Protected/Barefoot ... the Science

I am not a scientific man.

I took up walking as a means of getting in control of my increasing weight and declining fitness and set out with three goals:
Very rapidly I found myself naturally inclined towards low/zero differential footwear and then towards minimalist footwear - huaraches and Vibram Five Fingers, this last category I call protected barefoot.

I do not have the engineering or bio-mechanical credentials myself to show how minimalist, protected barefoot and barefoot walking is good, but I do know it feels good ... I am not tired after a good walk, recovery is very rapid, I am not in any kind of pain ... in fact, quite the contrary; minimalist, protected barefoot and barefoot walking removes the pain I get from wearing shoes through the day. It liberates the foot and allows it to function as it should.

Let's take a moment to consider a quotation from a man who was both an artist and a visionary engineer:
"The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art." Leonardo da Vinci
Walking and running are two entirely different bio-mechanical exercises - you will find a lot of articles about barefoot running, but little written about walking. Running can have both feet off the ground at the same time whereas walking has one foot on the ground at all times. Technique is therefore entirely different and while barefoot adherents will advocate mid-sole landing, they are speaking about the running cycle.

When walking, the heel might well meet the ground first, but let's take a moment to understand that phrase - "meet the ground". The heel should not "strike" the ground, as it might if you were running in cushioned trainers and a long stride, but be touched to the ground and then as your body moves over the foot, the action will roll around the outside of the foot, onto the ball and finally gently push off from the larger toes. By this point, the next foot is in place and ready to do the same ... and this is only possible when the stride is shorter; just as it would be when running and landing on the mid-sole. The landing force should be gentle, movement should be soft and the pace almost silent.

Focussing on quieter walking will help a lot, as will focussing on the rolling action of the foot. If there is too much pressure on the larger toes at the end of the action, the next foot is not in place ... shorten the stride. If the pace is noisy ... slow down, shorten the stride and focus on relaxing the leg and placing the foot naturally and without much force. The action is not at all dissimilar to how you walk in shoes or trainers - just shorter, softer and completing the whole action.

I found the following articles and resources to be most useful in explaining the bio-mechanics behind barefoot walking:

You Walk Wrong!
http://nymag.com/health/features/46213/index4.html

Some Abstracts and Studies About Moving Barefoot
http://www.feelmax.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=243&Itemid=138

Prioperception: Making Sense of Barefoot
http://trainingclinic.vivobarefoot.com/step-by-step
http://trainingclinic.vivobarefoot.com/Proprioception-MakingSenseofBarefootRunning.pdf

Finally, Society for Barefoot Living
http://barefooters.org

There is a joy in being barefoot - to feel the landscape you are a part of rather than just walking over it, the comfort of good posture and the sparking in the brain as you stimulate your senses.

Okay ... barefoot is not for everybody. I guess I am lucky in that I have never been particularly inclined towards sports and so have avoided sports footwear, wearing mostly low/zero differential fashion trainers and low heeled shoes with thin soles. Moreover, I am barefoot when at home and in the garden and spend maybe half of my waking hours barefoot.

Let's finish with another quotation from our visionary engineer; an enticement to have a go:
"I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do." Leonardo da Vinci