The benefits of barefoot or minimalist shoes is that they lead to healthy feet.
Only barefoot minimalist shoes allow you to trust the natural power and flexibility of your feet. With toe-boxes that match your foot shape and soles that mimic your movement, our feet first approach to design is why we started this footwear company. Your feet have everything they need to propel you forward, just as they did when you took your first barefoot steps.
As the co-founder and shoemaker at SOM Footwear, my first experience with minimalist shoes and reconnecting to a stronger sense of motion started from my shoe closet.
How many shoes does a person need?
With so many shoe options on the market, it seems we need, or think we need, a specific outfit for every activity we do, including what we wear on our feet. Until ten years ago, I thought the same. I was convinced I needed a pair of conventional running shoes to run, another pair of traditional hiking shoes to hike, another pair of modern gym shoes to train, and the list went on and on.
My mind soon changed when I began experiencing serious back pain and wanted to know what was causing it. Through research, I learned about the effects unhappy feet "stuck" inside over-built shoes can have over the rest of the body. Squeezed toes and elevated heels unnaturally angle and smother the foot with each step, transferring discomfort throughout the knees, shoulders, neck, and back.
When I checked my closet, the shoes and boots all had a heel, excess cushioning, arch support, and many other gimmicks that were not foot friendly. They were not barefoot shoes.
When tight shoes squeeze and pinch our feet, it can cause many issues such as bunions, hammertoes and, over time, flattened arches. The latter is compensated by high arch support in a lot of shoes, which makes the problem even worse.
After learning more about minimalist barefoot shoes, or zero-drop barefoot shoes, I decided to give them a try. For the first few months, my calves were sore, and I had to stretch a lot, but after time, my feet adapted and became stronger and more responsive. For the first time since my years of playing barefoot as a kid, I was trusting my feet.
Our feet are designed to adapt to almost any terrain and any activity and, when healthy, they naturally provide all the comfort we need. This transition not only fixed my back pain but it also improved my balance and posture. The barefoot shoe community knows our feet are capable of taking much more than we may think and, without the interference of traditional footwear, they will always surprise us. Happy and healthy starts from the ground up!
What is a barefoot minimalist shoe?
A barefoot feel or barefoot inspired shoe matches your foot's shape and keeps your sole flat and even over every step:
- Roomy toe-boxes allow your toes to spread.
- Zero-drop soles improve your balance and stability by having the same thickness from toe to heel for a natural posture.
- Soft, flexible soles for ease of movement. Sole thickness can vary from 2mm to 8mm, depending on brand.
- No arch support so your foot can rest naturally on its heel and its ball, not on its arch.
A 2mm sole is reserved for what I call the “purists” of minimalist footwear. It is as close to barefoot as it can get but requires a longer period of adaptation and has no forgiveness when stepping on a rock or root the wrong way. A thicker sole, up to 8mm, may not sound as minimalist but still offers some good benefits. As long as the outsole and the shoe itself is soft, with no arch support and plenty of room for the toes to spread out, it offers a more relaxed barefoot feel without the worries of stepping the wrong way as it provides a little bit more protection from the ground.
At SOM Footwear, our goal is to help you feel as close as possible to being barefoot without compromising comfort. If you are a person who enjoys working out mostly in a gym or taking a casual walk, a thinner sole will give you a great benefit. However, if you are a mountain trail runner, a thicker sole may be a good option. Again, it is a matter of personal preference!
What are the benefits of barefoot, minimalist shoes?
As I learned from my experience transitioning to minimal footwear, the benefits go far beyond more comfortable toes:
Barefoot shoes improve leg and foot strength.
Barefoot shoes combat pain.
Barefoot shoes allow you to walk and run naturally.
Most of us walked and ran barefoot when we were kids. We didn’t have any problem jumping and running around with no shoes on. We did it naturally! Our feet were strong and healthy.
Then we had to wear shoes to go to school and, later, to work. As we grow up we want to look cool or classy. Unfortunately, not all shoes or boots that make us look cool or classy are good for our feet in the long term, and a lot of people pay the price later on. Narrow, rigid, heeled, and cushioned shoes are far from any natural barefoot walking and running we experienced as kids.
Traditional running shoes emphasize artificial spring with exaggerated soles and over-engineered heels. They prevent your natural stride by conforming your unique foot into their predetermined design, and their added cushion and ergonomic shapes can have the opposite effect on your feet. Conventional running shoes do not trust the power of your barefeet.
To learn more about the health benefits of minimalist shoes like SOM shoes, click here.
What's the difference between a “normal” and a “natural” gait?
In an article written by Dr. William A Rossi, found on Dr. Ray McClanahan’s Correct Toes website, about the effect of “normal” shoes on our feet and body, he expresses how incompatible shoes, or orthotics, can be to our natural gait. He defines how your gait is not as simple as it sounds and involves half of your body muscles and bones, not to count the number of joints and ligaments.
There is a huge distinction between a “normal” and a "natural" gait.
In brief, a natural gait can only be achieved when you are standing on your two feet. The influence of heel, toe spring, shoe flexibility or even the shoe weight are all interfering with your natural gait. This is mind-blowing to think that shoe weight is an influencer of bad posture when we know that the average pair of shoe weighs 16 oz or more. He explains the reason is simply physics: “The farther the load from the center of gravity, the heavier the energy and “lifts'' strain".
Human status is defined by their feet, which took more than 4 million years to develop. Modern shoes are obstructing that highly efficient design and denying its natural graceful movement, head to foot. His conclusion is very simple: in order to regain our natural gait we have to go barefoot as much as possible until the ideal shoe is made available. At SOM Footwear, we know that we are closer to that ideal barefoot shoe to which he is referring, not quite a moccasin, but!
Barefoot, Minimalist Shoes Strengthen Your Feet.
Despite more and more information out there, we are still confused and also wonder if we can trust the information we find! My personal experience brought me to the conclusion that being as close as possible to barefoot would help to solve my back issues. The book: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall was an eye-opener and saved me from surgery. When I couldn’t find shoes that made sense (and please: be made in the USA), my creative mind started to work hard. It was clear to me what my feet needed, and I learned to make shoes in order to respond to my own needs. Today, there is more and more scientific research on that matter confirming that my intuition was on the right track. It is all about trusting your feet!
Science informs the shoe-wearer that transitioning to minimalist footwear is not that simple. Individuals need to take into account the duration of their habits, and factor in the consequent changes to their body. There is a risk for injury if you don’t listen to your body when transitioning to minimalist footwear and that the past years, if not your entire life, have compromised the natural function of your feet and body. There is no secret; you just have to give your body the time it needs to adjust, which will be different from one person to another. Patience is a virtue!
Are minimalist shoes dangerous?
Because of the prevalence of overly-designed shoes in our world, there is a perception that barefoot shoes are somehow a step back. Common concerns include:
- Does a lack of arch support hurt my feet?
- Will my calf muscles get sore and painful?
- As a heel striker, will it hurt my heel?
It also takes time to rebuild the muscle strength needed for the foot to do its work. Like any muscle being stimulated, it can create some soreness which can easily be diminished by stretching exercises.
Read about one person's experience in barefoot inspired footwear after a lifetime of wearing tradition athletic shoes: Standing On Solid Ground.
For people who have a tendency to heel strike (which is fine in well-cushioned shoes), it will be necessary to change their stride from heel striking to a mid-foot strike. This transition does not happen instantly and requires a steady progression. But the result is well worth it! Bringing your foot strike back under your body allows you to use your ankle as a spring rather than as a brake as you soften and cushion each landing. This results in big improvements to stride efficiency (important if you’re a runner, but also important for injury prevention for non-runners, too).
You're ready to make the jump to minimalist footwear
You’re ready to make the jump to a healthy, more natural relationship with your feet. As you get started, here are a few tips to keep in mind to help you adjust quickly and comfortably to this shoe revolution:
- Consider the thickness of the sole, depending on your main activity. Many of our customers who are not walking barefoot, some not even at home, use cushioned inserts such as neoprene flat material in order to get a bit of cushioning while they are transitioning. It helps their feet not to hurt while starting to be familiar with the ground feel.
- Try on a pair. There is no other way to know if minimalist shoes will be comfortable for you. We take the risk for you by offering a 100% risk-free return policy. We know that when you put your SOMs on it will be falling in love at first trial. The room your feet feel is usually your indicator of instant comfort. With a few steps in a lightweight shoe, your entire body remembers what it is to have natural balance. Unconsciously you’ll decide if these shoes are for you. It is that simple. We are not promising to serve all the feet in the world, but if you decide to like these shoes, we’ll be there for you for years to come.
- Adjust gradually. This is an important point, and we like to reiterate that it is important to listen to your body. You’ll need to be aware of the adjustments that are occurring on your body when you transition from a higher cushioned heel shoe to a flat simple shoe. Many podiatrists suggest to take this time very seriously. It is not that simple but it is also common sense. From 30 minutes per day, with increment of 30 minutes every day and returning to your conventional shoes when your feet get tired. You can count the steps too. Our favorite article on the subject is from Dr. Ray: How to transition to Natural Shoes. The most important thing you”ll need to remember is it will take time. Soreness may appear and stretch sessions may be needed. You’ll have to show patience.
For more helpful guidance and reading material on making the switch to barefoot footwear, check out Whole Body Barefoot by biomechanist Katy Bowman. She lays out the issues created by conventional shoes and artificial environments, and describes in detail the steps necessary to transition to more natural footwear safely and effectively.
With over 20 exercises (with photos and step-by-step instructions) this book is a must-have for anyone hoping to restore lost foot function and improve their health…naturally!
You can pick up your copy here.
Trust Your Feet
The original question of this article is: Are barefoot minimalist shoes the answer for you? We shared the reasons why it is about trusting your feet because they (the feet) have everything they need to propel you forward. If you have suffered injuries in the past, you know already how important it is to listen to your feet. The transition will be different for everyone, and that is okay. Remember to reconnect with your natural way of movement which starts with our beautifully designed feet that took millions of years to develop and made us human. In this modern life, we can always go back to nature by switching to barefoot minimalist shoes.
The best minimalist shoes reconnect you to your natural Sense Of Motion and that is why every handmade pair of our barefoot sneakers has the letters SOM stamped on them. Trust your feet in footwear built from the ground up!
Want to know more about barefoot shoes?
- New to Barefoot Shoes?
- Benefits of Barefoot Inspired Minimalist Shoes
- 4 Tips for Strengthening Your Feet