We Spend 6 Months in Barefoot Shoes. Are they Worth it!?

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Wearing shoes with absolutely zero support will sound like very unusual behaviour outside fitness circles, but there is a method to this outright lunacy.

If you’re not acquainted with barefoot shoes, allow us to apotheosize and welcome you to what will become your newest obsession.

As a very limited definition, barefoot shoes all have two common features; a wide toe box, thin soles and a ‘zero drop’ heel. It means that the shoes are often as wide at the back as they are in the front, and there is no support under your heel like conventional shoes.

So what is the purpose of these shoes? They are designed to give your toes more room to move, and the lack of heel makes it very uncomfortable to walk ‘normally’ and forces you to slightly bend your knees, shorten your stride and engage your toes more. The claim is that modern shoe styles limit the movement of your feet so swapping to barefoot shoes will give you stronger feet and a more natural walking style which may help to mitigate ankle, knee and back weakness – and food deformation (like bunions).

By far, the most profound effect of swapping to barefoot shoes is a strange willingness to talk to people about the benefits of said shoes and become an ardent barefoot evangelist. If you looking for a community, you’ve found one.

We’ve been going barefoot for 6 months now, and we wanted to share our experience and the benefits we have enjoyed from swapping our conventional shoes for a pair of barefoot’s.

Barefoot shoe

 

The Benefits of Barefoot Shoes

So, in theory, there are lots of benefits to wearing barefoot shoes but many of the articles that you’ll see online will have some kind of financial incentive to promote the shoes. Thankfully, we have no such incentive, other than a passion of physical and mental optimisation.

We (a team of three avid barefoot users) have taken the time to draw out the actual benefits that are claimed online, and add some context to each: we will try to screen out the marketing noise for you and get right down to the facts.

 

Strengthened Foot Muscles & Arch:

Barefoot shoes offer almost no support and the aim is to allow your foot to move naturally; or at least the way that our ancestors did. So, as soon as you slip on a pair of our shoes, you’ll notice that your feet feel like they are getting a full workout, or beat up.

Modern shoes tend to give you much more support and do a lot of the hard work for you; with barefoot shoes, you find that your foot has to work extra hard to make the same movements. You’ll feel the muscles in the top of your foot working, the muscles around the arch. The more you wear the shoes you’ll notice is your foot gets wider, and your feet start to change shape.

All of us have found that the supporting muscles around the arches, and toes give the foot more stability and while running/training there is a big difference in the aches and pains in the foot. There are some claims that wearing barefoot shoes can help to cure plantar fasciitis (an irritation/ damage of the tendon running from your heel to your toes due to the added support from the surrounding strengthened muscles; there is certainly merit to the claim.

If you have shallow arches too, being barefoot can stabilize the arches of your feet. All of us can 100% attest to having significantly stronger, and more stable, feet than before.

 

Increased Stability & Toe Strength:

If you don’t like weird hand-looking feet, then look away now. The longer that you wear barefoot shoes, the more your toes start to naturally separate from each other. You may have seen extreme examples where the foot looks like a hand.

The added strength and widened toes allow each toe to find purchase on the floor and you a spring in your step. You find that you’re more stable, have more stability and more power off your feet. All of us here found that our feet were more stable and our stance was significantly stronger in the gym and on the pitch; particularly while running and doing cleans, the extra toe strength makes a remarkable difference to how powerful your legs feel.

We can attest to the fact that going barefoot gives you strong toes that contribute to better biomechanical movement and foot control which does have an important role in balance and posture.

 

Reduced Risk of Ankle and Knee Injuries:

Knees and ankles are a constant issue for our team; from Rugby to ultra marathon running, the old joints have been battered over the years and they are constantly under strain.

Strangely enough, while we found that runners knee is still an issue with barefoot shoes, we all noticed that our ankles and legs felt significantly more stable, and much less involentary clicking or turned ankles. If Strengthened ankles lead to improved stability and reduced risk of injuries, then that is great in our book. It is maybe too early to speak about knee and hip issues, but the joints are certainly much stronger generally.

 

Back Pain Relief:

This one was a great surprise. Who knew that wearing flat shoes could have such a dramatic impact on back pain!?

Well, the theory behind this is that the modern shoe lifts up your heels very slightly, and therefore, starts to rotate your hips forward in such a way that bum comes up, and your lower back starts to arch inwards. It is this position, standing, walking and running can can start to create weakened muscles and muscle strain around your back and hips, therefore, exposing the joints to more pressure. Wearing barefoot shoes brings your heels down and forces you to stop striking your heel. The discomfort of walking how you would in modern shoes, forces you to lower your walking position slightly, your hips drop back and the impact moves to the balls of your feet.

After miles of walking in barefoot shoes, you do notice that your lower core is much more stable, and strengthened by the new walking position. As I write this, I have struggled with a slipped disk in my lower back for a few years now. It was caused by an injury at the gym, but is agrivated by sitting in a chair for long periods of time. The pain and irritation has mostly disappeared on a regular day, and my back is significantly stronger.

 

 

Drawbacks

While this post may seem like fair-weather-saling for barefoot shoes, in reality there are several drawbacks from Barefoot shoes that you should consider before diving into the deep end.

 

They Take Time to Break in

Let’s be very clear, it is unlikely that you’ll break out your new shoes and love them right away. To begin with, the shoes are really uncomfortable and you will start to hurt in places you never new existed. What we will experience is sore heels, sore hips, sore feet and even a short walk may feel like running a marathon. The first 3 weeks are enough to make you want to send them back – especially if you’ve just spend £200 on a pair.

Just know that this is part of the experience. Your body will be getting stronger, and your posture will naturally start to change, so after a while you feel so much more comfortable and there starts to be much less stress in your body.

 

Why so Expensive!?

It’s a fact, barefoot shoes are stupidly expensive in some cases. It feel strange to go spend more for a shoe that does less. If you are to ask us whether the shoes themselves are worth it: the answer is often no. But what you’re buying is a shoe that has countless benefits for your body.

This is the battle you must have with yourself. There are plenty of different brands to choose from, but sadly not all of them are built equally. We’d highly recommend Vivobarefoot shoes but there are other slightly less pricey options. Make sure to research them.

 

You Can’t Go Back

While getting used to the shoes takes some time, going back the way is so much worse. After a few months of wearing barefoot shoes, the changes to your feet and body make it quite uncomfortable to re-aclimate to a narrow shoe with a heel. You’re likely to feel your feet being squashed and walking is uncomfortable.

Plus, there are so many options for Barefoot shoes that you can’t help but want to collect them all.