Going Barefoot in the City and the True Value of Shoes

posted in: Barefoot, Uncategorized | 4

Note: In this photo, my buddy Tellman Knudson, is running barefoot in the city of lower Manhattan. He’s currently on his way to the West Coast to be the first man to run barefoot across America with the goal of raising awareness and money for homeless children. More info at www.runtellmanrun.com

tellman running barefoot in the city
Don't listen to anyone who says running barefoot in the city is impossible! Tellman is running across America barefoot!

QUESTION:

John,

I have been pondering the barefoot philosophy for a short while now and after going out and buying FiveFingers and walking around as much as possible it dawned on me that while those activities merit the wearing of barefoot wear or no wear at all, don’t we need compensation on flat surfaces? The foot doesn’t seem to have been designed for pavement and symmetry. Most of us walk on paved, or flat carpeted, tiled, cemented surfaces most of our waking hours. Is barefoot really the way to go here?

I respect your insights so I hope to hear back soon!

Peace,
Caine

ANSWER:

Hi Caine,

Good question. You’re right, it’s unnatural for us to walk on flat surfaces all the time, and that alone warrants some compensatory exercise suggestions like foot and ankle mobility drills, and more specifically, toe pulls. The Four Corner Balance Drill is also another great compensatory drill for ANY walking activity – barefoot or shod. If you own Sonnon’s BodyFlow program, then the squat creep, shin twist, and descending shin roll are all great ones for going barefoot, too.

Put a human in an unnatural physical predicament (like walking on smooth surfaces at all times), and there is reason enough to compensate for it. This is especially important when you’re wearing modern footwear like running shoes or dress shoes, but still important when going minimalist or barefoot. In this case, it’s not just the over-engineered footwear that is unnatural, but the actual surfaces we walk on – two different competing forces to the detriment of our health.

1) Unnatural Environment – smooth surfaces everywhere that lead to predominant movement patterns and eventually overuse injuries.
2) Unnatural Footwear – limits range of motion, atrophies foot and ankle muscles, inhibits proprioception and movement potential, encourages fear-reactivity, increased chance of athletes foot or the more common “stinky feet syndrome,” etc.

The short answer is that for health reasons, barefoot or minimalist is best on most surfaces – even smooth ones. Of course, the context is more important than an absolute recommendation. Certain situations merit certain footwear choices. If I’m doing construction, for instance, you can bet your boots I’ll be wearing steel toes.

I tend to ask myself, do I need to wear shoes, and if so, what’s the most minimal footwear I can get away with and still be appropriate for my needs? I want footwear that will allow me the most freedom of movement and still protect my feet from potential harm (sharp objects, heat, cold, etc.).

I don’t want to have to walk on an unnatural surface all day AND put my feet into over-engineered shoes (aka high-tech casts/coffins). I’d rather get as much freedom of movement out of my footwear (or lack of) and deal with the compensation issue from flat surfaces separately (since it should be dealt with regardless of footwear choice).

I should also mention that I logged many miles running barefoot on asphalt roads last year. I actually prefer this to running with shoes – even minimalist shoes. It requires me to train my body to shock absorb even moreso than when on a softer surface like grass or sand. It’s anecdotal evidence, I know, but I experienced ZERO injuries from running last year (the first time in years that I’ve run 100% injury-free), or anything else for that matter, and I ran barefoot several times weekly from Spring through late Fall (about half road running, half trail running). It could be postulated that my Intu-Flow joint mobility and Prasara yoga practice, among other things, were the reason for saying injury-free, but I think each element played a role in my injury prevention.

So, in summary: barefoot is best in most cases, but minimalist shoes are sometimes required. We should make it a goal to get back into a natural lifestyle as much as possible, but also to draw on modern tools for life’s necessities. A good reminder is that footwear should protect the feet, not direct the feet.

Do you go barefoot? Answer the survey here:

http://physicalliving.com/going-barefoot-and-why-people-rarely-do-the-right-thing/

To your health and success,

CST, CST-KS, NSCA-CPT
Fitness Professional

P.S. If you’re looking for more info, my friend, Damien Tougas, has a very balanced perspective on footwear selection and he has reviewed many different types of minimalist footwear on his site:
http://adventureinprogress.com/minimalist-footwear

 

4 Responses

  1. Once again, thanks for the great posts and info. Barefooting makes running so much more fun for me! I have been really liking the Vibram fivefingers. I live on an island near Seattle and it is often wet and cold, so it is nice to have a bit of coverage for my feet.

    • You’re welcome, Candice. It sounds hokey, but I do get excited just to go for a walk now. The FiveFingers definitely come in handy, and I find the best use for them early spring and late fall.

  2. I have plantar fascitis and am going to try barefoot running. NEVER, at age 44, would I have dreamt I’d be doing this.

    But after reading blog after blog from people who know a heck of a lot about running – the mechanics of it MAKE SENSE to me about going barefoot – how a shoe is a “coffin” and why we hit our heel even HARDER in running shoes.

    It will take time for me to strike with a forefoot – and I’m ready for the challenge. I’ve worn running shoes such as Nike, New Balance, Soconi (spelling), Sketchers, Adidas ($125 cost) – they ALL have wound me up in pain.

    When I was diagnose with PF, my doctor said, “Give up running – forever.” It’s been 10 years since I’ve ran and I’ve started doing it again = in “good shoes” and the damn PF is back. Something has to give up here and it aint me. So my shoes are gonna go.

    Thanks for a helful blog. One step at a time – Mai (I look forward to being one of you).

  3. John:
    I went 1.5 miles today in my barefeet (I know to take it slowly.) I have been jogging these past 4 months so cardio wise I was fine. I told my husband I was going to try jin my barefeet. He thought I was totally nuts. The hardest part, John, was getting out the door in my barefeet….past my driveway….and onto the public street. My street is not barefeet friendly (some sort of rock like gravel – not smooth at all) and I “oood” and “ouched” it via tiptoe to the corner – LOL. (Darn near gave up right there).

    Then…I walked 1.5 miles (barefooted) – got used to feeling the ground beneath my feet – WOW. What a sensation! Then, I turned around, took a deep breath and thought, “What the Hell.” I ran (okay….jogged) back the 1.5 miles.

    To say it was exhilirating is an UNDERSTATEMENT!! My feet have NEVER, EVER performed with such grace, ease of motion!! I have PF on my right foot and it showed ZIP (zero) signs of pain while running and even AFTER running. I had watched BF videos on how to land properly WITHOUT use of the heel (all these years I’ve used the heel – and in NUMEROUS $125-$150 running shoes!!). I thought striking with the heel is what I was supposed to do.

    The ground seemed to GLIDE under my feet. I also noticed a MUCH more corrected body position. OMG! It was like my body was in alignment – naturally.

    Well, long story long (wink), I got back home and admired my dirty feet as a sign that better things will come if I keep at it. When I hoped in the shower, it felt so good to wash off a days workout.

    I know about the hazards, but lucky me, I ride a scooter and am always trained to “look where you’re going before you get there.” I also know to take it very slowly, and to continue being a learner of BFR.

    I really appreciate your website. And while I’m not trying for a marathon or even for speed, this is an experience that I think everyone should try at least once. It was like for the rest of the day my feet felt massaged – even a SPA can’t do that.

    I wont run for a couple days, have to do this in baby steps. But your post really helped me a lot and you’re name has been added to my “favorites” list. Thanks so much!!! Kindly – M. Bolivar / Tampa .

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