Going Barefoot and Why People Rarely do the Right Thing

A couple weeks ago, I posted a video about a professor who has put a nail in the coffin of the shoes versus barefoot debate. This is the LAST WORD on why going barefoot is better than wearing shoes. In my mind, there’s not even grounds for a debate anymore. There is an abundant wealth of evidence being rapidly uncovered that going barefoot is a superior option for walkers, runners, and anyone for that matter. We now know beyond reasonable doubt that going barefoot is healthier, more efficient, more practical (under certain circumstances), and ultimately cost-free. Every counter-argument gets shut down like a Daytona Beach drug bust. It’s proven that the benefits far outweigh the supposed risks. Plus, it feels better, too!

So, we now know the fundamental fact. Not only that, but thousands upon thousands of people have read my Definitive Guide for Going Barefoot. Furthermore, thousands have been inspired by my barefoot sprinting and barefoot running in the snow videos. Crowds have oo’ed and ah’ed at the Barefoot Sensei Mick Dodge and other emerging guru’s like Barefoot Ted, Ken Bob Saxton, and most prominently Christopher McDougall (author of Born to Run – highly recommended). Jaws drop open when my wife casually mentions to people (like that gal who sold us FiveFingers) that I climbed Mt. Washington barefoot, and now hike barefoot all the time, like here and here.

Now, I want to know if you’ve decided to adopt this practice into your lifestyle…

Have you decided go barefoot as a result of the recent barefoot trends?

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How much do you go barefoot?

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Now, I’m not a gambling man, but I’d be willing to bet that a majority of my readers have decided to go barefoot more often than they used to. Perhaps not all the time, but at least a majority are beginning to experiment with being barefoot some or most of the time (whether for a walk, run, training session, whatever). My readers are a group that not only take their health and fitness seriously, but they’re goal achieving specialists and action-taking masters, too. When they want something, they make it happen – no matter what. However, I also know that an overwhelming majority of people are also NOT taking this good advice to ditch the shoes. We’ve seen it in mainstream media sources – the word is getting out there fast. But alas, a major majority of American’s and others will still choose NOT to go barefoot.

Nothing changes the fundamental fact that most people in America and around the world know the right thing to do, know the best thing to do – even know what they want to do – and yet, still don’t do it.

People not only choose NOT to do the right thing, but they also choose to do the wrong thing, too. This could be for any number of reasons: fear, doubt, ignorance, complacency, or non-conformity just to name a few.

With barefooting, it really doesn’t get any easier to make a substantial life-changing decision for the betterment of your health and lifestyle. You don’t have to adopt a new exercise program. You don’t have to change your diet. You don’t need to schedule in more time for sleep and play. All you have to do is choose to take off the shoes. Just make a choice and listen to what your feet tell you to do (good advice from Ken Bob Saxton). It’s the right choice, the best choice, and the choice that if chosen, will result in fulfilling your deepest desires (ok, maybe not, but going barefoot is awesome). It’s really that simple.

So why do some people choose to make the hard, right choice instead of the easy, wrong one? And more importantly, why do some people choose not to better their lifestyle when they know the best thing to do and they’re fully capable of doing it?

I’ll leave this one as an open mic, because I want to know what YOU think…

Also, please share any relevant barefoot experiences that you think would benefit the community.

Fitness Professional

20 Responses

  1. Nick Forrer

    I think it’s amazing how much information on going barefoot has been presented recently. I’ll be honest, I never even thought about the health benefits simply walking around barefoot would have until a few months ago.

    It seems weird to people that have followed the information and research about going barefoot as to why everybody doesn’t start doing it. I think it is simply the fact that the majority of people are already walking around with shoes, so if you walk outside barefoot, you stand out. I know I get looks walking with my Vibrams. It’s all social influence, really. Hopefully this will change soon.

    • Hi Nick,

      Social stigma is at the heart of this problem, through and through. Thanks for your comment.

  2. I am an avid barefooter. I spend more time barefoot than with shoes on. What most people in the western world don’t realise is that a greater percentage of the human population goes barefoot than shod. They’re all surviving.

    In summer of 2009 I broke a world record as being the first person to hike the entire Bruce Trail, 850km barefoot. I didn’t die. I didn’t get hurt. My feet ended up being tougher and more muscular than ever before.

    Humans have only been wearing shoes for 40,000 years. The rest of our evolution we went barefoot.

    Going barefoot is a great way to save money! You can save yourself from buying expensive hiking shoes, and running shoes. I think that is where the bottom line comes in. You can’t “sell” bare feet. You come from “the factory” with a great pair of shoes!

    • Hi Wolfmaan,

      It’s quite silly that people would question the safety of going barefoot. Shouldn’t it be the other way around – how about questioning the safety of wearing casts on your feet every day?

  3. John Paul Tan

    Hi John,

    I like to ask you regarding going barefoot during the winter. Vibram has the Fivefingers Flow but it can only handle -3 C the most. You mentioned in your old post that you wear Nike Free level 3 during winter. Is the Nike Free level 3 the answer to going barefoot during winter? I am not sure about Nike free because they still stick with the heel first strike compare to ball first strike when going barefoot.

    • This is a big issue that doesn’t have a clear-cut solution yet. I live in the Northeast US, where temps get well below freezing point. In the winter, I’m personally usually in a pair of well-worn Puma trail runners. When in the snow, I just wear regular boots with terrible flexibility. Although, this upcoming winter, I’m going to experiment with wearing trail runners with waterproof socks and possibly gaiters, too.

      I’m not a big fan of the Nike Free because of the tall heel and the narrow width, but it can be used for natural running technique (ball, heel, ball, etc.), though it will take some conscious practice to ingrain the new habit. I do own a pair and wear them from time to time, (probably 3 times in the last year, haha).

      Obviously, in the wintertime protection from the cold takes precedence over the range of motion offered in a shoe. It takes a little creativity because there aren’t many minimalist footwear options for winter use. The FeelMax Kuuva is a decent choice, though I haven’t reviewed them myself. With a good sock combination, they would probably make a great winter minimalist footwear choice.

  4. I answered yes to your survey, but I think it is kind of vague. Going barefoot can mean a lot of things to a lot of people…

    Are you talking about going barefoot at work, in that case for me it is no because I can’t due to dress code. I am minimalist however, wearing my Feelmax shoes at work.

    Are you talking about going barefoot at home? in that case it is yes.

    Barefoot during sports? that depends on the sport and the season.

    That is why I am starting to prefer the word “minimalist” rather than barefoot because it implies wearing the minimum you need for the activity you are doing (barefoot is the absolute minimum).

    • Yes, I kept it vague on purpose. I’m most interested in knowing who has decided to go barefoot – just barefoot – because of the recent uproar of information about it.

      I have noticed that a lot of people use the term “barefoot” to describe minimalist footwear, which can be expected. Although, when I say barefoot, I mean barefoot :-)

  5. My debate is with my wife. I am prone to have athlete’s foot but since I walk at home barefoot, she thinks I pick it up from bacteria on the floor. I also have the stinky-feet syndrome… which I don’t think is a real syndrome but anyway… I found that when I wear shoes, especially indoors, that my feet smell at the end of the day, whereas if I don’t, then I don’t have that problem.. just that the bottom of my feet are grey from the dirt. Doesn’t bother me, but it bothers my wife.

    Anyway, I always walked around in the house barefeet. I am used to train barefeet too because of martial arts.

    But for work, since I am a business owner, I can’t go around visiting clients barefoot, especially in an industrial setting, because it is unsafe and … from an professional ethiquette point-of-view … it looks bad.

    But, if I see that more and more business people go around barefeet, I’ll join in.

    • Hello Alan,

      I am not sure what you wear for socks, but you should consider wearing wool ones. Wool has natural anti-bacterial protection due to the lanolin. That will definitely make a difference in the stinky feet department, perhaps even athletes foot, but I don’t know that for sure. The higher the wool content, the better the anit-bacterial action. On the flipside, the higher the wool content, the lower the durability. You might have to experiment a bit to find what works for you. They make some pretty thin wool socks these days that shouldn’t be too bulky or hot.

      There are also several brands of minimalist shoes that you could try for work that would enable you to be nearly barefoot without looking like it.

  6. Yoish! Just came backk from a long footing in the old growth forest gripping my soles in celebration of the solar fire returning to these lands, the spring! and dance of the season.
    John, you put out some good foot talk and cut to the sole of the question. Why step out of shoes? Why step out of the insulation? Why expand your attention? In short, why make the “effort”. I have quested in “Following my feet” for many years, seeking an answer. I stepped out of shoes, stepped off the walls, stepped out of machines, stepped out of all the social babble, just kept following my feet into the last of the old growth forest. There i found my GURU, in the old growth forest, and a entire community of beings that trained in the “naked soles”. The word “GURU” is a good word to sound with the feet. Take the word for a good footing, a run, and sound out each letter of the word. GEE-YOU-ARE-YOU!
    My Grandfathers are from these Olympic Mountains and they taught me to track and scout with my feet. One bit of advice they gave me about tracking is this: “Tracking is simple. It is the tracker that makes it complicated. There is so much complicated talk in the city, more talk then we know what to do with. Talk about what is right, what is wrong, what to do. So much talk while sitting in the walls, machines, trying to figure out how to walk. Well the land will teach you and the distance to the question you ask, is only two feet! But it requires “effort”, courage, which is a french word that means desire of the heart, and most have fallen under the “dream of the machine”. The promise to make life effortless. I know this dream i was once captivated by it until i could no longer stand the foot pain. So i followed my feet as a Tender Foot, became a Dirty Sole Fanatic, vowing never to wear shoes again. But up in my home training on the glaciers i realized that the front paws were for crafting and cultivating foot wear that supported my footing with the land, and i kept three guiding thoughts in my training. Pay attention, Slow down and re-learn to go on foot, and watch out for the domestic animal that trys to talk you into shoes.
    Barefoot SenSay,

    • Hi Mick,

      Your thoughts are most welcome here. I know this community could learn a lot from you – thank you for sharing!


      P.S. I totally forgot to send over those interview questions – sending in a minute!

  7. ralph gauthier

    i have worn orthotics for 35 years, and, without them, my knees ache a lot. please advise. part 2==i coach elementary cross country students from grades 2-8, ages 7 to 14. any other advice on going barefoot for them.

    • Hi Ralph,

      It’s nearly impossible to offer specific suggestions, especially since I’m not a doctor, physical therapist, etc. So, this is not medical advice, and I suggest you bring this question to your doctor (and if you don’t like the answer – like if he says you can’t be cured, you’ll always need orthotics, etc. – get a second opinion!).

      One piece of advice I can give you is that to always factor into your mind where your doctor or physical therapist is coming from. For example, if your PT isn’t a runner, then he probably doesn’t know much about running at all. Therefore, he probably isn’t a good person to receive therapy from. He can likely see the RESULTS of your injuries throughout your body (muscle tension, limited ROM, etc. – the SYMPTOMS), but he may not understand the CAUSES of those symptoms.

      I had worn prescription and non-prescription orthotics for years, and I also underwent what seemed like the full gamut of physical therapy treatment options for problems in my knees (and elsewhere) that I developed from running. I was told by two separate medical specialists (both doctors), that I would have a debilitating condition for the rest of my life – never being able to run pain-free again. They were wrong.

      So, while I can’t offer medical advice, I can tell you what I did to get back to running pain-free and without any orthotics, knee braces, tape, motion-controlled or supported footwear – anything.

      1) I believed that my recovery was possible. I had to believe that I could fully recovery before I could commit to making the efforts required to experiment with my self-treatment/recovery.
      2) I took full responsibility for my recovery. It wasn’t my doctors problem, not my PT’s problem – it was my problem. This was also out of necessity, because I had just maxed out my medical insurance plan and they stopped paying for my visits. A change in my perspective needed to happen before I was ready to tackle such a big goal.
      3) I only used what worked – even if it was just a little progress, I took it and leveraged it. This included starting with walking short distances without pain and working incrementally. Performing a daily joint mobility routine and later Prasara yoga has also been a big part of my ongoing success. Going barefoot has been another, more recent, contributor. The point is, find what works and exploit it.

      I think as a baseline, you should start an Intu-Flow joint mobility program and a Prasara Yoga practice. You could get the RMAX Powered Running DVD which will offer a condensed version of those programs specifically for running. But honestly, I suggest you get the full Intu-Flow and Prasara programs to educate yourself about dealing with issues in your body, instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all program for runners which may not be appropriate for your individual needs. I would also try walking very short distances completely barefoot (just start around the house). A general strength training program wouldn’t be a bad idea either. This may all sound like a lot, but these are all things that we all should be doing anyways.

      As to working with your athletes, I suggest you appeal to their parents (since they have the final word, after all). Do some research on going barefoot – there’s a lot out there right now. Become versed in the benefits, and educate yourself about the true risks so that you have a “case” to present to them. Maybe you could send out an email explaining the risks of over-engineered footwear, and the benefits of going barefoot or minimalis, while at the same time, easing their concerns about glass, hot pavement, etc.

      One good way to approach it would be to get them intrigued about the minimalist footwear (like Vibram FiveFingers or FeelMax Niesa’s, etc.). It’s the latest in running technology and it’s trendy, too. Explain that wearing these will help strengthen their kids feet in ways that aren’t possible with traditional running shoes. They may also indirectly contribute to injury-free running. If they have a PRODUCT they can buy, and they see it as investing in their childrens future – or even, giving them an extra edge over the competition, I think you’ll have an easy time of convincing them.

  8. Well I discovered going barefoot by just going barefoot in my backyard, in the woods. I loved it and decided to do more research about it on the Internet. After seeing so many advantages, I am now most of the time barefoot. Guess what I am at the Toyota dealership in Newton NJ for my wife’s car service… I am barefoot!

    First time in public is challenging but then you see that most people don’t care about your bare feet. Besides only one place I have been so far has a no shoe policy. I love being able to live my place without putting shoes on. And my hands get cold way before my feet. I have found that leg warmers do help a lot.

    So yes, my life has changed for the best… I would not go back for anything… Free at last…

  9. I like going barefoot but there are definitely situations where I’ll keep my shoes on. A cubicle office is no place for bare feet. Or at least if you’re going to go bare foot, go completely bare foot. Having shoes on and then taking them off is just asking for the smell to waft around. Or maybe I’ve just had too many neighbors with stinky feet.
    Saw this other blog post that was pretty good on the subject:
    Check out the comments too–people get downright feisty on bare feet.

  10. I live in Canada and I’ve found a way to run barefoot-like in very cold weather (-15 degrees C / 5 degrees F) that I’d like to share. I read in a review above that the Fivefingers Flow, which is supposed to be the warmest model, aren’t warm enough for temperatures below 3 degrees celsius.

    From my experience, that’s true, but I’ve found a way to ‘improve’ the Flow model up to a point where I’m comfortable in colder weather. I put on the vibrams as you would normally (I wear five-fingered socks with them otherwise I blister on the ankles). Then I slip on top of my shoes a neoprene tight-fitting biking shoe cover.

    The neoprene bike shoe cover works well because it has no sole. Instead, it has a hole on the ball of the foot to accommodate the bike cleats, and a single, thin layer of some gore-tex like fabric elsewhere under the foot, whose sole purpose when used with bike shoes is to keep the cover in place. With the vibrams flow, it means we’re delivered twice the neoprene (on top of the foot) with no additional stuff separating our foot from the ground.

    I hope this will help someone brave the toughest winter months!

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