Posted by: sdorsey | March 30, 2010

Give it a try!

So, are you convinced yet?  I hope so.  If you are feeling brave, and have decided to give barefooting a try, here are some tips!

  • Take it off! Your shoe, that is.  If you want to learn how to barefoot, start out without any minimalist shoes.  You need to teach your feet how to run barefoot.  You will have to learn to react to your environment, and it is easier to do this without any type of shoe.
  • Find a good place to run.  I would recommend finding a park with a grassy field to start out on.  Soft surfaces like this will help you build up to rougher stuff easier.  Eventually, work up to running on asphalt and concrete.
  • Don’t overdo it! You HAVE to start out slow.  If you go too far too fast, you can injure yourself.  Working up slowly allows your feet to build calluses, and allows your muscles to strengthen.  If you are a regular runner, start out by simply taking off your shoes for the final leg of your normal run.  Gradually increase the time that you go barefoot until you can barefoot your normal distance.
  • Listen to your feet. If they are hurting, you are likely doing something wring and need to adjust your running technique.  With time, you will find your ideal barefooting style.  If your feet are hurting due to blisters, pay attention to how you are lifting your legs.  You should focus on lifting your feet rather than using them to push-off.
  • Have fun!!  Give it a try.
Posted by: sdorsey | March 30, 2010

Sciency Stuff

NATURE Journal Study: Foot Strike Patterns and Collision Forces in Habitually Barefoot versus Shod Runners

Humans have engaged in endurance running for millions of years1, but the modern running shoe was not invented until the 1970s. For most of human evolutionary history, runners were either barefoot or wore minimal footwear such as sandals or moccasins with smaller heels and little cushioning relative to modern running shoes. We wondered how runners coped with the impact caused by the foot colliding with the ground before the invention of the modern shoe. Here we show that habitually barefoot endurance runners often land on the fore-foot (fore-foot strike) before bringing down the heel, but they sometimes land with a flat foot (mid-foot strike) or, less often, on the heel (rear-foot strike). In contrast, habitually shod runners mostly rear-foot strike, facilitated by the elevated and cushioned heel of the modern running shoe. Kinematic and kinetic analyses show that even on hard surfaces, barefoot runners who fore-foot strike generate smaller collision forces than shod rear-foot strikers. This difference results primarily from a more plantarflexed foot at landing and more ankle compliance during impact, decreasing the effective mass of the body that collides with the ground. Fore-foot- and mid-foot-strike gaits were probably more common when humans ran barefoot or in minimal shoes, and may protect the feet and lower limbs from some of the impact-related injuries now experienced by a high percentage of runners.

A similar study done by Harvard scientist Dr. Dan Lieberman found that…

By looking at populations of shod and unshod runners, researchers found that runners who land on their forefoot land with far less force and far greater efficiency than their heel-striking counterparts. They found that while modern running shoes afford greater cushioning and comfort for a rear-foot strike (and promote), it likely does little to mitigate the greater impact of this strike, or to reduce injuries. Further, they found that running barefoot has no greater impact when running on hard surfaces than soft.

In conclusion, modern running shoes may be dangerous because they promote a heel foot strike, which this study concludes produces far greater impact than landing on the forefoot. Combined with greater proprioception or ‘feel of the ground’ by running barefoot and stronger foot muscles, they believe barefoot running may help reduce the chance of injury, but that further studies are necessary to test this hypothesis.

As more and more studies come out revealing the benefits of barefoot running, I expect that more and more will convert to the minimalist running style.

Posted by: sdorsey | March 30, 2010

Are Your Running Shoes Dangerous?

In this article from America’s Podiatrist, Dr. Nirenburg discusses barefoot running.  Are your shoes dangerous?  Maybe…

Nirenburg mentions how Christopher McDougall, the author of Born to Run switched to barefoot running and saw his running injuries disappear.  Research mentioned here has shown that heavily cushioned shoes actually prevent your foot from sensing the ground and can make you stomp down harder than if you didn’t have all that padding.

But is barefooting for everyone?  According to Keith Williams, an exercise biologist at the University of California-Davis, no it isn’t.  He says here that “some people have truly been helped by modern shoes, inserts, and orthotics.  Others probably don’t need the bells and whistles.  So to prescribe one kind of shoe (or lack thereof) or running technique for everyone is not a good idea.”

Barefoot running is definitely not a good idea for those with diabetes.  Peripheral neuropathy is a commonly found among those with diabetes, and results in loss of sensation in the feet.  This numbness would not allow diabetic runners to properly react to their environment if they were running barefoot.

If you think you are one of those that doesn’t need all the bells and whistles, give it a try!  But work up to it slowly.  Don’t run with the same heel-strike that you would use with shoes.  Try to land mid to fore-foot.  It feels a little like running on your tip-toes at first, and it takes practice to find your exact barefoot running style.

Posted by: sdorsey | March 30, 2010

Barefoot Running Myths

Here is a list of barefoot running myths posted by fellow barefoot blogger, Rob Raux.

1. Barefoot running is going against decades of research, studies and common sense. Those decades of research are actually more like decades of market research. There are no studies which show that running in shoes reduces the risk of injury despite specific inquiries for them.

As for common sense ruling out running barefoot — is your common sense run by corporate marketing? If you stop and think about what truly makes “sense”, placing your feet in padded boxes is at least debatable.

2. You’re going to step on glass and rocks. Using your eyes while running is important. What your eyes see, your feet don’t step on. It’s the same principle that keeps you from hitting pedestrians while driving your car. Simple observation will lead you around most obstacles.

Small rocks and bits of garbage on the sidewalk or trails quickly become non-issues. It takes a few months to adjust to the new sensations and once that is completed the pebbles aren’t even in your mind. It is true, while barefoot running, you may step on a rock! I can’t dispel that myth, but I can say, it’s not going to kill you.

Running on gravel is no different than running on pavement other than it takes a lot more practice to get comfortable with.

There are risks associated with running barefoot though. Running with shoes provides obvious protection to externally acting forces, whatever those may be. For this reason many people are more comfortable in minimalist shoes. This provides the layer of physical, and sometimes mental protection they require from the environment.

3. You should listen to your podiatrist. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, but they are definitely listening to the barefoot sentiment.

Traditionally trained US podiatrists are not experienced with barefoot as a lifestyle. The US population is simply shod 99% of the time so how could they have many day-to-day experiences with shodless folk?

Never trust those whose livelihood depends on your purchasing products and services (orthotics) from them. This isn’t to say that all podiatrists are one solution fits all idiots, but that you shouldn’t blindly follow the instructions of someone who may have a vested interested in taking you down a specific path.

There are exception to this rule, as any rule, but should you listen to your podiatrist, or listen to your body? There have been many testimonials by people who have gone against their podiatrists wishes, attempted to run/walk barefoot and reaped tremendous benefits. They have also opened their podiatrist’s mind to the possibilities that barefoot strengthening can provide for their clients.

4. Pronation is unnatural. This is simply wrong. Pronation is the natural, inward roll of the foot. Some pronation is a good thing since it absorbs some of the impact when you run.

5. No Elite runners run barefoot. Running can be lucrative to a select set of elites. Once you drop off the very top tier, getting money to train becomes more difficult. Running companies sponsor a tremendous amount of athletes in the US, including collegiate sports teams. When companies sponsor the athletes, don’t you imagine they have a clause in the contract requiring them to wear that companies brand? Why else would they sponsor them?

The athletes need money, the shoe companies need their products tied to elites so that normal runners will be convinced of their effectiveness. The formula works.

Despite this there are many well known barefoot “elites”, here area a few.

Bruce Tulloh, Zola Budd, Neville Scott, Abebe Bikila, Herb Elliott, Doris Brown

Herb ElliotBruce TullohAbebe Bikila

6. You can’t run barefoot in the snow. You can run barefoot in the snow, it just takes time and effort to michael_sadler_barefoot_winterevolve your skills. With that said, just because you consider yourself a barefoot runner doesn’t mean you have to be barefoot all of the time, even in the snow.

If your feet are too sensitive to be out running through the snow, it’s logical to put some coverings on them. Whether those are running shoes, minimalist shoes,  sandals, water shoes, garbage bags — whatever works for you.

Going out for a barefoot run in the snow after running in shoes your entire life might be a ludicrous endeavor. Winter may not be the best time to start running barefoot outside.

Many people have access to the treadmill though, which can be the perfect winter place to begin your shodless experiences in a controlled environment.

What better time to experiment with being barefoot than in the offseason?

7. After 20, 30, 40+ years of being shod, my feet need shoes. It’s becoming obvious to even those who disapprove of full time barefooting that training in barefoot strengthens feet.

Shoes support your feet. The more shoe, the more support.

Simply because your feet have always been in shoes is no reason to keep the status quo. Different people will have different levels that they can tolerate initially. Then, through iterative progress, strength and endurance can be built up. Treat being barefoot like you would any training regimen — start out slow, listen to your body and build.

8. Modern surfaces are much harder than the soft earth our ancestors ran on, therefore we need cushioning.

Our ancestors ran on many surfaces, some of them with all the hardness of concrete with none of the smoothness. In fact, to a barefoot runner, a hard surface means predictability and are easy to run on. As a barefoot runner, I’m probably biased. My observations don’t disprove the claim. However, there is no evidence for the claim, either. It’s speculation made by people who never run barefoot.

9. You have to be tough.

Toughness is a liability for those wishing to learn to run barefoot. Wimps learn faster, with fewer risks of injuries. Pain is not something you run through without shoes. Pain, to the barefoot runner, means bad, inefficient form.

10. It’s dirty.

OK, that’s not a myth. But the implication, that a shoe is more sanitary than the street, is.


Don’t let any of these myths stop you from giving barefoot running a try!  I’ve been doing it, and have never had a problem.  My feet might get a little dirty, but that’s half the fun!  I had lots of knee problems before, but since I started barefooting, I haven’t had any problems at all.  I don’t even need my knee brace anymore!  It’s great.

Posted by: sdorsey | March 30, 2010

Web MD Article

A recent article by Bill Hendrick in the WebMD Health News brings up a lot of great benefits of barefoot running.

  • Barefoot runners who strike on the fore-foot (land on the balls of their feet) generate smaller collision forces than shod rear-foot strikers.
  • People who don’t wear shoes when they run have an astonishingly different strike.  By landing on the middle or front of the foot, barefoot runners have almost no impact collision, much less than most shod runners generate when they heel-strike.
  • Most people today think barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but actually you can run barefoot on the world’s hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain.  A few calluses can help runners avoid injuries.
  • Most shod runners strike with their heels when they run, experiencing a large and sudden collision force an average of 960 times for every mile they run, making runners prone to repetitive stress injuries.
  • Barefoot runners point their toes more at landing, avoiding the collision effect by decreasing the effective mass of the foot that comes to a sudden stop when you land, and by having a more compliant, or springy leg.
Posted by: sdorsey | March 30, 2010

Famous Barefooters

Abebe Bikila

Abebe Bikila was a two-time Olympic marathon winner from Ethiopia.  He won gold in 1960 and 1964.   Bikila ran the 1960 marathon barefoot, and finished with a record time of 2:15:16.  When asked why he ran barefoot Bikila replied, “I wanted the world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism.”

Zola Budd

Zola Budd is an Olympic track and field competitor from South Africa. She twice broke the women’s 5000 meters world record.  She was also a two-time winner at the World Cross Country Championships.

Tarahumara Runners

The Tarahumara of northern Mexico are famous for their incredible long-distance running abilities.  The Tarahumara culture heavily emphasizing running long distances, both as competitions, means of communication, and entertainment.  These runners often run for days through the Copper Canyons of Mexico without stopping for hundreds of miles, in homemade sandals.

The successes of these barefoot runners prove that you don’t necessarily need those fancy new running shoes to be the best.  Races can be run, and won, without shoes.  Amazing things can be done barefoot!

Posted by: sdorsey | March 29, 2010

ScienceDaily Article

Here’s an interesting article about a study of barefoot running.

Main Points

  • Researchers compared the effects on knee, hip and ankle joint motions of running barefoot versus running in modern running shoes. They concluded that running shoes exerted more stress on these joints compared to running barefoot or walking in high-heeled shoes.
  • These findings confirm that while the typical construction of modern-day running shoes provides good support and protection of the foot itself, one negative effect is the increased stress on each of the 3 lower extremity joints. These increases are likely caused in large part by an elevated heel and increased material under the medial arch, both characteristic of today’s running shoes.

Running is often associated with a myriad of injuries.  Some of the most common include shin splints, stress fractures, achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, overpronation, and iliotibial band syndrome among many others.  These are usually painful, and can effect training regimens, and even day to day life.  This study offers hope that barefoot running can decrease the occurrence of these common injuries.

Posted by: sdorsey | March 29, 2010

Nike Free Shoes

Vibrams are great, but if you want a shoe that looks a little more traditional, the Nike Free is a great brand to try.

These shoes are minimalist in that they are very light and flexible.  They allow your feet to move more naturally, which strengthens the feet and lower body.

As Nike puts it, the Nike Free is “a revolutionary shoe that lets your feet move naturally.  A shoe that awakens the foot’s sensors.  Feet become stringer, more flexible.  And ultimately perform better.”

According to Dr. William Rossi in an article from Podiatry Management, “It took 4 million years to develop our unique human foot and our consequent distinctive form of walk, a remarkable feat of bioengineering. Yet, in only a few thousand years, and with one carelessly designed instrument, our shoes, we have warped the pure anatomical form of human walk, obstructing its engineering efficiency, afflicting it with strains and stresses and denying it its natural grace of form and ease of movement head to foot.”

The Nike Free is a great shoe that stays true to the proper anatomical form of the human gait, and protects the foot from the hazards of the environment.

Benefits of Wearing Nike Free

  1. Strengthens Muscles in foot and lower body.
  2. Improves flexibility and range in motion in ankle, foot, and toes.
  3. Improves balance and and body awareness.
  4. Helps alleviate problems related to the impact of running on the knee
  5. Extremely light and comfortable.
Posted by: sdorsey | March 26, 2010

Vibram FiveFingers Shoes

Vibram FiveFinger Shoes– one of the best brands of barefooting shoes out there.

Benefits of Wearing Vibram FiveFinger Shoes

  1. Strengthens Muscles in foot and lower body.
  2. Improves flexibility and range in motion in ankle, foot, and toes.
  3. Improves balance and and body awareness.
  4. Helps align spine and improve overall body posture.
  5. Simply feels good since feet move naturally and freely.

There are different types of shoes for different running preferences. Here are just a few of the many different types available…

The classic is a great way to start your journey into the world of healthier feet thanks to going “barefoot”. The Classic provides enough protection and traction to protect you from the outside elements (glass, gravel, pine cones, etc…), but at same time gives you the freedom of motion only going barefoot can give you.

Many enjoy the Vibram Five Fingers Sprint as a hybrid between comfort (opening on top is similar to slippers) and flexibility. The adjustable strap crosses over the shoe and surround the heel thereby securing your foot and allowing you to find your perfect fit. The fabric is “abrasion resistant” and follow the contours of your feet. The top of the shoe is constructed with a thin stretchable polyamide material while the sole is composed of long lasting performance rubber.

The FiveFingers Performa was designed to enhance a barefoot feeling. The kangaroo leather upper feels soft against the bare foot, yet is strong and tear resistant. The 7-part Vibram rubber sole offers maximum feel and flexibility without sacrificing slip resistance. The Performa was designed primarily for indoor use during fitness training, CrossFit, and for after sport. The sole is not designed for extended use during outdoor activities like trekking, running, or water sports.

Posted by: sdorsey | February 17, 2010

Running Debate

The barefoot thing is catching on!  Even CNN is talking about it!  The article itself seemed a little on the negative side to me, but the videos are pretty good.

Here’s one with Christopher McDougall, the author of Born to Run.

There is also a great link that illustrates the difference between the heel strike and the forefoot strike.  It’s easy to see that barefooting with a forefoot strike is a lot easier on the body!

Here are a  few more highlights from the study and article…

  • Runners with shoes experience collisions two to three times their body weight
  • You must ease into barefoot running, or you risk injury.  As injury is the motivation behind many runners choosing to lose their shoes, it is important to acclimate slowly to protect the legs and feet from further injury.
  • When you barefoot, you’re going to land with the portion of your foot that is most springy.  And think of the barefoot run as a game of hot potato – you pick up your feet quicker.
  • The heel-down posture increases the economy of walking but not the economy of running.

If you like the science side of things, check this out.  It explains all the biomechanics of everything.  There are some pretty fancy running terms on there too, like ‘dorsiflexed.’ It’s my new favorite word.