This is a question I wanted to find out; why go barefoot? After all I’ve read, I’m convinced that barefoot running, hiking and walking are better for your feet and entire body if done correctly and persistently. By tossing the shoes out the window I think we can decrease repetitive stress injuries such as shin splints, ripped hamstrings, achilles tendinitis or heel pain such as plantar fasciitis.
You see the shoes these days: flat tops, platform pumps, stilettos, wedges … they even sound painful. Stilettos remind me of a switchblade and wedges of a golf club or a jagged deep-fried potato.
A few weeks ago I saw a guy lounging on the grass in front of the library without his shoes on. I asked him if he goes barefoot very often.
Zach Smith, earth science junior, said he walks and runs barefoot around his neighborhood all the time as well as hiking barefoot with friends.
“It’s more comfortable and natural,” Smith said. “It’s the way it should be.”
He also mentioned that one of his favorite books is about running barefoot. He said “Born to Run,” by Christopher McDougall, is about running hundreds of miles at a time with no shoes.
“Born to Run” is about the Tarahumara Indians who live in Mexico’s Copper Canyons. McDougall chronicles his encounters with this hidden tribe, their super–athletes and what he calls “the greatest race the world has never seen,” a 100-mile foot-race through the Rocky Mountains.
“The Tarahumara can somehow run hundreds of miles at a time with thin homemade sandals without ever getting hurt and running deep into old age,” McDougall said in a video interview with the New York Times.
He said in another video interview “Eight out of every 10 runners is hurt every single year. This makes no sense. We have the best technology on the planet. We have sports podiatrists, we have sports medicine and we have an endless rash of running injuries.”
McDougall explains that he picked up the low impact form of the Tarahumara runners, but once he started wearing running shoes again he regressed back, losing that sense of contact with the ground and causing heel pain. Now he wears Vibram Fivefingers, that he says are just “a chunk of rubber and a Velcro strap” that keep you honest. This footweat is for stimulating our muscles, our balance and our agility.
What I was soon to find out is in addition to McDougall’s best-seller, when it comes to walking, hiking and running, some scientists and biomechanics argue we may do these things better without shoes.
Lieberman’s research suggests that long-distance running was paramount in the evolution of our species. We were built to operate barefoot. We have spring-like arches, short toes, long tendons and large joints in the legs.
The typical human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles and hundreds of sensory receptors that all should be kept healthy like the rest of the body.
Lieberman and his colleagues found that the habitually barefoot tend to land in a way that minimizes collision forces instead of striking with the heel first. Landing on the heel creates sudden impulses or vertical deceleration of the leg that Lieberman says is like hitting the heel with a hammer two to three times your body weight. Running shoes cushion this shock, but what if we could eliminate the shock all together?
Barefoot runners and walkers, like the Tarahumara Indians and Kenyans used in the research, land more on the ball of the foot and have little to virtually no impact, creating a more rotational energy. In this way a fore-foot strike may decrease pain in the soft-tissues of the foot and shin splints versus the heel strike.
The major question is: Are shoes the reason we run like this now compared to healthy consistent barefoot runners?
Not to blatantly bash the shoe companies because I’m sure they have experts working countless hours making measurements for runners, but as McDougall asks, how is it that bare feet can outrun polymer-based shoes that have been engineered for 30 years to run on rocky terrain? Could running shoes be the ultimate cause of foot injuries and maybe even back pain?
This is what makes me wonder, will going barefoot becomes the newest fad, instead of Converse or Vans? Then we might all be able to pick up this form of balanced impact and say goodbye to aches and pains at such young ages.
I don’t even wear heels and my feet ache at the end of the day. I wear Nike running shoes I got on sale three years ago and moccasins from Target that lack any support. I begun to wonder if my shoes are the culprit, but I don’t want to spend an arm and a leg for Dr. Schools or other expensive foot support. How could going barefoot make anything worse?
Brian Engleton, a Cal Poly alumnus and avid bare-footer says he tries not to wear shoes as much as possible. Engleton works at the Central Coast Village Center an outdoor nature-based education school here in San Luis Obispo. He works as a naturalist mentor for a program called “Outside Now.”
“Humans have evolved for two million years to walk barefoot and to run barefoot,” he said. “There’s a lot of wisdom in nature and evolution. People only started wearing thick cushioning shoes in the last 40 years.”
I trust two million years of evolution more than I trust 40 years of speculation.”
Engleton likes to go hiking with a pair of Vibrum Fivefingers he made from a kit he ordered online. He says you can also make a pair out of an old tire.
“Walking around in them is like a foot message, like an extra pair of eyes can see what the ground looks like with your feet,” Engleton said.
Engleton says some of his students are even more excited about going barefoot than he is. High school sophomore Troy Nino de Riveia started the “Troy challenge” in Dec. 2008 where 10 students agreed to go shoeless everyday during school hours for six months.
Nino de Riveia said he gets sore arches and weak ankles from wearing shoes all the time and already feels relief after being barefoot.
His words and my favorite take on wearing shoes: “It’s like your foot is sitting in a mold and (therfore) your muscles don’t get used.”
Sarah Shackelford, manufacturing engineering senior at Cal Poly, is also a connoisseur when it comes to going barefoot.
“I love being barefoot,” she said. “I feel more grounded and like the earth is taking all my free electrons.”
She says she has special peddles on her bike for biking barefoot and the only time she does wear shoes is at work, in the lab or maybe if it’s raining.
“Everywhere I go I feel like I get an extra sense of my surroundings,” Shackelford said. “I can know smells and sights, but barefoot I know what it feels like too.”
The popular lyric from country singer Kenny Chesney “no shoes, no shirt, no problems” may hold more truth than just a catchy phrase. A point many barefoot activists argue is that there are no recorded foot problems before the creation of shoes.
I hiked Bishop Peak a couple weeks ago barefoot and I have to say I have a completely new appreciation for the mountain. My feet were dirty of course at the bottom, but they felt energized and alive, like it was the first time I had really used them in years.
I don’t expect you to cut shoes out of your life cold turkey, with jobs and school we all know that’s not a reality, but try going barefoot every now and then. You may just discover something new about the surface you walk on every day or your own body.
If you want to find out more about barefoot living there is a Facebook group called the Association of Barefoot Students. There’s a group called the Soceity for Barefoot Living established in 1994 and also check out the barefoot hikers journal blog.
Sidenote: California is the only state that doesn’t legally allow barefoot driving.