A Going Barefoot Story – How To Survive Flat Feet Arch Support Withdrawals

CC Image Courtesy of chumley80 on Flickr

Guest post by Cameron McGrane (FB | T)

DISCLAIMER: I have no formal medical training. I’ve read a couple of blogs, watched a few videos and listened to “Born to Run“. I did trawl google on “Barefoot” and “Flat Feet” that only returned contrary views. This post is based on trial and error with references that came to mind along the way. I explain my experience and what I found useful going from orthotics to no support. The decision is yours alone.


The term “barefoot” in this post means no arch support and little or no padding between your feet and the ground. Orthotics and arch support are used interchangeably

200,000 nerve endings, 33 major muscles, 28 bones, 19 ligaments; the human foot is a bio-mechanical masterpiece. – Someone at VIVO BAREFOOT

As a flat footed, dependent orthotics user, I wanted in on full time barefoot. Flat footed people like Tim Ferris were fixing lower back (shared ailment) issues by going barefoot yet after further research I wasn’t convinced. No evidence existed that flat feet individuals could benefit from going permanently barefoot and everything I discover was the contrary. My deepest fear was fast tracking my knees to early replacement by discarding my arch support. Fears I overcame with implications I still haven’t an answered.

Transitioning is a leap of faith which every flat footer must take and accept the consequences. I took that leap and 12 months later am now no support, padding and injuries.

1. Noticeable Changes


  • Bigger outer stomach muscles & stronger core
  • Physically stronger with less exercise.
  • Reduced anterior pelvic tilt (duck ass)
  • Improved stability – feel more grounded, balancing is easier
  • Improved posture
  • Less lower back pain
  • Run longer distances -(Front foot striking) – nearly impossible to roll ankle when off road.
  • No dependence on mechanical support


  • Requires time and dedication
  • Pain
  • Potential to increase onset of pre-existing injury (e.g. knees).
  • Increase chance of new injury (e.g. not warming up. Taking things too fast)
  • Messed up walk as gait optimizes
  • Cost of changingdiscarding foot wear (office wear)

2. Bring out the stunt foot! Before and After.

Below is a before and after shot. Well not exactly. Steve suggested a before and after and I’d already noticed changes in my foot so my friend Rhys who has the exact size 11 flat and similar pre-barefoot physique as me volunteered for the shot.

Flat Foot Before
Before Shot Using Look Alike

A. Low muscle mass and definition

B. Weak forefoot pad

C. Undefined arch muscle

D. Swollen puffy ankle

It’s not that bad it just like making fun of my mate’s foot.

My foot. What a poser!

A. 3rd head developing

B. Bulging flexor hallucis brevis muscle

C. Pulsating veiny abductor hallucis

D. Ripped and lean ankle

E. Looks like bruising is actually dirt & grit

Yes yes. They’re not the same foot. Take my word  that my foot was in pretty bad nick too. The point, is your foot is like any other part of your body and can be shaped and strengthened for performance.

3. It’s a Zero Sum Game

I’m not an “All or Nothing” kind of guy. But when it came to going barefoot it was clear I had to decide. It was too disruptive flipping between arch support and none. Besides I’d been flipping my whole life. Barefoot around the house wasn’t fun. Sunday mornings? Shoes came on after an hour or two. Too many friends have had me answer the door with sneakers and boxer shorts first thing in the morning. Their perplexed glance returned with a you don’t understand look. My body needed a stable adjustment path for once in it’s life and after testing my once loved orthotics after 3 weeks barefoot, it was apparent it would be the last. They felt wrong and were reversing my transition.

4. Know Thy Foot

A big personal realization is the foot is jam packed full of muscle (who would have thought?!?) and like any muscle it can change in capacity when trained with purpose. My belief, is one can exercise their foot muscles, realign tendons/ligaments and reset nerves to make the arch stronger as any “normal” arched person. In essence growing your arch. O.K adults may not get that “sexy half mango” look but you can get mass and strength. If you don’t have a legitimate fallen arch then you likely have a flexible flat foot which means you can make those feet ripped!

Super Tip: If an arch develops when you stand your toes on one leg then your flat foot is flexible and you are ready to rock.

To truly understand what your dealing with you must see it first hand. Though this next video is somewhat macabre it provides insight on how the foot works, see the actual arch and help visualize it when you start putting it to work.

Start at the 9:00 minute mark, it takes you to the goodies. The abductor hallucis (arch muscle) and Flexor hallucis brevis (Big Toe Pad Muscle).

5. No Pain No Gain

The four most addictive things in the world are heroin, carbohydrates, a monthly pay check and arch support.

When one gives up an addiction there is discomfort involved. Agreed, orthotics are more a dependency but I wanted to mash it in the above quote.

Many experts on the subject is going to say ” If it hurts stop take it slow”. Most of them are referring to more the running than anything else. Look… when a lifer arch support user (i.e. me) goes cold turkey they ain’t going to be running. They’re literally learning to walk again and there is going to be pain. Your body will ache, knees will creek, self doubt will linger, it will suck and all you want is to go back to that warm place of adjust-mental bliss. Kind of a like an ex-girlfriend until you quickly realize why they are your EX!

If you are going through hell, keep going – Winston Churchill

It took me 4 weeks to get through my pain wave and instep withdrawal. For some it may take longer. Embrace the suck – but if you’re walking, stretching and resting and it still hurts especially in the feet then rethink your approach.

6. Code Slow

The biggest mistake people make when going barefoot is forcing change and not letting their body adjust naturally. Normally, it’s because people want to start running barefoot and though they have good arches a 1000 other parts need to adjust too. Walk it out big fellas. Ride the bike too. Take the bus. You’re going to be hurting anyways..don’t make it worse.

Code Slow! Walk, Rest, Stretch, Rest, Walk.

7. Learn to Walk Again

Special Story Time: Recently I caught up with my close friend Ov. Ov sees it as it is and does it with out fan fair or self promotion. Noticing he was wearing flats, I asked with a sneaky suspicion whether he is flat footed. “Yes, I wore orthotics up until 5 years ago then got jack of them”. What did you do after? I asked. Ov responded “learnt to walk properly“.

If Ov can do it and this chaos theory driven computer software (learns like our brain) can do it then we can too.

Did you notice the perfect gate on the computer model above? Apart from thinking chaos and neural network theory is cool it was the only example of a gait to strive for (pardon the pun). I couldn’t find one real life example of a normal gait video. It’s been explained to me by a podiatrist just no example. Maybe its because footwear is recking our gait?!>!

Spontaneous Content Outbreak – The above thoughts forced me to shoot what the podiatrist showed me. Pretend my hand is a foot and my pointer finger is the big toe. Basically it starts with landing on the heal, roll along the outside of the foot then push off directly forward with the big toe. In theory this is a normal gait and what my arch supports helped me do with out thinking.

8. The Long Walk

Don’t run. Grab an audio book, walk, walk and keep walking. Walk like someone is behind you with a shotgun and if you stop they’ll blow your head off and if your last person walking you’ll go to a place full of virgins with professional ballet dancer arches and you are the arch king with arches that go all the way to your shoulders.. How ever you do it. Walk Forest Walk.

On my first walk, I walked about 400 metres before turning around because it got hurties. Every couple of days I could walk a little further. I focused on posture, dropping the shoulders, my hips naturally start to tilt backwards, I bent my knees a little more. I let my feet roll just like they did with the insteps just like the examples above. Then everything would get retarded and I would have to re-focus. A continual test of focus and conscious anatomical manipulation. Some of it will sink it into my subconscious other parts won’t.
Walking is our birthright. Two feet and a heart beat baby!

9. Lack of Stretching – The Achilles Heal

After years of arch support those Achilles are going to be frigging tight. Stretch them and the calves as much as possible.

10. Do What Ballet Dancers Do To Strengthen

If there is any community where foot fetish is the norm then its Ballet. Strong arches are highly valued, flat ones are scorned, bitchyness is expected and creepy feet licking trolls are just around the corner. To save you the drama, below is the better of the lot and covers 101 exercises.

[Tip] Drive weight through big toe to strengthen the abductor hallucis and Flexor hallucis brevis.

If you have time and discipline the
seems particularly effective and popular with the dancers.

11. Lose Weight

If you want to give your skeletal-muscular system a fighting chance to adjust with less pain and reduced chance of injury then drop the weight. Even being average or under weight you still have a chance of permanently messing yourself up. Flat feet or not going primal requires a primal body which means lean….really lean.

12. Massage

Happy Foot Massage Not
Happy Days Before an Excruciating Chinese Foot Massage

If you can afford it a regular Chinese foot massage then do it! Otherwise buy the best therapeutic piece of equipment known to man the Foam Roller and start working those calves.

If you are yet to carry a foam roller like a rocket launcher I advise you start.

13. Shoes, Shoes, Shoes

Shoe Collection
Running the Shoe Gauntlet

As you can see above I’ve had my fare share of shoes. I like to trail run and I like shoes too. Since going barefoot I’ve realized the best shoes are none at all.

    1. 1. New Balance 904

Standard trail shoe.

    1. 2. Nike Free Run

My first shoe which simulates “barefoot”. Huge heal drop. Wore for 2 weeks. Don’t buy if you are serious.

    1. 3. New Balance MT101

A pre-cursor to the New Balance Minimus it’s a great running shoe (not barefoot) – great for hard core terrain, water & mud. Only worth getting if you are prepared to modify the shoe to reduce the heel drop

    1. 4. Vibram Five Fingers KSO

My favorite barefoot shoe. Unlike the trek the sole is a couple mills thick and felt the most barefoot out of anything I wore.

    1. 5. Vibram Five Fingers TREKS

Like the KSO, except for a thicker sole and warmer kangaroo leather upper. I’ve found them restrictive because of the dense sole. Still best for trail as it protects from sharp rocks.

    1. 6. Terraplanna

My favorite office shoe that you can run in if you want or need to.
For reviews on the explosion of barefoot shoes go here.

It looks easy on paper but when you have flat feet the decision is daunting and it is a real risk. If you take the leap you have to commit and follow through, there is no turning back. Based on new research emerging every day the odds are in your favour. I’m realizing the benefits and let’s not forget the mental freedom of not depending on a device to control how I move. Watch out Youtube ballet brats I’m going be in the house soon show’en my sunken yet ripped arches!!!

Trampoline Melbourne

In about two weeks, Melbourne will play host to the first Trampoline event on the planet with 100 minds coming together for a day to share what they find amazing. In the tradition of BarCamps and other Unconferences, the agenda for the day will be created by the participants. Pat has already talked about Trampoline on his blog, here.

Trampoline is something that myself, Mel, Pat and Bei have come to after we realised that the most energising discussions were ones that took place between energised people who were constantly amazed by something in this wide wide world of ours. Trampoline is an event being held with that in mind. We want people from all disciplines and schools of thought to come together on one day here in Melbourne and discuss what it is in this world that they find amazing. You don’t need to be an expert – you can see some people beginning to think about what they will discuss and present. We have also secured the fantastic Donkey Wheel (the red-brick building in the picture below) venue for the occasion, which promises to make it an extra-ordinary event! Already, I can’t wait!

Donkey Wheel Building

I encourage you to come along and join in the conversation. The day promises to be full of insights and new things to play with, as well as a great bunch of people to meet and share time with. But do be quick to register for Trampoline, as it is limited to 100 participants and we are already two-thirds of the way there.

Open House for Social Entrepreneurs in Melbourne, Thursday

Just a quick one from me today, to let you all know about the amazing project which is starting on Thursday. If you’re in Melbourne, feel free to come on down and have a look around the new Donkey Wheel building. The details are as follows.

Time: 4pm-7pm

When: Thursday, 18th of December, 2008.

Where: 673 Bourke St, Melbourne, VIC. 3000


Donkey Wheel is a non-profit Trust, which focuses on giving funding to social initiatives which otherwise would find it very difficult to operate. They fund the ‘unfundables.’ The people doing truly cutting edge work. I’ve met the people behind it, and they are truly energised about creating something of immense value in our city, of which I feel immensely proud and excited. Col Duthie, from the Ergo blog, is also heavily involved. As part of this vision, they have purchased a building in the old ‘West End’ area of Melbourne town. (Above)

Their vision for this building is truly inspiring, which is why I’m blogging about it to let you all know. They plan to turn the building into a melting pot of social ventures and start-up ventures, allowing for a truly unique mix of the like which is close to impossible to find anywhere else in the world. Thursday’s open house is the first day on the journey to realising that vision. I will be there from 4pm till about 5:30pm but the building will be open till 7pm, with tours operating through-out every half-hour. I hope to see you there.

I'm participating in Blog Action Day – are you?

I got very excited this morning when I stumbled upon this little beauty whilst reviewing my RSS feeds. The concept is the Blog Action Day, and it’s happening again this year on October the 15th. This years theme: Poverty.

I’m Participating, are you?

As most of you would be aware, I work at World Vision Australia, which focuses on providing life in all it’s fullness for children all over the world. We aim to help alleviate global, endemic poverty and do this through a number of ways, namely Child Sponsorship. Whilst I don’t always love the place, and at times find my ‘Brand Me Personality’ keen to escape to more naturally innovative pastures, I really enjoy my time here being a part of an organisation that plays a huge role internationally in making stuff happen to combat poverty and it’s terrible symptoms. There are some amazing people around who are literally saving the world, and working in that environment is pretty fascinating.

Which is why I’m really pumped for the Blog Action Day on October 15th. I plan to use the day to hopefully open a dialogue about how NGO’s in the poverty alleviation space can work in innovative ways to further leverage their advantages and resources towards making poverty history.

I’m not quite sure yet what my plan is for the day, but I’ll let you know what will be happening on this blog in due course. Until then (wait for the sizzle), keep thinking about what you can do on the day to contribute to a huge buzz about how we can fight poverty together from our keyboards. You can get involved here.

X Rated employers: For adults only.

Rant: Companies should be treating their employees as adults.  I think that people, generally, are smart and intelligent. Which is why I tend to cringe at the horribly cliched, tried and true values and mission statements that are floating around at the moment. Read any corporate web page/annual report/csr report. Boilerplate. We care about customer service. We strive for a greener world. We strive for equality in the workplace. We aim to be the best we can be. 


Yuk. Does anybody actually work to these? Can someone tell me the last time they we’re staring down the funnel, known as their computer, cranking out some piece of work because they ‘cared abut customer service.’ I believe people are adults. That they want to work for good companies, and that the culture of those companies dictates the values and mission statements.

Lets be clear here. I’m a fan of the concept of values and internal mission statements. I think they are crucial in creating an innovative, creative culture. But lets stop with the idea that value statements must test well with the companies customers. The values of a company/division/department should jive with the people (get ready for a shock here) THAT ARE THERE! A truly good values statement should be simple (but not simplistic), and carry with it a clear message about how ‘stuff happens.’ It should signal loud and clear “this is who we are, and this is what we do, and this is how.” It should treat the people that work there, as adults.  

As luck would have it, I’ve found a few examples.

Apple: Yes, everyones favourite brand also creates a great atmosphere and vibe for it’s employees. Check out this link here to see why (yes, another fastcompany article – sorry!) or this book, which has just been released for the down-low. I’ve added it to my wishlist.

The Body Shop: Has represented the non-fluffed, real values, real outcomes side of the green movement for years and years. Check out their very cool Values blog here to read more. These guys care – which is amazingly refreshing.

Ergo Consulting: Yeah, a bit small for these comparisons – and yes, I worked there for a year + a little. But their ‘Participation Behaviours’ ruled the roost. No ridiculous KPI’s. Just good, passionate ways they wanted to go about their business. They are something else – check out the website here and their nascent blog, here.

IDEO: The culture dictates the values. If you don’t conform to the culture, you’ll leave. Simple. Respect. Read this HBR article, Building an Innovation factory,  here.

St Lukes: Everyone is a shareholder. Everyone owns the business, and so everyone cares. These guys are amazing, and don’t need a boiler-plate values and mission statement. They live and breathe their values everyday, unprompted.  If you haven’t already, you MUST read Simple Minds, the book documenting their founding. Check the website here.

Please, next time you’re having the “values” discussion, demand something real that you will actually want to work for. DON’T let customers impressions get in the way here. Just do it!