0281 – The Benefits of Going Barefoot

I have spent a lot of time wearing boots. For me, boots are a pretty practical footwear choice, but , like anything else they have their good and bad points. The big positive with boots is that my feet and ankles are protected in just about any situation. Foul weather, rough terrain, wet, cold conditions. Boots can handle all that in stride. One of the things that happens when something is overly protected though is that it gets soft. Literally. After fall, winter and spring stuck in boots, my feet can’t handle rough surfaces without pain. Even worse than that, all the support that boots give my feet makes my feet physically weak. The muscles atrophy and are no longer able to support without the boot. Bad news. Well, I have moved away from boots these days unless they are necessary. Now, when ever possible, I go barefoot.


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Why I Made a Foot Gear Change

The story dates back to 2005.  I had been neglecting my physical fitness for quite some time, but justified my poor physical condition with the traditional excuses.  I was a pretty strong guy, I could walk miles with a heavy pack, I could do hard work, I could hit hard, but I was pretty soft.  When I moved to my new place in Cleveland, I had a lot of labor to do and I injured my back pretty severely due to my poor fitness.  I had let my core strength deteriorate to the point where my muscles couldn’t support my spine and I paid for it dearly.  For about 12 months, the pain was unbelievable and even when I was “back to normal 8 months after the injury, my back hurt daily.  Fast forward to New Years Eve 2006.  I had a pretty good buzz going and for some reason I decided to do 10,ooo push ups in 2007.  My brother and I made up a spread sheet on Google docs and started hammering out the push ups.  Pretty soon, I was doing 100’s of quality push-ups every day and my back was improving bit by bit.  It wasn’t more than a month before my back felt better than it had in YEARS.

By accident, I had fixed the real source of my back problems:  My weak core.  Yes the push-ups made my arms, shoulders, back and chest stronger, but more importantly all that time I spent in a dynamic plank position strengthened all the little muscles along my spine.  This new found core strength eliminated my lower back pain from the two discs I had herniated 2 years before.  The pain has stayed away and for that I am very thankful.

My back pain is not the only pain I have dealt with in life.  My knees are in pretty rough shape as well.  I have had multiple surgeries to try and square things away, but I have never had much luck until about 9 months ago.  My brother started running in a pair of five finger shoes and was reporting that his feet and ankles were getting much stronger as a result.  I listened to him ans several other folks that I know talk about running and walking in the five fingers and started to think about the success I had with my push-ups and my back.

Merrell Introduces Barefoot Shoes

As I put together the concept of how I fixed my back and how I might make my knees feel better Merrell introduced their Barefoot shoes.  I have to say I’m pretty happy about that or else I’d still be wearing regular running shoes.  Five fingers were not for me.

Sonic Glove  Not a bad choice if you want a dedicated running shoe but I was looking for something to wear every day.

Trail Glove – These shoes were the best choice I could find when I was ready to make my purchase.  They are a touch more rugged than the Sonic Gloves and have a slightly more aggressive tread.  they work well for me 75% of the time.  They are not perfect though!   The upper is super thin porous and breathable all good if you are going for a run, but with any kind of inclement weather, my feet are soaked.  Not so good if you are wearing these shoes as everyday foot wear.  Who wants to sit around the office with wet feet?  Its important to understand that you don’t have to push these shoes at all to get your feet wet.  Walk across a wet parking lot and your feet are going to be wet.  A couple of drips off my trucks running board while I am getting the kids in and out of their seat and I’m soaked.  this might be a good situation if you are running trails and need to cross rivers or streams or even just muddy puddles as this will help to drain the shoes and keep your feet dryer in the long run.  For every day use, PITA.

Embark Trail GTX

This is the shoe that I would have bought if it would have been around when I bought my shoes.  I havent tried a pair out, but the goretex would do a great job of keeping my feet dry walking from the truck to the house on a rainy day.  I will probably get a pair of GTX Barefoots in the near future.

Tough Glove

These shoes in brown might also be a good choice for casual wear which is when I get the most use out of my barefoot shoes.

+’s and -‘s

Whenever we look at a product from a safety and security standpoint there are always positives and negatives today we are going to take a careful look at both sides of the barefoot shoes and what they mean.

Let’s Start with the Bad

  • Less Protection from:
    • Heat
    • Cold
    • Wet
    • Sharp objects
    • Crushing blows
  • Less effective when it comes to kicking

How about the Good?

  • These shoes are going to keep me in shape for longer in my life
    • injury prevention
    • physical fitness
    • crime avoidance
  • I can run in these shoes
    •  and now in just about any shoes
    • I can run faster
    • I can run longer
    • A pound on your foot is worth three on your back
There are definitely some negatives to these shoes, but they are not much more severe than a regular pair of sneakers which is a common piece of foot wear for me and lots of other folks.  I work to mitigate the consequences by carrying a pair of boots in my truck at all times and now I carry a pari of boots and my sneakers as well.

Here is the Point

My feet, ankles and knees are stronger, more stable and more pain free than they have been in 20 years.  This is primarily a result of wearing barefoot shoes when I am cruising around causal, working out, or running.  The little muscles that are responsible for holding my joints together are being put back to work ever since I shed the super supportive boots and I am convinced that this is the reason my joints are in such good shape.  Instead of buying that next pair of 8″ duty boots to support your foot, ankle and leg, try out the Barefoot shoes from Merrell.


1 reply
  1. Ron
    Ron says:

    A photo JJ Ricazza posted on twitter shamed me into going for a run. Asi got ready I remembered this podcast and wore my sauconys that aw similar to your shoes. I did an easy 5k with less fatigue, no joint pain but I can feel the burn in my calves and I have a huge blister.

    Seems my feet and support muscles may have gotten weak.

    Thanks for making me consider this and check out the “tarahumara”


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