The shoe industry is a 20 billion dollar industry…..they want you to buy their shoes….but would you be better off in bare feet…..?

I recently had the pleasure of attending a lecture on “barefoot running” and footwear prescription by Rick Osler. Rick is a podiatrist at Prahran sports medicine clinic and co-owner of Active feet (a sports shoe store that gets their clients on a treadmill to assess what type of shoe fits best.)

The presentation was an overview on what barefoot running actually is and how the different types of shoes can be used in training for runners.

There is no actual definition of “barefoot running”. Actual barefoot running is wearing no shoes at all. It encourages you to develop more of a forefoot strike as heel striking (which most of us are doing) has much more impact on the heel.

It’s not very practical in Melbourne due to harsh surfaces such as concrete and hazards such as litter, weather conditions, sprinkler heads etc… which may cause more injury than good to most people.

Most of the traditional running shoes we wear today such as Asics Kayano, Brooks Adrenalin etc… are based on a models designed in the 70/80’s. For the purpose of the lecture Rick has defined minimalist/barefoot running shoes by the HHD (heel height differentiation) and also by the amount of control in the heel/arch section of the shoe.

Traditional shoes have an HHD of around 12-14mm and have varying degrees of control in the heel/arch support section which varies from pronating, supinating and neutral. The most minimalist shoes have no arch support/control through the mid foot; some are designed like gloves with different sections for the toes and have minimal HHD such as 2-10mm.

Rick tested the statements that “barefoot running” was better for your running style (statements made by the companies themselves) via a client that was a coach running athlete. He had typical running injuries from training as a triathlete and marathon runner.

This client had set his sights on a 50km ultra marathon in the Moroccan desert but knew with the amount of work spent on his current injuries he would not make it with his current training state. It took 1 year for adaptation of this client into barefoot/minimalist shoes.

Rick tried a variety of 5 different brands/types of shoes all with differing HHD and arch support on different days and differing terrain. The client completed the event successfully and returned the next year to compete again. The clients old injures had resolved and he no longer needed orthotics.

He still had musculoskeletal injures from the training but they had changed due to the different forces on the body. There was an increase in requitement for treatment on his calf’s as “barefoot running” causes you to get more spring and usage out of these muscles. During the run he went back to his regular Asics Nimbus shoes which he was running in before the barefoot trial (due to the distance travelled) but without orthoses.


  • Get your shoes fitted properly for your foot type: this should be assessed during the running phase as what the foot looks like may change on movement/use.
  • Training on different terrain on different days is best
  • Allow for rest days
  • Vary the training each day of the week
  • Have 2 pairs of runners: different designs. Have a new pair and an older pair-then keep rotating for a new pair so that you don’t have to buy 2 pairs of shoes each purchase.
  • “Barefoot” running has not proven to be better or worse than traditional shoes-It may change the stress on the body and injuries incurred but in the long run the verdict is still out!
  • Over longer distances i.e. marathon runners the old style of shoe may be preferred as when fatigue hits we tend to heel strike more.
  • The best gym shoes for a floor workout are a neutral shoe (not controlled pronation running shoe)

If you are a keen runner and wanting to try the barefoot range of shoes for running do it properly:

  • Consult a footwear specialist/podiatrist for the best fit.
  • Have an experienced trainer help you with your training schedule.
  • Make sure you are doing corrective/core exercises in your training that are supervised/written by a professional.
  • Get regular muscle maintenance from your myotherapist/massage therapist.
  • Vary your training/terrain/shoes.

By Catharine Bainbridge – Myotherapist