“How do I walk barefoot?”

As folks transition to “toe shoes” or other minimalist footwear, a common question arises: how do I walk barefoot?

I received the following question in the mailbag yesterday:

Hi, my name is Ben and I’m a recent convert to Vibrams (black KSO’s). I’m building up foot strength as well as calluses so I can run the NYC half marathon in them in August. I am also learning Pose running, which is very similar to running barefoot, as you land on your sole/midfoot.

I was wondering if you could run a poll or something asking how VFF wearer’s walk in them. I notice that when walking in the VFF’s, my heel strikes first, and since there is no real cushioning, it tends to hurt a little bit after a long walk, especially when walking around fast. Do people walk with their soles striking first? I’ve tried walking more softly, but when moving fast but not yet running, the heel strike feels noticeable.

Thanks and keep up the really cool site!



Thanks for writing in and you’ll have to keep us updated on your half-marathon training a la POSE. I’d like to learn some POSE basics at some point!

As for your request for a poll, you got it. In fact, here are the results I’ve found from polling readers:

How do you walk in your Vibram FiveFingers?
Started: 01/19/10
Total Votes: 61

  • I strike midfoot first and then touch with my heel.: 54% (33)
  • I heel-strike (hit the ground heel-first).: 26% (16)
  • My foot hits the ground pretty flat so it’s hard to tell.: 20% (12)

According to this poll, most people are midfoot (or forefoot) striking but many can’t tell and a few others heel-strike. Of course, I wonder if “strike” may be the wrong word for it entirely. Seems the key in walking without padding underfoot is to walk gently and lightly. If you’re feeling a reverberating wave of force travel up your leg when you walk, you’re probably walking too hard and you need to shorten your gait or learn to land more softly.

Anecdotal Barefoot or Almost-Barefoot Walking Experiences

I recall that in recanting his initial experiences with FiveFingers Julien described walking as feeling as though he was on a catwalk.

From personal experience experimenting with different walking methods in FiveFingers, one method I tend to use the most is taking short steps and landing midfoot, and when you do this, you do feel a bit like a cat, gliding across the ground quickly and effortlessly. When I switched to wearing Vibram FiveFingers almost all of the time every day, I noticed I had to relearn to walk — particularly as at the time, I was doing a lot of home goods shopping (meaning I was at places like Target and Ikea which have concrete floors). My regular walking style was leaving my feet hurting. I needed to walk more softly.

Richard Nikoley of FreeTheAnimal.com (his birthdayday shoes interview) regularly walks three miles a day and has been for years. Seems he had to relearn to walk so as to avoid pain/injuring in his feet. How does he walk? In his own words:

Armed with the knowledge I’d taken in, I was able to notice that my stride is actually quite short. It’s barely perceptible, but my heel only contacts the ground the briefest micro-second before I roll forward on the outside of the foot and spring off my fully bent (and splayed) toes, ending up with my calf muscle fully contracted. Where I used to wear out my shoes on the outside heel and inside toe, I now wear through them right square in the center of the ball of my foot. I should know: I go through a pair of expensive Nike every six months. To me, that indicates that the stress is not on the pounding of the heel, but in the compression and springing off, right from the ball and continuing outward, radially through spread toes — as it should be. My shoes now have virtually no heel or toe wear when I toss them out.

Richard also refers to the picture in NYMag’s article titled You Walk Wrong — short stride, very low-angled, knees-bent, and soft heel-strike to a roll and push off with your toes.

On Fox Walking (Or if you can sneak up on wildlife in the woods, you’re probably walking right.)

It might be of interest to look into the art of “Fox Walking” (see the image above). Tell me this doesn’t sound “right” when it comes to walking barefoot:

In fox walking, the energetic contact with the earth as the energy flows through the legs, into the feet, and into the earth gives one a feeling of being “grounded” or having your feet on the ground or “having a clear head.” Literally in fox walking as the energy moves downward, the earth draws the energy out of the body. This same energy going in reverse can go into excessive thinking, anxiety, or as Freud would say “neurosis.” (Being out of the movement) It is interesting that it seems the further out of the movement we are the more neurotic and less happy we are. This opens up the possibility of using fox walking, and for that matter Toms entire course, with people that are having emotional problems. (It certainly has worked to change peoples lives.) Another possibility is to see if people doing fox walking go into alpha or other states of consciousness by using portable monitors. Subjectively, I personally feel a much deeper state of consciousness when I fox walk.

What is fox walking? Writer By Nature explains it thusly:

It’s placing your foot on the ground BEFORE you put your weight on it, so that your center of gravity is in your hips. It forces you to take shorter strides. In slow-motion you would:

  1. Touch the outside edge of your foot to the ground.
  2. Roll your foot inward until it is flat on the ground.
  3. Before adding your weight, is there a sharp stone, a rounded branch or any other object that would make a noise or irritate your foot?
  4. If so, reposition your foot.
  5. Transfer your weight to your foot.
  6. Repeat with your other foot.

Sounds about right to me.

So how do you walk naturally (barefoot)?

I don’t think there’s a firm answer to this question. The vague but conceptually accurate answer is similar to the one for “how to run naturally: walk to minimize impact, which should in turn maximize efficiency and reduce likelihood of injury (from a sharp stone or joint pain). And like learning to run, doing a bit of actually-barefoot walking (not on grass but on surfaces like concrete or asphalt) is quite the teacher.

Any other ideas on how to walk barefoot? Comment below and share with the rest of us!