Stepping In To Barefoot Running

The Works Sport KiltIf you’ve found your way here, then you’ve probably heard a little bit about running barefoot and are intrigued enough to want to know more. Like most people, you probably have all sorts of questions running through your head:

  • Won’t I step on glass?
  • Will me feet get ugly?
  • Do I have to grow a beard?
  • What will my girlfriend/boyfriend think?
  • Is it OK to wear shoes when I’m running barefoot?
  • Can I ever wear shoes again?

Every barefooter before you has had similar questions and have found a variety of answers (especially to that beard one). In this post we’re going to talk about some of the risks and rewards of running barefoot, what you need to do to get ready to take your first steps, and a few other tips and tricks to get you started off right.

So, to begin, let’s start by dispelling a myth.

Now, you may have heard that running barefoot will cure your plantar fasciitis, put an end to injuries forever,  grow hair on your chest, bring about world peace, etc. I’m afraid that as much as I would like all this to be true, if you’re looking for a magic cure-all, then you may be disappointed. Like any physical, outdoor activity, there is a chance you will aggravate an existing injury or even obtain a new one. Transitioning to barefoot (or minimal shoes) is notoriously risky and if done incorrectly can cause serious damage (see pretty much every article on this site for tips on how to minimise this).

However, though running barefoot isn’t a 100% cure for running injuries, it does offer a number of very worthwhile benefits.

To begin with, it’s FUN! Really, really fun! I honestly think this is the top reason why so many runners find their way into running barefoot. It’s hard to overstate the enjoyment of throwing off your shoes and running down a beach, or sloshing your way along a muddy trail.

What barefoot running offers is a change from the increasingly common mentality of needing to experience pain and discomfort for the sake of exercise. One thing that barefooters seem to have in common is the uncanny ability to smile throughout their runs. It sounds cheesy as hell, but it really does give you a spring in your step, and can bring back the enjoyment of running to those who have lost it.

Apart from sheer pleasure, there are many physical benefits to running unshod as well. Once you learn how to do it correctly and safely, it is a great way to stretch and strengthen your feet. Our poor feet spend a lot of time in shoes that, frankly, aren’t fit for feet. The damage caused by office shoes in particular, especially high-heels (or so I hear) is appalling.

By running au naturelle every now and then, it’s possibly to strengthen the arches of your feet and even reverse some of the damage caused by shoes. Your feet will start to change, and many barefooters, myself included, have experienced widening feet as their toes spread apart. Once you get to this point, the idea of cramming your piggies back into a pair of hush puppies is abhorrent.

What I’ve found really surprising about learning to run barefoot however, has little to do with feet at all. As you scan the ground in front of you for broken glass, thorns, dog poo, etc, something strange happens to your brain. You start to notice more, be aware of your surrounding more, and even begin to feel more ‘present’. It’s something akin to mindfulness meditation, and can have a major affect on you, even when you’re not running. Barefoot running is meditating without needing to meditate, and even more than shod running, can snap you out of a funk like you would not believe.

Now there is one concern that new barefooters have that can’t be dismissed. It’s the totally justified fear of stepping on something sharp. The fact is that when you leave the protection of a pair of shoes behind, you open your soles to the possibility of damage. At first this seems like a really dumb idea, but in practice, it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Think of it like parenting – you can wrap your kids up in cotton wool to protect them from ever getting hurt, or you can let them roam free and collect the bruises and scrapes that will be inevitable. By protecting the child, they never learn how to deal with bumps and bruises, so when they eventually grow up and get their first scrape, the world seems to be coming to an end. For the free-roaming kid, they’re likely to get bumped around a little bit initially, but they learn from the experience and develop the skills and resilience to manage or avoid similar situations in the future.

The same goes with feet. Sure, you might get the odd scratch or bruise, but this will make you more aware of your surroundings and more careful about how you run. It forces you to treat your body and environment with respect which, in the long term, pays off huge dividends. And don’t forget, your feet evolved to do this, so they’re actually very well equipped to deal with outdoor terrain.

Initially, when the shoes first come off, your feet will likely be soft and weak. You’re going to feel every little stone and stick, and it’s probably going to be a little bit uncomfortable and even painful. But by slowly exposing your feet to more and more time in direct contact with the ground, your brain will learn how to filter out the unimportant signals and focus in on what’s important.

Many people think that by running barefoot all the time, you just end up with big, nasty callouses, and that this toughening of the skin is what makes it easier for long term barefooters to cope with the sensations. In fact, after seven years of barefoot running, I have got very little callousing on my feet, and in fact I think it’s actually less than when I always wore shoes. Despite this, I can run on gravel now that would have stopped me in my tracks in the early days.

Barefoot running is not for everyone, and that’s fine, but it can be a very rewarding way to spice up your running, improve your foot health, and allow you to feel more attuned to your surroundings. You don’t have to do it for every run, and you don’t have to run marathons unshod either. All you need to do is take off your shoes, slow down, and enjoy the experience.

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

Barefoot running is not for everyone and has associated risks that may not be suitable to your individual situation. Please see out disclaimer regarding information shared on this site.


Review: Barefoot Running – The Movie

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Barefoot Running: The MovieOne of the most eagerly anticipated events on the 2012 Barefoot calendar was the release of Barefoot Running: The Movie, a labour of love from the creators of, Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee. I was very lucky to have won myself a copy from, so thought you all might enjoy a review!

Barefoot Running: The Movie is essentially a video version of their hugely popular Barefoot Running book. It’s beautifully shot in Maui, and features a heap of great stories, exercises, and lessons that will be incredibly useful for the new barefoot runner.

The movie is split up into several different parts that discuss different aspects of barefoot running. My favourite was definitely Michael’s story, in which we are shown just how much Michael had to overcome just to be able to run a few metres. In my opinion, the DVD is worth a look for this section alone.

The running drills and explanations were very well handled, though I think there is perhaps a bit too much of an emphasis on forefoot running. Michael is very much a forefoot striker, and his heel seems to stay well above the ground. Interestingly, Jessica’s landing is much less pronounced, and seems more relaxed to me.

I’ve found that lowering the heel down to the ground level helps with balance and is far more comfortable, but it clearly works for Michael. All I would suggest is to listen to the principles, but play with your own footstrike to find what’s comfortable.

If I had one complaint (besides the somewhat repetitive and distracting soundtrack), it would be the inclusion of Earthing. Earthing is an alternative health term that suggests that we are somehow electrified beings who benefit from being “grounded” with the earth. This means having direct contact with the ground, or at least contact via some form of cunductor, such as metal. Basically, there’s no evidence that it even exists, and what few ‘studies’ have been conducted have been non-peer-reviewed, non-blinded, and reach dubious conclusions.

That being said, there is something relaxing and pleasant about running barefoot. Many of the benefits that Michael attributes to Earthing are present, and may just be the result of getting more sensation from the environment. Whatever you believe, don’t let this dissuade you from enjoying the movie, or reaping the benefits of the lessons therein.

All-in-all I think that Barefoot Running: The Movie is well-worth a watch, especially for new runners. It’s great to see the barefoot community starting to produce well thought-out and executed material to help new barefooters get started.

If you like the sound of Barefoot Running: The Movie, be quick because it’s ON SALE NOW on DVD over at (or PAL version for us international folk).

If you really, really really like the sound of it, Michael and Jessica are holding an UNBELIEVABLE retreat on Maui. How awesome is that?!

As luck would have it, my mate the Barefoot Beginner, is also giving away a copy this week, so go pay him a visit for a chance to enter!

Beginning Barefoot would like to thank Trisha Reeves from barefoot-monologues for the DVD. Please be sure to visit her site for some phenomenal tips, stories and reviews.

6 Weeks to Barefoot Running – Part 6: Free Fall

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

<< Back to Part 5: Posture or Start From The Top

This is it. If you’ve been following along, then you’re in the last week of training before you get to leave the nest and fly off on your own. This week we’re going to be putting together everything we’ve learned over the past few weeks and learning the last few things you’ll need to know as you progress in your future barefoot endeavours.

Session 1

As is traditional at this point, we’re going to go for a run. There’s a lot to think about this time as you head out, as you’ll want to focus on posture, foot lift, bent knees and footfalls. It’s a lot to pay attention to at the same time, but don’t get discouraged, we’re going to be working on techniques to pull everything together later in the week. For now, just run for around 10 minutes or so and try to tweak your form as you go along as best you can.

Session 2

Arguably the biggest benefit to running barefoot is the increase in feedback you get, not just from your feet, but from your whole body. Because of this, learning to run barefoot is learning to run with good form. But how do you know what your body is trying to tell you?

Well, as any new barefooter will tell you, the first communication method your body comes up with is generally pain. This can be experienced as anything from mild discomfort to crippling agony, depending on what you’re putting your body through. I would imagine that if you’re this far in the program, you’ve likely experienced some of this (hopefully not the agony bit though).

There is however, another side to the coin, and it’s the side that gets nearly every barefoot runner who perserveres completely hooked. Some describe it as runner’s high, but I think it’s something a little different, something that I like to think of as Free Fall. It’s a sensation that’s almost like flying, as if there’s no resistance being applied to your various body parts. When you run with perfect form, your body snaps into this rhythm that just feels right. It’s almost a meditative state, where everything is aligned, and you feel as though you could run forever. This is the feeling that we’re going to chase this week.

The first and most important thing you will need to do (apart from all the technical stuff you’ve learned so far) is to relax. The more relaxed you are, the better you will run, and the closer you will get to the feeling of free fall. When I say relaxed, I don’t mean to let your body go all floppy, or let your form slip. What I mean is letting all the tension in your body drain away.

We’re going to go for a short run, so take your shoes off and head outside. Before you start running, stand with your feet together, and close your eyes. Make sure your posture is good and that you’re not slouching. Now relax the muscles in your body, one by one, starting at the top of your head and working down. Pay special attention to the tension in your neck, shoulders, thighs, calves and feet. Take in some deep breaths through your nose and out of your mouth, holding the breath in for a couple of seconds each time.

Once you’re thoroughly relaxed, push your hips forward slightly and allow yourself to fall into an easy shuffle. Don’t worry about speed at this point, just concentrate on keeping your body as relaxed as possible. Keep running until you lose that relaxed sensation, then stop, centre yourself again, and repeat the process. Do this a few times until you get the feeling of running while relaxed.

When you’ve finished this session, take a short, slow walk and let any tension that you may stil feel melt away.

Now that you’ve had a chance to know what it feels like to run relaxed, you’ll want to try to incorporate this into every run you do from now on. It’s very helpful at first to take a couple minutes to truly relax yourself before running as it sets the tone for the whole run.

Session 3

Today we’re going to address the tricky part of running relaxed, which is keeping your cadence up and your feet in good ruuning positions. You may have found in the previous session that your feet would feel tense no matter what you did. The trick to fixing this bit is not to focus on your feet, but to focus on your ankles.

The ankles are the main spots from which the angle of your feet can be adjusted. A lot of new barefooters get into trouble with ankles because they try to keep them too tight. This is natural, when you think of it, because at first, we’re afraid of striking the ground, as it’s unfomfortable, so we tense up.

To get over the tensing of ankles, you have to take special care to relax them specifically. As you run, concentrate on releasing the pressure in your ankles. Relax them as much as possible and let them almost go totally limp. A great way to help this out is to bend your knees deeply as you run. This will encourage your ankles to use their full range of motion, rather than locking them in one place.

Head outside and do a few 100-200m jogs, focusing on bending your knees and relaxing your ankles. It’s tricky at first and you may find your form suffering, but try to keep it all in balance. When you get it, you will feel like your feet have gotten lighter and that it’s easier to bring them around for the next landing.

Session 4

There’s one last thing that you will need to learn before heading out on your own to experiment with barefooting, and that’s your breathing. Correct breathing will allow you to maintain your pace longer, and even burn off some of that body fat along the way.

The trick to breathing right when running is to only breathe through your nose, unless you need a burst of energy, eg: for a sprint, or to get up a steep hill. You’ll ideally want to be running at a the fastest pace you can comfortably breathe through your nose at. Any faster than this and your body will start using blood glycogen, which will dramatically limit the amount of time you can spend running.

So head out for a 10-15 minute run and focus on breathing only through your nose. If you find yourself struggling, then slow down and let your breathing dictate your pace. You may end up running a lot slower than you want, but this is fine. The more you practice running like this, the faster you’ll get and the further you can run. As it is, if you were a mouth-breather before, you may find that you’re instantly able to run much further than you could before, just by making this switch.

Session 5

Well, that’s it! We’ve pretty much covered all the basics of barefoot running. Of course, there are a heap of other techniques and tweaks that can be used to improve your form and performance, and we’ll cover these in the weeks and months to come. So for the last session of the program, reward yourself. Go for a run for as long as you want, just make sure you think about everything that we’ve gone over, take it slow, and you’ll be fine.

Congratulations, you’re now a barefoot runner!


  • 10 minute run complete
  • Relaxation run complete
  • Ankle run complete
  • Breathing run complete
  • Free Run Complete
  • No injuries/blisters

6 Weeks to Barefoot Running – Part 2: Movement

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

<< Back to Part 1: Baring Your Soles

Last week we focused on increasing foot strength and learning how to land softly on our forefeet. Most of the week, however was spent standing in one spot, which is pretty much like torture for anyone who has the urge to just get out there and run.

The focus of this week’s training is going to be on movement.

Placing one foot in front of the other is a movement that most of us take for granted and do thousands of times per day. The problem is, however, that because we’ve learned and reinforced our movements wearing shoes, we need to untrain ourselves and rebuild our gaits from the ground up.

Session 1

As with last week, we’re going to start off with a short run. 2 short runs, in fact. So take off your shoes, find the nearest Hard surface, and jog to the end of the block and back.

Again, try to keep it under 100m all up for now. When you’re running, try to pay attention to how your feet are landing. Concentrate on placing your feet gracefully, and not pounding them into the pavement. Make sure that you’re landing on your forefoot and gently easing down the back of your foot so that the heel just barely brushes the ground.

When you get back, take stock of how your feet are feeling. Have you got any bruises or scratches? Any blisters? Have a look at the soles of your feet and see if there’s any redness.

If you’re placing your feet correctly there should be minimal friction as your feet touch the
ground, so your feet should look nice and fresh, if a little dirty.

Now that you’ve had a look at your feet, give the run another go. Play with the way your feet are landing and how much your knees and ankles are bent. When you get it right you should almost feel like you’re floating along the ground. Don’t worry if you’re not at this point yet though, there’s still a a lot of ground to cover.

If you find that you need a break, take a day off after this session and make sure your feet and legs are feeling good before proceeding to the next session.

Session 2

As the old saying goes, you need to learn how to walk before you can learn how to run. Today we’re going to do what amounts to a slow-motion version of barefoot running.

As mentioned previously, one of the keys to correct running form is to have bent knees. The exercise we’re going to do today will reinforce that concept by slightly overexaggerating the movement. Are you ready?

First, of course, remove your shoes and socks. Find a nice Hard area to practice on with a good few metres of space (were going to be walking up and down in this exercise). Place your feet together and bend your knees. You want to keep your feet and knees together, and your back and head nice and straight. Keep bending until your thighs are at a 45 degree angle to the ground. This is your stating position.

From the starting crouch, raise your left foot and take a step. As your foot moves, you want to transfer your weight, so that when you put your foot down, nearly all your weight is above it. Make sure that as you step, your back and head stay straight up and down, and that your body from the hips up move in a straight line. Try not to bob up or down as you move.

Once you’ve transferred your weight so that it’s above your left foot, raise your right foot. If you did the last step correctly, you should be able to lift it off the ground without moving your body.

Bring your right foot up next to your left foot, and you should find yourself back in the starting position. Well done!

Practice this move until you’re confident with it, then try taking 5 steps in a row, turn around, then do 5 steps back. Do this 5 more times (for a total of 50 steps – 25 each leg). If your legs or feet get tired, or your form starts to fall apart, then stop, take a break, and start again from the beginning.

When you can do 50 bent walking steps, then you can move onto the next session. You may want to leave a day or two between sessions to let yourself recover if you feel it’s necessary.

Session 3

As with last week, we’re going to repeat the workout, but this time on a Forgiving surface. Do 5 up and 5 back again for another 5 reps. Keep your form in mind, and make sure your back is straight and that you don’t bob your head up and down.

Session 4

In this session we’re going to do the same thing one more time, however this time it will be on a Rough surface. You may find that as you transfer your full weight onto your front foot, that it may be quite uncomfortable.

The trick here is to bend your knees really deep and relax your feet. Focus on making a smooth movement as you glide forward. Take your time on this session and make sure that you’re happy with how it’s going before proceeding to the next session. It’s also a good idea to take stock at this point and check that your feet and legs are ready to continue.

Session 5

Finally try repeating the exercise on a Soft surface. Enjoy the feeling of the grass, carpet, sand, etc beneath your feet and savour the sensation. Once you’ve done 5 X 5 X 5 again, then you’re done! Fill out your scorecard and move on to next week’s session.

1. Second run complete
2. 5X5X5 bent knee walks on Hard (lv3) ground
3. 5X5X5 bent knee walks on Forgiving (lv2) ground
4. 5X5X5 bent knee walks on Rough (lv4) ground
5. 5X5X5 bent knee walks on Soft (lv1) ground
6. No blisters/Sore calves/Injuries

On to Part 3: Lifting Your Feet >>

6 Weeks to Barefoot Running – Part 1: Baring Your Soles

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

Taking your shoes off is the natural first step in learning how to run barefoot. It’s what you do in these next few weeks though that may mean the difference between a smooth transition and aching calves or worse. You’ll hear it often on this site, but it bears repeating: Take your time during the transition period and resist the temptation to do more.

This week’s sessions are going to focus on lifting and landing. When you’re running barefoot, you want to make sure that your feet and legs are relaxed, your knees are bent, and you’re landing softly. You don’t want to be pushing your foot towards the ground as you land, but rather you want ot focus on lifting them off the ground. Your foot will fall to the ground on its own, so why waste any energy pushing it down?

The design of traditional running shoes encourages heel-striking by adding a wedge of padding at the back of the shoe. When barefoot, you haven’t got the benefit of all that padding, but you can use the natural springs that come built-in to your feet and legs. When running barefoot, you’ll want to land on your forefoot, instead of your heel, and gently lower your foot until the heel brushes the ground. This week’s exercises will help you learn how to do this safely while building up your foot muscles as well.

Please consult your doctor before embarking on any training program as advice offered may not be suitable for some people.

Session 1

Since it’s nearly impossible to resist, and chances are you’d do it anyways, the first thing we’re going to do is go for a run. Don’t get too excited though, it’s just to the end of the block. Take off your shoes and just go for a short jog to the end of the block and back. You don’t want to go far, so no further than 100m or so. Pay attention to how your feet feel – are you heels hitting the ground first? How does the ground feel beneath your feet? Keep your eyes out for debris and try to avoid the nastier stuff for now.

This is your baseline. Chance are if this was your first ever barefoot run, you experienced a lot of new sensations, ranging from pure enjoyment to discomfort or even pain. We’re going to build on this run over the coming weeks to the point where you will feel stronger and more confident in how you are placing your feet. The ground won’t seem as foreign and the sharp bits won’t feel as rough any more.

Once you’ve completed your run, take stock of how your body is feeling. Are your calves sore? Have you got any hotspots on your feet or even any blisters? Any pain or discomfort at this point will tell you that your form needs a bit of tweeking. Take note of these niggles and we’ll see to them before long. If you’re experiencing actual pain after the run, stop and rest for a day or until the pain subsides before continuing on to sessoin 2.

Session 2

Now the hard work begins. Today it’s time to learn your first drill. Once learned, we’re going to take it outside and try out a few different terrains. For the purposes of grading terrain, we’re going to use a scale of 1 to 4 to judge the type of ground our feet will be travelling over. Here are the different levels and some examples of each:

Level 1 (soft): Grass, carpet, sand
Level 2 (forgiving): Sprung or padded floors, humus trails, soft earth
Level 3 (hard): Concrete or Wooden floors, pavement, rock, hard trails
Level 4 (rough): Gravel, rough asphalt, lava

Find a nice hard (Lv3) surface, such as a sidewalk. Start by standing barefoot with your feet a little less than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees so that you are crouching a little bit, but keep your back and head straight. Face forward and look off into the distance.

Starting with your left leg, lift your leg until your knee is at waist height. Make sure that your right leg remains bent and that your back and head stay nice and straight. Now lower your foot into the starting position. It can be helpful to place something on the ground at your toes as a reference that you can feel each time you step back down. A pencil or stick shoulddo. Now repeat for the right leg.

Practice this a few times until you get the basic movement down and you are certain that your posture remains consistent and that your feet are returning to their exact starting position. Be sure that your head and shoulders are not moving up and down. Only your leg should move during this exercise.

What you have just learned to do is a minor variation of the 100-Up. Why’s it called a 100-Up? Because you’re going to now do 100 of them – 50 each leg. The key here is to make sure that you do 100 perfect leg raises. Any time your head or shoulders move, you lose your balance, or your feet doesn’t return to the correct spot, start the count again.

Needless to say you may not be able to complete a full set of 100 on your first go. Keep at it, be honest with yourself, and keep trying until you get it, even if it takes weeks. Once you can do 100 flawless leg raises, you’re ready to move to the next step.

Once you can do 100, take stock of your feet and legs to make sure that you haven’t got any injuries or niggles. If you have got some, stop. Wait until your body feels well again, and repeat the 100 again. Pay attention to your form and your landings and re-assess yourself again. Keep repeating until you are free of pain and discomfort.

Session 3

Now that you’ve learned how to do 100-Ups on a hard surface, let’s take a step back and try them out on a forgiving surface. Take notice of how it feels as you land on a slightly softer surface. As the gound beneath you becomes softer, there is a tendency to press your feet harder into the ground. This should be avoided, and instead try to gracefully place each foot on the ground, then really focus on lifting them back up. Keep this up for a set of 100 and if you’re feeling good, move on to the next session.

Session 4

The best way to perfect your form is to find the roughest surface you can to practice on. Rough surfaces may feel terrible but they’re excellent for learning on as they give you a HUGE amount of feedback. Even standing on a really rough surface can make your feet sore, so be sure to relax your feet and move gently. Keeping your knees nice and bent will help you to ease your feet up and down and reduce the pressure on your soles as you land. If you find this exercise too tough, just take a break, practice a bit more on a forgiving surface, then try again. Remember there’s no need to rush. Every extra minute spent focusing on form here could save you weeks of time off from injuries down the road.

Session 5

As a treat to round off the week, head off to a nice grassy area or soft carpeted room to do your last set of 100-ups. As with the Forgiving session, be sure that you’re not forcing your feet into the ground, and that you are focusing on lifting your feet. Enjoy the feeling of the grass beneath your feet and take a couple of days off before trying next week’s exercises.

Congratulations on getting this far!

1. First run complete
2. 100-Ups on Hard (lv3) ground
3. 100-Ups on Forgiving (lv2) ground
4. 100-Ups on Rough (lv4) ground
5. 100-Ups on Soft (lv1) ground
6. No blisters/Sore calves/Injuries

Continue to Part 2: Movement >>