” and “chad waterbury glutes”

      Finally, I want to see that arrow-catching foot video! 😉

  29. I have a question. I got custom xero sandals, and I wore them all day for 4 days in a row and then i noticed my feet were swollen. Is that normal? Now i’m taking a break from barefoot walking for a week. Next day when I wore normal sandals, my feet swelling went down. Should I wear the xero sandals less, or progressively, or should I ignore the swelling?

    1. I’ve never heard of this, in over 5 years and with over 50,000 customers, so swelling is not “normal.”

      My guess is that you’re doing something different when you walk in Xeros… so I’d follow the same instructions about starting to run barefoot, namely, wear your Xeros for less time/distance (only a few minutes/day, tops), until you can do that comfortably… then increase your time/distance.

      And pay attention to what you may be doing differently when you’re walking in your Xero Shoes… that might give you a clue about what to do differently.

  30. Daniel Lieberman, author of The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease, along with 3 colleagues at Harvard, have conducted research into the biomechanics of walking and running at the Skeletal Biology Laboratory. They are avid supporters for barefoot walking and running. If you’d like more scientific information, here is a link to their website: Happy Trails to You!!!

  31. This is pretty amazing, I have serious low back issues and just trying a couple steps “on top of my feet” made such a difference in reducing the back pain that I feel round the clock. I’m definitely going to keep it up!

  32. It would have been great for those of who doesn’t understand English as well as you, to have some visual clues!

  33. Perfect description, thank you! I knew I should squeeze my glutes while walking, but I didn’t understand why. Oh yeah, because they are doing the work, not just for the sake of squeezing them! A big help as I learn to rethink walking because of my bad back. I will be using this info in my blog, and I will definitely link your article!

  34. Hey there! This is great advice, thank you for sharing it. I’ve been noticing some pain in the top of my foot since going the minimalist route…is that a common complaint you hear? If so, does there usually tend to be a common error in form with it?

    1. Never heard this case of pain in the top of the foot. Do you run barefoot or only walk? What minimalistic shoes do you wear? Just curious.

    2. Don’t mean to cause unnecessary fear, but it can be caused by a stress fracture from too much to soon. The premise is to learn to walk barefoot before you run barefoot.

  35. You make a lot of relevant points in this article, thank you! I have a chronic cervicalgia and went full barefeet (and vibram five fingers) after reading Whole Body Barefoot from Katy Bowmann, this has helped a lot. But I’m still trying and exploring several variants of barefeet walking, your ideas was what I needed! 🙂

  36. Good luck Jeannette in your search to improve your bad back.. Let us know if you find a way to walk that works for you! Cheers

  37. I think I found myself doing this back when I was first hiking in my ridiculously heavy and now disused Lowa boots. They were so heavy at the end of the day that my turbo hiking mode was to transfer my weight to the front leg, fling myself forward with the glute and hamstring combo, lightly position the rear leg in a forward position under my center of mass (imagine a we noodle that that gets tensed before weight transfer), and repeat. I was really surprise that it was way faster and more efficient than my strides at the start of the hike. I’ll have try adapting the technique to a more controlled barefoot walk.

  38. Thank you so much for this video and the posting – exactly what I was looking for. The past six months have been a huge shoe drama, then feet drama, presently knee drama (or muscles not previously used as a kind Chiropractor is educating me on…) since my then, ‘before-I-knew’, best-loved “rocker” shoes finally wore out.

    I realize now, I don’t know how to walk so am very grateful – three weeks until I leave for a glorious trek in Tibet and your sandals which seem so thin but oddly don’t hurt my feet, are coming with me.

  39. I’ve been searching the net on how to walk barefoot properly since I commented on a xero shoes video last week about the pain I have while wearing their Venture sandals. They sent me some great info, including this page, but I am trying to find something more visual. Images or a video that shows me exactly what I should be doing (or close to it). It’s been a struggle to find content other than words. I’m a very visual learner. If anyone has a great barefoot walking video or images I can look at, that would be great. Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Beth-Anne. Here is a video I just posted on Youtube that can give you a visualization of what is happening with barefoot walking. I believe what most people, including this article, ignore is that walking is not just an activity done with the hip and the legs. What we do with our abdominal core is critical (that’s why your arms swing when you walk), and it is the change in your core movement that actually affects where your heel places and how hard it places. Barefoot walking shortens the stride actually by changing the timing of the rotation of the abdominal core, placing the foot down sooner during the course of the leg swing phase. This also has the effect of placing the foot slightly more on the padded aspect of the heel.

      1. Hey, Todd… I love what you’re doing! BTW, it’s not that I’m ignoring the core, but I’ve found that most people can quickly alter their gait into something more natural that puts less stress on the body by first attending to the points I raised above.

        1. Thanks Steven. I agree fully. You have to start with some quick tips. Connecting it to the core can be a challenge. I just rarely hear the core mentioned so I wanted to put in a plug for people trying to get connected to it.

  40. I’m working on a video… but I don’t have an ETA yet. When it’s done, I’ll simply add it to this page (and announce it in our newsletter).

  41. Thank you Steve,
    It was fantastic to read your article.
    I’ve been moving barefoot for nearly 7 years now and what you said has come as confirmation to the evolution of my experience.
    Thanks again!

  42. Hi Steve, great article! It confirms my own experience a lot with what I call fox-walking as learned from the tracker world. I live in the woods in a Norwegian log house together with my hunting dog. Walking and running forefoot makes me feel like a wild animal – as a hunting wolf. It’s a very bold experience – turning my body on. It’s like feeling the strength of our ancestors can make you more stable and balanced and result in enhanced immune, physical and mental robustness.

    My own footware story includes Vibram fivefingers, then VivoBarefoot minimalist shoes – and now Z-Trail running sandals. And I confess – I’m in love 🙂

    This barefoot paradigm has also influenced my favourite sport, the game of tennis. After having used my fav Prince tennis shoes for 15-20 years or so, I then tried all kinds of footwear on my favourite surface, the hard court. I can tell you that nothing compares to playing barefooted on hard court! It makes it somehow more natural to use the power of your whole body – a strong, ressourcefull, resilient and explosive ‘kinetic chain’.

    I made a short footage on court:

  43. Hello, I find really interesting to see all this written to confirm my experience, but there is one thing I don’t get or I can’t find the answer.

    It’s clear that the main muscles moving us are the hips and the hamstrings, but, should we also use actively some muscles like the tibialis anterior or the feet extensors to help pushing the active foot?

    Or making the question in another way, when we push with the active leg (the one which is not in the air), we kind of try to move the floor backwards, but, as we have some grip (like car wheels), we move forward. Which side of the feet should be “moving the floor backward”? The heels? The front side of the feet? The whole feet in average?

    Thanks a lot.

    1. While the feet are, obviously, part of the locomotive system, it’s rare that someone isn’t using the muscles that move the feet compared to the way that many people don’t use their glutes and hamstrings.

      The demonstration that the foot does less to move you forward can be seen with amputees who don’t have ankles or feet (or, sometimes, knees). Frankly, I wouldn’t worry about which part of your foot is engaged in propulsion, especially if we’re talking about walking.

      I’m not sure if this is true, but I *think* that what the foot and ankle really do is not so much moving the body forward, but initiating the forward motion of the lower leg so that it’s properly oriented for the next step

      1. Thanks for you reply. My question came because I got some pain over the foot, where the extensors of the feet fingers end, after doing two weeks of 30-40km daily hiking with a backpack.

        I went to the physiotherapist and after working for a while releasing the tibialis anterior and the middle part of the sole and ankle it got better.

        I’ve been using minimalist shoes for more than two years, so I don’t think the reason are the shoes or not being adapted to use them but the technique.

        I already worked long time ago on noticing that my glutes are causing the movement and I think I already do that properly. But I still have this problem of technique which I’m always thinking when I walk.

        If I don’t push from the position where the weight is on the heel I have the sensation of over stressing the front muscles of the feet. i don’t know if this is because of poor technique and we should actually push or pivot the active foot over heel or that simply I over stressed those muscles during that long hike and I simply should keep pushing from the balls of the feet after having a long rest and recovery,

        To explain better my question I just searched an image and draw the two options.
        -In the first one the weight is over the heel and by contracting the glutes you push the floor backward from the heel.
        -In the second option you shift the weight to the front side of the feet and from there you push against the floor by contracting the glutes to move forward.

        Which one should be the correct option?

        1. Three thoughts:

          1) There is no ONE correct option. The which part of your foot is on the ground when you engage in hip extension will vary based on terrain (uphill, downhill, flat), speed, center of mass (can change if you’re carrying a pack), fatigue, etc. This is why I don’t emphasize the foot in this article.

          2) If you say that “releasing” helped you, then it sounds like you’re already doing too much. The advice that many barefooters, including me, like to give is to experiment with “How can I use LESS effort, relax more, and have more fun?” Engaging the glutes better can take pressure off the foot, by letting it do less.

          3) Be careful about most “minimalist shoes.” Many shoes sold as minimalist are minimal in name only. For natural movement you want something LOW to the ground, zero-drop, flexible enough for natural motion. Many people change their gait (without knowing it) depending on what footwear they have on , so not all “minimalist” shoes are the same.

          1. Thanks a lot, I’ll work and try to experiment that, completely barefoot at home and see if I can notice any difference compared to the shoes or sandals I have.

            Thanks again.

          2. Just wanting to give my thoughts on this topic. The anterior tibialis contracts when you dorsiflex the foot (pull the toes up). If you put your fingers on the lateral side (outer-most) of your tibia and pull your toes upward, you can feel the muscle contract. So to answer your initial question, you would not use the anterior tib to push off with. You mainly use the muscles of your calf to push off (or plantarflex) the foot- this includes the gastrocnemius, soleus, and posterior tibialis muscles. Likely, while hiking during those couple of days, your foot was dorsiflexed for extended periods of time which caused the pain where the foot extensors are (which is why your physiotherapist work on your anterior tib)

  44. I have had pain in my left heel when I walk, for the past few years, to the extent that I gave up hiking and walking my dogs. The podiatrist says that it is because I have lost the fat pad on my heel and I am walking on bone. For years, my walking style was to crash with all my weight on my heels. The most comfortable shoes I have are some cushy sandals. Should I try to walk on my forefoot then? I got Vibrams a few years ago because they force me to not crash my heels but I feel really geeky if I walk landing on my forefoot first. Any weight on my left heel causes pain though.

    1. If you focus on having your foot land “under” your body, the footstrike will take care of itself. Most of the time you’ll land midfoot. Sometimes you’ll land forefoot. Rarely will you heel strike, but when you do you’ll be rolling over the heel more than STRIKING.

      I can’t say much more without knowing more about the pain itself and seeing you walk. But the fact that it’s only happening on one foot makes me doubt the diagnosis you received and think that it’s more related to form and, possibly, a tight calf that pulls on your heel. See for a story about my “unilateral form issue.”

      1. Thanks for the blister article. I really do think the diagnosis is correct. I have had X-rays and several exams. You can feel the heel bone under the skin, and the pain is there even just standing on it. I will try to pay more attention to what you have advised, but it seems that I just can’t put weight on my heel. I am afraid that if I avoid stepping on the heel though, my calf will shorten. At least the barefoot shoes keep me from crashing onto my heel, I guess that is a good thing.

    2. Try sleeping with toe socks on. You may have to remove them in the middle of the night of you feel strain, but they have cured my arch pain and may help with other problems.

  45. I appreciate that you took time to write this blog about how to walk barefoot…Awesome work go ahead and a great video. Keep it up!

  46. I’ve been walking on barefoot shoes exclusively for about a year now but lately experience pain in the ball of my left foot, from what I can find might be metatarsalgia. My left is not my dominant side and this seems important: I notice that when I walk, I use my right foor a lot better, I land more gently on the heel/mid-foot and ‘roll’ my foot towards lifting it with more control. My left foot I slap onto the ground a bit more, there’s less control but I use that foor for propelling, so I use the ball of the foot with more force.
    I’m trying to find information on metatarsalgia and minimalist hoes but can only find stuff on running barefoot, not walking. I’m not a runner! I am a yoga teacher though, and I have at least somewhat strong feet and I use them with awareness…. I’m just puzzled at why I have this issue now! I really want to keep walking on barefoot shoes, I love it.
    Does anyone on here have any suggestions, bright idea or pointers as to where to find more information?

    1. I forget to mention, that the left foot has a slightly fallen arch as well. And apologies for the lazy spelling!!!

  47. Hi. Need some advice for a new minimalist.

    I’m 13 days in on minimalist shoes and it has been eye opening so far. I’ve been fairly aggressive user, bought TerraFlex for home and Hana shoes for work. I just ordered cloud sandals as well. Im a walker/hiker with 2 bad knees (chondromalacia). Ive spent about 90% of the 13days in the Xero Shoes or barefoot and have walked upwards of 100 miles ( I also have 2 young dogs!) knees are doing great! Also discovers that my daily morning stiff heel pain went away – I thought it was age related but reading suggests it may be plantar fasciatus – so thanks Xero! Maybe you fixed a problem I wasn’t even aware I could address.

    I should also note that I’ve observed a tendency to ‘heel strike’ my lead foot /right foot despite my concentration, thus my right foot is a little soar.

    Following recommendations, I’m trying to wear my traditional shoes intermittently but having trouble knowing ‘how to a walk’. Is there a recommendation for how walk when wearing traditional shoes?

    Thanks for any advise . Thomas

    1. The idea is basically the same. Land with your foot as close to “under” your body as you can.

      Your heel may touch first, which is fine, but if it does you want to roll over it rather than STRIKE with it.

  48. Wearing a size 17-18 shoe, I’ve been making and wearing my own sandals using Xero accessories and have noticed a huge difference in the way that my feet look and feel. Many shoe companies take shortcuts when extending their size range (think toe boxes that are three sizes too small), so it feels great to finally wear shoes that truly fit and allow me to run/walk/move as intended. I wear boots for work and have gone so far as to have a cobbler replace the heavy sole and heel with a zero-drop 4mm sole to keep the benefits going while I’m on the clock. The only downside is that pebbles and other debris tend to get stuck in my DIY sandals. I could really use a sandal with a rim on the heel and sides or a close-toed athletic shoe that is truly barefoot. As you mention in the article, even minimalist running shoes that I’ve found in my size still have a drop and arch support that doesn’t match up to my feet.

    Any chance of extending your size range? I know it’s a complicated endeavor that requires major supply chain, marketing and financial decisions, but you have an incredibly valuable product. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person with larger than normal feet that would be willing to pay a little extra.

    1. We’re looking to expand the sizing, but I’m not sure about going up to 17-18. As you know, there aren’t a lot of you guys out there 😉 … and each size costs us many thousands of dollars to develop and manufacture. As Xero Shoes grows and we have more reach, that becomes more cost-effective.

  49. Wow! I have read sooo many things about “how to walk barefoot,” what your “foot strike” should be like, etc., but trying to follow their instructions always felt super weird and awkward, and I never felt like I was doing it right. This is the first explanation that actually made sense to me AND when I tried it it felt easy! It is VERY different from how I normally walk, so I will have to practice a bit to get used to it, but I actually understand how it is supposed to feel now, and it feels good! Thanks so much – this will help me enjoy my Xero Shoes even more, I’m sure. 🙂

  50. I just started with the shoes and my second toe on my dominant foot hurts. Any thoughts as to what I am doing.

    1. I have paid attention to see if I am walking differently with each foot and I am not.

      1. Without seeing you or having more information, I don’t have a good answer. If you’re confident that both sides are the same, that makes it trickier (I don’t know anyone who is symmetrical, but that’s a whole other story 😉 ).

        Feel free to call our Customer Happiness Team and see if they have any ideas, but they’ll need much more info about what “hurts” means (exactly where, what kind of pain, when is it better/worse, etc.) – 303.447.3100

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