While barefoot running isn’t new, it’s popularity has been going through the roof since Christopher McDougall’s book, Born To Run, became popular in 2009.
Ironically, Born To Run isn’t really about barefoot running. It’s about the Tarahumara Indians in the Copper Canyon of Mexico and how they’re able to run pain-free and injury free for hundreds of miles, well into their 70s. It’s about the first ever ultramarathon held in the Copper Canyon. It’s about the fascinating characters around this race. And it’s about Chris’s exploration of safer, more enjoyable running.
By the way, if you haven’t read the book, you must. It’s a great, exciting read, whether you’re a runner or not. And, admittedly, I make fun of the fact that barefoot runners treat this book like the bible in my video, Sh*t Barefoot Runners Say and the follow-up, Sh*t Runners Say To Barefoot Runners.
It happens that around the time the book was becoming popular, one of the people featured in the book published a study about barefoot running. That person is Dr. Daniel Lieberman from Harvard University and, in a nutshell, what Daniel showed was:
- Runners in shoes tend to land on their heels, essentially using the padding built into the shoes
- Landing in this manner sends a massive jolt of force (called an impact transient force spike) through the ankles, knees, hips, and into the spine
- Runners who run barefoot tend to land on their forefoot or midfoot, with the landing point nearer to the body’s center of mass (not out in front of the body, like shod runners)
- Barefoot runners use the natural shock-absorbing, spring-like mechanism of the muscles, ligaments and tendons within and around the foot, the ankle, the knee, and the hip.
- Barefoot runners do not create the impact transient force spike through their joints
In short, running shoes could be the cause of the very injuries for which they’re sold as cures!
Take off your shoes and you’re less likely to land in a biomechanically compromised manner.
This seems to explain why people who run barefoot often report the elimination of injuries (that were caused by bad form that they no longer use) and, more importantly, that running is more fun!
Now it’s not all as simple as this.
The shoe companies, realizing that barefoot was becoming a big deal, began selling “barefoot shoes”… most of which are no more barefoot than a pair of stilts.
Even the Vibram Fivefingers, which look like bare feet, aren’t necessarily as barefoot as they appear.
In an independent study, runners in Xero Shoes (formerly Invisible Shoes) were found to be biomechanically identical to when they were barefoot.
The key to successful barefoot running seems to be the ability to use the nerves in your feet, to Feel The World. Basically, if you try to run barefoot the same way you do when you’re in shoes, IT HURTS!
Figure out how to do what doesn’t hurt and you’ll be running in a way that’s more fun and less likely to cause injuries.
Now, I know it’s not as simple as that, and I’m the first to admit that the science supporting barefoot running isn’t in yet. But, then again, there’s no science that shows that running shoes are helpful.
Think about this: people lived for millions of years without shoes, or without anything more than a pair of sandals like Xero Shoes or a pair of moccasins. Runners ran successfully up until the 1970s with shoes that had no padding, no pronation control, no orthotics, and no high-tech materials.
The three parts of our body that have the most nerve endings are our hands, our mouths and our feet. There’s only one of those that we regularly cover and make numb to the world… does that seem right?
Put a limb in a cast and it comes out of the cast a month later atrophied and weaker. When you you bind your feet in shoes that don’t let your foot flex or feel the earth, isn’t that similar to putting it in a cast (or as barefoot runners like to say, a “foot coffin”)?
New to “barefoot shoes”? Trying to decide between the minimalist shoe options?
I know the feeling. Back in 2009, when I knew I wanted the benefits of being barefoot, but with a bit of protection (and something that would let me get into restaurants), I tried everything.
Here’s why I think barefoot sandals are the best choice:
- Better Bare Foot Feel — You want to feel the ground as much as possible, without having to worry about what you’re stepping on. With our FeelTrue® outsoles, you get the closest thing to a barefoot feel, but with the protection you want. BTW, don’t be fooled by some shoe companies that claim to have a 4mm or 6mm outsole. If the sole is stiffer, it’ll reduce the ground-feel. And if they add any padding on the inside of the shoe, that contributes to the thickness.
- Natural Movement– You want to let your feet move and your toes flex and wiggle without anything getting in the way. With the dual-direction chevron treads and the flexibility of our FeelTrue® rubber, our outsoles let you grip the ground. And with nothing restricting the top of your foot, your toes can lift and splay as much as you want.
- Anti-bacterial/Anti-Odor — The air circulates around your foot, instead of having your feet wrapped up and sweaty!
- Better Fit — Our sandals will fit your foot, no matter what shape it is — curved, straight, narrow, wide. And you can trim them with a pair of kitchen scissors for a perfect fit.
- Lightweight — At 3.4 ounces for a men’s size 9, you’ll have a hard time finding anything that feels like, well, you’re almost barefoot. We’ve had customers forget they were wearing their Xero Shoes and go to bed with them still on!
- Multi-purpose — People all around the world use Xero Shoes for everything from walking, to hiking, to camping, to yoga, to stand-up paddleboarding, to sea kayaking, to sky-diving, to running, to tackling 100-mile ultra-marathons!
- Convenient — Xeros roll or fold and fit in small spaces. Stick ‘em in your pocket so you have them handy for a hike or to get through the airport faster.
- Personal Style — With 5 different sole colors, dozens of lacing styles, and even more decorative add-ons, you can have sandals that are high-performance, ultra-minimalist or fashion-forward and ready for a night on the town. In fact, those could be the same pair!
- Inexpensive — I don’t get how minimalist shoes and sandals can be $100-$200! Xero Shoes are a fraction of that price. You could get 5 pairs (one in each color! of Xeros for the price of some minimal running shoes.
- Long-Lasting — People often ask how long Xero Shoes will last. Well, we don’t know; nobody has worn out a pair yet! True to our tire-sandal heritage, Xero Shoes come with a 5,000 mile warranty. Compare that to running shoes that you’re supposed to replace every 300-500 miles!
“Better than barefoot”
Xero Shoes® are a modern spin on the traditional barefoot running sandal — durable, stylish and affordable — and so light and low-profile it’s like you’re not wearing anything. Yet, you get a strong layer of protection, your feet and legs work the way nature intended, your posture can naturally realign, and you awaken your senses and stimulate your brain as you Feel The World™.
Thanks to Chris McDougall’s inspiring and exciting best-selling book, Born to Run, and research from Harvard’s Daniel Lieberman, people all around the world are re-discovering the magic of barefoot running and natural movement.
Many people describe how barefoot running has improved their running, healed old injuries, strengthened their feet and legs, turned flat feet into feet with arches, and much more.
One big worry about barefoot running, not surprisingly, is all the stuff on the ground that can hurt and cut your feet, plus all the dirt you have to wash off when you’re finished running. And most stores and restaurants won’t let you in without shoes.
That’s why you’ll want a pair of Xero Shoes. If you can’t or don’t want to be totally barefoot, these are “better than barefoot”.
In his book, Chris McDougall describes huaraches, the running sandals of the Tarahumara Indians: a strip of rubber from an old tire and some string or lace to hold it on.
Xero Shoes are a hi-tech update of huaraches. They’re lightweight — 3.4 ounces in a men’s size 9 — comfortable and flexible. If you like the feeling of being barefoot, you’ll love wearing Xero Shoes.
Xero Shoes won the Grovie Award for Best Huaraches Running Sandal.
“Xero Shoes took innovation to the next level. The result is a powerhouse of a sandal that has no real apparent weaknesses.”
The Running Clinic gave Xero Shoes the highest rating for barefoot footwear — a 94/100.
And Barefoot Running Magazine gave Xero Shoes the highest rating, too — 4.75 out of 5 “bare feet.”
Get a perfect fit. Unlike flip-flops, or even most shoes, Xero Shoes are made to fit YOUR foot, no matter what size you wear or what shape your foot is. Wide, narrow, curved, or straight… short toes or long toes, your Xero Shoes are made for you.
The Xero Shoe Kit comes with complete instructions (which, actually, you’ll find here) for making your own hi-tech huaraches.
For the Custom Xero Shoes, you’ll provide us with an outline of your feet and we’ll take it from there, returning your “Barefoot… PLUS!” Xero Shoes in just a few days. (Instructions about making the outline and submitting it to us are here.)
Express yourself with your Xero Shoes. First, pick one of 9 colors of our nylon/polypropylene laces. These laces are strong, soft, don’t stretch, have no edges to dig into your feet, are waterproof, colorfast and, maybe best of all, look really cool. Plus, they keep your cost down.
Then, pick a lacing style — from traditional to fashion-forward. See some examples are here.
Finally, if you like, you can personalize your Xero Shoes and make them your very own with our pendants, charms and beads.
“How do I start barefoot running?”
“What’s the best book/course/coach for learning to run barefoot?”
“Can you show me what barefoot running form looks like?”
I get these questions a lot. And, frankly, I don’t want to answer them. In fact, I’ve resisted writing this post for, well, months.
Here’s why (in no particular order, even though I’m using numbers to delineate my reasons):
- Frankly, if all you did was take off your shoes, go for a run, stop when it hurts, and experiment to find ways of running that don’t hurt, you would learn more than I, or anyone else, could tell you.
- Those of us who’ve observed barefoot runners and coached barefoot running are starting to notice the obvious: different runners have different form. That is, when you look at the BEST runners, they may have a few things in common, but they’re not all doing the same thing. So, I don’t want to say something that isn’t going to be relevant for YOU.
- To be totally candid, I’m in an awkward political situation — as a guy who sells “barefoot-style” footwear, and who would like to have ALL the coaches referring their clients to me, I can’t single out one coach/book/technique over another (or one “under” another, either). I can tell you that if you listen to ALL of them, and then follow a bit of advice I’ll give, below, you’ll appreciate each coach for his/her unique contribution to you barefoot running form.
- Many runners aren’t aware of what their bodies are actually doing, so certain recommendations won’t be effective anyway. If I say to you, “don’t land on your heels,” and show you a video of how you’re “supposed” to land on your foot, you may be 100% convinced that you’re doing what I suggested, and then a video might show that you are totally heel-striking. In other words, what I say will be less important than what you learn on your own.
That said, here’s some thoughts about getting started with running bare footed.
- Realize that the best coach you have is YOU and your sensations and whatever you can learn from watching video of yourself (especially slow motion video). In fact, you MUST become your own best coach, because no external coach will be there for every situation you’ll encounter as a runner. If you can’t listen to yourself, make adjustments in what you’re doing, and know when to STOP… no other coach will be helpful anyway.
- Start SLOWLY and build up. Check out my post about getting started with barefoot running. There’s no rush in making the transition to barefoot running. And there’s no way to predict how long it will take YOU.
- Remember that this is a never-ending process that you can always improve.
To be slightly more specific and technical, and tell you some of what you would discover on your own with enough time and attention:
- Hard, smooth surfaces are the best for learning. They give you the most feedback.
- You want to land mid-foot or fore-foot. Do NOT reach out with your foot to do this; that’s the opposite of what you want to do.
- You don’t need to stay on the balls of your feet and put extra strain on your calves and Achilles tendons. Once you land on the ball/midfoot, you can let your heel drop if it feels better to do that, and it will feel better/worse depending on whether you’re going uphill or downhill or on a flat, and depending on what speed you’re running.
- Don’t PULL your foot toward you, or PUSH it behind you… that’ll cause blisters as well as put extra strain on your hamstrings (pulling) and calves (pushing). Think, instead, about PLACING your foot on the ground and LIFTING it off. And lift by using your hip flexor. That is, think about lifting your foot off the ground by lifting up your knee, not by pushing off the ground.
- Aim for having your feet land more “under your body” than you’re probably used to. Landing with your foot out in front of you too much is “overstriding” and it’s one of the habits that most of us need to work to overcome. You may need to even exaggerate this to get the feel of it — put your feet “behind you” when you land. You won’t actually be able to do this, but if you try it will highlight what overstriding feels like… and the correct place to put your feet is probably somewhere in between.
- Un-Plop your feet. This is hard to describe, but many of us slam our feet into the ground, or wait for the ground to hit our feet. We plop them onto the ground instead of meeting the ground lightly. There are a lot of “cues” coaches use to teach this: Pretend you’re running on hot coals, or on thin ice, or trying to sneak up on a deer, or that your feet are wheels and you want them to touch where the wheel meets the ground, or that the ground is moving below you like a treadmill and you want to move your feet at the same speed as the treadmill. You will need to find your own way to feel this.
- Core tight… when you run, your body is a spring. If you collapse in your midsection, you’re weakening the spring and making it less efficient and, therefore, making it harder to run.
- Pick up your cadence. Most people think 180 steps-per-minute is some magic number. It’s not. Some successful runners do more, some do less. The point of moving your feet faster than you’re probably used to is that it gives you less time to keep your feet on the ground… and that’ll help you learn to place/lift, “un-plop” and not overstride.
- LISTEN… if you’re running loudly, if you make a lot of noise when your feet hit the ground, you’re doing one of the above incorrectly. This is true if you’re barefoot, in Invisible Shoes, or any other footwear. You can run quietly (not silently), and quiet running is usually a sign of good form.
- WONDER! When I run, I keep a question in my mind, “How can I make this lighter, easier, and more fun… and, sometimes, faster?” Then, I experiment and see what I can find.
Then, most importantly:
- REST. Bodies get stronger when you let them rest. There are no bonus points for not taking a day off.
- HAVE FUN! If it’s not fun, do something different. Try a different surface, a different speed, a different reason for running (compete if you haven’t before, do an obstacle course if you’re usually all about putting in mile after mile).
I’m sure others of you have other simple pointers. Can’t wait to hear them.
Oh, and did I mention, barefoot running can be, should be, and IS (once you get it) FUN… don’t forget that!
One aspect of our business that we’re most proud of and makes us very happy is that we can give back to those who’ve inspired us.
In this case, we were inspired by the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, also known as the Raramuri. If you haven’t read Christopher McDougall’s New York Times bestseller Born To Run yet, you must. It’s a great read, and tells quite a bit about the Tarahumara.
What it doesn’t discuss very much, though, is how difficult life can be in the Copper Canyon. Healthcare and medical care is hard to come by. Clean water is rare. Food is scarce. This part of Mexico has been experiencing a major drought. Child mortality is high, and educational opportunities are not easily available.
So, to give thanks and support the Tarahumara, we donate 10% of price of our custom-made Xero Shoes to the Tarahumara Children’s Hospital Fund.
TCHF provides medical care, education, food and clean water programs and, in many ways, provide aid in this difficult and in-need area.
Thank you for your purchases which allow us to thank and help the Tarahumara.