Barefoot Running FAQ
Q: I can understand running barefoot on the grass, but what about in the city or on the trails? Don’t you worry about getting injured by glass or other debris or unsanitary conditions?
A: First off, your skin grows strong quite quickly. It begins within a couple of weeks and within 3 short months you can run over some amazing (and sharp) objects safely (for instance, broken glass becomes nothing more than colored pebbles after the first few months). We have the same feet (or at least the same genetics) as our ancestors, who went barefoot on all conditions for survival (hunting, escaping predators, raising a family, etc.) for millions of years. So our feet are naturally adapted to going barefoot. When you’re in direct contact with dry ground your skin grows stronger, and the baby fat on the bottom of your feet comes back. So you have a thicker skin that’s almost impervious to even sharp objects, and a natural shock absorber to boot. Now it is still possible to get a cut, but it won’t be like Bruce Willis in Die Hard. The most I’ve gotten (and most others), is the equivalent of a splinter, or a thorn in my foot. Accidents do happen, but you’re much more likely to be injured in a shoe stepping on something, because you’re not as aware or looking at where you’re going. That’s when the real puncture wounds happen.
There’s nothing less sanitary than the inside of a stinky shoe, a dark, warm and moist breeding ground for bacteria. Let’s be honest, how many people wash and disinfect their shoes on a daily basis? No matter where we go with our feet, we can wash them and keep them squeaky clean. If I do step on something unsanitary, I can simply wipe my feet off on the grass, but overall, I step on very, very few unsanitary things, because when you’re barefoot, you keep a constant vigilance for potential hazards. Now the city is dirtier than nature, but feet wash quickly.
Q: Is barefoot running for the average American? There are a lot of people out there who don’t run. Some of us hate running with a passion!
A: It’s ESPECIALLY for the average American. Because if you don’t have feet of steel, or a body of steel, then you’re going to hurt yourself if you land hard, or run incorrectly. Barefoot running is about finding your lightest stride (your body tells you with each step as you land) and helps you find your best form. Blindfolded in a shoe, we can’t feel the ground, can’t help but hit hard, and help but hit incorrectly. That’s why 8 out of 10 runners are injured every year. And that includes the strong runners. So for all runners, and in particular beginners, its important we find the lightest way to stride that’s kindest to our body. And if someone is significantly overweight to begin with, they should start with barefoot walking. It helps you build your foot and leg muscles, and without any of the impact associated with running, even barefoot running.
Q: Are there people who should NOT go barefoot?
A: We're not doctors, so when in doubt, we recommend asking your doc. But in general, almost anyone can begin with barefoot walking and see how their feet adapt. Most of the time, the feet get stronger and conditions such as plantar fasciitis, hammertoes, neuromas, and even the pain of bunions begins to go away. However, if you’ve had foot surgery and are missing bones in the feet or have pins in your feet, your feet may not be able to adapt. That’s why it’s best to start slowly with very short distances of barefoot walking, and do the foot strengthening exercises we mention in the book. In this way your feet get stronger, and your body will let you know if it likes what you’re doing and you should continue, or whether you’ve plateaued or even should stop. If you start extra slowly, rest a day in between, and listen to your body, you can’t really go wrong. The body is an amazingly adaptable machine, if we listen to it.
Q: What do you think about those “barefoot shoes?” Do I need those shoes to transition, or do I take the plunge and start fully barefoot?
A: We're not a big fan of “barefoot shoes” or at least for transitioning. It’s not that we're anti-shoes, or against shoes (though we'rem certainly against BAD shoes, shoes that hurt you, blindfold you, deform your feet, or cause you to run or walk incorrectly). It’s that any shoe inhibits your feedback to the ground. Running (and even walking) barefoot is about being AWAREFOOT. We have more nerve endings on the bottom of our feet than almost anywhere else in the human body. It’s why we’re ticklish and why reflexology exists. It’s also why we can sneak into the kitchen at night, because we’re barefoot and can feel the ground. Unfortunately, in any shoe, we can’t feel the ground as well, and we don’t get the feedback we need to discover our lightest stride. For instance, you can still cheat and hit your heel down in a barefoot shoe and get away with it. You’d never ever do that fully barefoot.
Also, when you go fully barefoot, your skin gets tired quickly and you have to stop (preferably BEFORE you blister or hurt your skin). In essence, your skin becomes your coach or your guide. Your skin tires before anything inside of your foot, so by going fully barefoot you help protect the ligaments, muscles, tendons, and even BONES on the inside. So we teach people to go fully barefoot to begin. After the feet have adapted, and one’s learned their lightest stride, then they can try out the different barefoot shoes.
On that note, the more moccasin-like the shoe, the better.
That means a shoe that doesn’t have much more structure than a sock. It should be loose fitting and wide, particularly over the toes. It shouldn’t have a high heel nor be curved up in the front. It should have no support for the arch (to allow the arch to work as a natural spring or shock absorber) and no asymmetrical tread patterns or grooves on the bottom to “control” the movement of your foot. The more sock-like and moccasin-like the shoe, the more your foot’s in charge and the more naturally you can stride.
For more on selecting the right footwear, read more here.