In today’s world, we almost always have to wear shoes. But the majority of shoes people wear go directly against how our feet and lower body are designed to function. High heels, thick padding, restrictive material that does not allow any movement, heavy sole that prevents us from feeling the ground – modern shoes are monstrosities that cut us off from the world around us and inhibit our ability to navigate it without pain. Footwear that mimics the barefoot experience, on the other hand, provides tangible benefits to your health, wellness, athletic performance, and overall well-being by recreating the environment in which the human foot evolved.
Here are 9 tangible reasons to wear barefoot shoes.
Proprioception describes the bodily awareness we have as we move through the world. Do we know where our members stand in relation to the environment? Do we have an intuitive understanding of what our head, shoulders, hips, and arms are doing when we run, jump, move, or even just walk around? All of these contribute to our overall sense of proprioception and regulate the speed, strength, and safety of our interactions with the outside world. If you have better proprioception, you will be a better athlete. You will be more efficient in all physical abilities. You will be smoother.
The first and arguably most important way to establish proprioceptive awareness is for our feet to touch the ground. Just exposing the millions of nerves from our feet to the ground – the textures, the slopes, the rocks and twigs underfoot, the slipperiness – gives our nervous system an incredible amount of actionable information about where we are and how we we move. Barefoot is obviously best if the environment is forgiving, but minimalist barefoot shoes with a thin sole are second best and provide almost as much information – and they can be worn anywhere.
Better rooting in the ground. Stability.
The closer you are to the ground, the more stable you are. The less matter you have between you and the ground, the more rooted you are. Barefoot shoes give you better ground feel and ground control by minimizing the amount of shoe material between you and the world.
Studies on athletes show this. Those who wear the strongest shoes, especially those with ankle support, have the worst balance and stability when running. Those who are barefoot (or who wear minimalist shoes that offer no support and mimic the barefoot experience) have the best balance and stability. In fact, ankle stability studies often use barefoot athletes as the control group against which different ankle band methods and high-top shoes are compared. The control group always wins in these studies.
Better foot landing mechanics and less injury.
When running in a high heeled shoe, you tend to land on your heel. When you run in a barefoot shoe with no heel drop, you land more naturally from the mid to front foot. This can have a huge impact on your risk of repetitive stress injuries. The forefoot strike in general tends to place much less load on the knee joint. When landing on the forefoot, the knee is slightly bent allowing the muscles to help absorb the impact. During a heel strike, the knee is fully extended, forcing the joint itself to absorb the impact.
A 2012 study found that among endurance runners, heel strikers had twice as many injuries. Mid/forefoot forwards were much less likely to sustain injuries. Having a zero-heeled shoe without a raised heel allows your feet to land according to natural mechanics. Rather than a heel striker, you become
Even just half an inch of padded heel disrupts your entire posture down the line. It’s like standing on an incline, and in order to maintain a straight head position, your lower back is thrown into lordosis, your knees come forward, your ankle angle shortens. Instead of a straight stack of joints and fabrics up and down, you look more like a wobbly Jenga tower.
More accurate biofeedback.
I won’t try to claim that running barefoot makes you go further and longer. This is not the case. The “clouds” that are modern cushioned running shoes allow you to run greater distances in comfort, but that’s not a good thing for most people. Most people should experience the biofeedback, i.e. the discomfort, that you receive from minimalist shoes. They tell you when your body has run enough. If you break this connection and bypass natural biofeedback with cushioned shoes, you run the risk of overtraining and overstraining your joints and other tissues.
Barefoot shoes give you accurate biofeedback of the extra stress your feet and your body in general can bear.
Feet aren’t just pieces of flesh and bone. They are active limbs with dozens of muscles that require engagement and stimulation. If you shove them into stiff shoes, your foot muscles atrophy and weaken. If you wear minimalist barefoot shoes that allow a full range of motion through every foot muscle and every toe, your feet and toes become stronger, healthier, and more resilient.
Wider toe boxes.
Narrow shoes squeeze the toes together, reshaping them and forcing them into an unnatural position. The natural stance of the toes is flared, providing wider weight distribution through movement and load. The more your feet and toes are compacted, the more the weight is concentrated on certain areas, promoting stress fractures and bunions. The wider the shoe, the more evenly the forces are distributed across the foot. The toes should also be a lot more grippable than you might think, and a wide-toe barefoot shoe can help us achieve that.
Be comfortable with being the odd one out.
It’s not nothing. I often tell you to “let your weird flag fly” because that’s what it takes to be a healthy, happy human in this world. If you don’t agree with the way things are, the way most people live their lives, the way people eat and exercise (or don’t), then why wouldn’t you become you not a little weird? I’m not talking about being the bearded man who shouts on a street corner. I mean you should be comfortable deviating from the norm if that’s what you really need and want.
Wearing shoes that deviate from the norm is an easy, low-level entry point to “weirdness.”
It’s a throwback to how we came into this world.
On many levels, barefoot shoes take us back to the purest state of all – how we came into the world.
This is how we hominids came into the world 2 million years ago: by walking upright barefoot.
This is how modern humans have spread across the world: walking upright barefoot or in the flimsiest of moccasins or sandals.
This is how we were born as individuals: as babies without shoes.
It is up to those who wear and sell large padded protective footwear to prove that their footwear is safe. The default position is that the oldest and most natural standing barefoot mode of bipedalism is also the safest and most effective. You have to prove that is not the case.
Tips for getting ready to wear barefoot shoes
Once you have your first pair of barefoot shoes, be careful. If you resume your activity levels in the new shoes, you risk injury. You need to acclimate your lower body to the new situation.
- Spend as much time barefoot. Walk barefoot at home, in the park, in the yard, on the beach. Really
- Train your feet. Spread your toes against a tight rubber band, squeeze pencils between your toes, pick up objects with your feet, walk in soft, deep sand, alternately point objects away then at your own face with your toes, walk on the sides of your feet.
- Start taking shorter strides when walking and running. Walk and run slowly, try to be quiet.
- Start slowly. From short walks to longer walks to faster walks, easy jogs, runs and sprints. Don’t skip a step.
- Stop when you are in pain. Don’t push through the pain. Stop right now and come back tomorrow.