Are Barefoot Shoes Worth the Hype?
For the past few decades, barefoot shoes have taken the world by storm mainly due to their incredible health benefits. Human feet are naturally strong and mobile, but wearing traditional shoes with excessive cushioning is like putting a cast around the feet, preventing them from building strength and weakening the muscles over time. The philosophy behind barefoot, zero-drop shoes, is that allowing the feet to function in their natural state makes them stronger and more flexible.
Barefoot shoes have a zero drop from heel to toe to accentuate the natural feeling of walking or running barefoot. Allowing the feet to be in their natural position throughout various exercises actually improves posture, overall alignment of the body, stability, and balance, and builds overall strength. Barefoot shoe enthusiasts, and especially runners, have reported an improvement in reducing knee pain, back pain, and plantar fasciitis.
All of the features of barefoot shoes provide a truly “au natural” experience; a natural fit, natural feel, and natural motion.
What To Look For In a Barefoot Shoe
- Lower heel-to-toe drop
- Lower stack height (height from ground to bottom of foot)
- Wide toe box
- Less cushion and arch support
Benefits of Barefoot Shoes
- A shoe that is leveled from heel to toe allows the feet to function in their natural form and positioning, building strength to support the rest of the body over time.
- The building blocks of our body begin at the feet. By strengthening the muscle in the feet, the body’s posture and alignment begin to balance better, creating more stability for all types of activities.
- Improving strength in the feet also leads to reduced joint pain, knee pain, back pain, and plantar fasciitis.
- The wide toe box feature of barefoot shoes allows the toes to naturally splay, meaning they can spread out and actually activate the muscles in the toes, building more stability and balance over time.
- Zero-drop shoes are lightweight and flexible, which enables the feet to move naturally without carrying any weight, reducing tension that can cause joint pain and aches.
Transitioning to Barefoot Shoes
If you’re interested in transitioning to barefoot shoes, it’s important to do it gradually as your feet may experience some soreness and pain due to the adjustment. Like any new activity on a muscle, your feet may need time to adjust to a more minimalist shoe that has less cushioning and arch support compared to traditional shoes. Here are some tips for making this transition more smooth:
- As a beginner, the most important part is choosing the right minimalist shoe for you, so make sure your first barefoot shoe is for beginners. This means that there is slightly more cushion and support than in a true barefoot shoe.
- Start by wearing your minimalist shoes for a short period of time each day. Then, gradually increase the time you wear them each day by 10% over several weeks. This will minimize the aches that you will experience.
- Focus on your posture and foot positioning while wearing the shoes. Bring awareness to the muscles and tendons that support your feet and notice how your feet hit the ground. Being aware of these movements and how your feet respond is crucial in identifying issues that might arise.
- Incorporate foot-strengthening exercises to help your feet adjust. Using heat, physical therapy modalities, and warming or cooling gels will also help with rehabilitation as your feet go through a new process. You can also spend more time walking around barefoot around the house to get your feet adjusted.
- Use toe spacers! This is optional, but it can enable proper bodyweight distribution throughout your foot and build those muscles and tendons in your feet over time as they adjust to the new sole.
Beginner Barefoot Shoes To Try
Known for their innovative, minimalist designs that are perfect for everyday wear, Lems is a great option for those who want to transition to barefoot shoes. In addition to the wider toe box and zero-drop heel, most Lems shoes give you more cushion as you learn to change your strike pattern. The best part is the versatility of Lems shoes; you can wear them for exercise, outdoor activities like hiking and trekking, going to work and running errands, or just casual daily wear.
Here are the best Lems Shoes for beginners:
With a stack height of 11mm and a removable 3mm insole, this shoe is perfect for those who are transitioning to barefoot shoes. The higher stack height provides a little more cushion, especially if you’re on your feet all day. Because it’s so comfortable and lightweight, It’s a great option for casual daily wear, light workouts, or hiking.
Like the Primal Zen, this model is a great introductory shoe for those who want to switch to barefoot shoes due to its thicker sole and higher stack height. These features give a slightly more comfortable and padded fit and feel while also providing some level of minimalism when wearing them. They’re great for slowly acclimating to a more barefoot style shoe.
These versatile boots are truly perfect for any occasion! With a cushy 9.0mm LemsRubber™ (air-injection rubber) outsole and a 3.0mm PU insole footbed to soften the impact of any terrain, these boots are a perfect option for casual everyday wear, walking your dog, and outdoor activities like hiking. The best part is that they’re super stylish and can be dressed up or down.
Xero Shoes have created some of the best performance, minimalist shoes on the market today. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have options for newbies! What’s great about Xero Shoes is that they have a variety of shoes and sandals for extreme athletes and those who are looking for their first pair of beginner, barefoot shoes. Embodying all the features of a true barefoot shoe — wider toe box, lower stack height, zero-drop heel, flexible, and lightweight — Xero Shoes also has some great options for beginners.
Here are the best Xero Shoes for beginners:
The Xero Shoes PrioXero Shoes Prio
This shoe is perfect for walking and daily wear, making it a great beginner-friendly barefoot shoe that provides comfort, flexibility, and durability. With a 5.5mm FeelTrue rubber outsole and 2mm insole, this shoe provides a bit of arch support without diminishing the natural, ground feel, and will help beginners ease into this new transition.
Featuring a 6mm FeelTrue sole and a 3mm thick removable insole, this shoe has a slightly thicker cushion than other Xero Shoes, which is a great option for beginners who are acclimating slowly to barefoot shoes. While you can definitely wear this shoe to work out, go for a light run, play tennis, or go for walks, this model is also great for casual wear, especially due to its “classic” tennis shoe look.
Like the Prio, the HFS has a 5.5mm stack height and a 2mm removable insole. This means that while these shoes are still great as transition shoes, beginners will need some time to acclimate to the feel. The best part of these shoes is that they’re extremely comfortable and versatile, so they’re great for tackling everyday tasks.
Overall, wearing barefoot, minimalist shoes can offer a multitude of benefits including improved foot health, increased balance and stability, and strengthening of the muscles to improve natural mobility and function. All of this contributes to the overall health of your body. As a beginner, it’s important to stick to a transitioning plan that gradually eases you into this new way of moving and understand that once you make this transition, it’s not just about your feet but an overall lifestyle change. This process should be fun and exciting, so remember to be patient, listen to your body, and make adjustments as needed!