Barefoot shoes have a reputation for being “weird.” I remember the first time I saw a pair of Vibram 5-Fingers. They were so bizarre looking that I couldn’t hear the benefits of them. Even when my best friend told me she ran in minimalist sandals my eyes glazed over, it was in one ear and out the other. The whole idea of flimsy, unsupportive shoes as GOOD for your feet flew in the face of everything I had been taught. It was just too different.
But the way we’ve been dealing with foot pain isn’t working. Stiff supportive shoes and corrective surgeries are not giving people the relief they need. So maybe different is exactly what we need.
In this post we’re going to break down the idea of barefoot shoes to show that 1. they’re actually not weird, 2. they’re a viable solution to common foot ailments, and 3. there are things you can do today to have healthier feet.
Table of Contents
- Why Don’t I Wear Normal Shoes?
- What Is a Barefoot Shoe?
- Why Should I Wear Them?
- But What About Foot Support?
- How Do I Get Started?
- Glossary of Terms
Why Don’t I Wear Normal Shoes?
You see, I’ve run the whole gamut of supportive shoes and orthotics. A nasty case of tendinitis at the age of 9 landed me in my first pair of orthotics and after that it was supportive shoes year round. I noticed I had discomfort if I ever strayed too far, so I didn’t question it.
When I saw my podiatrist as an adult after months of intense foot pain, she reaffirmed this to me and put me in even stiffer, MORE supportive shoes. In some ways I’m grateful to her and my injury, because when this advice turned out to be TERRIBLE for me I was finally ready to accept new knowledge into my life.
*Want to hear more about this saga? Read my full barefoot journey here.*
Fortunately, my sweet friend reminded me about minimalist shoes and sent me a copy of Whole Body Barefoot by Katy Bowman. The rest is history. Today I wear absolutely nothing but minimalist or no shoes and my entire body is stronger, more stable, and functioning better than it ever has in my life.
In fact this experience was so life-changing that I now spend my time breaking down barriers to healthy footwear. My blog and social media channels are all about showing you how awesome minimalist footwear can be and making it easy for you to find what you love. One choice (your shoes) can impact your life in countless ways.
So what do you think? Are you ready to think about feet and shoes in a new way?
What Is A Barefoot Shoe?
“Barefoot” shoes are so-called because they let your feet move as if barefoot. Most shoes inhibit our foot function, to our detriment. So in order to keep our feet strong and mobile our shoes must have the following characteristics:
Why Should I Wear Them?
Most people will benefit from wearing barefoot or minimalist shoes*. And this is why.
1. It’s Natural
Feet have carried humans through life without additional support for thousands of years. The need for constant foot support in the form of orthotics and stiff shoes is a modern plague, and one that largely affects the developed world. But we know (‘cuz science) that feet aren’t fundamentally flawed. Rather our modern lifestyles are. Excessive sitting combined with restrictive shoes from an early age put a real damper on our ability to move freely. So if you think of “foot pain” as a symptom of a larger problem, then an orthotic starts to sound more like a Tylenol than an actual solution. Yes it’s easy and quick, but it does nothing to fix the reason for your pain. Free feet are natural feet, so let’s figure out a way to REGAIN that function, rather than mask our problems.
2. Feet Are The Foundation
Foot function has a HUGE impact on our bodies. There is a kinetic chain running from our big toes, through our arch, up our legs and into the hips and spine that affects everything we do as humans. If your feet can’t move well enough to engage the rest of the chain, you get a whole host of issues you probably didn’t realize were connected to your feet. Like knee pain, back pain, etc. Sometimes you get the reverse too: An issue with your pelvis could be the reason for your throbbing big toe. If you are here because you have foot pain, you’ve probably become acutely aware of how much it can impact your life. Feet are a seriously underestimated part of our bodies, and turning our attention to them will come back in dividends throughout our lives.
3. They’re Cool
Ok, some barefoot shoes look weird. But thanks to a change in the tides, there are so many that look great! I have watched the market increase rapidly over the last few years, and today there is a shoe for everyone and every occasion. We’re talking weddings, work, date night, even the military, for men, women, kids, and tweens. You DON’T have to stick out like a sore thumb to have happy feet. In fact, I am adamant about NOT looking weird in my shoes. If you stick around you’ll see that you don’t have to compromise on your style to wear healthy shoes.
4. Small Change, Big Results
The simple act of choosing better footwear is one choice, but it impacts your body over and over. For me, barefoot shoes are a one way street: once I experienced the freedom there was no going back. Being out of pain has made me a happier, better person and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. But especially now that there are so many barefoot shoe options to choose from, there is no need to accept foot pain as just a fact of life. You don’t even have to be an obsessive foot nerd (like I am) to enjoy better quality of life from your stronger feet. The small change of better shoes is a gift to yourself that keeps on giving.
But What About Foot Support?
Because I grew up with foot issues I have heard this refrain over and over. What about the support? Don’t our feet NEED to be supported? We’ve all heard it. And the truth is, some feet do need to be supported*. But currently we are binding and restricting perfectly healthy feet without even considering why they are hurting in the first place. Unnecessary support leads to weakened tissues, because who needs muscles when you can just rely on your shoe! Carefully and mindfully learning to use your feet the way they were born to often eliminates the need for support. Take myself for example. Reliant on orthotics for 2 decades, I now go completely without support 100% of the time. It took me a couple years to build up the strength to get there, but flat feet are in my past. So it’s time to put away the notion that all feet need to be supported. There are things we all can do to have stronger, healthier feet, and it doesn’t take odd-looking shoes to get there.
Now you know all the hype about barefoot shoes, watcha gonna do about it??
How Do I Get Started?
1. Wake Up Your Feet
Before grabbing yourself some barefoot shoes, here are some simple exercises to help regain foot function. Changing your footwear changes a lot of things about your body, so it’s a really good idea to pair it with restorative exercises.
2. Pick Out Your First Pair of Shoes
My general philosophy is to err on the side of caution and transition slowly. Beginning with exercises and being barefoot as much as possible is an excellent way to start, but if you want to take it to the next level you’ll need new shoes. Here are some recommendations to get you started. If you’re looking for shoes in a specific category, like work, be sure to check out my other shoe lists and subscribe to see all my new reviews. And if you want a taste but are nervous to invest, read my Affordable Barefoot Shoes post for options as cheap as a few dollars.
3. Dig Deeper
Meaningful change takes time, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach here. If you’re committed to feeling better in your body then consider this the first step of a lifelong journey. It’s worth it. Go slow. Be patient. And love your feet!
Want more? Here are some additional resources to sink your teeth into, then follow me on Instagram and subscribe below to stay in the loop!
Glossary of Terms
Here are some terms you’re likely to hear in the world of barefoot shoes!
|Minimalist Shoes||In general minimalist shoes = barefoot shoes.|
|Zero Drop||Uniform thickness throughout the entire shoes. Heel-to-toe drop refers to the difference in thickness between the heel and the toe of the shoe. So zero drop means there is no difference.|
|Toe Spring||When the sole of a shoe curves upward at the toes. This is a common feature of conventional shoes but puts excess pressure on the tissues underneath your feet.|
|Toe Box||The part of the shoe that goes around the toes. The shape of the toe box is an important feature in a shoe.|
|Heel Rise||Another way to describe the drop of a shoe, or the difference between the thickness of the sole at the heel and the toe. No heel rise is the same as zero drop.|
|Foot Volume||How much space your foot takes up. See this post for a more detailed explanation.|
*This is not a substitute for medical advice. If you have persistent pain, chronic health issues, or a diagnosed musculoskeletal disorder please consult a professional. This information can still have an impact on how you approach footwear, but you may need to modify your approach to make it safe and effective for you.