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.
- To gain fitness and stamina
- To lose weight
- To have fun doing it
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
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
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
I found the following articles and resources to be most useful in
explaining the bio-mechanics behind barefoot walking:
You Walk Wrong!
Some Abstracts and Studies About Moving Barefoot
Prioperception: Making Sense of Barefoot
Finally, Society for Barefoot Living
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