Walking 101: How to Walk Barefoot (or in Minimal Shoes)

Walking 101: How to Walk Barefoot (or in Minimal Shoes)

I know, the title of this post may sound condescending. After all, you probably have a lot of experience walking—several decades, even. But bear with me, because even though I’ve been walking since the late 1970s I recently learned I wasn’t pulling it off as well as I thought.

I had the honor a couple years ago to take a series of running workshops with two gurus in the field of minimalist and barefoot running: podiatrist and Correct Toes inventor Dr. Ray McClanahan and physical therapist Dr. Sanatan Golden. One class, led by Dr. Golden, focused entirely on walking. While this was not what I expected to cover in a running workshop, it turned out to be one of the most beneficial sessions for me.

It also answered a question that had nagged me for some time: how should I walk while barefoot or in minimalist shoes?

Not Like Running

When barefoot running became all the rage a few years ago, many people became conscientious of landing with a forefoot or midfoot strike as part of their running form—myself included. Studies show this significantly reduces the impact force that shoots up into the knees and hips on a heel strike, and going barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes makes the change much more practical.


It would seem logical that walking would be the same way, right? After all, if landing forefoot on a running step made such a notable difference in impact, then wouldn’t the same be true at a slower pace, too? Possibly, but anyone who has ever tried landing forefoot at a casual walking speed will immediately realize how awkward it feels. It requires you to almost walk on your tippy-toes, and it guarantees funny looks as you struggle to stroll down the street.

And that’s why I still walked with a heel strike even after I started forefoot running in Softstars. I felt a pang of pain in my heel with every step, but I didn't see any other alternative... until the workshop.

How to Walk

In the class, Dr. Golden showed us that a forefoot strike is indeed very practical when you're running because your torso is leaning forward and your center of gravity comes down over the front of your foot with every step. While walking, however, you are not leaning forward and your weight is coming from behind your feet. You then have the opportunity to use your heels in a different way. Specifically, your heel pad should touch the ground gently, then act as a guide to lower the rest of your foot down. Only then, when the toes are flat and in place, should you let your weight down.

And this is why we have padded heels—not for running, but for walking.

That’s it… the secret to healthy barefoot/minimalist walking:

  1. Use your heel to gently position your foot landing.
  2. Roll your foot down into place.
  3. Only after your entire foot is flat on the ground, apply your weight onto it.

If you’re like me, and most people who grow up wearing shoes with thickly cushioned heels, then you’ve probably developed the nasty habit of doing this in reverse by letting your weight down on your heel as soon as it comes into contact with the ground, before the rest of your foot is in place. Doing so adds excessive pressure onto your heel that can lead to pain or injury. Your whole foot should be absorbing that weight, not just your heel. Here's a little infographic showing the process:


Making It a Habit

I didn’t find it hard to change my walking pattern when I moved slowly and stayed focused on it, but as soon as I picked up speed to a normal pace and let my attention drift elsewhere I quickly reverted back to the ol' heel pounding. After all, this whole process happens repeatedly in a fraction of a second. Dr. Golden gave us a few drills to help us make it a habit (shown in the video below), but the single best aid I had was this visualization technique:

Imagine you’re walking on ice.

When walking on slippery surfaces, we often unknowingly switch to this foot-first-weight-second technique. That happens because slamming your weight down with your heel puts the pressure down at an angle, leaving you susceptible to slipping. Placing your foot down before your weight, however, gives you a nice base for an almost vertical application of your weight, and makes slipping less likely.

Another tip: If you have trouble doing this then try bending your knees ever-so-slightly more than usual. It's not very easy to walk gently if your knees are over-extended, as many people do.

It took some practice, but I’ve now made this new method my natural gait. And the heel pain I used to feel when walking barefoot or in my Softstars is completely gone.

If you'd like more details, or want to learn the drills we used to make this walking technique a habit, then you're in luck. A colleague of Dr. McClanahan recorded the whole class and posted it on the Correct Toes Youtube channel for all to see:

(I'm the tall lanky guy with the afro in the red shorts)

What do you think? Do these tips help you? Do they sound absurd? Is there another way to walk? Let us know!

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  1. Trish
    Martin - this article was excellent - thank you! There is so much information about running form, but not much about walking and I do find my heels sore after a full day on concrete. I also have tried forefoot when walking and felt like an idiot. Will give this a try and appreciate the walking on ice illustration.
  2. Mary
    Very much appreciate this article. I have foot issues and always felt it was related to how I walk, but didn't know what I might be doing wrong. This will be good for me even if it doesn't solve all my issues! Thanks!
    1. Elf Martin
      Thanks Mary. I hope you find a solution to your foot issues.
  3. Keith batenan
    Please don't encourage people to 'forefoot' run. Like walking the force should be almost exclusively down, using the whole foot as soon as possible - which will be as close to under thd hips as posdible. Pressure on the forefoot or the heel causes injury. The forefoot brushing the ground is only felt by good runners when barefoot - at other times if they gave a balanced (body vertically aligned) landing they just feel the whole foot supporting the whole body and giving an elastic rebound to fly to a long stride. Keith Bateman - olderyetfaster.com
  4. Mike
    I find the most comfortable way to walk when barefoot is kind of toes first. It's like the way a dancer points their toe then puts their foot down. That way I get less heel impact. It's not so exaggerated like a dancer would do it and looks perfectly normal. It's more a of modified slide step. I find it comfortable and can do it for hours. I find I hate being barefoot on cold ground, but love very hot surfaces (The heat never gives me blisters-I can spend hours on new, smooth pavement, but rough, old pavement hurts the balls of my feet fast). Anyone else notice that? If I can find a nice newly paved parking lot on a hot sunny day, I find some reason to pay the store a visit. I'll park as far from the building as possible. I find the walk so relaxing. The worst I've ever gotten was the feeling of a bad sunburn that is gone by the next day.
  5. Beth-Anne
    Thank you so much for this article and definitely the video!! I've been searching for over a week for a good visual on barefoot walking. I'm a visual learner and this video and image in your article, along with your article, are exactly what I have been looking for! Thanks so much for posting this info.
    1. Elf Martin
      Thanks Beth-Anne! I'm so glad you found it useful!
  6. Mike
    One of the hardest things to overcome when you want to walk around barefoot is worrying about what others might say. I found the best way to gain confidence is to start by doing errands barefoot. Start by going to a place that is kind of barefoot neutral like the gas station a few times (no pay at the pump...gotta go inside!). I have a pharmacy that is barefoot friendly nearby. It is a BIG space so lots of room to explore the nice cool tile floors with the toes. Swim wear stores are great too.
    It's always good to be prepared for the question of where my shoes are, as inevitably someone asks...it is a great way to start a conversation.
    Its funny, no matter how often I do it, it always feels so weird leaving my sandals at home...
    I've only had one moment where I wished I had worn my sandals...While attending evening classes, the college is very deserted...perfect for walking around barefoot. The one night I decide to do that turned out to be grad night...so when I got there the place was as deserted as usual, but after class the main halls were filled with 1000+ people!!! with only a few students in their shorts and flip flops making their way through the well-dressed crowd (and one barefoot guy!). besides feeling a bit out of place I was a little worried about having my toes stepped on. In fact one employee warned me that it wasn't a good idea not to have shoes on... Once I made it out to the bus stop, after my heart slowed back to its normal beat, I realized what a cool experience that was. My ultimate goal. Go on a Hawaiian vacation and not wear shoes the whole time!
  7. Jackson
    thanks! I've switched to minimalist shoes at my serving job and have been experiencing premature fatigue in my heels midway through a shift. Definitely going to keep this in mind.
  8. Genny
    I have another tip: try walking on gravel. If you land all your weight on your heel on a pointy rock, you will learn very soon not to do that.
    1. Elf Martin
      Thanks Genny. Good tip!
  9. Christine
    This is great! Thank you for providing this explanation and the link to the video. NOW I get it! I am a mega loud walker and I have been trying and trying to soften my footfall, to no avail. Now I see what the problem is, and how to work on fixing it. This will take some time....
  10. Ethan
    I experienced the same thing jenny did. That is why I choose to wear minimalist shoes only outside of work and rarely for work. With normal shoes, I can work my retail job for very long hours without any sort of shin, foot, or leg pain as compared to wearing minimalist shoes.
  11. ernest
    What about this article https://xeroshoes.com/barefoot-running-tips/how-to-walk-barefoot/ ? it seems like it gives a whole different view

    I don't know which way to choose
  12. Deb
    I was so happy to see this whole article about walking barefoot. I am a 71 year old woman and walk at the YMCA inside track each morning. Due some toe issues on my right foot I have a hard time walking with any shoe as it has become very painful from the top hitting my toes. Did not want to give up my walking exercise so husband suggested my " water shoes" that I wear at the pool. They are nylon on top and have rubber ( not plastic) soles. So it is like walking barefoot and I absolutely love it.!!!!! Your tips on walking barefoot are so helpful because I didn't want to without knowing it, injure another part of my body . Thankyou !!!!!!!!!

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