top of page

How to Transition to Barefoot Shoes

Pluse 6 Simple Exercises You Can Start Today!

Xero shoes prio, earth runners, correct toes, how to transition to barefoot shoes

Table of Contents:

Hey there!

I’m so glad you’re thinking about switching over to barefoot shoes. I can tell you that it will be a journey, probably with a few ups and downs. But I can also tell you that if you stay the course and persevere even amidst set-backs, it will be one of the best and most powerful changes you’ve ever made.

I’m also glad you’re here because transitioning to barefoot shoes does require some intentional thought and planning. You have to be in tune with your body and the current state of your feet, and proceed accordingly.

While everyone’s transition is undoubtedly going to unfold differently, there are several basic principles that hold true across the board.

Assess your feet

If you and your BFF decide to transition to barefoot shoes at the same time, you’re each going to have a different trajectory based on your current foot health. Maybe your feet are relatively strong and pain free, while your friend is struggling with plantar fasciitis and has a history of ankle sprains. Or maybe you’re the one battling nagging injuries and your friend’s feet have never caused them problems.

Either way, you need to assess yourself. If you’ve never had many foot issues, you may be able to cruise through the process quickly and easily. If you have pain or injuries, please be patient with yourself and proceed slowly! Feet are notoriously tricky and slow to heal - but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

Your body is an incredible machine, and your feet were made for strength and healing.

Consider a Transitional Shoe

This may not be necessary for everyone, but if you suspect based on the current state of your feet that the transition process is going to be a process, it may be worthwhile investing in a pair of transitional shoes.

Transitional barefoot shoes have most of the elements of a true barefoot shoe like wide toe box and zero drop heel, but have a thicker cushion to help ease the shock on your body.

Some recommended brands are Lems, Altra, Earth Runners (choose the thicker sole option), Bedrock Sandals, or Lunas.

Altra shoes, how to transition to barefoot shoes
My Altras. It just so happens that the first day I wore these, I caught a thief stealing a package off my porch, chased him down and got my package back.

It can be difficult to justify spending a chunk of change on a pair of shoes that’s only meant to be a temporary bridge, but you can check on resale sites like Poshmark to see if you can find one of these brands in your size. (You can also sell your shoes once you graduate and no longer need them.)

An alternative is to go ahead and purchase a pure barefoot shoe, and use an insole or orthotic while your feet and body adjust. This is a great option especially if your feet are very used to custom orthotics! This way, your toes can experience the freedom of a wider toe box while you’re still getting the support you need - at least for now!

Start slowly

If your feet are very accustomed to living in supportive shoes for the bulk of your day, it’s recommended that you start by only spending an hour a day barefoot or in barefoot shoes. Try this for a week and see how you feel. Your body is wise, and it will give you a green, yellow, or red light. Depending on what your body is saying to you, you can add more time barefoot, stay at an hour per day, or back off.

It’s important to note that if you have an adverse reaction, you may experience a delay in the onset of your symptoms.

Say you go for a mile or two walk in barefoot shoes and feel great during, but experience pain later in the day or the next day. Take note, and decrease the mileage of your next walk until you’re not having any symptoms, during or after your walk. Then, slowly increase your time spent walking barefoot.

If you plan on being out for a while in barefoot shoes and aren’t sure if your feet can handle it the whole time, bring along a pair of supportive shoes to switch into once you’ve reached your threshold.

It's so very important that you are kind to yourself as you’re making this transition. When it comes to your feet, “no pain no gain” is absolutely not the right advice.

Go slow, and be patient, gentle and kind with yourself.

Switch Back & Forth Between Shoes

The freedom promised by living a barefoot lifestyle can be so exciting that it can be super tempting to dive in and go straight to barefoot all day every day. This may work for you (it did for my husband!) if you are starting with few to no foot issues.

But like I mentioned above, it is important for most of us to take it slowly, especially if you’re hoping to heal an injury.

If you’ve spent years in constricting and supportive shoes, it’s bound to take some time to undo all the negative effects, such as weak intrinsic muscles and wonky gait patterns. It’s very much a process of creating new neural pathways in your brain as you unlearn old patterns that aren’t serving you, and relearn how your body and feet were made to move and function optimally.

All this to say that switching back and forth between your new barefoot shoes and your old supportive/restrictive shoes may be the kindest thing for your body. As much as you may be eager to fully embrace a pure minimalist shoe lifestyle, if you’re too eager and go too fast, you may experience a setback that’ll end up keeping you back from your goal longer than necessary.

Incorporate Foot Exercises

If you are eager to expedite your transition process, it’s a very good idea to incorporate some simple exercises to strengthen and loosen up your feet. The beauty of foot exercises is that they’re super versatile and can be done almost anywhere.

The Finger Toe-Spreader:

One of my favorites to loosen up stiff feet is to simply interlace your fingers in between your toes. This provides a delicious passive stretch that may actually feel intense the first time you do it. If it’s too much, use the smaller sections of your fingers closer to your fingertips. Once this feels tolerable, you can jam the thicker parts of your fingers between your toes for a deeper stretch.

Foot exercises, toe stretch, how to transition to barefoot shoes

You can do this simple stretch while relaxing and watching a movie.

You can also get a pair of toe separator socks that will give you a nice stretch without needing to use your hands! These are great for if you’re at the computer typing. True multitasking.

Toe separator socks, how to transition to barefoot shoes

I like to get real nerdy and use different interesting objects to separate my toes if I can’t use my fingers and don’t have my socks handy. For instance, you can use little rocks while at the beach, or crayons or markers if you’re in a pinch (and if you really don’t care about what other people think about you).

The Feet as Washrag Twist:

Keeping your fingers in between your toes, now grab the top of your foot by your ankle with your other hand and twist! Your hand holding your toes goes one direction, and the hand by your ankle goes the other - as if you’re wringing out a dish rag. Switch directions and go back and forth for a few minutes.

You can do this one with or without your toes being stretched out. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to do it both ways. Your feet need a lot of different types of input to truly get them to wake up! So do this with and without your fingers separating your toes.

The Ball Massage

It’s so hard for me to choose a favorite, but this one is definitely up there. I don’t even want to call it an exercise because that implies that it’s a chore. This one, my friends, is pure delight and pleasure.

Gather a collection of different sized and textured rubber balls. From as big as a lacrosse ball to as small as your kid’s bouncy ball. I also really enjoy the texture of spiky balls. Pick one, place it on the floor, and roll your foot all over it. Back and forth, front to back. If a spot feels particularly delicious, let your foot hang out there and add as much pressure as feels good.

My own personal solar system.

This exercise/massage is perfect for the beginning of your day to wake up your feet, and a wonderful treat at the end of a long day, especially if you’ve spent a lot of time walking or running.

Not only does it feel wonderful, it’s excellent for mobilizing all those amazing joints and getting your feet moving in all the different ways they were made to move.

Toe Yoga

This one is definitely a brain game, especially at first!

Try this: standing or sitting, lift your big toe up off the floor while your four little toes stay down. Now, lift your four little toes off while keeping your big toe down.

Toe Yoga, how to transition to barefoot shoes

Toe yoga, How to Transition to Barefoot shoes
You can see here that I need to work on keeping that second toe down.

It seems so simple, yet could potentially be super frustrating. We don’t really use our toes for anything in this shoe-wearing society, and since our body parts are designed with a “use it or lose it” rule, we simply lose the ability to move our toes independently of each other.

This exercise is a fun challenge to start waking up those feet. If you find yourself staring at your feet, willing your toes to move by telekinesis and nothing is happening, feel free to use your hand to hold certain toes down while you lift the others. It’s actually pretty cool how quickly your mind-body connection will strengthen, and so rewarding to make quick progress with this one.

Calf Stretches

Since most of us have been wearing shoes with a bit of a heel, our calves haven’t been allowed to stretch out to their full potential, and are always in a shortened state. Which means that most of us are walking around with chronically tight calves (which can lead to injuries like plantar fasciitis!), and it can feel soooo good to get those babies stretched out.

A great tool for calf stretches is a basic half dome foam roller. I keep a couple of these around the house and use them while I’m washing dishes or doing some other standing chore. You can also get a good stretch with a lacrosse ball under your forefoot, or use the edge of a stair, a curb, or any raised surface. Sometimes, when I’m walking up a hill, I’ll just pause and relish in the stretch. YUM!

Calf stretch on half roller, how to transition to barefoot shoes

Calf Raises

Short, tight calves are weak calves, so after we stretch them out, we need to get them stronger.

Calf raises are wonderful because you can do them almost anywhere, and they’re a great use of your time if you have a few minutes to kill. (I practice this while standing in line at the grocery store all the time.)

There are also a ton of variations with the calf raise, so you can get creative by mixing them up, or, with the help of a PT, do versions designed to help your particular injury.

Some variations I love are:

  • Double leg calf raises, for those just starting out (raise & lower both heels at the same time)

  • Double leg on the rise, and switch to one leg to lower, to advance the move

  • Single leg calf raises for even more advanced

  • Single or double leg leaning forward, with hands on a wall to hold you up. Play with the angle. It’ll surprise you how challenging this can get!

  • Double leg with a lacrosse ball gently squeezed between your heels

  • Any of the above with your knee slightly bent (this will target a different section of your calf muscles.)

And of course, please hold on to a wall or your grocery cart if balance is an issue!

*Advanced tip: Focus on driving through the ball of your foot while doing your calf raises. Because of how conventional shoes have formed our feet, it’s very common for the weight of this exercise to fall under the second and third metatarsal, but we want to start changing that to the first.

Toe spacers can be a powerful tool in your foot strengthening journey! They were absolutely a game changer for me.

Correct toes, earth runners tan, how to transition to barefoot shoes
It's only early June and I already have a lil Earth Runners tan goin'!

There are tons of cheapo options available on Amazon, and trust me, I really wanted to be able to use those rather than the $60 Correct Toes. But after doing my due diligence I came to the conclusion that Correct Toes are the way to go. They were designed by a podiatrist and made with a firm silicone to hold your toes in place. And they’re the only spacers that can be worn inside your wide-toe-box shoes while you’re walking, running, or working out.

Wearing Correct Toes while you walk and exercise will allow your feet to strengthen the proper muscles as soon as you put them on. They can take some getting used to, so as with transitioning to minimalist shoes, take it slow and start with an hour a day.

These are a powerful tool that I highly recommend! I wore mine every day for a year straight and it noticeably increased my stability and strength and expidited my healing process.

**Update: Find a much less expensive and identical alternative to Correct Toes here! Use my code BarefootGuide10 for 10% off.**

Expose Your Bare Feet to Textures

Nature gave us thousands of nerve endings on the bottoms of our feet! When we stuff our feet into shoes it literally dulls our senses and cuts us off from external stimulation that could be very valuable information for our safety.

When you first de-shod, your feet will likely be super sensitive! That’s normal and okay. Slowly start exposing your feet to different textures and variations in terrain.

A nice place to start is walking on nice, moist grass or a smooth sidewalk. If you’re feeling really adventurous, walking through squishy mud is a sensory delight (and if you have kids, you’ll win Parent of the Year if you let them join).

If it's winter, you can add texture to the floors inside of your home by getting a rock mat or simply filling up a boot tray with landscaping rock and putting it in front of your bathroom sink. Xero Shoes has a simple bumpy mat that’s small, cheap and lightweight. There are lots of different options - get creative!

Is a barefoot life possible for everyone?

Transitioning to a barefoot lifestyle is something that should be accessible to most people, although, there are a few circumstances that would make this type of a change inadvisable:

If you have hallux rigidus or neuropathy, barefoot shoes may not be the best option for you. If you are hypermobile or are currently dealing with an acute injury, you definitely want the guidance of a foot health professional so you can make the switch safely.


Transitioning to barefoot shoes can be challenging, intimidating, exciting, frustrating, and ultimately extremely rewarding. Even though it can come with some challenges, there's absolutely nothing like the feeling of your feet waking up after a lifetime confined to foot coffins (AKA conventional shoes). Not to mention the multitude of bonus benefits for your entire body!

The work you put in to making this transition will serve you for a lifetime, and as each year goes by, you'll only be even more confident in your body's ability to handle the different terrains life throws your way.

I will say it a million times over - your body is amazing, and it was designed for healing and strength.

Give yourself patience, love, and tenderness as you begin to ask your body to do new things. An incredible world of foot freedom awaits you.

Your Barefoot Guide,


PS. Do you have any questions that I didn't cover here? Leave a note in the comments - I'd love to have a conversation!


Gait Happens (These are the doctors I used and they were incredible - super grateful for them!)

Petra Fisher Free Your Feet (free foot exercise program!)

Whole Body Barefoot, book by Katy Bowman



Hey, I'm Kim!

I'm so happy you're here.

I believe that your feet are the foundation for full body strength, and living a barefoot lifestyle is key to moving through your years with joy and freedom.

Join me as we live our best barefoot lives together.


bottom of page