In an attempt to get more traffic on my website (and hopefully make money from not selling “Barefoot Running Shoes” (PLEASE! DO feel free to purchase stuff through the links in the right column – even if you use those links to purchase “Barefoot Shoes’ – oh the irony! Besides I may as well get a bit of a profit from your “Barefoot Shoes”, because after you run too far, too soon, with dangerous running technique, which your bare soles would have told you not to do, in your new “Barefoot Running Shoes” chances are, you’ll end up back on this website looking for reasons why you’re suffering from stress fractures in your feet! After all, isn’t Barefoot Running supposed to be safer? … Please do NOT blame barefoot running for whatever it is you were doing in your new footwear!), I am continuing the discussion about the term “Barefoot Shoes” here. Also I would like to find out where people are coming from. I mean I believe I have a pretty good sense of who is interested in barefoot running, or at least those who post about it, and why. After all, I’ve been maintaining the Running Barefoot website since 1997!
I will also answer, I think pretty definitively, the all important question, “If we are designed to walk and run barefoot, why on earth are the soles of our feet so sensitive?”
Jason Robbillard posted on his blog (Barefoot Running University) that because the term “Barefoot Shoes” is being used by shoe companies and those marketing shoes, that we should embrace the term “Barefoot Shoes” in our discussions, rather than wasting time correcting people who use the term “Barefoot Shoes” when they actually mean “Minimalist Footwear”.
My argument with that, is that the term “Barefoot Shoes” itself is deceptive. Just by accepting the term “Barefoot Shoes” as a standard practice, we accept the deception, and no matter how much we talk about how true running barefoot will help people learn to run more safely, the term “Barefoot Shoes” is enough to convince many people that they will get the same benefit as running barefoot. (both Jason and I do agree that you do not get the same benefit in “Barefoot Shoes” as actually running barefoot).
For those of you who came here looking for advice on which “Barefoot Shoes” to buy, let me clarify WHY barefoot running helps people prevent injuries. I know you’re going to tell me that the research does not prove that yet. That’s mostly because there hasn’t been much research yet (other than millions of years of testing by our ancestors actually running barefoot on all sorts of terrains). But, despite tons of research on modern running shoes, there still isn’t a shread of evidence that wearing shoes prevents running injuries either!
Okay, so here’s why I believe barefoot running (NOT “Barefoot Running Shoes”) will help almost anyone learn how to run safely, EVEN IF YOU ALREADY HAVE INJURIES…
Okay, first let me clarify, while the principles and techniques learned while running barefoot may help you in sprinting, I’m talking about the type of running that you should be doing most of the time, for fitness, and for health, which is distance running. For aerobic fitness, we want to get our heart rate up (but NOT way up), to a level that we can maintain for a substantial period of time (like half an hour or more), and then we should maintain that level for half an hour or more.
While running seems to be the most effective ways to do this, most runners (in shoes) are injured every year! And many more people don’t consider themselves runners because they hurt whenever they try to run any distance, or they’re simply bored with running (in shoes).
I believe that running barefoot solves all of the above problems for most people, most of the time!
And here’s why; ALL of the forces, that cause injuries (other than traumatic injuries, like running into trees, or cars, etc.) in distance runners, pass through the soles of our feet (or shoes). So obviously we want to reduce or eliminate these forces, and it’s logical that would reduce or eliminate most distance running injuries. In order to best figure out how to reduce these forces then, we first need to be able to detect them, in an immediate and emphatic way. Which is precisely why our soles are so very sensitive!
Anything between our bare soles, and the earth we stand, walk, and run upon, mutes the message from our bare soles. And that message is, “If it’s uncomfortable, or painful, to stand, walk, or run barefoot on the earth, then we should consider changing the way we stand, walk, or run”
After all, it’s those same forces that cause repetitive stress type injuries to runners in the literal “long-run”, which cause discomfort in our soles.
And certainly running barefoot across all sorts of stimulating terrain won’t be boring!
So, it’s really quite simple, at least to barefoot toddlers it is simple, all we need to do is play, experiment, and listen to our bare soles, and when we have figured out how to stand, walk, and run more comfortably on our bare soles, we will also have eliminated (or at least reduced) the forces that cause ALL repetitive stress injuries in distance runners!
“Barefoot Shoes” as a marketing term.
But, Jason brings up a valid point, he seems to believe that using the term “Barefoot Shoes” will help bring more people to our websites so they can learn about the true benefits of actual barefoot running. And, I ca not say that I disagree. It’s also true that if I posted more pictures of naked women, I would probably get more traffic here too…
But, in this case, Jason may be partially right. And while people searching for “Barefoot Running Shoes” may not believe they’re ready for true barefoot running, perhaps if they find this website (or Jason’s) they’ll realize that barefoot is really the best way to begin running barefoot (even if that shoe sales person told you that you need a “transition” shoe…).
So anyway, this post, in addition to advancing the discussion, will attempt to test Jason’s premise, which is why you will see me use the term, “Barefoot Shoes” quite a few times in this post… “Barefoot Shoes”, “Barefoot Shoes”, “Barefoot Shoes”, “Barefoot Shoes”!
Top Searches Leading to this Website
So, in order to compare what percentage of traffic comes to my website through searches for “Barefoot Shoes”, I must first have a baseline (before this post, which will mention “Barefoot Running Shoes” or “Barefoot Shoes” several times, in order to guide to this website more folks who are searching for “Barefoot Running Shoes” or “Barefoot Shoes”.
A few weeks (or whenever I next get around to it) after posting this message, I will check the statistics again to find out if the percentages of people visiting this website after searching for “Barefoot Running Shoes” or “Barefoot Shoes” is higher or not.[table “4” not found /]
[table “5” not found /]
… okay, I’m not finished yet… still rambling.
“Class. Class! CLASS! … SHUT UP!”
-Sister Mary Elephant (by: Cheech and Chong)
But this isn’t just going to be me repeating “Barefoot Running Shoes” or “Barefoot Shoes” “Barefoot Running Shoes” or “Barefoot Shoes” “Barefoot Running Shoes” or “Barefoot Shoes” over and over again, “Barefoot Running Shoes” or “Barefoot Shoes”… There will actually be some discussion about why I’m right and Jason is wrong… and it isn’t just because it’s me, or it’s him, or that I’m any more dogmatic about it than Jason… I’m just not willing to mislead people with deceptive marketing terms, like, oh I don’t know, how about “Barefoot Shoes”!
Outreach and Education
But seriously, the discussion about whether to use the term “Barefoot Shoes” or how to use the term “Barefoot Running Shoes” is about two different (but not necessarily opposing) points of view; outreach (marketing), and education (teaching what we know or believe).
Jason makes the point that by using the term “Barefoot Shoes”, since it has been adapted by the shoe industry, will help us reach more people with the message that actual barefoot running can help them learn to run better.
I agree that we need to reach more people, before they get injured by erroneously using “Barefoot Shoes” as a substitute for actually trying to learn how to run better by listening to wealth of information their BARE soles provide while running barefoot.
I also admire Jason for his work with Merrill, particularly convincing them how, why, and that, true barefoot running is a safer way to learn how to run safely, and in addition for convincing Merrill that true barefoot runners should be allowed in their “Barefoot Running” races!
Now that I’ve complimented Jason on his work, and shown my respect, I can get to dissing his opinion…
What we seem to be disagreeing on, or perhaps not, but in order to continue the discussion, let’s pretend that we still disagree … is whether or not as educators we should perpetuate the use of marketing jargon, terms, slogans, etc., (such as “Barefoot Running Shoes”) especially when they are intended to deceptively imply that one can get the same benefits from running in “Barefoot Shoes” as from running truly barefoot.
Of course that begs the question; why would you spend money on something that is every bit as good as nothing?
But, not withstanding the stupidity of the American buying public’s willingness to pay nearly $100 to buy “Barefoot Shoes” because they believe they will get the same benefits as nothing, this discussion is more about why the American buying public believes that “Barefoot Shoes” will provide the same benefit as nothing… And I believe that many people do (as I have seen many comments, posts, etc. claiming that people do believe they will get “exactly” the same benefits in their expensive “Barefoot Shoes” as they would by running in the bare feet they were born with…) that isn’t the point of this discussion …yet … Jason and I both seem to be in agreement that “Barefoot Shoes” do not provide the same tactile feel, which is precisely how actual barefoot running helps people figure out how to run gently and safely by reducing the forces that potentially injure our joints. Because all of these forces (except for the forces of running into a tree, off the edge of a cliff, into a linebacker on an opposing football team, or something like that) must necessarily travel through the soles of our feet (or shoes), it makes sense that if we could feel these forces immediately, we could make real-time adjustments to the way we run, to reduce or eliminate excess forces (forces which should cause discomfort in our soles immediately, long before they actually have time to damage the rest of our body) will help us run more safely.
While Jason may insist (dare I say, “dogmatically”) that I am being stubborn, or dogmatic about this issue, I do believe it is the role of educators to help students think for themselves, to think critically, not to accept marketing terms as “fact”.
Would you trust a math professor who concedes that one shoe (no matter how minimal), plus another shoe, is the same as zero shoes (“Barefoot Shoes”)?
We’ve been having a discussion with Jason over at the Barefoot Running University, and on Bob Ninast’s blog about Jason’s concession to use the term “Barefoot Shoes” even though Jason admits that they are not “Barefoot”, and that, “The term ‘barefoot shoes” … “annoys the hell out of me, but I can tolerate it if it serves a greater good.”
So, I suppose the question then at the heart of this debate is, “Does using the term ‘Barefoot Shoes’ serve a greater good”? and if so, how should we use the term “Barefoot Shoes” to serve the greater good.
One of my concerns with the term is even if WE know that “Barefoot Shoes” are not actually the same as being literally barefoot, or that you do NOT get the same benefits using “Barefoot Shoes” as you do while literally barefoot, the term itself suggests (deceptively) that you will get the same benefit as while barefoot.
Even if people don’t truly believe that “Barefoot Shoes” are exactly the same as being barefoot, many do believe that “Barefoot Shoes” are “the best of both worlds”, while in fact, in my book, “Barefoot Running Step by Step” I point out out that “Barefoot Shoes” are actually the WORST of both worlds, especially for beginning barefoot runners!
- “Barefoot Shoes” do not give the feedback that serves to warn us to moderate our distance and speed, until we learn to run more gently, all the while teaching us to learn to run more gently, while at the same time,
- “Barefoot Shoes” allow us to run further and faster on feet that are used to being reinforced by stiffer, more structured running shoes, so that we become prone to serious foot injuries!
So, I am concerned that so many people, as well as the Merrill shoe company, depend on Jason to educate them about Barefoot Running – the very name of Jason’s website, “The Barefoot Running University” implies that Jason is primarily interested in educating people about barefoot running, just as the term “Barefoot Shoes” implies erroneously that you can get the same benefits as while barefoot.
So, I maintain that any concession of accepting and adapting and worse yet, perpetuating deceptive marketing terminology, such as “Barefoot Shoes”, as a way to reach the masses, is not going to help educate the masses. The fact is, as Jason points out, most people trying to adapt a “barefoot” way of running, are not going to seek us out – they’ll get their information from commercials and advertisements, and word of mouth. And while using the term “Barefoot Shoes” may help those who Google the term “Barefoot Shoes” find us (update: though as the tables above show, using the term numerous times in this article did not end up with more searches for “barefoot shoes” ending up here), most will get the trickle down effect (word of mouth), and the terminology, but not most of the lessons we teach, will spread even further. (Note the irony of how often I use the term “Barefoot Shoes” in this post, in hopes that more people will get into this discussion),
And while I agree, the terminology is fast becoming part of the lexicon of barefoot running, in no small part due to many of those who are/were part of the early adapters, but who are much better at marketing, and profiting from “barefoot” running than I am.
But, I’ve never seen myself as much of a marketeer. Though I sometimes think I could have been “successful” in the advertising business, depending on how you use the term “successful”. I do have a “well-rounded” education, and an imagination that is greater than most anyone (other than me) can imagine!
When I was younger, I used to (actually still can’t/won’t stop myself) create great advertising ideas and slogans just for fun. But, I was held back from going professional, by the fact that I not only looked several years younger than I was, but that I was actually only about 12 years old when I seriously considered going in the business of advertising, but more importantly, I was held back by a feeling of responsibility, and a reluctance to try to push things I wouldn’t use myself, or wouldn’t want to use, except in extreme cases, or to conform with rules imposed by others, and more importantly, to attempt to deceive people into believing that some product or service will solve all their problems (when quite often, the products and services were the root of the problem).
But, back to education…
In physics class, our professor, while conceding that he wasn’t going to change the common misuse of the term centrifugal force (which literally means to flee from the center), as when we swing a heavy object, like, oh for example a “Barefoot Shoe” tied to the end of a shoe string in a circle around our head – the “Barefoot Shoe”, though it may seem to the uneducated, is NOT being pulled away from the center of the circle by the swinging action. The “Barefoot Shoe”is simply trying to continue in a straight line along a tangent of where the “Barefoot Shoe” is at any given moment. It is actually “centripetal” force (the force exerted by the string, pulling the “Barefoot Shoe” toward the center) which keeps the “Barefoot Shoe” traveling along a circular path. When you let go of the string, the “Barefoot Shoe” doesn’t travel along a radius of the circle the “Barefoot Shoe” was traveling on. The “Barefoot Shoe” instead continues along a tangent of the circle. That’s why a pitcher (throwing overhand) releases the ball near the top of the arc created by the movement of his/her arm, rather than waiting until his arm is pointing toward the strike-zone (if he/she waited that late the ball would travel straight down into the ground).
Being a good teacher, our physics teacher didn’t use, or blindly accept our use of inaccurate terminology in class, no matter how popular the erroneous term was. Instead the teacher pointed out the erroneous use of the term centrifugal force, explained why it was erroneous, and told us the more accurate term for the force that keeps a “Barefoot Shoe” swinging in a circular path around our head, is “Centripetal” force (a force, exerted in this case by a shoe string) that pulls an object TOWARD the center of the circular path upon which it is traveling.
No matter that the difference may seem too subtle, and even meaningless to most people (who no doubt will continue using the term “centrifugal” or “Barefoot Shoes” erroneously), it is NOT the responsibility of any responsible educator to perpetuate misconceptions (or worse yet, marketing deceptions), otherwise, we not only become marketers, but UN-educators (and while marketing people might like us to believe that they are “educators”, they’re goal is, far too often, deception – deceiving us into believing we need what they have to sell, despite that the product may or may not solve, our problems – and in many cases, may actually be at the root of our problems).
Anyway, again, as educators, it isn’t our place to use, accept, nor perpetuate the misuse of terms (such as “Barefoot Shoes”) in an educational manner.
I will concede that I do now find myself, on occasion, using the term “Barefoot Shoes”, but I do so in a derisive manner (as should be the case for deceptive terminology). Case in point: the other day when I was explaining to a younger fellow of 54-years who had a knee replacement several years back from running injuries (heel-striking in standard cushioned running shoes), that the important thing about barefoot running IS the tactile sensation and how it teaches us to run gently, and let’s us know immediately, and emphatically with each and every step whether we should continue or not (at least until we figure out how we can move comfortably and safely) and that if he is curious and wants to try barefoot running, it was very important NOT to start with “BAREFOOT SHOES”! … then I clarified why “Barefoot Shoes” don’t work for many beginners (especially those who most need to change the way they run to prevent knee and other damage), and the dangers of using “Barefoot Shoes” to protect ourselves from the sensations of our feet interacting with the terrain – – – so, I am conceding that I agree that for educational purposes the term is useful – people understand what we’re talking about (or do they?), and I didn’t need to get into a long discussion about the terminology at that time (though they can find a short discussion about “Language” in “Barefoot Running Step by Step“, and of course, there will be more discussions on my website in the near future), however, I must also point out the importance of pointing out the deception of the term while using it!
So, I do understand that we will be using the term “Barefoot Shoes” as a reference to what is becoming a popular term… Much like my argument for the term, “jogging” doesn’t apply to barefoot running. As I’ve said many times, experienced barefoot runners do not “jog”, they move smoothly, gently, no jolting, no jarring, no striking, no pounding, no “jogging”. Even beginning barefoot runners won’t jog for long, especially on “nutritious” terrain (more about that soon)
So I too will be using the term “Barefoot Shoes”, while attempting to make a point to educate people as to why “Barefoot Shoes” (besides being, in itself, a self-contradictory and impossible term) won’t help them learn how to run barefoot, and that “Barefoot Shoes” are not a substitute for barefoot running.
With other examples I used in previous discussions of deceptive advertising, such as food, at least there are laws that don’t allow bread to be sold as “whole grain” unless it actually contains at least a smidgeon of whole grain, that’s why marketers more often use the term “wheat” bread (which they know will convince most people that the bread is “healthy” and “wholesome” for them), and why you shouldn’t buy anything sold as “wheat” bread because without the whole grain, you don’t get the whole nutrition, and you may as well be eating white bread (which at least doesn’t have artificial brown coloring), and isn’t trying to be deceptive (but those aren’t reason enough for ME to buy or eat white bread – I like my food to provide nutrition).
Another parallel can be drawn between “Barefoot Shoes, and “Cocktail Juice” or “Fruit Nectar” which is often confused with the term “fruit juice”. Just as actual barefoot running gets a bad rap from people hurting themselves by trying to learn to run “Barefoot” in “Barefoot Shoes”, fruit juice often gets a bad rap as containing high amounts of refined sugar, but in reality it is only the cheaper watered down versions that have added refined sugar, fructose, corn syrup, etc.. These drinks are marketed as deceptively as the law allows in the U.S.A., as “cocktail juice”. “Fruit nectar” while not containing added sugar is watered down fruit juice, which then is no wonder it’s cheaper, you’re just buying a bit of juice mixed with water. These are marketing terms (like Barefoot Shoes) purposefully designed to mislead us into believing we’re getting real “Fruit Juice” (half the term, at half the price!). But since these products are not real “Fruit Juice” they cannot legally be sold as “Fruit Juice”, since it isn’t literally “Fruit Juice”.
But advertisements for these less nutritious products certainly aren’t going to point out these differences, because that wouldn’t be “good” marketing! Such distinction is up to educators to point out. And Jason is supposed to be an educator for barefoot running (as implied by his use of the term “Barefoot Running University”), in which case he should make it his responsibility to clarify, rather than further confuse those he wants to educate.
And, of course, I often refer to terrain as being on a spectrum of nutritious to dessert, and how without the whole sole being bare, you don’t get the nutritious information about how well, or how poorly each of your steps (or miss-steps) are. Likewise if we run barefoot on “Just desserts” (surfaces, like groomed beaches or manicured golf courses, that are comfortable barefoot, no matter how dangerously we run), I’m not saying never eat dessert, but DO get your nutrition first!
And I’m going to ramble a bit more…
Jason also likened my/our resistance to not try to perpetuate the marketing term “Barefoot Shoes” to people who were faithful to one product over another… but this isn’t about being faithful to one product over another. It’s about whether or not one needs the product, or if the product is truly as beneficial as not relying on the product to do the opposite of what any shoe is supposed to do (protect us from feeling our soles touch the earth), or if the customer is ready to buy the product in the first place. But, the term “Barefoot Shoes” is designed to mislead, to confuse, to get people to assume they will get the same benefits wearing “Barefoot Shoes” as they would going barefoot. And ultimately, I’ve seen and heard from far too many who have injured themselves following this belief blindly…
Now that begs the question then, “How do we get these people to try barefoot running, rather than ‘barefoot shoes’?”
And that is the goal of outreach, the goal in part of this particular post to explore if using terms such as “Barefoot Shoes”, “Barefoot Running Shoes”, “Barefoot Sandals”, “Toe Shoes”, etc. will help lead those who are searching for the “correct”, pardon the expression, “barefoot running shoes” to our websites and ultimately to give actual barefoot running a chance.
-barefoot ken bob