Minimalist Shoes, Barefoot Running, and Metatarsal Stress Fractures - Chi Running

Minimalist Shoes, Barefoot Running, and Metatarsal Stress Fractures

Posted by Danny Dreyer on Thu Aug 4th, 2011, 8 comments

Running barefoot will strengthen the intrinsic muscles of your feet, making them more stable. And, it may give you a feeling of running differently. But, it won’t somehow automatically undo all your worst running movement habits or change them for the better.

Pete Larson, the Runblogger, has recently posted a comment on the rash of metatarsal stress fractures occurring among barefoot running and minimalist shoe runners and he theorizes that most of them occur in the mid to late part of the support stance when running. From my own experience, I agree with him. I hardly ever run barefoot unless it’s on a track where I know there won’t be anything to hurt my feet. Instead, I prefer running in minimalist running shoes once or twice a week and run in racing flats for the rest of my weekly runs.

When I run barefoot or in minimalist running shoes I notice a change in how my feet feel. Because I have no running shoes providing protection and structure to my feet, I find that I hold a bit more tension in the intrinsic muscles of my feet. My body is looking for a sense of stability in this shoeless mode, so my natural tendency is to get my feet to create that stability I’m used to feeling in shoes. I can feel the tension in my feet the most when I roll onto the balls of my feet and lift off for my next stride. Because of this, I’ve had to train myself to relax my lower legs and resist a tendency to hold tension in my feet and toe off. As a result, I’ve had to pay special attention to relaxing my lower legs and to relying on my forward fall for most of my propulsion needs.

From the “body logic” I’ve been taught in t’ai chi, the smallest muscles and bones of my feet  have no business acting to support my full body weight or propel me forward as I am running. The job of support should fall to the largest bones (the femurs, pelvis and spine) and the job of propulsion should fall to the strongest muscles (the core muscles) assisted by the pull of gravity, and not to the relatively small bones and muscles in my feet. Placing my full weight onto these small bones and muscles and then increasing that amount by toeing off is asking for trouble in the form of possible stress fractures. No thanks. I’ll just pick up my feet instead of pushing off and run the risk of being sidelined. Once again, strong running technique prevails in the realm of injury prevention.


  • injury prevention,
  • minimal shoes,
  • barefoot running

8 CommentsLeave a comment below

Steve Chefan Aug 4th, 2011 03:40pm

I started running in Vibrams in May 2010.  I loved it, but hurt my left heal on about my third 4 mile run.  Having found Chi running on the Birthday website, I immediately changed my form.  This really was the magic bullet.  I slowly increased distance, ran a half marathon in March and completed the Cleveland Marathon on May 15th in 3:44:35, good enough to be a Boston Qualifier! (I’m 55 and been running for just 3 years). My legs, back, and knees never hurt.  What hurts are my Abs, and sometimes my feet.  I continue to practice my form, and hope to attend one of your courses someday. I enjoy running without music sometimes.  The lightness of minimalist running feels so joyful and child-like.  Thank you Danny for this terrific program.  I highly recommend the marathon training guide.  Many other guides suggest running upwards of 60 miles per week-too much for me at this point! Yours really was pain free.

i have been running part time in Vffs for awhile and started peeling them off for the last quarter to 1 mile on a crushed limestone trail.  When i do it is indeed difficult to relax as I intuitively am preparing to step on a rock I think.  I also notice when watching barefooters videos, they seem to have a more up and down kind of motion with their feet as opposed to letting foot swing back (usually accompanied with t Rex arms just kind of hanging there).  Although I don’t have video of myself, I have to say it feels like I am a cartoon character that’s sneaking on their tip toes.  I do have to say I like the way my foot splays out bare on the trail, I can imagine overdoing it and injuring myself as I do indeed feel it throughout my feet afterwards.  All this being said, I appreciate what you are teaching with form being key.  A fun as it is to go barefoot, I now understand why one of the first things man invented was something to cover their feet (shoes)!

D Patterson Aug 8th, 2011 03:45pm

There is maybe no perfect running form, but more-so an ideal running form - one that is person dependent since everyone has a different center of mass, different center of masses for their limbs, a different body weight / foot size ratio etc.. I am a believer that in the long run the body will find it’s own ideal based on the inherent desire to minimize stress and strain on the system. One of the key’s to this will be the ability of the body to sense its environment through proprioception and biofeedback. In the ideal world this would mean being barefoot virtually all of the time - those who are not able to do that they can look into the use of biofeedback foot strengthening insoles (see Barefoot Science). The ability to emulate the ground contact in the mid foot region and initiate proper pre-strike foot position will only help to make the foot stronger and allow the body to find its own ideal, less injurious form.

After taking the Chi Running workshop here in NYC a couple of years ago and working with a certified instructor, I found that the Mizuno Wave Musha is a good shoe for me, as is the Saucony Kinvara. But I’m intrigued by the Mizuno Wave Ronin. I see that it’s recommended on the blogs for Chi Running, but it has a significantly higher heel than the other two. Has anyone had any difficulty using a forefoot strike in Ronins?

I’m just delving into Chi - having watched several short videos and read a bit of the book…....I’m a 54 year old woman, running about 2 years now in a large nature park outside of Portland, Oregon.  I’m starting to really feel this style now - the forward stance, the core strong, can’t pick my legs up high in back as I have disc degeneration all down my spine. I notice that the toning in my derriere has sort of gone “south” oddly, although my mileage has gone up from previous. Now 35 - 45 miles per week.  Same with quads.  I can’t deliberately turn legs from my hip in my stride due to my back - although I can feel the movement going naturally there the longer I run like this.  Confused though, about loss of physical toning.

Melody- disc degeneration makes the spine flatten and increases the muscle tone in the Piriformis muscles, turning the hips out, posturally, even when standing still.  So, the capability and action of doing this while running will be less.

Hi everyone.

I’m a 28 year old British trained Classical Osteopath and got given the book ‘Born to Run’ by one of my patients last week. I couldn’t put it down and am now without hesitation straight back to page one reading it for the second time.
I have always hated running. Hated it. Mocked at school for ‘running badly’, and not exactly doing well in any short or long distance races. I’ve always been a keen swimmer, gymnast, (love dancing) and martial artist; so I stuck to that. Asthma kind of got in the way doing 1500m running at school as well, since it took me all day to recover my breathing having done a track session that morning.
So, I gave up running. No biggie. I only run (fast for short distances) for the bus or Tube, or train when I’m late, and I love the freedom of flying with a massive smile on my face. I also ALWAYS train barefoot. My ankles used to be weak and being hypermobile, I used to get inversion strains on a weekly basis.

After two and a half years of four times a week Muai Thai one to one training sessions with Tony my cage fighter trainer, my ankles were strong and seriously fixed.
He tried to take me running. One minute running, one minute walking (alternatively) up and down and around a hill for about an hour to get me motivated and to build my stamina without busting into a dreaded asthma attack. It wouldn’t have been fun to see me turn blue, when I don’t even carry an inhaler anymore.
It wasn’t fun, that run. I still hate running.

But back to the point. Having read that book, it reinforced everything I know and have learned over the past twenty years about foot and spinal mechanics.

So, I have actually been inspired to try it. Yes, Running.

Barefoot running.

Well, Vibram Five Finger-style barefoot running.

On the streets of London.

And I’ve got to do some serious research into Tarahumara running technique.
I’m already telling my patients to go. Do it. Barefoot run, change your technique.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress. I’m the least run- friendly of them all. But I’m going for it.


ajit Thomas Jan 6th, 2012 08:23am

I have been chi running for the past 2 yrs.  As a natural progression, I started running bare foot .  I started with 5 min and worked up from there over several weeks.  With the gradual progression I had no pain or injury.  I started using Vibrams on the advice of my son, who is a personal trainer.  He had seen some of his clients literally wear down the soles on their feet running bare foot on asphalt.

I have been using Vibrams the past summer and ran a half marathon using the Chi running style and was pain and injury free!!

Nancy Nelson Apr 7th, 2012 07:00am

Hi all, I am 57 and running my first marathon.  I found ChiRunning about 3 1/2 years ago and after reading and rereading Danny and Katherine’s Chi Running Book my running is really coming together.  I highly recommend the Marathon Training guide too! This guide breaks it down so easily and has been such a huge help in my training.  My training and distance has been so gradual and I too want to transition into a more minimus shoe.  I have been trying my Vibrams on my shorter runs and especially when I do track work, but my longer plus runs I am using my very broken in Nike shoes.  Still not sure what shoe I will use for my marathon in June.  Thanks for all the suggestions out there!  Happy Running!

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