Barefoot is the Right Way?

I have bronchitis* right now… so I haven’t run much this week, leaving me to fill the time I would have been running with time to read about running.  (Well, I’ve tried to fill the time with rest too, you know… to heal so I can run again.  Because I am really itching to run!)

One item I recently read was entitled “You Walk Wrong“, a 2008 article from New York Magazine.  The tag line at the top of the article reads: “It took 4 million years of evolution to perfect the human foot. But we’re wrecking it with every step we take. “

I found it to be an interesting piece, especially since it was written before barefoot running was even on my radar… and it’s not even about barefoot running, but about barefoot life in general.  The article is 6 web pages long, so I’m going to pull out some of the highlights and re-iterate them here.

Shoes are bad. I don’t just mean stiletto heels, or cowboy boots, or tottering espadrilles, or any of the other fairly obvious foot-torture devices into which we wincingly jam our feet. I mean all shoes. Shoes hurt your feet. They change how you walk.

I definitely agree that shoes change how we naturally walk, but I try not to label things with good/bad absolutes.

Take off your shoe, and put it on a tabletop. Chances are the toe tip on your shoes will bend slightly upward, so that it doesn’t touch the table’s surface. This is known as “toe spring,” and it’s a design feature built into nearly every shoe. Of course, your bare toes don’t curl upward; in fact, they’re built to grip the earth and help you balance.

I definitely agree that we aren’t using our toes for what I feel are their purpose.  If you practice yoga, you’ll recognize the need to spread your toes and use them to help anchor you to the ground.

But (you might say) if you walk or run with no padding, it’s murder on your heels—which is precisely the point. Your heels hurt when you walk that way because you’re not supposed to walk that way.

Yeah, heel striking is an epidemic that I definitely think was caused by modern running shoes with built-up heels.  The minimal shoes on the market now are all focusing on lowering that heel-to-toe drop, some even have a zero-drop.

In a 1997 study, researchers Steven Robbins and Edward Waked at McGill University in Montreal found that the more padding a running shoe has, the more force the runner hits the ground with: In effect, we instinctively plant our feet harder to cancel out the shock absorption of the padding. (The study found the same thing holds true when gymnasts land on soft mats—they actually land harder.) We do this, apparently, because we need to feel the ground in order to feel balanced.

I just thought this was an interesting observation.

After wearing the Barefoots for a while… your perception stops being so horizontal—i.e., confined more or less to eye level—and starts feeling vertical or, better yet, 360 degrees. You have a new sense of what’s all around you, including underneath.

The author got a pair of Vivo Barefoot shoes, that’s what was referred to here.  I’m kind of intrigued at the thought… although shoes that I’ve purchased recently have been with the observation of how they feel in the heel.  I am barefoot all day while I work, so now I’m at a point where if I put something on with a heel, I’m kind of uncomfortable.  When I looked at the Vivo site, I actually thought some of the shoes were kind of cute!

But even more profound than Barefoot shoes, was the idea of being fully ensconced in your world… the 360 notion.  I just found that kind of poetic, because so much of our life is focus on the future, focus on the past, focus on what coulda/shoulda/woulda been.  I’m not saying that taking off your shoes will completely alter that, it is a slightly romanticized notion of life, but I think more people in society today need to slow down and be in their present moment.

I think my favorite part of the article was the photos with the article.  A combination of photos from Tom Schierlitz and makeup work by John Maurad and Jenai Chin, the detail in these was amazing!

Barefoot Photos/Makeup
Photos from the New York Magazine article "You Walk Wrong"

*Bronchitis is a yearly event for me, sadly… but it’s a lot better than it was when I was a kid. I called the doctor and said that I think I have bronchitis and need to get a z-pack. She said, “What makes you think you have bronchitis?” I told her, “My history… let’s see, I’m 32 now so I’ve probably had it at least 30 times.” When I relayed that to my mom she said, “You probably had it about 30 times by the time you started kindergarten.” So I’m pretty familiar with the symptoms. This year I was actually more pro-active about taking care of it rather than being stubborn and letting it linger!


  1. I wonder how barefoots are rated as far as shock absorbency? Will it be as effective for each individual?

  2. i’ve only read the first two pages of that article so far but it is good! i am big on ‘natural’ ways and that our bodies were created to take care of themselves (to an extent, of course). i am glad i already don’t wear heels… guess this justifies buying more vibrams 😉

  3. Sounds like an interesting article! I agree that those shoes are cute, but pretty expensive! Maybe once the barefoot movement in regular, non-running shoes catches on a bit more, they’ll be more widely available.

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