Barefoot Walking

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Ben Coomber Radio #662


I have been thinking about barefoot shoes for quite some time, as I have felt for a while that the soles of modern shoes just don’t feel natural. They all seem to have thick soles with upward turning toes. And I did not like how my toes had no connection with the ground.

In 2020 I needed to visit a podiatrist in Central due to a recurring Achilles problem. After a gait analysis, the podiatrist could find nothing wrong with my movement patterns. So simply suggested I buy a more padded running shoe, with the heel higher than the toe.

Naturally I duly obliged. And for the last two years I have been wearing such shoes everywhere I go, not only for running.

But something inside me told me this wasn’t right. I could not feel any connection to the ground. And I did not like the way my toes lifted at the front. It just all felt so disconnected.

Whenever I took a walk down to the beach, I would always remove my shoes and walk barefoot along the ground. Walking on concrete barefoot, with our soft lifetime protected feet, in itself was quite a challenge. But I always like to persevere through the uncomfortable pain, knowing that this is what human feet are supposed to be able to do.

If you look at a human foot of somebody who has never worn shoes, they look totally different to our modern day over-protected feet. They are wide, with toes that grip, and soles which are hard and leathery. 

So I instinctively knew something wasn’t right, but had not yet made the switch to a barefoot brand I liked. Mainly because I hadn’t found one which looked like a shoe.

There is a barefoot shoe brand with the toes separated. And another brand with a more traditional style look. But without peer reviews, or anybody I trusted to make such recommendations, I continued to be wary of making the switch.

Then back in April this year, Ben Coomber had Ben Le Vesconte, one of the founders of Vivobarefoot on his podcast. So that was the moment to make the switch. If Ben Coomber says this brand is awesome, that’s good enough for me.

Then of course came the struggle of finding Vivobarefoot in Hong Kong. This is where Escapade Sports came in. If you do not know Escapade Sports, take a look at their online website or go visit them. They have different brands of almost every sporting equipment compared to the large shops such as Giga Sports. And their customer service is fantastic.

Choosing a Vivobarefoot Shoe

First there is the size. The Escapade guys told me that all customers who have bought Vivobarefoot have always gone bigger than they think. Because there is a need to splay the toes.

This is something I can confirm. I tend to be around the EU41-42 shoe size. But for Vivobarefoot, I am at least a 42. And quite honestly, for my Oxford pair, I would probably consider moving up to 43 with my next purchase. It would be useful if they did half sizes, but it seems not.

The Gym Shoe

I first went with the Geo Racer Knit for gym use. I absolutely love this shoe. After 2 months of wearing it at the gym, I am certainly going to buy another pair to wear outside.

One of my problems at the gym was I always took off my chunky modern shoes to train barefoot with socks. But this leads to slippage problems, especially when sled pulling / pushing. Arguably it makes the exercise more challenging and adds a different aspect to the move. But it wasn’t really ideal.

The Geo Racer Knit fixed this for me immediately. And I no longer need to remove my shoes at the gym and walk around carrying them!

The Beach Shoe

As I regularly walk in flip flops to the beach, or remove my shoes for walking to the beach. The next logical step was to find a shoe to replace this and give me an alternative to walking barefoot on concrete. Without people looking at me thinking I’m either mad, or poor and can’t afford a pair of shoes.

So I bought the Mens Ultra III, which once again has become an immediate favourite and my new beach shoe.

The Everyday Pair

This is probably the most important pair, and was the deciding factor for choosing Vivobarefoot as my brand.

The other barefoot brands only cater to sports wear. But I needed an all black shoe for my everyday office wear. And this is where the RA 111 Mens came into play. A classic all black Oxford type of shoe which I can wear at the office or anywhere.

Again I absolutely love this shoe, and am so happy I’ve found a barefoot shoe I can wear every day. It makes me a few centimetres shorter. But that’s ok. It’s a natural feel and allows me to feel barefoot at the office or anywhere I go.

If there is one thing I might consider changing, it would be one size up for the RA 111. For some reason this feels a little smaller than the other two shoes. But still very much wearable and workable.

Results After Two Months

Switching to barefoot shoes definitely takes some time to adjust. You can’t just stomp around like you do in padded heeled shoes. Awareness of your walk comes into play. Feeling your heel touch the ground rather than stomping along is important.

This means much more control is required, which activates muscles you have not used previously for walking. I feel more activation in my hamstrings as I need to control the heel placement.

I like to try to think about it like flowing water. The heel strikes softly, and the foot flows through its natural curved movement until you release with the toes. I also try to be aware of cadence to ensure a natural rhythm on both sides.

There is information on the Vivobarefoot website about how to use their shoes properly. And how to adjust to barefoot walking / running compared to modern day shoes.

Conclusion

My instinct about footwear was correct. Modern day padded shoes are just not good for your feet or body as a whole. You need to feel the connection to the ground and be in control of your walk.

I would however issue a caution. Maybe do not change all of your shoes at the same time. I did this, which has led to a flare up of my old Achilles problem. To be fair to Vivobarefoot, they do say to transition slowly. But I’ve always been an all-or-nothing type of guy, so I went all-in. I’m now back in my old padded shoes for every day use until I get my Achilles under control.

I hope to talk to Ben Le Vesconte about my experience and ask for his advice if we can get our schedules to match. I think it’s fantastic a man as busy as this, is willing to take time out of his day to have a chat with a customer like me. It just goes to show how deep they care about what they are doing, and how they want to help others achieve similar goals

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