Son of Grok

Barefoot Madness?

August 5th, 2009
Yes that is a birthmark on my foot

Wow my legs were pasty when summer started!

Most of you have probably met John Sifferman in the comments section of my posts. John operates a website Real World Strength Training that is definitely worth checking out.

John has some really cool ideas and methods for training. I must admit that I stole the squat jump movements that I am currently doing from him.

The thing that amazing me most about John is his commitment to barefoot training.

I love everything barefoot. I workout barefoot at home, wear my Vibram Five Fingers shoes when I am hiking or sprinting etc. This has really helped my posture and has helped me to build strength in my feet, ankles and legs. Knee pain is now also largely a thing of the past. I have to laugh when someone tries to tell me that I “need support” (which happens all the time) because when you are used to going barefoot… twisting an ankle does not even seem like a realistic possibility… until you put shoes on. It is hard to explain but so true.

I thought I was pretty cool…. but no… I am not. I read posts on John’s site about him climbing mountains and taking long hikes barefoot.

I must admit… this makes me awfully… awfully…


I really want to build my feet up to this level of toughness and get to the point where I can even ditch my Vibrams.

I do have some reservations about this:
#1. The New Mexico desert is full of cactus, goatheads, thorny things and spiny things.
#2. The New Mexico desert is absolutely littered with broken glass.
#3. In the New Mexico desert, the ground gets awfully hot!

I can picture myself happily padding along a cool, packed dirt and rock mountain trail barefoot but I am having a harder time picturing myself trudging through a sweltering, sandy, sharp, spiny and painful desert.

Still I am going to go for it.

Any thoughts or advice out there? John?

I will try to remember to update everyone on how I am coming along.

16 Responses to “Barefoot Madness?”

  1. Chris

    Barefoot is great until you accidentally kick something…..and break your toe!

  2. Jenny from the Grok

    Hmmmm… based on the terrain described, I would say stick with the Vibram shoes…

  3. Trish

    I just bought a pair of VFF KSOs today so it’s funny that you wrote about this. I go barefoot in my house and backyard but would really not do so anywhere else–other people’s crap gets too piled up!

  4. egmutza

    Hey, I couldn’t help but notice that your feet are built much like mine, with your second toe being significantly longer than your big toe. I’m curious if getting a good fit with your Vibram’s has been an issue for you? I’ve held off on buying them because their website implies that getting a good fit might not be possible for those of use with longer second toes.

  5. John Sifferman

    Hey SoG,

    Thanks for the mention – I’m glad you’re enjoying the jump squats!

    I’ve experienced the same thing after deciding to go barefoot – everyone seems to offer me plenty of advice about arch and ankle support. But I’ve found that my stability and “support” disappears when I PUT SHOES ON. Seriously, the muscles and joints of the feet, ankles, knees and up will provide all the support you need if you develop it slowly over time. I’d rather have a naturally stronger body than rely on the “crutch” that footwear provides.

    I haven’t come up with a solution for going barefoot on hot surfaces yet. My wife and I got some pretty nice blisters while crossing an all-asphalt dam earlier this summer. I think in that case, the Vibrams are the way to go – or just go for your walks and runs when the ground isn’t too hot yet. This time of year, I need to keep my walks during the early morning anyways since my dog has a double-coat and gets hot quick around mid-day. So, you just have to find what works for you and your schedule.

    Regarding sharp objects, you just gotta be careful. Your feet will only toughen up so much, and you have to be incremental about it. You can’t go barefoot sprinting over broken glass from the get-go. I’ve had a couple of minor punctures from thorns, but never cut myself on glass, and I’ve definitely stepped on it more than a few times. But I think my “pads” are about as tough as they’ll get.

    I find that when going barefoot for a long time, many hours over varied terrain, that the underside of my feet start to get more sensitive to pain. They just start to wear out. So, it’s not a bad idea to bring your Vibrams or other footwear with you to put on when you can’t take the discomfort any longer. So, in that regard. I would recommend going purely barefoot for as long as you can, and then put on the Vibrams as a last resort. That way, you’re maximizing the conditioning potential for your feet for that hike.

    Another option, that I haven’t yet tried, are the huarche’s that Barefoot Ted makes (he also sells DIY kits). This seems to be a great solution for both the sharp objects and the heat.



  6. Anne KD

    I’m a longtime martial artist who works out/walks around barefoot all the time. It took a long while to build up enough callus to allow me to walk/run on sharp gravel without issues. But it can be done. I wouldn’t play around with glass or cactus. And the occasional solitary pebble is still going to cause you a lot of pain if you step on it. One way to help build up the callus indoors is to work on twisting and turning on carpet, believe it or not. Turn on the balls of your feet, also turn on your heels which are probably the first part of your feet that hit the ground when you walk/run anyway. If you have a small area rug with a rubber back to prevent the rug from slipping, try turning on that to move the rug in an arc. From carpet, move up to a kind of big scrubby pad or a rough doormat. Every once in a while do the turns on a flat wood floor or concrete surface. Don’t forget to work on just one foot occasionally, switching off feet. The kinds of turns I’m talking about are 360 degrees or less, with very specific stops- you choose the extent to turn. If you think stopping on a dime is good, try for stopping on a toothpick. The turns have helped me out a lot in terms of balance, too.

  7. Son Of Grok

    My second toe is indeed longer and my vibrams fit fine. :-)

  8. Ron

    Are Vibrams ok to wear on an indoor track? Because it gets awfully snowy here in Illinois.

  9. Roger De Rok

    egmutza! Surprise running into you here, but again, not so much. Hahaha.

  10. Son Of Grok

    I would imagine that they would work fine.

  11. Kathy

    Thorny things are definitely not fun! Here’s a goofy idea: someone told me to put duct tape on the bottom of my feet when I was walking a long distance to avoid blisters (that was with shoes, mind you). It worked amazingly well. . .maybe you can “coat” the bottoms of your feet with duct tape. (I said it was goofy!)

  12. Marissa

    I bought some vibrams about a year ago after reading about them on the Modern Forager. I have unfortunately not been able to use them much at all. My feet are EXTREMELY prone to blisters, and anything over half a mile in vibrams causes blisters on the ball of my foot and my heel. I have absolutely no clue what do to, and I really want to use them! Completely barefoot isn’t an option as I am not walking on ground that is safe, plus I worry about viruses and funguses and don’t want to end up with plantar warts or athlete’s foot.

    Anyway, I also get horrendous blisters in hiking boots, and after anything over about 5 miles I also start to develop them while wearing running shoes. My converse all stars offer even less protection and I get blisters after about 2 miles. Any suggestions there??

  13. Hannah

    Hey I know what you mean about feeling unstable when you put shoes on again. I wear my sprints A LOT, and only wear other shoes for work really. Friday morning I put on my heels for work, started walking down the stairs in my house…and tripped and basically rolled down about five stairs…embarrassing, but at least it was just the dogs that saw! My legs and feet are so unsteady and uncomfortable in shoes now, I guess I’ll just have to get my boss to let me wear my vibrams to work!

  14. troy

    i agree!!! go barefoot or in vibrams…. it will change your life forever!!!!!!


  15. kiyafet oyunlari

    Thank You for that post ! Keep It Up posting stuff like this

  16. John

    Check out books, internet clips, and now the show “Dual Survival” on The Discovery Channel for Cody Lundin. This guy is a barefoot madman. You will not be disappointed.

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