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My first real minimalist walk: is some degree of pain normal?

Hello everyone,

Though this isn't a question pertaining exclusively to footwear, I hope this forum is an appropriate enough place to put it.

For much of my life - as far back into my thirty or so years as I can remember, anyway - I've worn "normal" shoes and boots. My interest in minimalist footwear started some months ago after having bad luck with a number of pairs of work boots. Nothing about these was low quality (save, for the effects they had on my feet), and the price reflected that.

Yet, after bad foot and leg fatigue, toes that screamed to be let free and a weird-feeling gait (stomping down with my heels against my will and a twisted ankle), I discovered - maybe rediscovered - the idea that all these raised heels and cramped toe boxes and supports and all that are not such a good thing, after all. My experience seemed to validate this theory.

I recently purchased two pairs of footwear - Run Amoc Dash, which I have yet to test, and a pair of Arrow Moccasins - the "Lace Boot", seen here:

(No affiliation, by the way! - and there are better pictures found via an image search.)

I got the double-sole version (double leather soles). The guy behind the operation is pleasant to deal with and patient, even with a worrier like me, and the leather on this is amazing stuff - thick, strong and heady smelling. I'd check 'em out! Custom made to tracings of your feet and you're supporting an independent, traditional business.

ANYWAY - before it sounds like I'm lying about having no affiliation, ha ha - I wore these for a course of errand-running today; I figure I walked a good five or more kilometers in them.

Most of the walking was done on sidewalks and pavement, though I noticed a strong tendency to walk on the snow-covered grass and soil beside the sidewalk - the natural ground felt better underfoot.

Even though 2 leather pieces each up to 1/4" thick may comprise the double-sole, I could definitely feel changes in the terrain underfoot, and the thick leather was still more flexible, giving and less supporting than the rubber-soled footwear to which I've been accustomed.

I had to remind my body to not heel-strike hard, and it took a concious effort. I'm also not sure what to do with my gait, how much my knees should be bending, etc.

I'm certain I have some postural imbalances - a bit of swayback, some joint laxity, and probably tight hips and lower back stiffness...knee pain - haven't been able to run more than a very short distance with any confidence on account of it for years...yadda yadda ya...and I walk around the house barefoot frequently, as well as to step out and check the mail, etc. - but walking a longer distance on pavement, with a loaded backpack on is a different story.

Here's what I noticed:

-I can't seem to take strides that are as long as what I usually do

-I experienced a fair bit of pain - not really joint pain, but muscle or other soft tissue pain on the undersides of my feet, a bit in the arch and more on the bottom of the forefoot/ball of the foot areas.

-When I got home, my feet were kind of sore and uncomfortable.

-My calf muscles definitely felt worked out.

-At the same time, there was a distinct absence of pain in the top part of my leg - I guess, the bottom of my shin bone that joins to the top part of my foot where the foot can flex (above the ankle) - and that area usually gets quite sore and tired after just a block of walking in "normal" shoes.

Having said all that (sorry, this isn't a short first post!), is the pain I experienced a usual thing - ie, muscles that haven't been used this way over any considerable distance in quite a long time, if ever?

Any suggestions on loosening up my stride (or whatever "proper" barefoot/minimal walking technique is)?

I appreciate your input.


Answers and Replies


When I first made the transition to minimalist footwear, I had a lot of muscle soreness as well. My calves, my feet, etc. This is completely normal, as you are developing muscles that haven't been properly used in years. It is also a lot better than the pain that comes from foot abuse (crammed toes, squeezed feet, arch supports, etc.). Give it time and it will get better - a lot better - but, depending on how weak your muscles are, it could take a while. Like developing any muscle in your body.

You may also experience muscle soreness/tightness in other areas due to changes in posture as well. Perhaps some trips to the Chiropractor can help you work through this.

With regards to gait, the absolute BEST way to learn proper gait is to walk barefoot as much as you can. Your body has all kinds of super-sensitive receptors on the bottom of the feet that give immediate feedback. If your foot lands incorrectly it won't feel comfortable and your body will continue to make adjustments until it gets it right. Start first on smooth surfaces, and as you gain confidence move to rougher, more uncomfortable surfaces. You will find that you end-up taking shorter strides, this is normal.

In situations where you can't be completely barefoot, the next best thing is to use a shoe that has as thin a sole as possible. Again, you are trying to take advantage of your foots sensory feedback in order to re-learn your natural gait. Having a sole that transmits as much of that information as possible through to your feet is the next best thing after barefoot.

Thicker soles, even if they are good by minimalist standards, can hinder the re-adaptation to a natural gait.


Thanks, Damien. I'm happy to hear that the soreness I'm feeling is normal. I suppose the even thinner-soled version of these moccasins (single sole) would give superior ground-feel, but I got the double soled version for durability's sake.

They are, definitely, though, thinner than what I've been used to - when I tried on my conventional work boots - whose rubber sole measures an inch at the thickest point - later last night, after walking in moccasins all day, it seemed I had boat anchors on my feet - I couldn't feel a damn thing.

I think I may indeed try straight barefoot when it warms up. I often walk through the snow around the yard with no shoes on, and remember jogging through the snow-covered street to check if our neighbour's driveway needed shovelling, some weeks ago. I notice that when I walk truly barefoot, I often land with more of a gentle forefoot strike and my knee slightly bent.

I'll see how my biomechanical tendencies change in response to less footwear. I have seen a chiropractor for years, though he's never said much in regards to anything other than the odd kink in my neck or back. I can sense that there is something not quite right about my structure and the way I move. I once had a friend hail me from across a parking lot at night - he told me he could tell who I was merely from my gait.

Hey, did you ever look at leather socks - also called "khuf", "khuff" or "khuf-fain" (I believe they're used for prayer)? Looks like just enough to protect unconditioned skin against dicey surfaces but with a ton of ground-feel...though they might get as many looks as a pair of FiveFingers.

I'm in a bit of a conundrum as far as sole thickness and stiffness goes. I'm primarily a cyclist and pedestrian, and I have now found that the Run Amoc Dash shoes - even with the thicker 5 mm "Trail" sole - are still too flexible and thin to allow for an efficient transfer of power to the pedals, and flexible enough that pedalling seems it could stress the foot through excessive flexing of a sort that isn't encountered in walking.

Yet, I'd like a pair of minimalist(ish) shoes I could use on and off the bike, which let me pedal and walk normally at the same time. (I can't use these moccasins because the metal studs on my platform pedals would puncture the leather soles).

I may have to get a thicker-soled pair of otherwise minimalist shoes (foot-shaped footbed, zero drop, etc.) but with thicker soles for on the bike and carry a pair of really lightweight ones for walking...

Anyway - I digress; that's getting a bit off-topic (though I'd be happy to hear of any minimalist cycling footwear solutions, if anyone has thoughts! I ride fairly aggressively at times, so I need to be able to put power to the pedals.)



Yeah, if you really are into cycling, then I think it could be difficult to find footwear that works well for both. Myself, I would probably opt for a cycling shoe with a decent toebox when on the bike and bring a lightweight pair of minimalist shoes (like Sockwa, Feelmax, or Sole Runner) for walking around. I know of some other minimalist footwear cycling fans that do something along those lines.

I hadn't heard of the khuf socks before, but the way you describe them kind of reminds me of these


Pardon the late reply.

After a few more days of walking in these things, my feet hurt less and the once cringe-inducing soreness in my calves has diminished significantly. I'm still getting used to it, but so far, I'm a fan. Regular shoes feel bizarre now.

Yeah, I'm thinking I'll have to find a separate pair of cycling shoes - now, which to find that have foot-shaped footbeds, if not thin, flexible soles (which I find don't work well on the bike, anyway)?

I tried some casual, stiffer-soled sneakers on today - though there was no heel lift or arch support, the overall fit felt terrible and the toebox crushed my toes.

I checked out the brands you provided (for a pair of light shoes to carry). Thanks for them - though I think I'll still look around. For casual wear, I lean toward more understated footwear and natural materials - unfortunately, much of the minimalist stuff I've seen is too "sporty"-looking: multi-coloured, prominent logos, etc. - but I'll keep my eyes open!

Anyone have suggestions for classier-looking minimalist stuff? Conservative colours, no logos, leather, canvas, etc.?

Thanks for mentioning the grappling shoes. I'd have never thought of those. Not quite my style, looks-wise, but maybe some plainer ones exist.



Yeah, unfortunately the ones with the thinnest soles are a bit on the sporty side. VIVOBAREFOOT makes some less sporty shoes ( like the Ra for example ), but the sole is not quite as thin as those other brands I mentioned. Lems are pretty nice too, kind of half-way between sporty and classy ( )

I can't help you on the cycling shoes, I am not a cyclist myself. I wonder if you could stick a flat, stiff plastic (or otherwise) insole in a regular minimalist shoe for cycling, and pull it out for walking around town?

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