Why Are You Bashing Something as Natural as Running or Walking Barefoot? : Exclusive Renegade Health Article

Monday Feb 27 | BY |
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barefoot-running-shoe-boulder
All this barefoot running talk has given me an excuse to show you my feet. Look how amazing they are… (Running the Boulder Bolder in Vibrams.)

My post last week on barefoot running definitely was a hot one…

Today, I wanted to address some of the comments that were posted, since I feel like they need to be discussed in more detail — as most health topics need to be!

The questions that I answer today are on why I “bashed” barefoot running (which I really didn’t) and — if you want to run — should you wear shoes at all?

Let’s get into it…

First up, there were a good number of posts asking why I was so against barefoot shoes and natural running techniques…

How can you bash barefoot running when it’s the most natural way to run?

I understand where everyone who posted about this is coming from. For about 5 years I believed the same thing. I could have written each of your counter blog posts to my initial post.

Points like:

  • Your running form will eventually correct itself.
  • I’ve been running barefoot for 6 months or 2 years and everything is fine (same with me.)
  • The heels in all shoes are too high.
  • I’ll never go back to my old shoes.

All these arguments, points and theories sound really good, but sometimes they just don’t work like we want them too. (But, yes, regular running heels are too high.)

After traveling around the country full time for 2.5 years and part time after for another 1.5, I’ve seen many things — and experienced some myself — that makes me think critically about barefoot running and shoes.

I do use barefoot shoes! (Just not for running…)

I think the first thing to clear up is that I don’t think that barefoot running shoes are bad for everyone — in fact, they can be very helpful.

If you remember from this initial article (here), I mentioned that these days I wear barefoot shoes for everything except running. Obviously, I see value in being in minimalistic shoes.

More specifically, for the 16 or so hours I’ve awake, I am in barefoot shoes or barefoot for 15. (The one hour I’m not is when I run.) That’s almost 94% of my life without “normal” shoes — or shoe “casts” as I used to call them. Now, I’m a little more sympathetic.

This practice has helped build strength in my stabilizing muscles, calves and up the entire muscle chain responsible for walking and running.

So, yes, barefoot shoes do have positive benefit.

My intention is not to “bash” these types of shoes, but to teach people how to use them long term in an intelligent way.

An update from my friend with the stress fracture.

I just got an update from the friend who recently got a stress fracture while wearing them and she has to wear a boot-like cast for 6 weeks. No fun, particularly for a type-A runner who would rather spend 30 days in jail, than have an injury that keeps them from being out on the road or the trails — at least in a cell you can run in place!

If you’re a runner and if you’re active, you don’t ever want to get hurt, so my message to you is not necessarily to get rid of your barefoot shoes, but to listen to what your feet are telling you. If they’re straining, or you’re feeling pain, then chances are it’s not your body adjusting, it’s you starting to get hurt. (Muscle fatigue is fine to a point, but can eventually cause overuse injury as well.)

This is almost the same phenomenon as the “detox symptom” issues some people experience while transitioning to a newer and healthier diet. Yes, detox symptoms do exist, but sometimes those “symptoms” are your body telling you that what you’re doing isn’t working — they have nothing to do with toxic chemicals leaving your body.

So when you’re training — or just walking — in barefoot shoes be in tune with your body and let it decide when the time is right to push or when the time is right to step back a bit.

Finally, back to the original question about the most natural way to run.

Running barefoot may be the most natural, but let me explain this to you…

Think about your foot as an average person living in the U.S. Your foot has been living with electricity, sewage, a car, a house, money, a job and many other comforts your entire life. It’s pretty much been cushioned for as many years as it’s been around. (…starting to get the running metaphor here?)

One day, someone takes away your foot’s house, money, job, car, sewage and electricity. They say, feet are meant to live naturally without all this unnatural support.

Now some feet will be able to adjust better than others in the wild, but most will struggle a bit — imagine your foot trying to make a bed out of sticks and leaves. On the other side, some feet might be so far removed from being in natural that they may not make it at all — or the outside elements may be too harsh for survival.

Yes, as a foot, living a natural life is possible, but it requires adjustment, re-education and time — and just like we’ve been domesticated, so have our feet.

Your foot likely doesn’t even look or function like the foot of someone who was around 2000 years ago, so we have to acknowledge that our different circumstances can’t always be corrected by thinking about what used to be, and hoping it will work.

We need to combine a lot of natural thought and a little technology to get to the best answer in this case. I feel — for running shoes — bringing the two together to re-train your feet may be the best compromise.

Ultimately, it’s up to you what you want to do, but just knowing that there can be a downside to running in barefoot shoes is helpful in the long run since it will allow you to stop earlier when you feel pain and ease into them in a slow and controlled manner.

Another question that came up was based on just the concept of wearing shoes to run at all…

Why would you wear shoes to run? If you want to be totally natural, you should just run barefoot — no plastic or rubber — just your feet on the ground.

Again, I understand where you’re coming from here. Having your feet on the ground and in touch with the earth is extremely important.

In fact, I think it’s essential.

So I’m all for barefoot — completely — if you can.

But for running, I have to question your question… are you a runner?

If you’ve written this criticism of running in barefoot shoes, I can almost 90% guarantee you’re not a runner — and if you are, you’re in the purist of purist categories (of which I have no argument.)

While it sounds amazing to think that I could run through the woods barefoot, bouncing from mushroom top to cushiony clouds and back like Mario and Luigi in a Nintendo game, this isn’t quite the reality that most runners face.

Stepping on pebbles, sticks, prickly plants, glass, nails and roots is pretty hard to get used to. It also slows you down considerably. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried this before, and actually running on the track or a grass field is one of the best place to practice running completely barefoot, but once you stray away, it becomes quite uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous.

Our feet aren’t as leathery as they used to be to protect themselves, so I don’t pretend like they are.

I love that extra layer of protection of rubber and probably won’t ever give it up — like 90% of the runners I know.

Last question asks if humans are supposed to run at all…

Are humans even supposed to be running long distances at all?

Honestly, I can’t give you a straight answer on this question, I wasn’t around back when humans were in their most natural form.

What I can tell you is that the mixture of fast twitch and slow twitch muscles in our legs indicates that maybe we were meant for both quick bursts of exercise and long distance running — we’re basically ancient hybrids.

Two books that you can read that will give you some theory of why we were runners are “Why We Run” and “Born to Run.” The first goes into more depth about the topic and the latter is a great story peppered with running theory.

But basically, the idea behind of “Why We Run” is so that we can eventually tire and outlast animals that we want to kill for food and clothing. Many animals like antelope or deer have strong explosive speed, but eventually they build up so much lactic acid in their bodies that they can’t move any more. You’ve probably experienced this with a mouse in your home that won’t move any more after you’ve chased it around. It’s not giving itself up to you because it wants to, it just has so much lactic acid built up in it’s body, it can’t move at all. So the concept here, is that humans, when hunting, would chase and follow the animals until they couldn’t run anymore and they became easy kill and easy food.

Now, this is just a theory — and I imagine if you’re vegan, it’s something you’ll quickly dismiss — but it’s interesting to entertain.

A more cruelty-free, no-animal-harmed theory is that since we’re nomadic and would need to travel long distances at times to find food, we needed to have strong aerobic capacity — the ability to walk or run for days — in order to survive.

Either one is interesting, and likely, both are a little true.

So back to the original question, yes, we were meant to run, but I don’t know for how far or how long. You also have to keep in mind this was 10-20-30,000 years ago.

We’re a little different now. We’ve evolved (or de-volved) since then.

The same rules don’t apply as they did then and, in particular, running skill is not valued as a survival tool when you have a Whole Foods in your neighborhood.

Your question of the day: Do you think we were meant to run or not?

Live Awesome!
Kev

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog RenegadeHealth.com — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.

25 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. Claudia says:

    I think we were meant to run because we love it!
    I can no longer run because of arthritis in my knees (which was not caused by running). I wish I could run. Also I wouldn’t run barefoot or in barefoot shoes because when we run the force of body weight needs a little support in the arch and around the ankle to prevent turned ankles. I always go without shoes at home and wear soft shoes when I go out, exercise in gym, or walk around the block. But if I go shopping, or go out for longer periods of time and will wear regular shoes (light weight running shoes w/ low heel and arch support for protection. You really need to take care of your feet because it is no fun when get to my age (67) and your feet hurt. Fortunately, because I took care of my feet they are working really good.

  2. a pelc says:

    I do believe human should not run. I also have these shoe and they are not meant for working out or running.

  3. Zachary says:

    I have read all of the harvard studies by Dr. Leiberman, and they resonate with me in theory, common sense, and prestige. I have also red “Born to Run” and “Barefoot Running: Step by Step” and they ring true. I have been barefoot/minimal shoeing for mostly day to day use and if I do run it is short, slowly building/retraining. I think we have evolved very little, but we have degenerated more so as of the last few hundred years. I can only feel out my barefoot running/living and have a sort of “faith” in the bodies ability to rehabilitate/heal from these modern day synthetic “everythings”. Just like my internal conflict between veganism/rawfood/hunter-gatherer diet philosophies, I share the same with barefoot vs. shod running. Barefoot living/walking I can fully settle on, running wise I am leaning toward barefoot/minimal from research and feeling. However, I am not opposed to learning/experiencing more and perhaps siding with a different theory. For now, I am all about running and walking barefoot, and do not think (but not 100% sure like always) that I will change my mind. I also have a specific disagreement with your article above, the fact that we do not have leathery feet that can stand the impact on debris. If you look closely at the books your cited above and others, along with studies, one will notice that these modern primitives and most barefoot runners (Ken Bob for example or Barefoot ted) have very soft feet even after running barefoot all over the place. This has to do with sensory feedback and light planting while running barefoot. They are like hands, strongly abused, yet they retain their tenderness and soft feel.

  4. Bryan says:

    I believe we were meant to run whether that was to get food or avoid being food, our bodies do it pretty well. I have vibrams and love them and ran in them for a while. When one ankle that I injured months before playing Ultimate started to give me grief the next morning after “barefoot” running sessions, I relegated them to walking, light hiking, driving and weight training (really like the extra balance while weight training).

    I think the more revealing question here is, “Do you think it is a good idea to ignore pain that you did not have before you changed something identifiable in your life, and how long are you willing to suffer pain before changing your mind to do something to stop the pain? LOL

  5. hyesun says:

    i can only speak for myself – i know i wasn’t meant to run! 🙂 i tried many times, on and off for years, and always ended up in pain and/or injured. after my last marathon (i ran/walked it) in 2004, i was SO injured and traumatized physically that i essentially quit running. (i had to use crutches for a few days!) i haven’t really run long distances since then. every once in a while i would do HIIT with sprints, but no distance running for me. but i LOVE walking – i can walk forever. or rebounding.

  6. Velda says:

    The information I have read says that long distance runners have heart health problems – and quite often the first warning sign is death. Something to think about. I read that we were not made for marathon running – just shorts burst of running. Makes sense to me. Wonderful articles, Kevin. Thank you!! Where has Annmarie been lately?

  7. Anne says:

    Hi Kev, I think your article and comment shows a lot of thought, practical experience and balance. I too have read ‘Born to run’ and read and investigated barefoot running. Mostly I have been careful about it. I wanted to ween my feet from orthotics as I have high arches and my right foot tends to supinate but full length orthotics increased the heel height of my foot even more than my cushiony nimbus already did. What I did over a period is keep running with my nimbus for longer run but remove the orthotic and I bought some lighter more responsive shoes like the brooks Green Silence which is technically a racing flat for my interval training run which I do three times per week and it’s been great fun to experiment with this and I love the fast shoes which have almost no difference between heel and forefoot height. There are many others out there. This transition has worked well for me and may be as far as I go towards barefoot running but I may also try a less cushonned shoe for the longer run in the future but small steps are better than big changes. Thanks again

  8. Valerie says:

    Earthing / Grounding Technology:

    -Related to Walking Barefoot, is the Earthing (or Grounding) Technology. I had listened to one of your interviews, & read your subsequent comments. – You said you would research this subject, & get back to us – with your opinion.- Did I somehow miss this, or are you still investigating? – Appreciate all your information.

  9. Rebecca Cody says:

    Barefoot is NOT for this kid! It has always been painful even to walk barefoot in the house on a bare floor because I have almost no cushioning between the bones behind my toes and the soles of my feet. Wouldn’t you know that the skinniest part of me is my feet? 8 narrow, and with no padding they are not thick at all! I love my custom orthotics. They may not be natural, but with them I can walk all day and never get tired.

  10. christine says:

    HiKevin,

    Great question. I believe that we (humans) were meant to run but a good majority of us have forgotten how and the joy it can bring. Watch any young child and they naturally start trying to ruin as soon as they can walk. Its adults that start the dont do that, be careful, dont run here or run there comments that take away the naturalness of running – even if necessary for safety.
    I think human running is naturally long and slow that developed as part of survival of the fittest.

    As a side note I was listening to an interview yesterday with Lisa Tamaki who is a NZ ultra distance marathon runner. She is working on a documentary series that follows the amazing runs of various indiginous runners through out the world.Just completed the australian run. I dont know her or have any personal links other than we are formt he same country but it seemed to fit with this discussion.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/other-sports/6482961/Near-death-scare-for-superhuman-runners

  11. christine says:

    oops sorry – previous post should have said run not ruin.

  12. Em says:

    Hahaa! You can barely make out your feet, Kevin, from that shot!! I think you should take another photo so we can really see how ‘amazing’ they are, as you put it… 😉

  13. LynnCS says:

    Thanks Kevin, for the story from the point of view of a real runner.

    Wish I could run, but I have really bony feet and high, high arches and insteps. I often wonder how they stay together. I need a lot of padding to be comfortable. I do best on a treadmill with well built shoes that fit close. Narrow shoes with an even narrower heel are hardly made any more, but with an extra insole and thick sox, I can get my exercise. Because of you mentioning the lift of the heal, I will say that it’s not the same for everyone. I can barely walk without tripping unless I build up the heel. I know a few of our types out here, so a small heel is not that uncommon, especially among women. I couldn’t go barefoot at all, as cute as those little toe shoes are. I have no padding on the bottom of my feet and no one should feel they are weird if they can’t use them or go barefoot.

    Thanks, for giving your story. It’s interesting how a runner things and all about the shoes and feet of the runner. Continue to enjoy your running.

  14. Honestly I think most people were really accepting of the article – Im a huge vibram/barefoot fan but the article and interview did make total sense. My arches are good and Im building up new muscles in my feet after 30 years, but I can see how it could affect people negatively. Thanks for always bringing the REAL Kev…its always has a good feel to it. Always appreciating the ever-flowing evolution…

    -Anthony at Grow Paradise/Rawmodel

  15. …and if felt that I had bony feet, I would wonder if perhaps I hadnt built up any muscle there for the past 20-50 years ++ and that maybe THAT was the reason I couldnt make the automatic transition to barefoot shoes…Im still trying to move my left pinky toe…its taking time but the progress in the right inspires me…we are more atrophied in the feet than most could ever imagine!

  16. Brenda says:

    such wisdom Kevin. Good stuff

  17. Jane Gudge says:

    of course we are meant to run, we are also designed to walk.. i live among country folk who would walk 20 or 30 plus kilometres every day for their work in the field
    wehave just become sissyfied x

  18. Danny says:

    Thanks for the article.
    As a barefoot runner (with no shoes, huarache sandals, and VFFs when it gets muddy), I agree with your emphasis on listening to the body. From what I have read – lots of people (50 to 70%) get injured while running with shoes.
    On the other hand, books such as “Born to run”, as well as stories of American Indians or Bushmen running amazing distances (ultramarathons) raise the option that we do have this innate ability. But, as you mentioned – this may not be true anymore for those of us who have spent most of their lives in shoes, staring into cubicle walls – which is probably most of us. So I think that while it is good for our health (and lots of fun) to run in general, and barefoot in particular – this should be done very very gradually – walk first for a while, then start with somewhere between 200 meters to 1 km and add no more than 10% per week (this will actually bring you from 1 km to 130 km in 1 year, if you do this every week), and listen very carefully to your body for signs of pain and overuse.
    And most important – have a great time!

  19. Lourdes says:

    I thought your original article was great, and so is this follow-up. I ran for years, and then was not able to run for the past several. I got some Vibrams and started using them just to walk around. I did this for a few months on and off. Then I decided to attempt to run again. Though I was gradual and careful (alternating walking and jogging, running on grass–I barely even got sore!), the fourth time out I hurt my knee, which swelled up. I officially have “runner’s knee” now and it is really messing with me. I can’t run a step. My entire health has taken a nose dive. I got an exercise bike but even that is bothering my knee now. In desperation, I have taken to walking up the stairs several times a day (I live on the 5th floor and take the elevator down). Anyway, I do suspect this has to do with the Vibrams. I simply wasn’t ready for them… and I think that question (“be sure you are ready for them?”) is the main thrust of your article. I doubt I would have had a problem in regular shoes. Now I’m screwed. If anyone has any advice, please share it. I am confident this is fixable, but I’m not sure how.

  20. Your comment of chasing animals until they can no longer run, brought back a memory of a scene in the movie “The Gods Must Be Crazy”. I can’t remember if it were the first or the 2nd movie, but they’re great movies if you haven’t seen them. They’re a little bit old now, but still really funny none the less. You could probably watch them on Youtube.

  21. Bill K. says:

    Dr Phil Maffetone has some good info on running barefoot and with minimalist shoes at his website http://philmaffetone.com/barefoot.cfm

    Bill K.

  22. Dr. Sherri Greene says:

    Hi Kevin….Dr. Sherri Greene here
    I just wanted to chime in here to say your though provoking comments on barefoot walking and running were great.
    I would like to stress that quite often when people come to see me with various foot ailments I share with them “It’s not your feet that are the problem, it’s your shoes!” Most shoe gear are very poorly made and do cause a host of imbalances…
    So to be clear , if it wasn’t in our interview, I am a huge fan of barefoot (or minimally shod) walking and exercising as much as possible with a cautionary note for some people. Listening to your feet and you body is my biggest message to all.
    Keep up the fantastic work you do for everyone that is willing to hear an honest, well researched and humble opinion.

    Be Well

  23. Patti says:

    When I was in college, long ago, I knew some Kenyan long distance runners, and they ran barefoot. When I asked them why, they said that was just how everyone they knew ran in Kenya, and if they wanted to go to another village, they would just run there. I think this supports your idea, that if it is something your foot had always done, barefoot running would be great. Otherwise, you need to get your feet back in shape. I think the other difference is, we are not really meant to run barefoot on concrete. Unfortunately, that is where most of us are relegated to running.

  24. Hello says:

    Hello Kevin.
    Another theory is that humans are better thermal regulators (sweaters) while antelope for example are poorer regulators (furry). We outlast them because we can cool our bodies better. Also, there is a lot of evidence now that our bodies produce lactate, not lactic acid. The acid build up mostly comes from breaking down ATP among other things. At least that’s what my exercise physiology professor said.
    Love your posts.Thanks.

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