A Beginner's Guide to Barefoot
Updated: Oct 30, 2022
Congratulations on taking the first step and thinking of switching to minimalist footwear. It can be overwhelming with all the information out there so lets help you understand the terminology, choose the right footwear, and strengthen your feet.
Barefoot transitioning can be a long and lengthy yet very rewarding process as you bulletproof your feet and ankles and say good bye to ankle sprains and pain.
Details on our 6 week Barefoot Transition course can be found here.
The terminology for a barefoot shoe may also include the words minimalist shoe or natural footwear, they usually refer to the same thing. A shoe or sandal that allows the foot to function optimally.
A barefoot shoe is simply a shoe that allows the foot to function fully as it should. A barefoot shoe will have all or most of these characteristics.
(A transition shoe is similar but will have some slight changes, see next chapter) 1. Zero drop - This refers to the amount of elevation from heel to toe. Specifically no elevated heel. 2. A wide toe box - Enough room to allow full toe splay. The big toe and the pinky toe should have enough room without being pressed against the sides. 3. Flexible - Bendy and should mostly be able to fold in half both upwards and downwards as well as the ability to rotate, similar to the way the foot should naturally function. 4. Thin sole - The thinner the sole, the better the ground feel of the floor and the world around us. This characteristic will differ by brand and preference. The closer it is to barefoot/minimalist the better it will be to unlock the maximum benefits. 5. Zero toe spring - This refers to an elevated toe box which can slightly push your toes up in an extended position. 6. Zero arch support- Specifically no support or any sort of elevation in the sole especially in the middle. 7. Attached to the foot. - Both the front and back of shoe should be securely attached to the foot to allow maximum function and gait mechanics.
See later on in article for some of our recommended minimalist shoe brands
A transition shoe will have the same guidelines as above with the following exceptions:
The sole thickness will largely differ based on one's needs. It can be anywhere from 10mm all the way to 25mm. Thicker is not always better but somewhere between 10-20mm is great for beginners.
For people recovering from injury or with orthopedic issues a slight heel may be needed, anywhere from 3-7mm.
Very important that the shoe or sandal is firmly attached to the foot.
See later on in article for our recommended transition shoes.
Here is a guide to products we recommend for your foot health and which we use as a part of our barefoot transition course.
Some additional resources for beginners can be found on our podcast
1. Correct Toes
Correct Toes have become somewhat synonymous with the barefoot community. Designed by Dr. Ray McClanahan, Correct Toes is a silicone device, which helps spread your toes, at an attempt to restore your original toe alignment. We use Correct Toes often and really like how they are anatomically shaped, with spread focusing on your big toe and pinky toe and have gaps in them to add additional splay if you would like. We encourage spending as much time in these as you can in the beginning stages, especially during exercise. If you begin feeling discomfort take them off immediately. As your splay gets better you will no longer need them as much
Correct Toes are available here (under accessories), you can use code TBSR10 for 10% off. They are priced at $65 USD and available in a number of different sizes.
A cheaper version can be found on amazon here
2. Lacrosse balls
Lacrosse balls are one of the most affordable and fantastic tools for plantar release. Their simplicity is key, you can roll and smash your foot on the ball in a variety of ways and feel your pain release and fade away. You can also use a lacrosse ball on nearly any muscle. We use these almost daily in our barefoot transition program. What's great about them is that you can roll your feet out passively while doing simple tasks like brushing your teeth or doing computer work.
You can also find them on Amazon.
3. Balance Beam
A beam is a fantastic way to regain your foot and overall health through play, stability and a huge variety of exercises.
The foot collective made the beam quite popular and they sell them in their shop here.
You can also find a beam to your liking at any Home depot and prop it up on something sturdy enough.
I have also taken an old pipe, painted it and propped it up on 2 heavy weight kettlebells for the ultimate DIY.
Keep in mind while it may be convenient to have a beam at home, you can practically find them anywhere, fences, guard rails, bannisters, and fallen trees are all adequate beams :)
We encourage play very much and even within structured programs we set aside a play day for you to move and explore.
4. Slant board
The slant board is a great tool to increase both range of motion in the ankle, train your calves and soleus in a larger range of motion, as well as a useful tool to have for strength training. We use this in the advanced phase of our barefoot transition course, as well as for athletes during their training.
Our favorite uses for this are full range of motion calf raises, ankle stretching and mobility, and knee dominant lower body exercises.
Amazon has a large variety ranging from 20$ to 60$ and they can be found here
5. Mini bands
Mini Bands have a dual use, for banded activations and smaller exercises, and can be a great substitute for a small loop band for toe exercises. They can be found on Amazon here
6. Loop bands
In addition to a being a great tool for any home gym, we particularly like loop bands for banded mobilizations of the shoulder and the ankle. They can be found on amazon here
One of the old school tools for strength training, it does not get simpler than this; Press it, pull it, swing it, pop it in your backpack and take it for a walk, use it for weighted flexibility.
In general I would start with 2, one that is light-medium, easily doable for most exercises and one that is medium- heavy and great for carries, squats, deadlifts etc..
Can be found on Amazon here
8. Earth Runners Foot Restoration Kit
The Earth Runners Foot Restoration kit features a small loop band for toe exercises, a lacrosse ball, and a really unique toe spreaders which are great for thong strap sandal wearers!
It can be purchased here and TBSR10 gets you 10% off.
A transition shoe refers to a shoe that has all the barefoot characteristics such as zero drop, flexibility, no arch support or toe spring, but usually has a thicker sole and holds the foot very firmly.
Some great brands are
Lems: Particularly the bolder boot for a classy look or the Lem's Primal Zen for a casual but rugged sneaker
2. Xero: Any of their models with over a 10mm sole + the insole.
3. Joe Nimble: You can remove the insole if you want something thinner.
4. Earth Runners: In particular the alpha model. TBSR10 gets you 10% off
5. Freet: Specifically the Feldom or the Ibex. TBSR gets you 10% off
6. Luna: You get to pick your sole thickness.
Once you feel ready to transition to thinner soles at 10mm or under, you can check out the following brands.
1. Vivobarefoot - TBSR10 gets you 10% off
4. Bearfoot shoes TBSR10 gets you 10% off
5. Splay TBSR gets you 10% off
Remember it's not just the footwear or the accessories you get, it's really about strengthening your feet!
You can find our barefoot transition course here.
You are always super welcome to ask us any questions about transitioning to barefoot on our Instagram @thebarefootshoereview or @the.barefootathlete, email inquiries can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org