Category: Ask the coaches

May 26

18. Advice with achilles issue – Physio says wear orthotics

I received a request from one of our group members. Trish has been suffering from achilles issues and was receiving orthotics advice from physio. She was looking for some wider advice and so I opened it up to the coaches and also to the wisdom of the group. Thanks everyone for taking part.

Trying to work thru Achilles issues…need help….physio tells me to wear my orthotics in a well cushioned shoe but this just hurts. She is trying to convince me that the minimalist shoes cause more harm than good and yes there is good research for both sides of this coin. Exercises or sites that have helped anyone with these issues would be greatly appreciated. – Trish

First to reply was Steven Sashen of Xero Shoes. –  I wouldn’t begin to diagnose your problem from the limited amount of information you gave, and without seeing you, seeing you move, and without doing a thorough analysis.

That said, I can tell you that your physio is completely wrong and, I’m guessing, young enough to not recall that prior to 45 years ago ALL shoes were minimalist. Nor does your physio seem know that the meta analysis of orthotics shows that they are only effective on a small percentage of users (but it’s impossible to pre-identify which ones), and that expensive, custom-made orthotics are no better/worse than insoles you can buy off the shelf in a drug store.
If I had to place a bet, though, on what’s going on for you, it would be this: overuse and/or putting excessive strain on your Achilles by either overstriding while forefoot landing (puts strain on the Achilles because you’re using it to decelerate with every step), or getting your foot off the ground by pushing with the foot/ankle rather than by lifting (by flexing at the hip).
Feel The World!Steven Sashen, CEO
Xero Shoes

The wisdom of the group  – I opened this to our group. You can see the whole discussion here


Anne Vasey I have much painful personal experience here, too. Eccentric calf raises are good, but only if the tendon isn’t inflamed. Settle it down by strapping on an ice pack for 20 mins per night. Use arnica or ibuprofen gel before bed. First thing in the morning, write the alphabet with your feet to gently loosen stiffness in the tendon before getting out of bed. once the inflammation is gone, start stretching The tendon properly. Meanwhile, work on core strength, glutes and calf. The physio should be helping you to address any biomechanical issues with drills. In my case, the problem has been caused by tight hip flexors and a tilted pelvis. These are fixable with work. Hope you feel much better soon!
Michele Hall Like Anne Vase says it’s never as simple as just the tendons. You have to address the flexibility and power of your entire body. Strong and flexible will absorb shock and rebound with elastic energy like a solid rubber ball. Flexibility alone is more like a soft sponge ball, absorbent but without rebound. Lack of flexibility is more like a glass ball. It will shatter every time you try to workout. Use this time to work on your entire body get the hips and legs in shape and be patient with yourself. Think how long it took to get into this condition. Getting everything back in action is going to feel great.
Andrew O’Brien –  I’m a physio and Vivobarefoot coach, so I’m going to come at this from a different angle than your current physio. Hopefully without upsetting them too much.

Firstly, everyone above is pretty much bang on the money.

Yes, the eccentric exercises can work, but as Anne Vasey says, only if the tendon isn’t too badly inflamed.

The most important thing to remember is to do as you get back running is to build it up slowly and steadily- you should be trying to work on your from before you even think about fitness or speed.

While you are resting, try some toe-ga exercises (I’m sure there are videos on here somewhere, but if not, send me a message and I’ll get some over to you).

Also, work on your cadence as much as you can- again you might need to wait until the tendon settles a bit more) by bouncing in time with a metronome set to 180bpm (remember to let your heel kiss the floor though).

Also, if you are at the physio, I’m sure the do it anyway, but get them to work on the trigger points in your calf muscles- preferably with dry needling if they do it.

Finally, when you are running, remember the 3 golden rules, in this order, and you’ll be heading in the right direction- POSTURE, RHYTHM, RELAX.

I hope some of that helps…
Thank you to everyone who took the time to offer some advice. you can see our FAQ barefoot page here.

Jan 21

17. Can I barefoot running help with flat feet?

I got this message in from Tom on the subject of flat feet and had an excellent response staright back from Steven Sashen of Xero shoes.

Your site has so many great posts and excellent information about everything barefoot. One area where I haven’t seen much information here or other sites is about flat feet and pronated arches. I have been struggling with improving my flat feet for a long time, I wear minimal shoes, haven’t ran in a while due to some pain, and have tried countless self-rehab techniques to strengthen my arches. My ankles roll inward and trying to create “torque” by externally rotating my knees only adds to pain on the lateral sides of my underfoot. Do you have any extensive information or know of any great resources that can correct flat feet and flat arches? I would really appreciate any information. Thank you! – Tom


Steven Sashen from Xero shoes

a) If it ain’t broke, don’t worry about fixing it.

That is, the idea that there’s some ideal way for your feet and ankles to behave is simply false. Look at some world class marathoners and they have massive pronation and “inward rolling” ankles. If you’re not having actual problems, don’t try to “cure” what isn’t ailing you. And be careful of someone who diagnoses any problem you have with “pronation! flat feet!”… it’s a common, overly simplified, diagnosis, without a lot of evidence to back it up. And check out this article about why pronation is not the bogeyman it’s been made out to be:

b) Minimalist *shoes* are not a cure

If you want to affect your foot and ankle strength, just wearing zero-drop or more flexible shoes won’t cut it. You need to USE the muscles that you think need strengthening, which won’t happen in almost any shoe, especially just from wearing it.

c) If you want to gain strength, work out.

Speaking as a formerly flat-footed person (for 46 years of my life), I can say that running barefoot, with a forefoot landing, was a big part of developing arch and ankle strength for me. When I used to get out of a pool, my footprint looked like a paddle. After about 6 months it looked like, well, a FOOT! Over the years, I’ve added specific foot strengthening exercises that have further improved my foot/arch/ankle strength. Dr. Emily Splichal (@ebfafitness) has a number of good exercises for that. More strength always helps. Think about working out your feet/ankles the way you would think about working out the rest of your body. Train.

d) Don’t ignore genetics

Arch height, ankle strength, tendon length, joint function… all of these have a HIGHLY genetic component. Professional bodybuilders, for example, aren’t just the guys who lift the most and take the best steroids… they’re the ones who do all that, PLUS, have exceptional genetics. You won’t go from flat feet to overly-high arches, no matter how much strengthening you do. Pay attention to what you can change, and look at resources you may need for those that you can’t.

For more info check out this link:

Feel The World!

Steven Sashen, CEO
Xero Shoes • Original Barefootware

Check out our ask the coaches page here.

A great place to chat is in our Barefoot Beginner facebook group. You will be made very welcome. We run, we chat, we smile!

Nov 20

16. How can I use the squat successfully? – Tony Riddle’s Guide

Tony Riddle of Gloves Boxing Club recently put together a series of 3 videos to explain his secret to squat success. It was in response to a topic that seems to be a popular point of discussion at the moment.

I didn’t want the series to be lost in the facebook ether and so asked Tony if he would mind if I collected them together and linked to them.

From now on all the commentary is from Tony and well worth a look.

Since reading yet another blog about the squat, advising people on squatting for long periods of time without any prep and seeing another facebook post of someone performing yet another squat; I have decided to give you my secret to squat success before the squat starts getting a bad rep!

For anyone that has been coached by me, this will be teaching some of you to either suck eggs or serve as a gentle reminder to get prepping. The plantar surface of your foot is your foundation, therefore it deserves more respect than just holding a mindless squat for X amount of minutes.

I am learning to stand on my hands, which involves hours of work to understand my bodyweight in my hands and with a big thanks to Ido Portal, I have been given numerous hand and wrist prep drills to perform this task. With out this prep, I would never be able to hold the position, even up against the wall , any slight change I make in my base of support (which could be lifting my little finger) can have a huge effect on my position and often results in me frustratingly bailing out.

So when you consider this, you have to respect the loading points and balance points of the foot too. If you perform a squat for 30 mins a day with a collapsed ankle and no understanding of your base of support, You are building the leaning tower of Pisa.

Janet G Travell, one of the main contributors to trigger point therapy, also studied Dudley Morton’s Evolution of the Human Foot, not only studied it , she applied it to her work and had related a large portion of the 620 trigger points in the human body came down the inappropriate loading of the foot.

A podiatrists yacht in the making:

Your foot is a very intelligent design, in fact it’s a really complex piece of engineering, You have specific loading points that can cope with four times your own body weight, this Dudley Morton referred to as a leverage line and the leverage line falls between the 1st and 2nd met-heads. If you could imagine you had units of bodyweight under each foot. Use a mental picture of squares, a large proportion of those units should be where the ball of the foot and big toe are, the rest would be divided up over the 3rd, 4th and 5th met-heads and the the heel.

The greater the perception of these areas the healthier the movement pattern.

All techniques not just the squat are effected without the knowledge of this foundation, culprits and victims model, joint by joint approach, what ever you wanna to call it, this to me is the biggest culprit of all and makes you the biggest victim!

So if two clients came through my door:

Client number one; sits for 80% of their day, poor foot mechanics.

Client number two; sits for 80% of his day, but has been barefoot foot all his life.

Who will perform the squat best?

The answer: Everyone should have the hard wiring to squat correctly, we have all made software changes to adapt to our new environment. Someone that sits down for 80% of their day and has worn winkle pickers all their life would take a longer transitioning period to the squat than someone that sits for say 80% of their day, but has been fortunate enough to be barefoot all their life. The base of support will still be effected, because of the weight of the human head, but they would have a wider base of which to load all the other segments.(Segmental alignment)

Putting First things First and getting your house in order:

Here is part 1 in a series of foot and ankle prep drills I use and would have these prepped with all my clients before encouraging the squat. The same as I use hand and wrist prep drills for the hand stand. I often refer to them as to-ega or anti-bunion drills and will expect these to be carried out throughout the day.

Seriously, as much effort and thought should be applied to this before the squat, if not your house of straw will be on the floor with one yoga breath from the big bad wolf.

Pole ski -Part deux in the toe and ankle prep

You will need to purchase three broom handles, Don’t panic they are around £1 each and far, far cheaper than £300 orthotics and one of the wisest investments you can make for healthy movement.

The next pearl in the squat series is to get you away from the current notion that squatting should be carried out with bodyweight back in the heel. The heel should be on the ground, but minimal bodyweight and should not be a position of load.

Apologies to any Personal Trainers out there, but you really need to use common sense on this one. Squatting with weight in the heel and squeezing your glutes as tight as you can is something we adopted from a bodybuilding culture and doesn’t exist in Traditional weight lifting and certainly not in the young or natural. If you were meant to load the heel in the squat then olympic lifting shoes wouldn’t have a solid block of wood behind the heel to force your weight forward onto the ball of the foot and big toe. If anything the wedge would be at the front!

The 1st Met head is 4 times denser than all other Met heads and can load up to four times your bodyweight, so why on earth would you load the heel in the squat. Oh, I remember, it’s because it creates lot’s of inappropriate muscle action to try to keep you from falling on your arse and will give you great big quads and gluteus, and now you have learnt a faulty movement pattern which will inhibit you in future rest and locomotion. That’s not to mention the ankle joint being compromised with weight back there. The ankle joint can collapse, this would then result in the knee and then hip joints having to compromise and there we have the victims and culprits model or joint by joint approach.

Try and jump from a height and land in a squat on a hard surface on your heel and you will soon identify the complexity of the bio mechanical squat.

Most clients I see are already compromised in the ankle joint and require a raise behind the heel. I will use a solid object as the majority of times the ankle can drop out within one hour. Remembering that we all have the hardware to squat, we more than often just need to trick the software.

The three broom handles are designed to do just this. The first phase of the clip is to be carried out until you can complete 5 mins for three attempts per day. Once you have conditioned the ankle joint to squat with the weight between the 1st and 2nd Met heads with the heel raised you can remove the pole from behind the heel. If required, use the two poles as an anterior support, remembering that the heel should have minimal load. The objective here is to separate the axis of leverage and Balance points and take out any sagittal blockade in the ankle joint.

This is not only a game changer for the squat; this drill will have you locating the ball of the foot and the great toe in no time.

The final part in the trilogy.

The magazine drop:

For those that have followed stages one and two and are looking to perform a flat footed squat, then you are ready for the magazine drop.

This came to me through one of those lightbulb moments when a young dancer came in and had difficulty with ankle mobility. Yep a dancer with ankle mobility issues, had been around the BS circuit and told her achilles was too short, well within 1 hour she could get the heel to the floor quite comfortably.

If you can squat with a block behind your heel, then it isn’t the ankle that is the problem, it is your mind that needs the support within the movement. If you don’t understand support you will go in search of it, resulting in inappropriate muscle action and tension. The ankle joint will not open up with a tense mind.

Simply provide the support with the magazines, choose ones that you like to read as I would recommend spending 5 to 10 mins playing around with this one. Start with the magazines a good inch high and then slide the magazines away the moment you settle back into a state of relaxation. You have the magazine to send you elsewhere and the time will soon fly by.

Tony Riddle is the founder of the Gloves Boxing Club. Read more about Tony here.

Nov 11

15. How can I run barefoot/minimalist without inflaming my achilles?

A barefoot running question came in from TJ recently about an achilles issue. I know that when I started to run barefoot, my achilles was a little tender for a while so I was interested and sent it out to see what the coaches thought.

I have an ankle sprain that is almost 3 years old now and it is still bothering me on occasion. It’s clearly as “healed” as it’s going to get so I live with it. The
only thing that I find especially troublesome is that my Achilles tendon
occasionally becomes sore, stiff and swollen for no apparent reason. Maybe it’s
overuse??? It gets so bad at times, that I fear it will rupture. At any rate, I
cannot get the inflammation to go down without reverting to a period of wearing
heavily cushioned shoes with a raised heel. Is this the only solution or do you
guys have some other advice that might keep me in my minimalist footwear and
barefoot full-time? – TJ

Steven Sashen from Xero shoes

Reality has this funny way of winning all arguments. We may have ideas about how things should be, but reality rules.

My point is: when you’re hurt, you’re hurt. You do what you need to do to get better. I remember getting a big calf pull about 6 years ago (prior to becoming a barefooter) and being so thankful for my MBT shoes, since the big rocker bottom let me walk without having to actually use my calf.

Now, more importantly, injuries never happen for no reason, so it seems you haven’t found the reason yet. If it’s “overuse” then the question is, “What are you doing too much of?” The answer shouldn’t be “mileage.” Rather, if you think that *is* the answer, I’d contend that it’s really that you’re engaging your Achilles too much, regardless of the mileage.

Without seeing video of you running, I can’t promise that diagnosis is meaningful, but:

a) We often use movement patterns that we don’t know we’re using (or, often, are CONVINCED we’re not using)

b) I’ve seen many runners put excessive strain on the calf/Achilles by either overstriding, trying to land on the ball of the foot when a midfoot or flat-footed landing is better for them, trying to keep the heel off the ground unnecessarily, or pushing off the ground rather than lifting the foot off the ground by flexing the hip.

So, in short: Get better first, then start from the beginning to try to isolate the cause of your repeated injury. Experiment as you run by wondering “Is there anything different that I could do that would make running easier, take less effort, and be more FUN?”

Feel The World!

Steven Sashen, CEO
Xero Shoes • Original Barefootware

Rene BorgRene Borg of Champions Everywhere

I can speak from quite a lot of practical experience on this one as I suffered about 6 bad ankle sprains in my “hill running career” (dangerous game that in build-up shoes) and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in
both ankles and Achilles tendons in 2011. It was through working on my technical ability (with Tony Riddle) and improving my diet that I got rid of these irritations.

When I transitioned fully to barefoot and/or zero-drop, I would initially get the same symptoms: swelling around the socket of the Achilles that seemed disproportionate to the small irritations I was subjecting it to. I knew from working with Tony that the main fault came from foot mechanics (my foot was not a sufficiently stable platform as my big toe joint was out of whack) as well as some other technical issues (I was still landing too far
ahead of my body on the left foot which caused the most issues and running with too much tension in my body).

So the first thing I would do is recommend doing the toe drills that Tony demonstrated on Facebook recently. All his clients use it and all our runners use it at ChampionsEverywhere – three times every day or more. Without proper foot mechanics the ankle is always going to be overtaxed. There are several small tendons that get irritated around the Achilles that may also give the illusion of an inflamed Achilles tendon. It matters less which specific tendon is inflamed and more why the irritation happens.

The second part of the solution for me was to address the very aggressive inflammation I experienced. I found that I needed to improve my jumping skills on top of the foot mechanics work I was doing – so learn to jump on the spot at a fast rhythm and to jump down from a low step on two feet and one leg while landing with stability and control. It goes without saying this work should be done barefoot. Then I had to progress volume and intensity very methodically by adding more and more height and more and more
repetitions. This only works if you have already been instructed in proper posture as well – any issues with your posture and ability to relax while jumping will cause other issues. So once you are sure your posture, rhythm and relaxation is fine and you have worked on your toe mechanics and can perform basic exercises such as squatting without “lots of wobble” – then introduce at least 3 jumping sessions per week. You can start quite low with 5 to 10 jumps over 2-3 sets from a very low step (such as a Reebok step). A bit more inflammation can resolve from this – but as long as it clear within 24 hours it is not a problem – just an adaptive response. It should not get progressively worse over several days – then you are either overloading it or your jump technique needs to be looked at by a coach.

Finally, I looked at the nutritional side that controls the inflammatory response. About 1% of our daily fat intake needs to be Omega-3 and Omega-6 which are important hormonal regulators. The ratio between these should be 1:2 (double Omega-6 to 3). But most modern diets lead to a ratio of 1:12 to 1:20. Since the omega-6 fat regulates the inflammatory response and the omega-3 fat the anti-inflammatory, messing up this ratio can cause exaggerated inflammatory responses. Grains and other foods that cause low
levels of chronic inflammation and irritation can also turn mild inflammation into heavy inflammation so it would be worth your time trying to reduce such foods for a while and to supplement with Omega-3 or eat more foods rich in it (fish, grassfed meat and omega-3 eggs primarily as plant sources are poorly absorbed).

Lou NLou Nicholettos – Cornwall Physio/The Natural Running Clinic


This is a great question and one that I get asked frequently!

Achilles pain happens to be my area of special interest- for my Masters dissertation in 2012, I researched the pain mechanisms responsible for tendinopathy, or what ‘makes tendons hurt’. This might sound pretty straightforward but it’s actually an incredibly complicated and largely contentious subject.

An interesting finding from many clinical trials is that the tendons with the most degeneration are not necessarily the most painful. In fact structural change or ‘damage’ in tendons often shows no correlation whatsoever with symptoms, You say you’re worried about your tendon rupturing, well the good news is that tendons that rupture are usually asymptomatic before they give out i.e. its rare for a patient with a ruptured tendon to report a history of symptoms prior to their injury. So you’re (probably!!) going to be ok from that point of view.

There will always be a reason for an Achilles becoming sore and there are lots of different types of Achilles pain- this is where an assessment with a Physiotherapist is important rather than generic advice from the internet. I treat a lot of Achilles patients and will always go through their training patterns for the last few months as well as their medical history and lots of general health questions. No two tendon-pains are ever the same, which is why individualized assessment and treatment are so important. It might be in your case that your old ankle injury is contributing in some way. This might be through a lack of movement, stability, proprioception or strength (anywhere throughout the kinetic chain) on that side.

cornwall physioPrevention is always going to better than cure, so the first thing I’d recommend is that you see if you can spot a pattern to when your Achilles becomes sore. Training changes can massively influence the development of Achilles symptoms. Beware of change and monitor how your Achilles responds if you add additional mileage, speed work, or hills.

Tendon pain can also be caused, or influenced by a considerable number of non-exercise related things. Non-exercise factors can influence the body’s ability to positively respond to training and adapt. Things that are known to affect tendon response to exercise include: metabolic/ dietary factors, hormone changes, antibiotic use and certain medical conditions.

I would definitely recommend you going to see a good Physio in your area, to investigate what type of Achilles pain you have and why you are getting flare-ups when you do.

The next question is how best to deal with a flare-up. In general tendons like exercise and progressive mechanical loading- this encourages the healing process and keeps them as healthy as possible. When a tendon becomes acutely sore/ swollen etc (or ‘reactive’ as we call this is medical and research circles), a short period in ‘protection mode’ can be a good idea. It sounds like you have found an affective way of doing this. A raised heel and some cushioning will decrease load through the Achilles tendon, which, short term, when a tendon is irritable, can help symptoms to settle. If this enables you to run without pain (or with minimal pain) then that’s a good thing and something that I’d encourage you to continue doing whilst your Achilles is sore.

If an Achilles becomes too sore to run on, I recommend that clients cross-train on a stationary bike, which rests the Achilles from load but encourages increased blood flow etc to assist healing.

I like anything that enables a runner to keep running, without increasing their symptoms and find that usually, long-term, those who made adjustments but continued to do some running, do better than those who try to completely rest their Achilles. The problem is that tendons actually weaken with rest, as they don’t have the necessary stimulus to strengthen, adapt and repair.

If a patient says to me that they can run more comfortably at the moment if they wear a certain shoe (eg with a raised heel or more cushioning) then I definitely encourage them to do this, short-term.

Long-term the solution is always going to involve strengthening. There are lots of generic strengthening programmes out there for tendons, especially lots involving eccentric calf exercises on a step. I do incorporate some of these in my patient’s rehab, but I also include a lot of other exercises and usually for runners some heavy eccentric/concentric exercise. It’s worth noting that the famous heel drop exercise for Achilles pain has rarely been compared to any other protocol and has not been shown to be any more effective than standard eccentric/concentric heel raises.

The picture shows the commonly prescribed eccentric loading protocol for Achilles pain.

Your Physio will assess to see if and where you might be weak and will give you some specific exercises to address your weakness. I find that long-term, Achilles patients do really well with barefoot/ minimalist running, probably because it loads and strengthens the calf/Achilles and keeps them strong.

So don’t be afraid of returning to bulky shoes, short term whilst your Achilles is sore. If this enables you to keep running without increasing your symptoms then this is a good thing. As a long-term strategy though, I’d advise that you see a Physio to first establish why you’re getting the symptoms and provide you with an individualized exercise programme. And to keep up the minimalist running! Good luck!

Lou Nicholettos is the founder of CornwallPhysio, a specialist Clinic for Sports and Running injuries. She treats injured runners from across the South West of England and beyond.

As always thankyou to the coaches who took the time to answer the question. Please drop in on their sites and have a look at what they have to offer.

You can see previous questions here.

We have a Barefoot Barefoot Beginner facebook group which is a great place to chat about all things barefoot/minimalist running. We are a warm and friendly group and you will be made very welcome. We also have a facebook page for you to visit and like.

Sep 05

14. Barefoot running and cracked heels – Is there a solution?

A couple of weeks ago, We had a question in the Barefoot Beginner group from Steve Bailey about cracked heels. You can see the original question and a few thoughts along with photos here.

Cracked heels. Very painful.
Have spent most of the last 10 days barefoot, occasionally wearing xero shoes, can run 8 miles barefoot and spend every weekend barefoot.
The crack is open and hurts a lot when I walk on it.
Any hints (creams?).

Helen Hall 150x150Helen Hall from Perpetual Forward Motion Ltd


Hi Steve

Anything with urea in it – the stronger the better! All chemists have OTC creams for cracked skin containing uric acid and they tend to work quickly. If you’ve tried that and it hasn’t worked, it is perhaps because you’re often barefoot and you’re losing the cream to the surface you’re walking on? I’d keep it in your pocket and reapply frequently. Sometimes the simplest (and cheapest) things work the best 🙂
Good luck with that!



Rene BorgRene Borg of Champions Everywhere

In terms of pure healing benefits very little beats using a zinc ointment. Zinc is a key component of cellular repair and while it is one of many it is one that most people struggle to digest enough of because of modern eating habits. By adding this to burns or damaged skin you’ll see much quicker healing. I first learned this from Loren Cordain in “The Paleo Solution” but after having tested it can vouch for its effectiveness.


Anna Toombes from BarefootRunningUK

Hi Steve

I sometimes get cracked heels and yes, they can be painful when the crack is deep!
It’s not advisable to be barefoot if the crack is open, especially if it’s bleeding. It’s fairly easily dealt with though: use a ‘ped-egg’ (foot scraper) regularly on your heels and use Flexitol Heel Balm once or twice a day. It’s not very nice stuff but it does work! I know of someone else who was told their cracked heels might be a zinc deficiency. He started drinking a supplement containing zinc and it cleared the cracks up. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend supplements, but obviously a healthier diet = a healthier body.It may be a circulation thing, so you could also try releasing your calves and feet using a rolling pin on your calves and golf ball underfoot.

Hope this helps!”



You can see other questions answered by the coaches here.

You can like the Barefoot beginner facebook page here

Jul 31

13. How should I use my core muscles when barefoot running?

I got a great question from Anne which struck a chord with me. When I first changed my running style, it was core muscles that were the limiting factor. They simply were not upto the job. It has taken quite a while for them to get there. Here is Anne’s question:

How should I be using my core whilst running and how does this relate to posture? To elaborate, I have niggles of my left achilles or my right hip (they
alternate) and I am aware that when the niggles are at their worst, my posture is poor and my core muscles are not working. Sometimes it is hard for me to work out how to get them working. What is the best way to help this?
Does good posture necessitate optimum core activation or should I be consciously pulling in my core muscles (both day to day and whilst running). I do pilates but sometimes it takes quite a while to get my core activated during my lesson.



Jamie pageJamie Page – Vivobarefoot

Very simply Anne, you need to start at the core and learn the skill of running. Work on the posture first and then slowly on the conditioning to build up the strength.
Simply squat little and often throughout the day – whenever and wherever possible. Also add two footed jumps at 180 bpm.
Then add a 2-5kg bar and do overhead jumps and squats.
After you get good at that then start running very short distances (make sure you have upright posture landing on the ball of your foot under your centre of gravity) an make sure the rhythm is 180 bpm – this is important because of the frequency of the elastic recoil of your muscles. A slower rhythm will utilise muscle energy rather than ‘free’ elastic tendon recoil – however this require a lot of strength (gained by lots of squats and jumps).
If you’re not sure: film yourself running ­ this will enable you to know if your posture is ok. Ask somebody to look or use videos of runners with perfect form to compare with. The Barefoot running Coach app is a good choice.
Hope this helps

Steven Sashen from Xero shoes

I’m going to take the simple approach here:

You seem to have already noticed a relationship between your posture and getting injured. That implies that you can feel the difference between your “poor” posture and your “good” posture. If that’s the case, just focus on holding onto your good posture while you run.

Without seeing your body, especially in motion, there’s nothing else that I could add. “Posture” is such a complex interaction of joint alignments, that trying to give you any prescription without more data could send you in the wrong direction.

Now, that said, if you can feel what muscles are being activated when you have “good” posture, you would then be able to find exercises you can do to strengthen those muscles. And for strength, you’ll want to do a combination of heavy work with few reps/sets and a lot of rest, and some high-rep work as well. Also, since you want to be stable when you’re running, focus on exercises that require stability rather than exercises that emphasize flexion/extension (e.g. do a Youtube search for “Paloff Press” and use that rather than crunches).

BTW, you’re onto something when it comes to the relationship between core strength and running — check out what makes Usain Bolt so fast (according to his coach):

The Balanced Runner – Jae Gruenke

Hi Anne,

It’s a great question and my favorite thing to talk about because it’s very misunderstood.

The most important thing to remember about running is that “posture” is actually an irrelevant concept and you shouldn’t “hold” anything. Everything moves when you run, including your core, and so the real question is what kind of movement you should be looking for.

Most of us have two legs and neither one is in the middle, so a lateral shift of weight is necessary when you run or you won’t organize your weight over each leg properly, and misery and injury will result. We do this through a counterrotation of our upper and lower body — really a sort of spiraling action that turns the torso into a spring as well as our legs. The better you do this, the better you will use your legs. In fact, if you get this right your legs will entirely take care of themselves — no overstriding, no excess stress. Just lovely, gliding, efficient movement. If you overdo it you’re salsa dancing and you may interfere with the ability to have your legs move straight forward and back, and cause them to start twisting instead. (Underdoing it causes twisting as well, leading to overstriding, overpronation, ITB syndrome, and orthotics.

I wrote an article which you’ll find here explaining this further:

You should also take a look at this YouTube video we made: You’ll be able to see that when Oliver restricts the movement of his pelvis by tightening his core, it actually CAUSES overstriding. And then when he lets his pelvis move his feet land underneath him.

And finally, this is so important that I have an entire set of audio Feldenkrais lessons to help you develop your ability to do it correctly. It’s called the Core Action Collection and you can find it here:

I hope that’s helpful to you!

Run smooth,


Gray CawsGray Caws of

Hi Anne – You should certainly be using your core when running and it is indeed integral to good posture. Firstly it’s important to understand what the core is. Basically if you chop off your moving parts (not recommended!) you are left with your core – a great definition of it’s functional role is “The ability of your trunk to support the effort and forces from your arms and legs, so that muscles and joints can perform in their safest, strongest and most effective positions” (Elphinstone and Pook, 1998). Often we don’t fully understand what the core is, focussing solely on the stomach muscles. We think that by pulling in at the belly button we are engaging the core. However, more often than not I find when people do this they push out the chest too much and try to flatten the stomach. This restricts breathing and puts tension in the upper body.

In Chi Running (as in T’ai Chi) the focus point for engaging core muscles is the dantien, an energy centre three finger-widths down from the belly button and two inches into the spine – the body’s center of mass. If you engage this point there should be no sucking in or pushing out, just a feeling of being strong, grounded and centered.

Good posture (vertical alignment) is when your body weight is supported by your structure – bones, ligaments, tendons and fascia. Whether this be on both legs when standing or one leg (support phase) when running. If you are out of alignment vertically (eg bent at the waist), directionally (eg feet turning out, knee twisting in), symmetrically (eg hips dropping on landing or imbalanced arm swing) then muscles and joints are over used and put under unnecessary stress. A strong and stable core is essential for runners. In Chi Running the focus is on bringing the workload to the core. When running, core muscles should keep the spine in a neutral position with pelvis level allowing hips to extend and no hyperextension in the lower back. Neck muscles should be relaxed so arms can swing freely from stable shoulders.

There are lots of good core exercises but it is important to know why you are doing them and what muscles you are working on. I would say this but it is always good to have a professional demonstrate and watch you doing the exercises to make sure you have the right technique and understanding. I see too many bad planks, sit-ups, squats and lunges etc. It is also important to know of any muscular imbalances you might have – tight hip flexors, weak glutes is common due to too much sitting. Almost certainly misalignment and / or muscular imbalance with be causing the achilles and hip problem and it could be very obvious from watching you run.

The good thing is that you are identifying that your niggles are worst when posture is poor so you should stop running when you get to this point otherwise you will be susceptible to injury. Continuously practice posture and core exercises and gradually build the distance / time on feet you can running with good posture. Practice makes perfect as your body learns by repetition but make sure it is perfect practice then you’ll be able to go on and enjoy your running for years to come. Best of luck!

Best wishes


Gray Caws Certified Chi Running Instructor

PS Have a read of my article on posture here at

Anna Toombes of BarefootRunningUK

Hi Anne –  It’s probably worth trying to figure out why your posture feels worse on certain days. Perhaps you’re doing something in your daily life that exacerbates your imbalances? Or it might not be something physical, but perhaps that you’ve been more stressed on certain days than others which may have affected how you breathe and therefore affected your posture.
Balancing exercises are useful to get your core working in a more functional way.
Remember also that if you have any tightness or restriction in your body it will affect the flow of movement when you run. If the flow is getting ‘stuck’ somewhere, you’ll develop niggles as the run progresses.

Posture is fluid, it’s not about one single position, so try not to force anything. I think (if you’re the same Anne!) we’ve talked about the use of imagery to encourage a more gentle lengthening, rather than forcing your spine straight, so maybe focus on using this approach a bit more. Identify areas that are tight and try to loosen them. May throw some yoga into the mix. There’s sometimes too much emphasis on the core and core exercises.
Are you still doing all your running drills? It’s often just a case of getting stronger in your own body by using different drills, rather than trying to have perfect posture.
Most important: relax, breathe, smile.

Anna Toombs

Many thanks once again to the coaches for being so generous with their time and advice. You can find their answers to other Barefoot FAQ here.

The Barefoot Beginner facebook group is growing all the time and a great place to hang out nd discuss all things barefoot/minimal realted. We are a friendly bunch and you would be made very welcome.

Jul 03

12. Barefoot sprinting – Does my cadence need to increase?

There is a Barefoot Beginner facebook page for you to visit and like. There is also a Barefoot Beginner group which acts a bit like a forum. It is a good place to comment and join in the chat. You will be made very welcome. Follow us on twitter here.

Ian Hicks is one of our regular contributors. You can read his monthly posts here. In our facebook group, he asked this question about barefoot sprinting.

Question: For barefoot sprinting does cadence need to get higher, stride length get longer or a combination of the two? I’ve started sprinting over 200m on tarmac and love it, no blisters! But I’m only increasing my cadence, is there more to it than this?

I suggested that he contact Steven Sashen from Xero shoes as I know that he is a sprinter. He also got an excellent response from Rene Borg of Champions Everywhere. Ian’s question also prompted a post on Barefoot Beginner by Chirunning coach Gray Caws.

Steven Sashen from Xero shoes

Some of the biomechanical goals of sprinting are similar to any sort of barefoot running:

1) You don’t want to overstride, but land with your foot closer to your center of mass
2) You want your feet to be moving when they touch the ground at the speed you’re moving across the ground (so you’re not braking or “landing”)
3) You want to get your feet off the ground quickly

If you stick with those points, you won’t try to arbitrarily lengthen your stride (that’ll turn into overstriding). But your stride will be longer when you sprint… simply as an effect of running faster and applying more force into the ground when you sprint vs. slower running.
For real sprinting, there’s another biomechanical event that is arguably similar to barefoot running: a forefoot landing.

The difference, though, is that for sprinting your heel should never touch the ground. But for regular barefoot running, there’s no reason for it not to.
Your cadence will, of course, increase when you run faster than usual. But this “push off” thing is highly misunderstood. In short: There’s no such thing. It’s an optical illusion.
If you look at a sprinter’s landing and take off on a force plate, the maximum force occurs in mid-stance. After that, the amount of force on the ground drops dramatically. By the time the sprinter is in a position where you would see them seemingly push off with their toes, there’s actually almost no force on the ground. The plantar flexion (toe pointing) you see, has zero effect on speed and is just an artifact. It’s not an active thing that you do.
Now many runners, when they try to sprint, think that they’re supposed to push off with their toes. Nope. Don’t do it.
Like barefoot running, when you sprint you want to think of lifting your foot off the ground by flexing at the hip, not by pushing with your foot/calf.

In other words, cadence and stride length have nothing to do with this part of the gait cycle… you simply don’t want to “scrape” your foot or “cycle” your leg. You want to hit the ground and get off of it as fast as possible.
And “push off” keeps your foot on the ground too long (and, again, for no reason).

Quick story: I was at a barefoot 5k and at the end of the race, some guy shows me the bottom of his foot… every toe was ripped raw. He said, “I guess I need to toughen up my feet.” “No,” I said, “you need to stop running like you have to wipe something off your toes with every step!”

Same thing here — if you’re getting blisters, you’re simply applying unnecessary horizontal force to the ground.

Without seeing you run and giving you real time coaching, the only thing I
can say is: CUT THAT OUT!

Experiment and see how you can get your feet off the ground faster without wiping/scraping them. You might want to do this at 80% of your full speed… then, once that’s comfy, at 85%, then 90%, then 95%, then full speed.

Keep me posted.

Feel The World!

-Steven Sashen, CEO
Xero Shoes • Original Barefootware

Rene BorgRene Borg of Champions Everywhere

Hi guys, my sprinting is almost “too slow” on the video to be “real sprinting” (not a fast-twitch fibre in my body!) but essentially what we teach in our coaching model about the difference is this:

1) Sprinting involves much higher forces than running and thus you have to land on your toes (rather than mid-foot/forefoot depending on the terminology you use) with each step and…

2) The cadence in sprinting can easily go over 240 strides per minute. There are a few other subtle differences but they are the main ones. It’s worth remembering that the transition from running to sprinting is fluid and individual – if you notice middle-distance runners will approximate sprint paces and at some stage in each race their cadence moves beyond 180 and up towards 195 or higher. The same for runners running downhill. It’s a natural response to mounting ground reaction force. You’ll notice the moment you begin landing directly on your toes, there is zero heel contact. This video (about 55 secs in), shows it well:

The debate about push-off versus pull-off is pretty rampant on the internet these days and it seems to come down to a disagreement about terminology. By the laws of physics there is some degree of “push-off” required in all running and sprinting, even correctly executed, but the key is that it should be “reflexive” and runners and coaches who focus on coaching push-off tend to end up with sticky or injured runner (we did in the early days using the Lydiard hill circuits with over-active pushoff, knee drive etc.). We dismissed this once I began working with Tony Riddle and changed our focus to the pull (i.e. think about getting off the ground) with no knee drive. There are different cues you can adopt to go this direction, all that seems certain to me is that if you coach an active push-off in running and sprinting you’ll generally not get the response you are looking for from the athlete. The mainstream view is still to coach active push-off and knee drive and this is what was taught at the UKA (so the mainstream view). Having seen the facts in practice working with Tony, we could no longer support this but you’ll notice it is a contentious issue if you research it.

I love barefoot sprinting myself and try to do it once per week. Some clients we have cannot quite take quite handle that amount of force, however, so if you’re a coach or looking for a coach, it’s best to build up to it. If you can find a coach who can teach very good jumping mechanics and knows how to progress the difficulty (i.e. jumping from heights etc.). We mixed in elements from both traditional Russian athletics, parkour and free running (all of the latter came from Ben Medder) to achieve this. We saw great results when Jason Kehoe made his comeback finishing 2nd in a mountain race in Ireland after a blistering descent off the back of mainly technical training compared with free-running/MovNat style workouts (but tailored a bit to be specific to mountain running where possible)

Champions Everywhere

Thankyou to Steven and Rene for being so generous with their responses.

You can see Ian’s original facebook question here. A good place to carry on the chat.

Jun 04

11. Painful Calluses under my toes. Is barefoot running the answer?

xero shoesI often get barefoot running questions which I send out to a fantastic group of coaches. As ever they have been generous with their time. Be sure to check out their websites.

This question on calluses cam from Natalie:


I’m in need of some advice. I’ve been running in minimalist shoes for a couple years now. I am currently running in Merrell Vapor Gloves. My cadence is right around 180, sometimes as low as 170. Forefoot strike, with heel kissing ground most of the time. I wear injinji socks. I did a half marathon on Mother’s Day and the last mile, the bottom of my forefoot felt so painful I almost had tears in my eyes. I iced, and took some recovery time off. I did a 4 miler and a 3 miler this week, and each time the last mile or so my foot is hurting in two points. Both are callused, one is under the big toe and the other (and most painful) is under my little toe. After the three miles yesterday, I was limping because they hurt so bad. Is your instinct saying that I’m pushing off and causing friction, or maybe shoes are ill fitting, or just go barefoot for gods sake?? Any help would be appreciated!


Steven Sashen from Xero shoes

Oh, my… so many things to talk about, so little time 😉

First, the good news: you’ve recognized that blisters and callouses come from friction, and that friction isn’t inherent in proper barefoot form. One of the points I often find myself making is that accomplished barefoot runners don’t have calloused feet, much to the surprise of shod runners who assume that you NEED callouses to run barefoot.
Now for the less good news: while you’ve given a good amount of information (some people email me and just say, “I have a blister, what’s wrong?”), I don’t have quite enough info to give you an individualized diagnosis. For that I’d need to know more about your average mileage, see a video of you running and, gross as it may sound, a picture of the bottom of your feet so I can see exactly where the callouses are. Most barefoot coaches will concede that we’re ultimately more interested in form than footwear, but removing footwear is perhaps the fastest way to  discover and modify aspects of form. I’ve tested world-class runners as they switch from barefoot to shoes of various kinds, and they have their form so well dialed in that it wouldn’t change if they were wearing bricks on their feet. Most of us, though, are not that skilled, or our form is such that changing footwear affects our gait.

And that brings me to: Take off your shoes. In my opinion, the combo of shoes and socks that you’re wearing is reducing the amount of feedback you’re getting to a point where it’s hard to tell what might be wrong until it’s too late. Further, the sock/shoe combination is a perfect setup for having your foot slide during a couple points in
the gait cycle, which is that unnecessary horizontal force you correctly suspect.
And, again pardon my presumptuousness, but it sounds like you have some ideas about minimalist/barefoot running that aren’t necessarily accurate and may be contributing to your issues.

First is the idea that you’re supposed to land on the ball of your foot and that your heel should barely touch the ground, if at all. When you look at accomplished barefooters, there’s quite a bit of individual difference in foot strike. Some land on the ball of the foot, some land midfoot, some land flat-footed, some actually touch the ground with the heel first but don’t load the foot until  it’s flat on the ground. To a certain extent, the instruction, “Do not heelstrike” is actually a cue for, “Do not reach out with your foot and overstride, which will cause you to do this painful thing — that you do in shoes — namely, land on and load the heel first.” If you don’t overstride, and place your foot much closer to your center of mass, it’s really hard to heel-strike, so that instruction is sort of moot. In other words, you may want to explore different foot strike patterns and see which works best for you. I often see barefoot runners who, believing they should land on their forefoot, reach out with their foot to do so (and, again, most will assureyou that they don’t do this… until they see it on video). This can put extra stress on the ball of the foot and could cause the pain you describe. It often leads to another form issue: pulling/pushing rather than placing/lifting. One way to create extra friction is to pull your foot toward you once it touches down (especially after overstriding), or to push it behind you as you take off. Put these together in some combination and it’s like trying to wipe something off the bottom of your foot, or kick something behind you with your toes. Either way, this is friction-creating. Instead, the aim is placing the foot and then lifting it rather than thinking of your foot asthe thing that propels you forward.

The second idea that may be causing you some issues is related to cadence. The 170-180 steps/minute cadence is a kind of mythological number that may have no relationship to your particular gait. Someone, at some time, suggested that +/- 180 was a magical number that, if you run at that cadence, you’ll achieve superhuman powers, provide food for the hungry,and align the stars in a harmonic convergence. Unfortunately, the research doesn’t support that. Your ideal cadence may be 185, or 190, or 193.2734. The ultimate point about cadence is that there’s a speed at which you’re less likely to overstride and more likely to get your feet on and off the ground in a more efficient manner, and that speed is faster than your normal cadence, and probably faster than you imagine it would be. Only experimenting will reveal what your “magic number” is.

Finally, you may simply be doing too much. Perhaps your body and feet aren’t ready for the mileage you’re doing, or you’re getting tired later in your runs and having your form break down. I can’t tell if this is relevant since I don’t know about your training or your transition to minimalism, but this is another arena to explore.
Suffice it to say, the problems you’re having are “information.” Listen to that info and experiment with different gait patterns, and then see what info *that* gives you. One goal of barefoot/minimalist running is to learn to be your own coach. This “listen, experiment, repeat” method is how you do that.

Feel The World!
Steven Sashen, CEO
Xero Shoes • Original Barefootware

The Balanced Runner – Jae Gruenke

Hi Natalie

Calluses are caused by friction, so you’re rubbing somehow in those spots. Often the friction is caused by a little bit of turning or pivoting there, so pay attention in your running to see if you’re doing that. If you’ve been wearing the same shoes for awhile then the problem is probably not the fit of the shoe in any case.

On the first aid front you can take a pumice stone and start gradually working on smoothing down those calluses in the shower or bath. If they’re uncomfortable in walking as well as running than this is non-optional, you can’t have pain on the sole of your foot without it causing you to change everything about how you move and that could result in more serious injuries down the line.

Secondly, why did they hurt so much all of a sudden? Are there blisters beneath the calluses or perhaps neuromas (inflamed nerves in the forefoot)? Check and see if there’s something else going on.

Third, I’d bet your calf is tighter on that side. When the calf is too tight you walk or run a little like you have a ski boot on, with the weight coming onto the ball of the foot too soon, and it can also end up causing you to pivot a little bit. That tends to really stress the metatarsal heads and result in neuromas (or other kinds of pain). I suggest a thorough dynamic calf warmup before you run — do both calves so you don’t end up loosening the injured one more and over-correcting! You could do the one in this video from James Dunne:

Fourth, this sort of thing usually happens on the foot you have worse balance on (if you stand on one leg to check your balance, you’re more likely have good balance on the other leg). However even if I’ve guessed wrong and your balance is actually better on the callous side, what I’m going to suggest now still applies. To really go to the root of why this sort of thing happens you need to reduce the difference between your two sides, and though that could be due to a million different causes it can help to do balance exercises. So before you run practice balancing on each leg, and work your way up to do one-legged squats and even some forward hopping on each leg. Go gradually, especially with that last bit, and there’s no point in doing it till your foot has stopped hurting. But it could help prevent a recurrence.

The reason I use the Feldenkrais Method to work with runners is because it’s a powerful tool for addressing #4 — identifying what really is the difference between the two sides and how it stresses your foot and then helping you learn to move so you don’t have the problem any more. So the very best thing would be to find a local Feldenkrais practitioner. I see clients in Edinburgh, London, and New York, so give me a holler if you’re near any of those places. If you can’t find anyone you could work with my recorded lessons, the Core Action Collection, available here:

And yes, do some barefoot running! You don’t have to do it all the time, but nothing is so clarifying as uncovering your feet completely so you can really feel what you’re doing. And besides, it’s fun.

Jae Gruenke, GCFP

Founder & CEO of The Balanced Runner™ US and The Balanced Runner UK

Lou Nicholettos – Cornwall Physio/The Natural Running Clinic

Hi Natalie, thanks for your question!
I worked with a client recently who had a very similar problem. He was training for a marathon and kept getting terrible blisters on the balls of his feet. He was wearing his shoes fairly big- as is usually recommended for minimalist shoes/ forefoot strikers (and for marathon runners). When I analysed his running form he had a large overstride, which was effectively ‘breaking’ his forward momentum with every stride. He was also running with an overly exaggerated forefoot strike- something i typically see with runners who have tried to change their own running form, and have payed too much attention to their footstrike.
This running style is probably the biggest risk factor for the type of calluses you’re describing. Especially because your most painful point is towards the little-toe side of the ball of your foot. Once you’re weight is on your forefoot (after landing and then heel lift) the majority of force should be going through the base of your big toe. However, If you overstride onto a forefoot landing,  the weight will typically be more towards the little-toe side at the initial contact. In a shoe that has room to move, the breaking action will result in friction between the shoe and your foot!
I recommend that you get somebody to video you running- or better still that you work with a running coach. True barefoot running could also be a great tool (once your feet have healed!) as this will make you more aware of how you’re landing and encourage you to shorten your stride. Don’t try consiously to forefoot strike, instead keep your ankles relaxed and your body tall so that you land directly underneath yourself. For people with blisters who need to keep running (like my marathon chap) zinc oxide tape applied over the sore area can be a great short-term solution to prevent further damage. Good luck and I hope the advice helps!
Lou Nicholettos is a Barefoot Running Coach and Chartered Physiotherapist based in Cornwall, UK. She provides technique coaching and 1:1 sessions for barefoot and minimalist runners with injuries. She also runs regular barefoot running workshops and weekend coaching holidays by the Cornish Coast. To find out more email

Anna Toombes from BarefootRunningUK

Hi Natalie

It’s quite difficult to make an accurate assessment without seeing how you run, but my first suggestion would be to take a week or so off from running, just to give your poor foot a rest!

You also mentioned that you’re “currently” wearing Merrell Vapor Gloves – if they’re relatively new and don’t suit your feet (or you’ve done too much in them too soon) that may be a contributing factor.
There’s obviously a lot of pressure going through the area of your foot that has the pain and calluses. Ask someone to film you and see if you can spot how your foot comes in to land. It sounds as though you’re probably landing too far towards the front of your foot (and possibly overstriding) – allow your feet and ankles to relax and let the heel come down to the floor. You said that your heel “kisses” the floor “most of the time” – when it doesn’t, you’ll be putting extra strain on your calves, limiting your ‘spring’ and putting too much pressure into the front of your foot.

We often work with clients who don’t have enough ankle mobility which affects their ability to be able to bend their hips, knees and ankles appropriately. This will often cause mechanical dysfunction in the foot/ankle so make sure you practise knee bends, ankle rotations, point and flexing your feet and calf raises on a step – anything that encourages optimum mobility at the ankle joint. Of course, you need strength too – single leg balance work is good! (There are helpful drills and exercises in our book – see Chris’s ‘Barefoot Running Store’).

I do agree with you last suggestion – take off your shoes and do some pure barefoot running. Do some sessions completely barefoot and just run up and down, really feeling what your body is doing, rather than always going for an actual run.

Hope this helps!

All the best

I hope that helps, Natalie.

Once again many thanks to Steven Sachen, Jae Gruenke, Lou Nicholettos and Anna Toombs for being so generous with their time.

If you have any advice for Natalie or would like to join in the chat, our Barefoot Beginner facebook group now has 250 members and is growing all the time. We also have a facebook page for you to visit and like. We are are a friendly bunch, you will be made very welcome.

Soft Star RunAmocs


Apr 30

11. Plantar fasciitis – Is barefoot running a cause or cure?

Soft Star RunAmocs

Just had a question from Grant in Linkoping, Sweden. Sounds all too
familiar to me. I sent the question out to the coaches. Here are their responses:

‘Training for Gothenburg half marathon (18th May) at the moment and I’m now suffering pain in my left foot. Most probably plantar fasciitis. Classic symptom of pain with my first few steps in the morning. Taking it easy at the moment, but all I wanna do is run of course. Anyone with similar experience? I’ve been running barefoot/min since end of December. Gradually building up the mileage. What to do?’

Steven Sashen from Xero shoes

There are a number of causes of PF, and there are some conditions that mimic PF. So, with the caveat that I’m not a doctor and that I’m not trying to diagnose you (especially not via email), here are some thoughts:

1) A common cause of PF symptoms (and actual PF) is calf tightness. Use a foam roller (check Youtube for instructions about using a foam roller on your calf) and stretch the calf.

2) Note that you’re NOT having the problem on the right side… as you walk and run, pay attention to what you may be doing differently with that “good” side. Your “bad” side may, then, adjust to match.

3) Make a video of your barefoot running, from the side and the back. Ideally, use a camera that lets you then view yourself in slow motion. Check and see if you find any differences, left to right. Look at how your foot lands. Check and see if your heel touches the ground or not (if you heel strike, that could lead to PF, and if you forefoot or mid-foot strike but don’t let your heel touch down, that could cause calf strain).

4) This is a bit extreme, but: I’ve also found that chocolate cures everything!
Feel The World!
Steven Sashen, CEO
Xero Shoes • Original Barefootware

Helen Hall 150x150Helen Hall from Perpetual Forward Motion Ltd

I just knew my pretend case study on plantar fasciitis would come in useful one day.

There’s not enough information here to be super-helpful as he may already be doing what I would say would be basic remedial action, but sometimes it’s stopping doing what people perceive to be the right thing – but isn’t – is the most helpful!
  • DO NOT STRETCH the muscles of either the foot or the calf.  Until you know why there is pain, pulling something that might be tight probably won’t make it feel any better about itself … and in fact, it’s likely to feel worse.  Stretching is an over-used and frequently misused tool.
  • DO NOT use ICE … extremes of temperature shut down the lymphatic system which is your vehicle for removing metabolic waste fluid.  Icing is an over-used tool with no medical proof of efficacy at all.  It might make you feel as if you’re doing good, and it might ‘numb’ the area, but it won’t help disperse the inflammatory fluid which is part of the pain picture.
  • DO NOT weight-bear after rest/sleep without first mobilising the soft tissue of the lower leg; eg whilst still in bed, rotate your ankles in both directions several times and point and flex the ankle (do not hold any stretches – this is mobilisation) several times.  Do this for a few minutes to loosen soft tissue that has shortened and tightened whilst you’re sleeping ( foetal position is with relaxed ankles, our toes lower than our heels, shortening the calf muscles for many hours of your life)
  • DO NOT ‘BEAT UP’ sore soft tissue, thinking ‘no pain, no gain’.
  • DO:
  • Gentle massage to loosen and generate an improved circulation
  • Use rollers/stick tools to make self massage easier, more enjoyable and more productive.  Here’s a video showing you how – many videos show you to lift  your bottom off the floor.  You won’t last longer than 30 seconds and that’s not long enough to be productive.  You need a few minutes at least to start to make a difference.
  • Check your running form to ensure you’re not pushing with your toes – classic cause of pain in the feet.
  • Check your foot bone structure to see if the end of the long foot bone leading to the big toe is at the same level as the end of the long foot bone leading to the second toe.  If they aren’t level, and the 1st metatarsal is shorter than the 2nd, it is almost certain that that is the root cause of your plantar-fasciitis and the condition (Morton’s Foot) needs correcting.


Gray CawsGray Caws of

Hi Grant

You say ‘most probably’ so the first thing you need to do is have this confirmed by a medical professional. If it is the case you then need to consider your training.
You say you’re gradually building up mileage but if you only started barefoot running end December, for most people three months is not enough time to get the strength in the muscles of your feet and lower legs to run a comfortable 1/2 marathon. A traditional running shoe supports these muscles. If you run barefoot or in minimalist shoes and the feet and lower legs muscles are not fully conditioned then it falls to the plantar fascia to do most of the work.

Also running on and/or pushing off with the toes overloads the lower leg muscles
again putting strain on the plantar fascia so make sure your lower legs are relaxed
and you are landing mid-foot with your posture in good alignment.

I would advise that good technique, foot and lower leg muscle conditioning and a
more gradual progress approach to training should help. It’s important to avoid
damage to tendons and ligaments as they take much longer to repair than muscles due to limited blood supply.

Here’s hoping all goes well in Gothenburg but remember no one race is worth putting
the bigger picture of enjoyable life-long running at risk. Be sensible and listen to
your body. It usually knows what’s best!

Gray Caws
Chi Running Instructor and Personal Trainer

Many thanks to Stephen, Helen and Gray for taking the time to respond.

View all the other barefoot questions we asked the coaches

If you would like to comment come and join in at our facebook group and like our facebook page. Our community is growing all the time. You will be made very welcome.

xero shoes

Mar 31

10. How to use calf rolling to help with barefoot running

The next question in out series is about rolling the calves. I posted recently about a niggle and received a hefty repsonse from other barefooters who all roll using whatever they have at hand.

I wanted a few tips and so asked the coaches for any advice they may have on rolling out the calf muscles.

Lou NicholettosLou Nicholettos – Cornwall Physio/The Natural Running Clinic

I get a lot of questions each week about calf soreness caused by running. Most often runners are describing general soreness that doesn’t particularly stop them from running. They have no history of trauma or injury but just seem to be prone to sore calves. This type of calf soreness will last for a day or two after running and doesn’t occur with other activities.

In my clinical experience the most common causes of this type of calf pain are:

Lack of calf strength or flexibility

Overloading- due to poor technique and/or too much training volume or intensity

Improving flexibility

Here’s a couple of simple things you can do to improve your calf flexibility. Foam rolling can be a great tool for keeping on top of general soreness. I also like using it prior to stretching- it can really help with mobility exercises in this way.

Calf strength

By strengthening your calf muscles they will fatigue less during running. Don’t do strength work on the days you run – ideally leave a rest day between strength work and running. Calf raises are a popular exercise – these can be performed with either a straight knee (gastrocnemius focus) or bent knee (soleus focus). Start with 3 sets of around 15 reps, 3 x a week. Work to fatigue but don’t push through pain. Gradually increase repetitions as your strength improves.

Technique- a few pointers

Running technique can play a huge part in susceptibility to calf soreness. Many of the runners i see with sore calfs have been trying to change their own running technique. If you keep getting sore calves it is well worth having your running form assessed.

Here’s a couple of calf-freindly technique tips:

Don’t over-stride

Allow your heels to kiss the ground – if you are a mid or forefoot striker make sure you heels gently touch down after landing.

Don’t push off- instead lift your feet and keep your ankles relaxed

Don’t bend forwards- concentrate on keeping tall with your hips forwards

Final notes

The recommendations here are for general calf fatigue/ soreness, rather than injury treatment. If you think you have injured your calf or have symptoms which are persisting or worsening it is worth seeing a Physiotherapist or Sports Doctor for diagnosis and treatment. If in doubt get it checked out.

Gray CawsGray Caws of

Address the symptom by focusing on the system

In answer to your question on tight, knotty calves, I would approach the issue from the following angles:

Doing too much too soon? Think gradual progress

As you rightly point out, may running injuries are caused by doing too much too soon so the first thing you need to address when you get a niggle, pain or injury is your training programme. Adopt the principle of gradual progress. In nature each development stage of a process forms a stable foundation for the next. So think form > distance > speed. You have to have good technique (form) before you can develop and improve.

Body sense and react

When you sense a niggle or pain then you need to do something about it. In the case of your tight calves, foam rolling – Self Myofacial Release (SMR) –  is great for reducing adhesions or knots within the matrix of the muscular connective tissue (myofascia). Looking at the body hollistically rather than focusing on the single muscle theory, myofacial meridians wind longitudinally through it’s soft tissue creating a communicating network. See Anatomy Trains (Elsevier 2001) One such meridian, the Superficial Back Line runs from the bottom of the toes around the heel, through the calves, up the back of the body, crossing over the head to finish at the top of the eyebrows. So in theory any knots or misalignment along this line will affected the whole back of the body – As you point out, many people find relief from tight calves by rolling out the knots in the plantar fascia. It follows that misalignment of the head could not only affect the muscles in the shoulders but those throughout the whole meridian.

Alignment and relaxation

This approach emphasises the importance of good posture – balance, alignment and proprioception. When running, in mid-stance (balanced on one leg), your body weight should be supported by your structure (bones, ligaments, tendons and tension along the myofacial meridians). If the body is out of alignment muscles are overworked and strain is put on joints such as the ankle, knee and hip and areas of the lower back, shoulders and neck.


When your body is aligned correctly you can then allow the moving parts to relax – so to help prevent tight calves focus on relaxing them, along with ankles and feet, when running. This is important in barefoot and minimalist shoe running. Tense lower legs is often a cause of tight ankles as the runner gets used to the zero drop of natural posture. Also, a common error for barefoot runners is to run on the toes not allowing the heel to touch the ground. Running on your toes limits movement in the heel and reduces support for the back of the body – the Superficial Back Line.

How to apply SMR to the calves

  • Sit with legs extended and cross ankles with roller under the affected calf
  • Support with your hands and lift your hips off the floor – avoid hunched shoulders and keep a neutral spine (avoid rounded or hyperextend spine)
  • Roll up, down and across the muscle until a tender point is found
  • Relax and breath steadily throughout
  • Stop on the tender point until the discomfort decrease by about 75%
  • Continuing rolling to see if there are any other tender points


We often focus too much on the affected area of discomfort. As a Chi Running Instructor I teach the skills of alignment and relaxation, body sensing and gradual progress to new clients and at workshops. These skills are fundamental in building a solid foundation for years of enjoyable running.

Andy ClarkeAndy Clarke of Cambridge Fitness Academy (Blogs as Caveman Clarke)

In terms of scientific research relating to rolling the calves, I must admit my knowledge is somewhat limited. I have from personal experience used a roller and had ok results from it. I have also, however found that real massage from an experienced sports massage therapist is far better as they can focus on the right spot, direction of pressure and amount of pressure. If a massage is not an option then a roller seems to do an ok job.

However, if you have a thorough warm up, train within your limits and keep your distances and intensities under control, followed by some gentle stretching and enough rest and a good diet, you shouldn’t need to roll your calves or muscles that often. Over training is the main reason for tight and stiff muscles so no amount of rolling will undo that. Cut back a little, check your technique is all good and take a rest week if necessary.
If rolling works for you then keep it up, but just make sure your not in pain due to
pushing yourself too hard. Full transition to barefoot running can take months or
even years if your body has never had to do this before.

Anna TombesAnna Toombes of BarefootRunningUK

Most runners will experience calf niggles at some point and as you say, sometimes rollering can be more useful than traditional stretches.

I’m going to assume that some of the other coaches will have outlined how to perform calf rollering. We have explained how to do it in previous magazine issues and Dr Scott Hadley did a wonderful piece for us about the Achilles Tendon in issue 3 (see the multimedia section of our website: Scott also has some Youtube videos with various

self-massage techniques explained and you can visit his website:

There are a few other things you can do to avoid (or at least limit) tenderness in the calf muscles. As you mentioned, using a tennis/hockey/golf ball underneath your feet can help to reduce tightness in the calf muscles. You can also just ‘knead’ the soles of your feet with your fingers and thumbs. It’s a little bit like kneading dough – start

gently, just pressing your feet and mobilizing them using your hands and you’ll start to feel them loosen off.

Also, have a think about the times when you’re contracting your calf muscles during the day. Wearing a shoe with a raised heel (of any height) will limit the range of movement through the calf muscles over time. Take your shoes off whenever you can (no one can see when your feet are underneath your desk at work) and point and flex your feet as well as circle your ankles.

Another thing to look at is how you sleep: do you sleep on your back underneath heavy covers? This can cause you to sleep with your toes slightly pointed which can cause cramp and tightness. Similarly, sleeping on your front will put your feet in the same position.

Maintaining range of movement and pliability in the calf complex are the most important things, so make sure you routinely practice calf raises on a step, lifting all the way up on the balls of your feet, then lowering your heel down as far as it will go. Simply bending and straightening your knees, keeping your heels on the ground, when you’re waiting for a train or for the kettle to boil will help maintain freedom through the calf and ankle.

I was recently pointed towards a YouTube clip by our friend, Dr Stig Walsh, which shows a whole range of foot exercises explained by Dr Andreo Spina. Worth a look, although some of the exercises are pretty challenging so take it gradually:

Finally, keeping well hydrated, ensuring you have rest days from exercise and cross training will also help limit calf niggles, as well as making sure that when you do run, you’re running with sound technique either barefoot or in a light, flexible shoe.”

A big thanls to Lou, Gray, Andy and Anna for being so generous with their advice. Check out their sites to see what else they can offer.

If you have a question then conatct Chris or join in the chat at our facebook group. We are a friendly, supportive group and you will be made very welcome.