Ankle Mobility And The Floppy Foot Cooldown

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter in the barefoot underground lately about ankle mobility. It may be one aspect of your running that you have not spent much time thinking about, but in truth, it’s something well worth paying attention to. This is especially true for barefooters.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in the past, when we trade in our sneakers for bare feet, it transfers some of the impact created during running to other parts of our legs, especially the ankles and knees. Having nice, deep bent knees can help absorb this impact, and make for a smooth ride. When we bend our knees, naturally our ankles bend as well, to take their share of the strain.

What can happen, however, especially on longer runs, is that we run the danger of keeping our feet in a dorsiflexed (toes up, making an acute angle of our feet and leg) position for a long time. Habitually running this way can cause your ankles to tighten up, which will reduce their mobility and ability to respond to impact. This in turn can lead to all sorts of problems down the track. (I’m not a doctor or physio, but I have been affected by this in the past, so I’m speaking from personal experience. If you are experiencing pain that worries you, contact your doctor).

With a little bit of management, this condition can be easily avoided and needn’t stop you from enjoying nice, long, barefoot runs. The fix is something I call the Floppy Foot Cooldown (yes, I did just make that name up).

Basically what it involves is, once you’re finished your run, slow down to a walk. Now, as you’re walking, point the toes on one foot downwards, and give your foott a flick. The motion is something like flipping over a toy car with the top of your foot.

While you’re doing this, consciously relax your ankles, and try to feel the stretch where your foot meets the front your ankle. Keep doing this every step for about 100-200m and by the time you’re done, your ankles should be feeling nice and loose.

And that’s it! If you’re already cooling down after your runs, this is a simple little thing to add to it. If you’re not doing a cooldown walk, I strongly encourage you to do so, as it will help with all manner of ailments.

So how about you? Got any neat tricks that you do to stay fit and flexible? Any cooldown hacks that you want to share? Let us know in the comments, or post to our Facebook wall, or send me a Tweet!


Micro-runs…A Better Way To Transition To Barefoot?

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Arguably the hardest part of transitioning from shod to barefoot running is not the discomfort, or form changes, or any of the usual worries that new runners have. No, the hardest part is keeping your mileage low and easing into it. It is so hard to keep to a low-mileage regime, since barefoot running just feels so good and right, and makes you want to keep going!

The trouble with overdoing it is that if your body’s not used to barefoot running, you can run into some trouble, and in some cases may even get injured. There are a lot of tips and tricks out there on how to ease into it gently, but we all know that the reality is most people will just get out there and run too far too soon. It’s human nature.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and having recently recovered from a trampoline-related stress fracture, I’ve had a unique opportunity to re-transition to barefoot running from scratch. After a bit of experimentation, I think I’ve come up with the ultimate solution to the problem.

I call them Micro-runs.

Micro-runs are very short, very easy runs that you do wearing your everyday clothes. All you need to do is take off your shoes and run 50-200m. You don’t need to sprint or break any records. Just do a quick out-and-back at a leisurely pace, staying nice and relaxed, and listening to your body.

It’s that simple.

Don’t get into your workout gear, don’t worry about planning routes, and don’t worry about time or pace, or any of the usual distractions that tend to come with most running programs. Just do this once or twice every day for a few weeks, and reap the benefits.

There are several reasons why the micro-run approach is different to most other transitioning techniques, and why this makes them so much more effective while reducing the chance of injuries from doing too much too soon.

The first is that very few people feel comfortable sweating a lot in their non-workout clothes. Going out in your regular clothes will help you keep your sessions short and relaxed, which is exactly what you want to do when transitioning.

The second is that you can literally do them anywhere: on your commute home, on the way to the shops. Even on the way to the car (my favourite). Just nip up to the end of the block and back again before you head out!

Lastly, it lets you fit in more exercises than you probably otherwise would, since you don’t have the time overhead of getting your running gear together, or the pressure to stay out longer once you are fully dressed. You can even do more than one a day if your feet are up to it!

Micro-runs are a great way to supplement your existing training, and can give you a great indication of how well your feet are acclimating to being barefoot. After each run, pay attention to how your feet feel. At first they may feel a bit raw or tender. Wait for this feeling to subside before doing another micro-run.

I found that doing these, in conjunction with being barefoot at home, and elsewhere as often as possible, made the transition nearly painless and a lot more comfortable. Within a few weeks, I was ready to start running a kilometre or two a couple times per week, and have built up from there.

I’d highly recommend giving micro-runs a go if you’re new to barefoot running, or if you suspect you might be susceptible to overdoing it. I’d love to hear how you go, so if you try it, be sure to leave a comment and let me know how you’ve found it!

Happy running!

5 Simple Methods To Help Overcome Barefoot-Induced Anxiety

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Confession time.

It took me nearly 2 years of running in minimal shoes before I finally let my bare feet touch the ground!

Like many people, I was just really nervous about doing it.

It wasn’t the fear of stepping on something nasty that worried me, it was a much more deep-seeded hesitance that I couldn’t really get over. Looking back, I realise that it was the product of decades of social cues that told me that people just don’t run without shoes!

With the benefit of hindsight, I know that taking my shoes off was the best decision I could have made to improve my running, but that didn’t matter back then. I thought that I’d run slower, get stepped on in races, not be able to train in winter…the list goes on. The worst bit was the fear that I would become some sort of social outcast for making this change.

The truth was that all of these perceived problems were manageable, and once I started working on them, they ended up being far from insurmountable.

The hardest bit was taking the first few steps.

I’m absolutely certain that my experience was not unique. I’m sure that most people reading this are minimalist runners, and that many of you, despite wanting to try it out, find yourselves unable to take the next step and shed the shoes.

To help you get through the toughest bit, and get you out of your shoes (if only for a little while), I’ve put together a list of ways that you can help yourself get used to the idea of running completely barefoot (in public! Gasp!)

1. Start out indoors

As luck would have it, most of us are blessed with a perfect place to start out barefoot – our homes. Even the smallest apartment has a wealth of sensations that your feet are going to love exploring.

When was the last (first?) time you noticed how your carpet feels underfoot? Or how differently you move over hardwood versus rugs?

Taking your shoes off at home should be your first goal when you decide to go barefoot. Try to keep your shoes and socks off as much as you can while at home. This will get you used to the feeling of going barefoot, and give you just that little extra edge to help you make your move.

To supplement your home-walking, it’s a good idea to start including some stretching and strengthening exercises. Simple things like picking up toys, marbles, pebbles, etc with your toes will help you build up your feet muscles and make your transition to full barefoot that much easier.

2. Go to the beach

One of the best ways to ease into barefooting in public is to go where barefooting is expected. The beach, or a public park are great places to start. Not only will your bare feet not look out of place, but you get to enjoy the great outdoors!

A weekly excursion to practice a bit of jogging or walking on different surfaces will go a long way towards preparing your soles and your mind for barefoot running.

3. Set goals

One of the best carrots to make you want to do something is to set yourself tangible goals. This doesn’t even have to be a racing goal or a distance goal. It can be something as simple as walking to the end of the road, or going shopping barefoot.

The more little goals you accomplish, the more confident you will become. As you become more confident, your goals will grow, until you find yourself doing things that you never thought possible.

4. Drive barefoot

The world being what it is, many of us find ourselves spending a lot of time in our cars. You can use this time to strengthen your feet by driving barefoot. This is one of those borderline barefoot activities that will give many people pause.

It’s natural to be apprehensive when you try driving barefoot for the first time. I recommend taking a pair of shoes with you that you can put on if you find it’s too much. Start with a short drive, someplace familiar, maybe to the shops and back. As you gain confidence, increase the distance.

It will get to the point that you prefer driving barefoot. It feels good, and is a great way to get your feet out!

If you’re worried about the legality of driving barefoot, then it’s definitely worth checking your local laws. From what I’ve heard and read, though, most places allow barefoot driving.  Besides, it’s safer than driving in flip-flops or sandals, since there’s nothing to get caught on the pedals.

5. Go where people aren’t

One last thing that you can do, when starting out, is to run in seclusion. Sometimes it’s best just to be left to your own devices and allowed to do your thing. A great way to do this, especially in summer, is to head out early, before the neighbours wake up.

It’s amazing how empty the streets are at sunrise, and you can take advantage of this fact to start learning how to run barefoot. Just make sure you have adequate light so that you can see the path in front of you. If you need to, take a flashlight or headlamp along.

Another option is to physically remove yourself from people altogether and go someplace secluded. This can be a trail or field, park, or even a parking lot. The key here is to go someplace you feel comfortable being on your own.

Overcoming the fear and anxiety that most people feel when they first learn to run and walk barefoot is challenging, but it can be very empowering. Once you’ve conquered it, it will change your perspective on how you view yourself and how you feel about how other people view you.

The psychological benefits of barefooting are as many and as important as the physical benefits, and only add to the long list of reasons why taking off your shoes is worth trying!

So You Want To Run In Minimalist Shoes

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

So I spent most of this weekend fielding questions, comments, tweets, and emails about the recent Art Of Manliness article that came out last week. There were some excellent points raised, and I got the feeling that this is a topic that interests a lot of people.

One of the major themes that came up over and over was the question of injuries related to running in minimalist shoes. If you read the comments you will have seen a number of anecdotes from people who have hurt themselves learning how to run in them.

To address these comments, and in an effort to make it easier to understand the risks involved in minimalist running, I’ve put together this post, which I hope will help new runners avoid making injury-inducing mistakes.

Minimal Running Isn’t Barefoot Running

I think first off, that it’s important to make a distinction between minimalist running and barefoot running.

Barefoot running means that your bare feet are touching the ground as you run. This means no socks, no shoes, nothing.

Minimal, however can mean pretty much anything else. If we go by what the shoe companies tell us, minimal shoes can range from those made from the thinnest materials, such as paper all the way up to padded shoes that supposedly mimic barefoot running (such as the Nike Free).

When you run barefoot, the amount of sensation that you experience is huge, and though you get used to the signals and what is felt as pain initially dwindles, you will always retain the full range of sensation, no matter how long you run barefoot for. This increased sensation acts as a built-in checking mechanism that ensures that you don’t overdo it and cause yourself serious injury.

Similarly, when you slip on minimalist shoes for the first time, you will feel a whole new world of sensations. You may be able to feel the individual pebbles beneath your feet and get a range of motion that was impossible in regular running shoes. The problem is though, that this newfound sensitivity doesn’t last.

Before long, minimalist running can lull you into a false sense of security. They knock off a few of the rough edges and allows you to run further and faster than you would in bare feet. This may seem to be a great advantage, and treated with care, it is, but complacency breeds bad habits. Once you grow complacent, it’s easy to push yourself a bit too hard, or run a bit too far, and this is where injuries happen.

Avoiding Injury

It’s because of injuries and the reduced sensation that comes with minimal shoes that a lot of ‘true’ barefoot runners avoid them, and actively discourage people from using them. Exchanges can become heated, but largely this is an effort by barefoot runners to try to save people from themselves.

It’s human nature to push boundaries, and to (over)indulge in experiences that feel good. Minimalist running allows us to do both, which is where the problems start.

So can you run in minimalist shoes without getting hurt? Sure! But you have to be sensible. One of the major tenets of this site, and what I tell every new barefoot or minimal runner is to listen to your body. You really have to make a conscious effort to do this on every run.

On top of this, you will need to pay extra attention to keeping your feet strong. Walk barefoot as much as possible. Do feet and lower leg exercises regularly.

Most importantly, know your limits. If you can’t run a distance with perfect form, you shouldn’t be running it. This is where a lot of minimal runners get into trouble. It’s fun to sign up for races and push yourself to the limits. Everyone who has completed a race knows that they go a little faster on race day, and push a little harder. This is true of barefoot running, as much as anything, but the key difference is that in minimal shoes you can exceed your body’s limits a lot easier than you can barefoot, and this puts you at risk of injury.

The Second Transition

This site is targeted mainly at beginning barefoot and minimalist runners, but since we’re talking about the risks involved in minimal running, I think it’s a good place to bring up something that’s very common, yet little-discussed. I call it the Second Transition, and for most minimal runners, it seems to occur around the two year mark.

What happens is that the runner makes it through the initial transition into minimal running, and it becomes a habit. They will be running regularly, racing regularly, and generally having a great time of it. Encouraged by past successes, they will slowly begin to ignore the warning signs, and before they know it, an injury hits.

The injury involved will often be quite serious because of the distances and/or speeds that have been reached by the runner. I’ve heard stories of metatarsal fractures, ruptured Achilles tendons, and even plantar fasciitis.

This seems to be a turning point for many minimalist runners. It is here that they will either give up minimal running, be forced to take a break due to injury, or else take the next step and transition to barefoot running.

I lucked out in that I had heard of this phenomenon and transitioned to barefoot before it happened to me, but many people aren’t as lucky.

I don’t mean this to frighten you, but it’s important to highlight the dangers of becoming complacent and over-reaching when wearing shoes, even when you’ve become an experienced runner.

It’s Not All Bad

I don’t want to end this article on a down note, and deter future barefoot runners from giving it a go. Minimal shoes are an excellent way to give you the confidence to try out a new sport in a more familiar and comforting way.

Used correctly, you can have many years of injury-free running ahead of you, and I sincerely hope you do. Just keep in mind that barefoot and minimal running are more than just a fad or a neat party trick. It’s a serious sport and one that needs to be treated with respect.

So, get out there, enjoy yourself, and don’t forget to listen to your body!

How to not break your toes in Vibrams

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

One of the main reasons people decide to try barefoot or minimalist running is the promise of reduced injuries. Unfortunately, a quick Google search will turn up a heap of anecdotes about people suffering tarsal and metatarsal fractures in minimalist shoes. To the rest of us this essentially means that if you run in Vibrams or other minimalist shoes, you run the risk of breaking feet and/or toes.

I don’t know about you, but assuming these stories are real, to me this is very scary. Running barefoot or thin-soled shoes should be a pleasant experience, not one that would send you to the hospital. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I have a theory on why it might be happening and what can be done to avoid it happening to you.

What I think Happened

When the barefoot/minimalist movement began to take off a couple years ago, there was a lot of discussion among runners regarding the negative aspects of heel-striking. The merits of the forefoot strike were equally lauded as the next big thing in running. Then along came the Vibram Five Finger range, with their distinctive toe pockets.

What I think may have happened is that the message of landing on the forefoot somehow got mixed in with the excitement about shoes with toes, and got translated into “run on your toes”. From that point, what began happening was that people would go out, buy a pair of ‘toe shoes’ and start running on their tippy-toes. The reslut is that new runners may be putting too much pressure on their toes,  or landing way too hard on their forefeet.

Running up on your toes is a recipe for disaster. They simply are not designed to bear the weight of your entire body while running. They are thin little bones surrounded by tiny muscles and it’s no surprise that before long they would start to hurt or even break. On top of this, it reduces the surface area used by your feet to dissipate the energy used when running. This increases pressure on a single area, which can lead to serious problems.

How to avoid toes injuries

So the simple answer to avoiding this is that if you are new to running barefoot/minimalist, don’t run on your toes. Try to land with your feet nearly parallel to the ground, with the ball of your foot touching down a fraction before your toes, then allowing your heel to lightly brush the ground.

By landing lightly with a foot that’s nearly flat to the ground, you’re increasing the surface area involved in the landing. This increased surface area will help your body dissipate the energy of the landing, which in turn will reduce the chances of any one part of your foot being overloaded to the point of injury.

If you’re running in Vibrams or other minimalist shoes, it’s really important to focus on your landing for the duration of the run, as even though they might have only a thin sole, you’re not getting the full sensory experience that you would in bare feet.

Regardless of what you wear or don’t wear on your feet, it’s also essential that you listen to what your body is telling you. If you find yourself beginning to develop pains when you run, take note of them and try adjusting your form. Bend your knees, relax your ankles and increase your cadence. If the pain persists, stop running, walk for a bit and see if it goes away. If the pain continues, take a day or two off. Lastly if it doesn’t improve, go see your doctor.

By being sensible and working on your running form, you will be able to run injury-free and take full advantage of the equipment that nature gave you. Don’t let the fear of getting hurt stop you from enjoying this incredible sport, but don’t be complacent either. There are no guarantees that you will never hurt yourself, but as with most things in life, a little care and patience goes a long way.

5 Tips For Surviving Your First Run In Vibrams

By Barefoot Dawsy

There’s something about running in Vibrams that makes you want to run farther. Unfortunately, for most new Vibram wearers, this feeling can often lead to the dreaded sore calves that are the trademark of doing Too Much Too Soon (TMTS). The problem is that it just feels so good to run with light feet that can feel the ground beneath them!

The disadvantage to taking your first ‘barefoot’ steps in shoes versus actually barefoot is that Vibram makes excellent soles. What this means for you as a new runner is that you can run and run and your own soles won’t hurt at all. Try this barefooted, and your foot pads will be screaming.

At this point, the best advice is of course to go slowly, spend a good few weeks building up your strength and improving your form. This is great, and highly recommended, but the reality is that you’re probably going to get caught up in the moment and ignore the whole tranistion thing (shame, shame 😉 ).

With this in mind, I’ve put together a few tips to surviving your first Vibrams run. If you do nothing else but these things, you still stand a good chance of making it home with your Achilles tendons intact.

1. Stretch those calves!

Normally I don’t advocate stretching before a run, however if you are used to wearing conventional shoes, you’re  going to need a bit of rehab before hitting (caressing, really) the pavement. So, while you’re shopping for your first pair of Vibrams, making your mind up, etc, spend some time getting your calves ready. Every day, and especially before that fateful first run, do some simple calf exercises. 3 sets of 10 calf raises should be enough. This will let your Achilles tendon lengthen a bit and your calves develop a bit more strength. The longer you can do this before your first run, the better, so start now!

2. Take Small Steps

You’re making a big transition by moving from regular shoes to minimals, so you’re going to have to start catering for this. I can’t go through everything about proper form (see the rest of this site for details), but if you’re going to do just 1 thing to start working on this, it’s to take small steps. The smaller your steps, the more likely you will be to keep your feet under your centre of gravity. Doing this will reduce your tendency to heel strike and overstride, and will reduce the impact forces on your feet and joints as you run.

3. Take It Slow

You will be tempted to ramp up the speed on your first run. By all means, do a couple little sprints, but try to keep the speed down at first. The slower you go, the easier it is to tread lightly, make corrections, and to react to changes in terrain, etc.

4. Walk It Off

Waling is an excellent way to let your body recover from a run, and should especially not be excluded from your first minimal run. As a rule of thumb, once your run is done, walk for 30 seconds for every minute that you ran. This will help your muscles stretch out and cool down gradually, which will make all the difference to your recovery.

5. Take A Break

A lot of time with running, the day after is nowhere near as painful as the day-after-the-day-after. This is especially true when you’re wearing minimal shoes as there is very little protecting you from your own mistakes. When easing into running ‘barefoot’, make sure that you give yourself at least 2 days off after your first run.

There are thousands of tips that I gan give you to take with you on your first run, but if you stick to these 5, you will greatly improve your chances of making it home in one piece. Running in Vibrams (or better yet, barefoot) is a joy that has turned many a couch-potato into a distance runner (myself included), so get out there, and enjoy yourself!

The Truth About Barefoot Running Injuries (And What To Do About Them)

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Any barefoot runner that tells you that they’ve never been injured is either really lucky, forgetful, or lying. Small injuries are a part of learning how to run barefoot if you’ve worn shoes your whole life. The thing to keep in mind is that barefooting gives you the advantage of being able to feel these injuries coming on, learn from them and prevent them from getting serious. Contrast this to running shod, where the shoes can mask long-term damage, and you can see the advantage of going shoeless, even if it hurts a bit.

They key to managing the injuries that you will receive when running barefoot is to recognise them early on, and make changes to fix the problem. What follows is a list of injuries common to new barefoot runners, how to fix them, and what they are trying to teach you.

Please note that I’m not a doctor or injury specialist. The information contained in this post is based solely on my own experiences and reading. With any change to your personal exercise regime, it is important to consult with your doctor.

Light Injuries

There are a host of small injuries that can occur to barefoot runners. Fortunately, the bulk of them are quick to manifest, quick to heal, and manageable with rest and adjusting your running form.


One of the most educational injuries you can receive while running barefoot is the blister. Blisters form when friction occurs agains the skin, which is why they are so common in runners, shod or otherwise. In barefooting, they are a warning sign that your form is slipping, which can be caused by pushing too hard, too long, or through unfamiliarity with correct form.

A barefoot stride should consist of a gentle landing, cushioned by the arch, the Achilles tendon and the knees. Your feet should meet the ground at the same speed that you are running, and as such, the amount of friction will be negligible, meaning no blisters. A lot of new barefooters will try to push off the ground with their feet, an action that causes slipping and will in turn damage the skin.

The best way to fix blisters is to first avoid them. If you start feeling hot spots on your feet, remember your form, bend your knees and concentrate on lifting your feet. Often this will prevent the blister from forming altogether, though you may end up with a patch of pink skin where the blister was trying to form.

Once you’ve got a blister, you really should stop running and take some time off running until it’s healed. If it’s a large blister, then pop it with a sterilised needle and put a band-aid on it. If its small, just leave it or put a band-aid on it, and it should heal quickly. Never peel the skin entirely off the blister as this can lead to discomfort and increase the chance of infection.

Sore Calves

Hop onto any barefoot running, or especially minimalist running, forum and you’ll see dozens of posts about sore calves. This is really the trademark of new minimal runners, and is often a direct result of trying to do too much too soon. The reason that calves take such a hammering is that when switching to a forefoot stride, new muscles are being used which were likely under-developed before.

To avoid calf pain, start running slowly, and for short distances. Follow the outline in the 6 Weeks To Barefoot Running program if you need a guide.

Sore Achilles

Like sore calves, sore Achilles tendons are often the result of doing too much too soon. When unused, these tendons tend to shrink a bit, and become tighter. This is especially true for people who wear high heels. Luckily I’ve got a whole post on how to get around this, so have a look.

Potentially Serious Injuries

Sometimes bad form and doing too much too soon, combined with a life lived wearing shoes can cause serious damage to your body. It’s these serious injuries that are the main reason why nearly every experienced barefoot runner will preach caution to newbies. The following injuries can be very serious and you need to pay attention to be certain to avoid them.

Morton’s Neuroma

Typically, Morton’s Neuromas are caused by ill-fitting shoes, so most barefoot runners can avoid them, however minimilast runners should pay special attention to this one. Morton’s Neuromas are often first felt by a tingling or pain in the toes (typically the second and/or third toe), and/or pain in the forefoot. It’s caused by the bones in your feet rubbing against one another and the nerves surroounding them. This can create a great deal of inflammation that can often be felt as a lump under the foot. Left unchecked, these can require surgery to fix.

To avoid Morton’s Neuroma, run barefoot, or, if you insist on running in minimal shoes, make sure that they are not too tight across the forefoot. This can be tricky as your feet can expand as you run, so be sure to pay attention to any discomfort you feel and adjust your lacing accordingly.

Plantar Fasciitis

Arguably the king of all running injuries, Plantar Fasciitis has been the end to many a runner’s career. Generally thought to be caused by a combination of weak arches and repetitive stress on the heel, it can feel like a knife in your foot. There are no known cures for Plantar Fasciits, however barefoot running has had some success anecdotally. The caveat here is that you pay attention to your form, and be sure to land on the forefoot, not the heel. It has been repeatedly shown that even minimal/barefoot runners are prone to land on their heels when tired, so be vigilant to avoid this.

Landing on your forefoot will engage your arch, which will strengthen it, which should help to strengthen the plantar fascia, which a cluster of tissue at the heel end of your arch.

Once Plantar Fasciitis has set in, it can be exceedingly difficult to get rid of, so once again, pay close attention to your form, and if you feel any heel pain, stop and revise your form.

Metatarsal Fractures

Your metatarsals are basically the bones in your feet and your toes. They are durable, yet poor form can sometimes cause them to fracture under the strain. Your feet and legs are designed as incredible shock absorbers, able to take 3 times your bodyweight on each step and channel the energy around to minimise the shock. However, bad form can cause certain parts of the feet to take too much strain and break.

A typical example of this is when people think that barefoot/minimal running means running on your toes. This is a fallacy, and is to be avoided at all costs. Your toes are fragile and are not meant to be used to land on.

If you start feeling sharp pains in your toes, or on the top of your foot, then you are likely putting too much strain on them. Remember, land gently on your forefoot. If anything, your toes should be curled up slightly so that they contact the ground immediately after your forefoot.

Getting injured when running can be scary, but if you pay close attention to what your body is trying to tell you, especially in the early phases, you should be able to avoid any severe damage and enjoy a long life of injury-free running.