Lee Saxby Q+A: Should I run barefoot?

Tomorrow lunchtime (1-2pm) we're joined by Lee Saxby who'll be answering your questions about barefoot running - how to start, which footwear to buy, the pros and cons and whether it’s right for you.

 Lee Saxby has been a leading light in barefoot running coaching for 20 years, and works closely with minimal shoe brand VIVOBAREFOOT. He was described as 'the world’s best running coach' by Christopher McDougall, author of the barefoot running bible Born to Run. Lee has recently released a new eBook, called PROPRIOCEPTION: Making Sense Of Barefoot Running. 

We're opening the discussion now Lee so can get answering your questions at 1pm (rather than having to deal with a rush of questions at once).  



  • Hi Lee/Guys

    This might be a general question, perhaps exacerbated by the fact I'm running in minimalist shoes - but I'm struggling to maintain a steady pace in them.

    As I'm a new runner this might have been the case anyway, but I'm wondering if It's because I'm focusing on the terrain too much - trying to watch out for dog doodo, nails, uneven paving flags, and the like which are more problematic when your shoes only have 2mm of rubber on them and thus my stride length is at variance. (I run at a very even tempo - "Mr Blue Sky" by ELO is bang on 175 steps/min).

    Any suggestions as to how I could even out my pace?

    And what mileage increases do you recommend per week - does the 10% rule still apply barefoot? (I've just been increasing when it felt possible).

    For background info, I've only returned to running in April this year after 25 years off. After a few chronic calf problems I switched to "barefoot" running in June and took it carefully - I spent 2 weeks just walking in them day in day out(although being Vibram KSO's, there was a side effect - I'm now known as "Frodo" around the office). However I've suffered none of the problems I had with 'conventional' shoes. I'm so used to them I feel like I'm in high heels if I ever try and run in my old ASICS!

    Anyway, this week I acheived my longest run of 3.5 miles and still without any of the calf problems I had with my 'conventional' shoes. Another benefit is my pace has picked up from 11-12 mins/mile to sub 9 min/miles. The increased spring in my step barefoot is noticeable!

    I run 3 - 4 times a week and learnt everything I know from Lee's excellent video image http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=GB&v=Jio7DK15Q1E

    Keep up the excellent work Lee.
  • Hi! My question is general, and simply repeats the thread title: 'Should I run barefoot?' Or to put it another way, is it a good idea to change what is a runner's "natural" way of running if they happen to heel strike?

     My background is that I always used to get shin splints, but made a double change this year, both moving from neutral shoes to slight stability ones - to correct a collapsing arch - and switching from what I presumed was heel striking to mid/forefoot striking.

    I say 'presumed' because I'd never considered how I ran, until doing gait analysis down a running shop and chatting to the staff. So I researched a bit and found Ken Mierke's stuff on evolution running, and gradually emulated that.

    Everything was excellent (faster, no shin splints, no muscle aches, etc, etc) for over 3 months and then a calf 'went', and a more experienced runner kind of scolded me for switching from heel striking, saying that that is 'my' normal running form and I should stick with it rather than changing. So I'm confused. My instinct is to persevere with a mid/forefoot high cadence technique (which has felt really great for me until the injury) and maybe consider minimalist shoes rather than sticking with stability ones.

    Any thoughts on this?

    BTW, I watched that Youtube vid that ChopperUK posted above - looks like I have made corrections which also emulate your techniques, except for looking at general posture - and yes, I am a 'sit at a computer for 12 hours a day' person! Guilty. image

  • One of the most common statements made by barefoot enthusiasts is that we are meant to run that way, I do not however believe that we were naturally meant run on hard man made surfaces such as concrete and tarmac. Do you believe that we have evolved enough to cope with barefoot on such surfaces and what do you think of the long term impact of doing such.
  • Im also curious why your new e-book is called 'making sense of barefoot running' do you believe there is a lot of inacurate information regarding the subject among runners.
    If so what do you think is the most common piece of information.
  • Hi Lee,

    I am lucky enough to have not had many aches and pains since I started running more seriously 18 months ago, however after seeing pictures/videos of me running I look pretty unnatural and I feel quite sluggish on my feet. I was considering trying to convert to pose/barefoot running to improve my efficiency, I am encouraged by the fact you said it could take around 6 weeks to convert but I was wondering whether you think calf pain is a part of the process cause every time I try to land on my mid foot my calves give out in a few minutes. I also thought about trying nike frees to make it easier and wondered what your opinion is on them?!


  • Hi Lee,

    Since changing to evo's in March I started to get quite a lot of top of the foot pain in my right foot, so my so that it really ached just to walk. I switched back to neutral running shoes and the pain subsided. I was really frustrated about this as I eased into it slowly, small mileage, gradual increase etc. Now I'm too afraid to go back to it.

    I've heard top of the pain is quite normal for barefoot running is this right?



  • Afternoon Lee,

    it seems there's been a bit of an explosion in the number of minimalist shoes over the last 12 months or so.  Any recommendations for shoes suitable for a marathon? I've used New Balance RC600s in the past, but I'm thinking that something more minimalist (New Balance RC130 for example) might make my feet too sore over the marathon distance.


  • Hi Lee,

    have been thinking about minimilst/bare foot running for a fair time now, however, I suffer from metatarsalgia (ball of foot pain) which comes on at around 10-12 miles making running painful. I have tried £150 orthortics/ insoles/ different "support shoes" all of which make no difference. Can minimilist/bare foot running alleviate this condition?  or would it in fact make it worse?

    thanks Iain

  • Howdy Lee,

    I over trained in Jan and wound up with Plantar Fasciitis in BOTH feet! Has been the worst 6 months cos I had to pull out of the Brighton marathon and give up running.  After seeing multiple docs/physios and trawling the web for help, I was still failing to recover. I was fed up up of wobbling around on orthotics and not getting any better. In a moment of madness I forked out on a pair of Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves (sorry they aren't VIVOBAREFOOT Lee...I apologise!). 

    Anyway, to cut a long story short, wearing these all day long, combined with foot strengthening exercises has left me PF free.  I've also started running again and cranked my barefoot runs to a mile with no pain. My doc couldn't believe that I'd ditched the orothotics and self cured myself by such irregular methods. Have you guys had any similar tales of recovery?  Are there plans to investigate the healing properties of running barefoot with docs and physios? It seems alot of them aren't too clued up on it at the mo!

    Keep on running!


  • Without checking whether this question has already asked as I'm in a rush...

    How can I continue barefoot running in the winter? I have a pair of Vibrams (sprint) and I've been slowly building mileage running in those.

    How do I continue when the cold, ice and snow hits us? First of all, my feet are always cold. I cant see that I can continue wearing vibrams very late in the summer as it is.  I have toe socks to put on but they simply just don't go with Vibrams. Makes it uncomfortable. and too tight.  Are there winter versions of Vibrams? Also, I have a pair of NIKE free +  but I dont find them comfortable running in after vibrams, I use them for everyday walking more.

    What options do I have? I dont want to abandon barefoot running for winter and then start again next year. Seems pointless.

  • Hi Lee

     I have flat feet and rather dodgy achilles' caused by tight calfs. I am encouraged by Nick's comments above and am keen to give barefoot a go but am worried that the with my feet and achilles it may not be a good idea. Should I be concerned?

    Many thanks


  • Hamish - just a note to say the flexibility in my achilles (and ankles in general) was so none existent that my physio said I might as well be running in ski-boots...but now 6 weeks into my barefoot running and i can rotate my ankle joints like normal people.... image

    Only discomfort I sometimes get is the tendon in the centre of the sole of my foot that runs from my big toe to my heel sometimes aches - but I think that is probably because I'm actually having to use it for the first time, pushing off on my toes perhaps.

  • @chopper

    A runners pace will vary due to terrain ie the type of ground you are running on, and the type of elevation ie if you are running up and down hills. But as long as the rhythm or cadence stays between 170 and 185 steps per minute that is range of cadence is fine.

    That is a good general rule of thumb – I agree with that.

    I’m glad you like the video!

  • There is so much about barefoot running at the moment................why are all the shoes being advertised so expensive...........why not just encourage everyone to run without any shoes if barefoot is the most natural way to run......

    It just seems to be another way to sell very expensive shoes.............or are there cheap shoes like the old black gym pumps ok..........

  • @NeilTryAthlete

    The secret to avoiding calf pain is to ensure that the heel touches the ground. A common mistake is to keep the heel elevated all the time. The correct mechanics is to land on the ball of the foot and then let the heel touch afterwards.

    Another problem could be striking the ground too far ahead of your center of gravity, i.e. the hips.

    They are the two most common problems with Achilles and calf problems.
  • @ Squeakz
    I believe running on hard manmade surfaces are the best way to learn and improve your barefoot running technique. But too much too soon is always the problem because the legs need to be stronger and more flexible to cope with hard surfaces.
  • @ Squeakz
    The book is to de-bunk the romantic myths associated with barefoot running. The most common being that you can simply take your shoes off and run. The reality is that barefoot technique requires different posture; a different rhythm and you have to be very relaxed.
  • @Emrun
    Please refer to question two above.

  • @arcticlady
    Mid foot dorsal pain is a common complaint in new barefoot runners. Especially if you have a ‘Morton’s foot’ – this is likely to be your problem and you need to have your foot assessed by a professional.
  • @FerrousFerret

    You should train in the most minimalist shoe you can handle and when you compete in the marathon you should wear a less minimal shoe that offers comfort to enhance speed.
  • @IanCrawford

    You need to be very cautious going barefoot as you have problems on the ball of your foot, which is the exact place you land when running correctly. I suggest you visit a certified VIVOBAREFOOT coach and attend a clinic or do a one-to-one session. Start by looking at the eBook and training videos. http://trainingclinic.vivobarefoot.com/step-by-step

  • @NicholasGrinyer

    Your problem is exactly the reason I became involved with the barefoot movement. Chris McDougall, author of Born to Run, came to me with Plantar Fasciitis and was concerned he would not be able to run again. My belief is that ALL running injuries are due to poor skill/lack of technique. The only way to truly treat chronic running injuries is through learning the skill of running, which is essentially barefoot technique. As you have commented, this approach is not common knowledge, but on going research will bring this to the mainstream.
  • @JustElli
    Shoes are a major part of our evolutionary heritage created to protect us from puncture wounds and thermal damages. I have been involved in heping VIVOBAREFOOT design a range of minimalist performance shoes for different terrains and climates. See the current range here www.vivobarefoot.com
  • @HamishMoncur

    As I said to Ian, you need to be very careful in transitioning to barefoot running and I recommend you seeing a VIVOBAREFOOT coach. The very minimum education you need would be my eBook and training videos on the website. http://trainingclinic.vivobarefoot.com/step-by-step
  • Lee

    Sorry been late in posing my question..

    Are there any specific exercises you should complete to assist your transition to barefoot running?


  • @_ciaran I found skipping with a rope on the spot helped enormously. Reminded my body how to land on the balls of my feet and also encouraged some flexibility in my feet on take off - plus it made the kids laugh...
  • @serennos

    The human foot is essentially a primate foot without hooves or pads so it is very susceptible to puncture wounds and thermal damages (that is why indigenous people wear sandals or moccasins) The technology in the shoe is focused on protecting your foot from the environment without disturbing the proprioceptive feedback required for good running technique.

    With reference to your question about cheap gym pumps, if they have an adequately large toe box and they are puncture resistant they will do fine. However, I have never come across any.
  • hi,

    i am wondering how useful it would be to use barefoot running just as a training tool: Doing most of the running in "traditional" running shoes but  do some barefoot running once in a while. Or would that just alternate my running style between heel and mid/front foot strike ?

  • @ciaran
    Everything you need to know is in the eBook. There has been some confusing messaging out there so we have created the definitive step-by-step guide to transitioning.


  • @MICHAELEder

    If you intend to carry on heel striking in running shoes then barefoot running is not a useful training tool for you. If you are interested in adopting a forefront strike then barefoot running is the most powerful training tool there is.

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