Barefoot Running: A Physiotherapist’s Perspective

Barefoot RunningYesterday I wrote I piece about my very own barefoot running journey and I am blown away by the response. There are so many incredible stories flowing in where others, who just like me, have re-invented themselves/running ability by implementing the barefoot running technique into their lives. You can read more about these people here, in the comments section. 

Now let’s back track for a second. Before I delved into my Barefoot journey, I consulted a number of holistic health practitioner, athletes and personal trainers. These people understood far more than I did about our structure, biomechanics, training load and well, the human foot, so their professional opinion was something I wanted to consider. Fast forward to the present day, and the list of those I have consulted is huge (many of which agreed or were a little critical, but to this day, are amazed by my progress). To help you understand more about Barefoot Running and whether or not it’s something you would like to consider, I’ve hand picked 3 professionals to share their views on the Barefoot experience. Today, we hear from Indianna Franke, a Physiotherapist and Pilates instructor at The Living Well Studio in Burleigh, Queensland

Do you Barefoot?

Yes, I do. My transition to Barefoot shoes happened over the course of 3 years. I started to work my way out of the very supported Asics Kayanos in 2010 and into the very minimalist Barefoot Vibram Five Finger ‘shoes’ (we all know the one’s, they’re are a little strange looking) in 2013. Now, I switch between my Vibrams and Nike Free 4.0 depending on my load levels throughout the week.

In your opinion, what are the benefits of going barefoot?

In clinic I notice that people don’t pay much attention to their feet, let alone use them for touch and sense. This is a problem. Humans evolved to be bipedal (walking on two legs). To do this successfully, we relied on our feet to sense where we were in relation to the ultimate force of gravity and the force of the ground. To this day, our feet remain the base of our support framework and all sense of body position relies on your feet and their placement. So when we put our feet in soft “supportive” shoes from an early age, that yes, do protect us from potentially dangerous surfaces, they take away the need for, and effectively ‘dumb down’, our carefully designed muscles, bones, tendons and nerves. As you can see, this additional support in our shoes, may not have been as good as we previously thought.

Without a doubt, in some populations spending time in bare feet/ barefoot shoes has helped them develop their arch control, improve toe dexterity, enable them to gain better weight distribution throughout the foot, improve their shock absorption and improve their bone density of the feet and legs. In the ‘barefoot state’ you get to experience the difference in gradients, textures and temperatures of the ground we walk on; you may feel that your gluteus, abs and lats turn on to support you. I also think there is a sense of your inner child coming alive when you go barefoot, you feel more connected to the outside environment as you get to explore the ground underneath you.

Have you noticed any changes in the structure of your foot or your athletic performance since going ‘Barefoot’?  

The arches of my feet are definitely stronger. I have experienced far less foot cramping and there is definitely more separation between my 4th and 5th toes. Five years ago (pre-barefoot), I suffered from shin splints that limited me to 16km of running per week, and I would often finish work with painful lower legs. As my barefoot transition to 5 fingered shoes began, I increased my runs to 24km and then 30kms without any pain at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong, the shoes played a big role, but so did my conscious understanding of how I was weight bearing through my feet and ankles and what was happening to the foot when I was running, dancing, walking and standing at work. 

Would you recommend Barefoot shoes?

While its frustrating to hear barefoot shoes are not for everyone………. at least not initially, I would absolutely recommend them. As we all know everyones situation is different and needs to be assessed and a transitional program needs to be carried out.

The shoes are not a quick fix, you have to take the role of sensing with your feet, but the shoes will help with the momentum to bring about change. I believe that over the long term, this will prevent weakening of the amazing system our feet and lower limbs are. 

How would you suggest people ‘prepare’ for going barefoot?

Get assessed by a skilled physiotherapist, biomechanist or running specialist who has experience for with barefoot training and learn how your feet are walking, running, sitting and standing. From that assessment strengthen the areas of the body that are weak and stretch the areas that need lengthening to help create better resting, walking and running foot position and posture. Then, work at developing excellent foot control through exercises that develop the muscles in the foot so the arch is maintained. The shoes will also support this and help this happen but you need both conscious exercise and the optimal shoe.

A huge thank you to you Indi, you’re insight has been amazing and I am sure the readers will be very interested in what you have had to say. Still interested to learn more? Here we chat to Chiropractor and elite athlete, Dr. Zac O’brien about all things Barefoot… 

The information on this post represents the interviewee’s own views, shaped by their own research. It should not be construed as professional advice and is not intended to replace consultation with an appropriately qualified professional. I hope this post and website inspires you to do your own research and always ask questions. 


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Meet Alyse

I’m a qualified Nutritionist who believes an evidence-based approach to modern nutrition is severely under-rated. Patients are so often left in the dark when it comes to health-care and as a firm believer in the old saying “knowledge is power”, my ultimate goal is to provide my readers, students and patients with clear and actionable advice that ultimately helps you reach your full potential.