Natural walking is the practice of
barefoot walking in the most natural environments, with the most natural
techniques and methods in order to maximize the enjoyment of walking while
providing low stress exercise. The concept of natural walking is that to do
whatever is most natural for the body is the best form of walking. Natural
walking, as exercise and not as simply an enjoyable pastime, is one of the
very best forms of exercise of any kind while being low on stress and high
on pure fun.
What is "natural walking?"
Natural walking is outdoor walking during daylight hours in bare feet on
non-abrasive natural surfaces such as grass, earth, hard-packed sand or other
natural surfaces at a pace that is adequate for exercise and enjoyment of the
Natural walking vs. unnatural walking
The following list covers the advantages of natural walking and guidelines to
doing it properly and safely.
Natural walking must be done barefoot. That is the way that humans walked
for many thousands of years prior to the invention of footwear. Barefoot walking
utilizes the feet entirely while shoes restrict some of the natural movement
of the feet. Shoes and footwear, since they are man-made, cannot be considered
as natural. Since we are not born with shoes on, we have to adapt to wearing
them. In addition to restricting some of the natural movement of the feet, shoes
cut off the range of sensory ability of the feet and cut down on the sensory
pleasures of contacting the grass and earth. Shoes also are often the cause of
blisters, overheating, fungus, foot injuries and pain.
Walking outdoors is natural. Early humankind had no indoor facilities; walking
was a daily outdoor activity and was a necesity for survival. Outdoor walking
maximizes the contact with nature and availability of fresh air and natural scenery.
- Earth Connection to the Body
Natural walking allows for a natural connection to the earth through the feet.
Nearly all natural health specialists and healers acknowledge that we need
to be "grounded" to the earth. This "groundedness" effect is believed by
many to enhance and unblock the body's chi energy, chakras, and subtle energy.
Also, in addition to possible subtle energy benefits of earthing, recent
research on earthing and a book dedicated to that topic (Earthing -The Most
Important Health Discovery Ever?) shows that earthing allows for free electron
flow into the body. This flow apparently provides electron balance and a
wide range of health benefits. Earthing by barefoot walking on the earth's
surfaces is the easiest and most direct way to attain electrical earthing
- Reflexology Effect
Reflexology is a form of massage therapy that involves point pressure stimulation
of parts of the feet. Natural walking on grass and other natural surfaces provides
a similar form of stimulation that has a "reflexology effect" that is beneficial.
While this benefit is not as intense as a full reflexology session, it is far
superior to walking with the feet encased in shoes. Shoes offer no reflexology
effect at all and in fact shoes block the feet from any stimulation by the environment.
- Natural Surfaces
Grass that is healthy and well hydrated is the best natural surface to
walk on. This includes grass that is common in lawns (fescue, bluegrass,
zoysia, etc.) and other similar forms of soft vegetation such as clover,
soft (non-toxic) broadleaf weeds, and other non-toxic leafy vegetation.
Grasses generally range from good to outstanding as a natural surface.
Other non-grassy earth surfaces, such as smooth earth, slightly muddy earth,
and hard-packed sand (e.g. wet sand that is near the shore of a beach and
provides a firm support for walking) are also natural as long as they are
not harmful to the feet, and range from fair to excellent. For best results,
the earth that the grass grows in should be fairly smooth (i.e. not filled
with a lot of hard dirt clumps) and not filled with stones, sticks, or other
debris. These types of obstacles, while natural, tend to diminish the
enjoyment of the natural walking experience. Unnatural hazards (glass,
metal, garbage, biohazards, etc.) should be avoided. Clean, well-maintained
parks usually provide some of the best natural walking surfaces.
- Cooler Walking Area
Grass and live vegetation have much less surface heat radiation than concrete and
asphalt, and generally can provide a cooler walking area.
- Natural Gait
The body's natural walking sequence and motion of bones, muscles, and other
body parts, i.e. "gait", is thrown off in all cases at least moderately
and sometimes substantially with the use of shoes. Studies have shown
that only barefoot walking makes it possible for a completely natural gait
as long as the feet are normal and healthy. A natural gait allows for
full movement of the toes and front of the feet as is readily done when
barefoot. Likewise, carrying substantial weight (being substantially
overweight, carry a heavy backpack, etc.) will adversely affect the natural
gait. Natural walking promotes a natural gait.
- Use of the Toes
Natural walking allows for full use of the toes when walking. This is not
possible with any type of footwear, even flip flops, which provide a
barrier between the toes and the ground.
- Natural Exercise Pace
Natural walking is best done at a pace that is good for exercise; not too
fast, and not too slow. A too-fast pace can cause a risk of injury and
sometimes is unduly stressful in warm or hot conditions. A too-slow pace
is inadequate for a good exercise workout. A general range for natural
walking is 4 to 7 km/hr (2.5 mph to 4.7 mph), and will depend on several
factors, especially the quality of the surface. Smooth soft grass and
earth surfaces are much more conducive to a faster pace than are uneven
grassy areas that are rocky or are full of unpleasant sharp-edged weeds
or stubble. It is quite acceptable, and in fact wise, to temporarily
slow down a bit if some obstacles or poor terrain are encountered and
then return to the regular pace when safe to do so.
Water is the most natural liquid refreshment. Bottled water should be
brought with you when natural walking and you should hydrate yourself
before, during, and after the walk. For natural walking to be done most
successfully, at least 0.5 to 0.8 liter (1 pint to 1.7 pints) of water
should be consumed per hour, and more if the weather is hot or if it is
very sunny. The water can be cold, cool or at a tepid temperature.
A natural walking distance is one that provides sufficient exercise but
does not exceed one's natural limits. If you feel pain, aches, significant
discomfort, etc., the walk should be ended as soon as possible. Exercise
should not cause regular significant injuries or even regular minor injuries.
Each person's appropriate distances (i.e. natural limits) will vary as
you get more in shape and as your feet get more "ruggedized." It will
typically increase over time.
Natural walking is best done in daylight with natural lighting (i.e.
sunlight). It is not recommended to be done under the lights, or in
The posture is either straight or slightly leaning forward. The main
exception to this is when going uphill it may be necessary to make
posture adjustments (e.g. slightly more forward when going uphill).
- Leg Movement
A natural sequence of leg movement is used, not an exaggerated lifting of
the legs up and down and also not a lack of upward leg movement along
with sliding the feet across the ground or shuffling motion. The legs
and feet should be lifted moderately and go straight forward, not outward.
Natural walking is best done if you are at a natural weight for your height
and body type. You should not be substantially overweight. Being very
overweight may put too much stress on the feet and knee joints. Early
humans that went barefoot all the time were rarely overweight due to the
scarcity of food. Being at one's correct weight is best for optimizing
the natural walking experience. Regular natural walking can lead to some
weight loss (with proper dieting) if you are overweight but it is better
for stabilizing weight rather than reducing weight.
Natural walking is done in a clean environment (i.e. no bio hazards).
Harmless grass, dirt, and vegetation debris will get on your feet.
Brushing debris off the feet and watering and drying them should be done
after each walk. A full cleaning of the feet and rest of the body should
be done after returning home.
Deep lung breathing is used in natural walking, as practiced in yoga and
martial arts. The diaphragm is fully expanded for belly breaths when
inhaling, and each inhaling breath starts at the bottom of the lungs and
goes to the top of the lungs, which are totally filled before exhaling.
- Stride Length
A comfortable stride length should be used for natural walking. The stride
should not be too long or too short. Your natural walking stride will
typically vary from your natural stride length to less than this when
encountering difficult terrain or obstacles.
- Do Some Uphill Walking
If possible, part of each walk should include some uphill walking. The
uphill portion(s) can be very slightly uphill or more steeply uphill,
depending on your preference. Uphill walking promotes a better aerobic
workout and is better for the muscles. As you get better at natural
walking the uphill sections will become more easy to accomplish.
The arms should swing in the reverse direction to the legs and should be
back-and-forth, not side-to-side.(i.e. not crossing the front of the body).
The amount of armswing can be either slight or substantial, whatever
your preference is.
- Time Duration of Each Natural Walk
Initially, as you get used to walking barefoot outdoors, this will typically
be a 20 to 30 minutes. After a while when you are fully acclimated to
natural walking, the time duration of a walk can range from 30 minutes to
about 2 hours. There is no fixed upper limit; it is an individual parameter
that can vary depending on how you feel, the weather, your fitness, etc.
The typical range for a natural walk is 40 to 100 minutes. During most
of the spring, summer, and early fall, three to six natural walks per week,
weather permitting, should typically be possible.
The best temperature range for natural walking is 55 F (13 C) to 86 F
(30 C). Walking barefoot outdoors below 46 F (8 C) may not be comfortable
for everyone and is a matter of individual choice. Even above 50 F (10 C),
if the grass is wet, it may be too cool on the feet for some. Walks on
wet grass at temperatures of 59 F (15 C) or above should not be a problem
for most. Natural walking should not be done at temperatures or wind
chills at or below 39 F (4 C), with the exception of very short walks
(0.8 km total, i.e. 0.5 mile) or possibly longer distances for those
experienced barefoot walkers who have gradually acclimated themselves to
cold weather barefoot walking. Walking in extreme heat should be limited
to shorter-than-normal distances, and requires much more hydration (water
intake) than usual. All walks should be ended if discomfort or numbness
is felt due to either heat or cold.
- Foot Motion
When walking naturally, the feet do not come down hard on the heels. Three
methods of natural walking are all perfectly fine and are a matter of
preference. These three are (1) heel-to-toes with rapid shift of weight
away from the heel, (2) straight down, and (3) front-part-first or fox
walking. For heel-to-toes method the foot lightly touches the surface
with the heel first and the contact surface moves rapidly toward the ball
of the foot and toes. Normally the front of the foot (including the toes)
carries the bulk of the load, not the heel. The other two methods are
self-explanatory but there are websites that go in more detail on fox
walking (so refer to them if you want to learn more about front-part-first
walking). With any of these methods, if an obstacle (e.g. large stone)
that you did not see is stepped upon by the middle or inner part of a foot,
you can rapidly adjust the weight to the outside of the foot is your pace
is not too fast. This ability to make quick adjustments should be used if
you feel an obstacle that is uncomfortable and large enough to cause an
injury. A too fast pace makes it harder to make momentary adjustments and
makes bruising injuries more likely when stepping on protruding blunt objects
that you do not see and subsequently step on. Generally, an experienced
natural walker will have a light stepping foot motion that is well matched
to the pace.
In mild, warm and hot weather, clothes should be light, loose and comfortable.
Cotton and natural fabrics should be used as much as possible. Cotton/synthetic
blends are okay but less desirable. Hats with brims are recommended for
sunny conditions. In colder weather it is important to dress with warmer
clothes to retain body heat as there will be greater heat loss from the
feet being barefoot than there is when wearing shoes.
There are 25 safety guidelines for natural walking that should be followed.
These are listed under The 25 Basic Safety Guidelines of Barefoot Grass
Walking by Tom Kutscher. It is best to memorize the safety guidelines and
practice them at all times that you do natural walking. They are included
in this website.
- Accessories That Are Okay
Sunglasses, bug repellant, sunscreen, watches, keys, IDs, and other
essential items are okay. Cell phones, electronic devices, and other
items that will distract you from the walk should either be shut off or
left behind. Shut off the outside world except where you are walking.
Also, do not wear weights for strength conditioning; weight work is fine
but should be done separate from natural walking.
- Rainy Conditions
While it may be tempting, it is not advisable to walk in the rain. The
primary hazard is lightning. However there are other hazards as well
(slippery areas, puddles that can temporarily hide sharp objects and
other hazards, possible chilling from wet clothes, etc.). Light drizzle
is usually okay for walking as long as there is no lightning. Natural
walking is best done in weather conditions that are dry or after a light
rain. Walks that are done on wet grass in warm weather after a substantial
rain are especially enjoyable.
Natural walking is not competitive. It is for exercise and enjoyment.
- Enjoy the Moment
The sensual pleasures of natural walking vary with the temperature, grass
moisture level, sunlight, wind, natural sights, grass length, grass
texture, ground texture, and other parameters. Take it all in as you
walk and enjoy the moment.
- What will Others Think?
It is understandable that you may feel self-conscious walking barefoot
while others are all in some form of footwear. You will get over this
fairly quickly. Remember, you are the one doing the natural form of
walking, and they are not.
You had fun as a kid going barefoot, didn't you? So go back to what you
did as a kid! Kids instinctively get it right. Ditch the shoes and return
to what is fun!
While natural walking is terrific, there are three main drawbacks when
compared to traditional forms of indoor exercise. First, the weather
will be a limitation, especially cold, winter weather. Second, the
conditions of the grass and the ground can vary substantially. Dry grass
and earth is less fun to walk on than well-hydrated grass and moistened
soil. If you really want a totally predictable exercise routine with an
unchanging environment and with unchanging grass and earth, that is not
possible. And third, there are some minor hazards (minor bruises, cuts,
scrapes, slivers, occasional bug bites, etc.) that usually are not a
problem for most people but could be for some.
But the benefits of natural walking far outweigh the drawbacks. And the
cost is FREE if you go to public parks with no admission charge or to
other free public areas. No expensive athletic shoes to buy, no lessons,
and no equipment, yet excellent exercise with the backdrop of the scenic
outdoors. The upside of natural walking greatly exceeds the downside!
It is permissible to reproduce any and all of this article "Natural Walking
for Exercise" by Tom A. Kutscher without permission from the author provided
that (1) the author is acknowledged as the originator and source of this
text and (2) no copying of this article is done for commercial purposes.