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!!!

Climate change does impact the worlds poor

What follows is a comment I posted in reply to the following Andrew Bolt article that appeared in the Herald Sun on Tuesday the 12th of May. I don’t normally just report content like this, but felt pretty strongly about what was written and felt it important to point out where I think we’re at as a global population.

I used to work for World Vision Australia a little while ago and have only the most positive praise for what they are doing. They are the best stewards of your money in the industry. All the money you donate is attributed to the children you are sponsoring.

Climate change causes poverty problems

The importance of Climate Change is paramount in the battle against poverty. As climate change continues, we are beginning to see more and more of the effects it has on the poorest people on the planet. The following quote is from Rajendra Pachauri who heads the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“It is the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit,” IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri told journalists at the release of the report’s summary for policymakers in Brussels. “This does become a global responsibility in my view,” he said.

We saw this only last year, before the ‘Global Financial Crisis’ when the ‘Global FOOD Crisis’ hit hardest. As fuel prices went up so too did the prices of food. For us here in Australia, that just meant cereal was a little more pricey. For most of the population around the horn of Africa, it meant not eating.

To think that World Vision should just treat those people who are already suffering is near-sighted and systemically flawed. Why let people suffer first BEFORE helping them? Why not proactively work to mitigate the devastating effects climate change might have on poverty before it gets the chance to do so.

When I worked at WVA, Tim Costello was often heard to mention that Climate Change could essentially waste all the money we have ever spent, as a global population, on poverty alleviation if we didn’t act fast. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? But when you think about it, if you accept that climate change is causing losses in food-crop production and yield levels globally AND the natural disasters that are becoming more and more frequent (whether we can directly attribute them to climate change or not is another question) then you can see that this isn’t such a long bow to draw.

The question of global warming and its effects on the world’s poorest children is not up for discussion, as far as I’m concerned. Whether you support World Vision or Oxfam or any other NGO, please support them in doing this work. It will help save lives and that’s not a waste of money in my language.

 What do you think?

The Big Issue with narrow focus

I’ve started reading the Peter Senge’s classic tome, The 5th Discipline this week. It’s a book which I have had for about a year, and has been consistently circling my sphere of influence for a while now. The book talks about how we can solve many of the issues we face in business (and thus, by extension, the world) by taking a whole-of-system approach to problem solving. I’m about a quarter of the way through, and loving it so far. But, the book has also come about as I made an observation this week whilst working in the city. As many of you would know, Melbourne is a town that fully supports the concept that is “The Big Issue,” the magazine which is sold by those that are homeless to help them support themselves. The magazine is fantastic, and a great initiative that is now a national initiative. But, it appears it may now be reaching the limits of its own success.

A friend of mine, Nat, was recently in Vanuatu as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development working to help a non-profit organisation develop good business practices to further help lead their clients towards a better living. One of Nat’s pearls from her time in country was how things that we’re successful because they were different and innovative at a point in time, actually became so popular that their returns diminished quickly for the rest of the community, simply because the whole community was doing it. In Nat’s experience, it was goats.

Goats provide enormous relief and opportunity to small communities in developing countries. They provide milk and all of its by-products, as well as other goats and meat when the goat ‘comes of age.’ Unfortunately, as more and more people witness the success had by those people that had goats, more and more people would find a way to secure their own. The result? A community full of goats and an excess of supply of all its products. Because we find it difficult to think beyond our own situations, these examples tend to replicate in society. To me, something similar is now happening with The Big Issue and it’s sale. The program has been enormously successful, but is seemingly (to me) becoming a victim of its own success. There seems to be a Big Issue vendor on the corner of each city block now, including 4 on each corner at the intersection of Elisabeth and Bourke St.

To me, I wonder how sustainable this is for those people selling the magazine. Increasingly, these heroic people have become marginalised by their own relief and are now spending more and more time on the street to sell less and less magazines per person. I ask, have we suffered the same results as those in Vanuatu? Do we have too many goats and not enough of a market? In a more systemic view of the situation, what else could our society’s marginalised people be doing? Will they be able to come to a new conclusion themselves, or will they simply continue to sell less and less magazines until they find it completely unsustainable? What are your thoughts? And how could we find a more systemic solution that solved one of society’s greatest problems?

Genetically Modified Thinking

I came accross an article recently which helped to catalyse some thinking for me around the concept of Biomimcry, but also lateral vs verticle thinking. Those of you that know me will also know that I have a penchant for Lateral Thinking (De Bono Stylin’) and that I can’t stand seeing organisations/people/companies divert and focus their thinking Vertically when they are simply not ready for it. Bad ideas, bad logic and wasted resources occur when people choose not to invest a simple hour or two in some good, lateral thinking.

Anyways, in the article, it spoke of the current growth of the worlds largest (don’t quote me on that) Genetically Modified Organism (and crops) company, Monsanto’s. It discussed how the company had gone from a stock price of $US8 in 2002, to the current price of $US104.84 in December this year. Thats a 1000x return on your money. It has a PE ratio of 58.6, about two points higher than google, the naughties market darling.


The interesting thing about the company, is that it sells GMO crops (mainly commodity crops such as corn, soya beans, cotton and canola) that don’t end up on your table directly because of the large (predominatly bad) PR against GM crops. Instead, they sell commodity crops which are further down the value chain, and so don’t directly end up on the kitchen table for dinner.

What’s interesting about all this, is that GMO crops are simply the next verticle step in a long history of verticle thinking which has taken place in the farming and food procution industry. What started as a simply way for one person to reduce the amount of time they spent hunting for food, has now turned into a highly complex, intensly logistical, process that feeds the population of whole countries. And yet, our farming techniques have been delivering diminishing returns for some time now, as soil quality and reliance on chemical growth addititives kill off any ‘natural’ growth which may occur. Essentially, we are now pumping 4000 Kilojules of petro-chemical energy into our crops to produce only 1000 Kilojules worth of food energy (Biomimicry, Benyus) to the permanent detriment of the soil.

So my question is….at what stage do we stop and smell the crop paddocks? To become a more sustainable economy we must find a way to reduce our dependance on fossil fuel. With our current line of thinking in the agriculture industry, our verticle thinking, we seem only determined to continuously improve our chemical mix to kill the new strand of ‘super-bug.’ I say, lets have some lateral thinking about what a new crop production method might look like… 

Pythons and the business world

I am currently watching a David Attenborough documentary on reptiles which is showing on Channel 9 tonight. There are many little interesting things, including the little Armadillo Lizard, which protects itself by biting it’s own tail, thus exposing a sharp exoskeleton. Also, there was video footage and information about a python, which ate a deer. Something similar to that below…


When watching it, I was struck by how many similarities there were between a python digesting an animal that was far to big for it, and a large company that was consuming another company through a merger or acquisition. A few of them are below.

 1) The pythons heart grows to a size about 40% larger than it normal as the creature digests its food. Similarly, a corporate will increase the number of passionate people involved within it’s bowels when a merger happens. Unfortunately for the business, and fortunately for the python, the heart does shrink back to normal onve the digesting is done. In many mergers, the people who cared passionately about their respective companies, end up facing being somewhat jaded by the whole experience. They end up leaving for greener pastures, leaving behind a smaller heart in what is now a much larger company.

2) The python is pretty defenseless whilst it eats its prey. It cannot breathe, save for it’s windpipe, which pushes itself out of the reptiles mouth to allow for air to be brought in. Large companies, too, are quite vulnerable whilst in the midst of a takeover bid. Private Equity raiders, competitors and even new start-ups generate new activity to take advantage of the new opportunities that will be standard once the merger has gone ahead. For many companies, it can be hard to adjust to  the new way of operating, but many of those people left outside the takeover are quite aware of what to expect from the market once it settles again after the ‘digestion.’ They move faster into a position to take advantage of the soon to be new surroundings.

 3) The Liver of the python doubles in size to help digest the prey, as does the number of external helpers and number of Learning and Development people present in a company going through a merge. I’m a great fan of consulting, and think it has a very real place in our business landscape. But, be aware, just like the python expanding it’s liver and draining it’s body of energy consulting fees can leave a company bereft of excess funds used to actually make stuff happen once the merger has finished.

Finally, there were many other similarities, but the thing that struck me most was that once the python digests the prey it may not have to eat again for months, or even a year. Many companies tend to work the same way. They feel hungry for growth, are tiring of the ‘business as usual’ paradigm that often sets in when a mission or strategy dwindles in allure. Once the ‘head,’ or the CEO office, decides that it is in fact hungry the business sets out to consume a new company for energy. Once sated, they sit for a long time after, maybe years, running down the people and energy that existed there during the ‘take-over’ years. Then, they saddle up again and go through the whole, draining process of swallowing another acquisition for yet more growth and energy. Some companies, such as Macquire Bank, seem to be forever hungry as they have teams of people specialised in digesting large takeovers and mergers.

Is this the way we should function as an economy, business and society?