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Here's a little impromptu, off-schedule WHEE, just because.

For those of us that run, there's been a whole lot of news to look at recently about the concept of barefoot running.  Time Magazine just published a big feature article about running barefoot, inspired by a recent high profile Nature paper, which comes with an informative companion website showing videos of people running -- habitual barefoot runners, people who wear standard modern supercushioned running shoes, and everything in between.  

NPR also has a feature out; funny how some things which seem so trivial can become such big news.

Some may say it's all a big scheme to sell Vibram Five Fingers, which are funny shoes with minimal soles and a space for each toe.  They did partially fund the study, but it's not the only study of its kind, and you don't get past Nature's peer review process with sheer hackery no matter who funds you. Other studies have shown that cheap running shoes are correlated with better health outcomes than the big fancy padded variety, and other studies have at least raised suspicions that fancy shoes may not be all they're cracked up to be, as reviewed at  So maybe the big scheme was to sell Nikes, originating back in the 70s, and we're coming full circle to examine whether that was a good idea, just like we're re-examining, say, high fructose corn syrup and the usefulness of antioxidant supplements.

The thrust of the study (by a Dr. Daniel Lieberman, no relation to Holy Joe) is that we may be injuring ourselves by super-padding our feet in big, wide, stable, cushiony, springy, air-pillow-y running and athletic shoes.  If you look at the videos, you see that people who run barefoot all the time run completely differently.  They don't strike heavily in the heel because without all the padding, that would hurt; instead, they use a more toe or mid-foot landing.  Habitual barefoot runners in modern shoes tend to strike more in the mid-foot because the shoe forces them to.  People who have never run barefoot fairly quickly learn to stop heel striking because it hurts.  You may use less energy running barefoot; you may therefore have more endurance for pursuing that wooly mammoth until it just can't run anymore.

As a long-term barefoot exerciser (I belly dance, and it being a traditional, folk-ish dance, one does not wear shoes to practice or perform; I also have done yoga for over 20 years, and that is also a barefoot activity) I have to admit to being intrigued.  I know I feel stable in bare feet, I'm always barefoot around the house, and my favorite shoes for daily wear are always my most minimal shoes, summer sandals with flat bendable soles and a few well-placed straps.  But I've always just absorbed the conventional wisdom on running.  Big, cushioned stability shoes are the rule of the game, and I have a pair of splendid New Balance running shoes that cushion my heel strikes just fine.  Last spring and summer when I was running daily, I did take some time to observe what I was doing and to try to improve my gait, putting more emphasis on reaching forward for the step instead of landing it heavy on my heel, keeping the toes lightly extended instead of the foot flexed.  It did help.  It made running feel less stressful and smoother, but I always had to think about it.  And I'm still in the shoes.

I also ballroom dance.  Sometimes I practice in 2.5" heels, but other times I wear low-heeled practice sneakers.  I also wear my practice sneakers to Zumba, but I've been looking for a shoe alternative, something that would protect my feet while letting me feel closer to the floor.  Dancing in shoes, I find myself doing strange things.  Curling my toes and gripping, trying to get hold of the floor, or crossing my toes.  Maybe barefoot would be the thing.  But again, I've been schooled all my life that IMPACT IS BAD!  And so I'm still in the shoes.  Interestingly, a couple of recent studies (one discussed here in the NYT well-blog, link included in that article) have shown that lifelong runners who don't have other physical problems seem to show no negative effect from prolonged "high-impact" activity.  Impact does not necessarily break down your knees.

What I'm finding anecdotally, starting two high-impact activities in my early 40s, is that daily exercise of this type seems to vastly improve some of the middle-aged aches and pains I had been having.  At 40, I thought I was beginning my decline into the grave.  This year, after daily high impact exercise for almost a year?  Not so much.  Movements (like standing dips and squats) that I was physically "scared" of a couple of years ago?  No big deal.

The other thing that I am besides a long term barefoot exerciser is a person with long-term back, hip, leg and foot issues.  Arch cramps; toe cramps.  Calf cramps unless I'm taking a whacking dose of Ca/Mg/Vitamin D.  Clicky hip joints, sensitive sacroiliac region.  Thank dog my knees aren't all busted, but it's probably only a matter of time.  ALL of these problems have improved (save the night leg cramps) since I started running and high impact aerobics.  Because of my various problems, though, I'm kind of a fanatic about shoes and so I'm always curious about new shoe technology.  I have Earth shoes (that negative heel technology) and MBT trainers (the ones that force you to roll your foot through from heel to toe on every step).  The negative heels worked out great, the MBTs?  Not so great.  Unlike most people of the female persuasion (or at least so the media tells us) I can't cram my sensitive, delicate body into sharp pointed, ridiculously high heels and spend the day in them.  Most of my shoes are positively orthopedic.  Those that are not are selected in a long, arduous process of buying shoes and then having to return them or give them away because they don't "work" for some reason.  It's the most frustrating thing in the world, and still, no matter how good the shoes, as soon as humanly possible, I want them OFF.

So I'm thinking about barefooting.  Barefoot running, perhaps with a minimal shoe to start.

What says WHEE?  Anyone tried this?  Would you try it?

"I mean, I think we have to be really, really careful about what we do and don't know. We have not done any injury studies; this is not an injury study," [Lieberman] says. That's next.

Originally posted to kismet on Thu Jan 28, 2010 at 06:31 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I haven't been WHEEing lately, but I am (11+ / 0-)

    happy to report that I weight myself this morning, and I've dropped seven pounds since last checking (mostly due to doing a lot of ski patrol in recent weeks, and I tend to eat less when I'm out on the mountain).

    Still, I heard the story on NPR about barefoot runners and how they use the balls of their feet rather than their heels, which reduces the impact on the body, though it does require building more muscle in the feet and calves.

    Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.

    by darthstar on Thu Jan 28, 2010 at 06:47:03 PM PST

  •  I preferred to be barefoot (8+ / 0-)

    until I got the Lisfrancs mess on the right side, and messed up both ankles, and came up with Raynaud's phenomenon in my feet.

    "barefoot" for me now is socks with the braces over them. Come summer I'll likely go barefoot more.

    My preferred shoe is a birkenstock. I can spread my toes and grip in those, and they don't press "wrong" on the midfoot where I had the surgery. That's my main problem with athletic shoes. The lacing puts pressure on the midfoot and that does not work for me.

  •  I have a pair of Five Fingers (7+ / 0-)

    I work out in them. I do cardio in them. I play drums in them. They're very nice. About the only thing that's not comfortable is walking on concrete, and I've even started to get used to that.

    I never came down too hard on my heels anyway, because I prefer loafers and old fashioned "tennis shoes," and they don't encourage that kind of abuse. But now I barely land on them at all. I have a sort of rolling-forward motion. My toes are not accustomed to having a say. They're getting used to it. It's especially nice playing drums to have that additional level of finesse with the pedals.

    They do take some getting used to, though, if you're not used to going barefoot, and after use they need to be aired out even more than shoes normally do.

    I'd say they're worth a try. They're almost like being barefoot, but you can walk into stores and gyms without getting kicked out.

    As far as the knees go, I've discovered from weightlifting that the right amount of stress strengthens your bones and your joints as well as your muscles. It's only when you try to "push through the pain" (and it's not the good kind of pain) that bad things start to happen. So I'm not really surprised that high-impact aerobics have helped your joints. Slinging large, heavy objects around has helped my knees, my elbows and my wrists.

    Thanks for the diary. Tipped and recc'd.

    Deoliver47 was right, and she deserves an apology.

    by James Robinson on Thu Jan 28, 2010 at 07:33:28 PM PST

  •  I have to pay close attention (6+ / 0-)

    to where my foot falls when I run. I have to consciously strike mid-foot otherwise my 54-year-old knees hurt like mad. I tend to strike on my heel unless I really concentrate.

    I believe running barefoot would be good, but don't think I want to try it on the treadmill or the sidewalk.

    They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. - Andy Warhol

    by 1864 House on Thu Jan 28, 2010 at 07:34:13 PM PST

  •  I exercise barefoot too, except for (4+ / 0-)

    running. I can't imagine that. For night cramps, put a bar of soap under your bottom sheet down by your feet. Really. Google it. I swear it works. I used to think maybe it was all in my head, but darn if I don't wake up with a cramp if the bar falls down the side of the sheet.

    I used to wonder why somebody didn't do something, then I realized I am somebody.- unknown

    by Brimi on Thu Jan 28, 2010 at 07:39:42 PM PST

  •  wow, I haven't gone barefoot for more than (5+ / 0-)

    a very few steps for...... years & years. I have plantar fasciitis & my podiatrist said to never be barefoot. I go barefoot as little as possible, and since my achilles problem I even have a little lift in my right shoe, supposed to rest the tendon.

    I took a hula class, that was barefoot - and fun. But only a semi-good workout. Belly dance would be better.

    •  Normally people who have plantar fasciitis (0+ / 0-)

        will react rather well to barefoot running after they do the right stretches and break up some of the fascia adhesion in the body at other locations. Normally in the hips or calf areas.

        People who run barefoot tend to reach further on each stride with their feet to avoid hitting on the heels as Kismet said. The toes actually grab at the pavement/track and give an elastic push to the body forward and not upward. You want to pull your toes upward to stretch the fascia under your heel and up through your back of the legs to the hips and core area.

        The best way to truly understand how the fascia works in the body is a simple procedure for those that have beginning problems with carpel tunnel syndrome is to kneel on the floor and place your fingers down on the floor but rotate the arms such that the fingers are pointing back toward your knees/body. Slowly apply pressure downward until you can get your entire palm (including the heel of the palm) down in contact with the floor. You can feel the adhesions of the fascia beginning to become unglued and stretch first up your forearms and then through your shoulders and into your chest area if the problem is severe. After much work and some ungluing of the fascia, you can actually use your arms to drag yourself along the floor using your arms and hands with your palms and fingers pointed toward you.  

      "Training is simply a stimulus being applied to the body with the purpose of getting a specific adaptation." Craig Ballantyne

      by NC Dem on Sat Jan 30, 2010 at 07:43:36 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yikes. Hurts my feet just thinking about it! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, Fabian, Pandoras Box, cdkipp

    Of course, whatever you do is good.  There are many ways to exercise and we can all do what we like.  Whatever gets your blood pumping is great!

  •  As I write, it is 16 degrees outside and just the (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, Fabian, Pandoras Box, cdkipp

    thought of barefoot stuff in this weather sounds painful, and besides, I would risk getting kicked out of my local convenience store (No shoes, No service).

    And it feels like I'm livin'in the wasteland of the free ~ Iris DeMent, 1996

    by MrJersey on Thu Jan 28, 2010 at 09:43:50 PM PST

  •  Oh, the difference shoes can make! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Fabian, Pandoras Box, cdkipp

    For a number of years I could only walk about fifteen minutes before stabbing pain in my feet made it difficult to go further. I tried various shoes (including birkies) with no luck. Then a clerk in a sporting goods store in Madison put me onto Chacos and I walked out of the store pain-free. Further exploration brought me to SAS and the discovery that my feet are now 8 1/2 WW. I knew about the W but the second W is the difference between running shoes that work and running shoes that give me blisters. All my shoes look orthopedic but I can walk miles!

  •  After reading Born To Run... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NC Dem

    (Christopher McDougall's book about barefoot running, ultramarathons, and the Tarahumara), I started running barefoot on our treadmill. I quickly discovered that the treadmill surface felt a bit like sandpaper on my feet, and added a pair of ankle-height socks.

    I've long avoided running, because I have had (or THOUGHT I had) weak ankles - but running (almost) barefoot has been a revelation. My ankles and feet are far happier without the "support" of running shoes.

    However, as I've noted before, I have serious core alignment problems. I've found that more than a few minutes of barefoot running gives me a good deal of low back pain on my right side, and I've stopped running until I can work on my alignment. Maybe if I can discipline myself to do my Egoscue exercises consistently, I can return to barefooting.

    Thanks much for the links in this diary - I'm definitely going to bookmark it for future reference.

    I texted HAITI to 90999 to donate to the Red Cross for the Haiti relief effort. Have you?

    by Edward Spurlock on Fri Jan 29, 2010 at 12:18:04 PM PST

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