Bare Foot Running, minimalist shoes and Pilates

Barefoot Running Chris Hunt Pilates

Wednesday is sport day, and today I want to  talk about running, and more specifically barefoot running.

Barefoot running is gaining in popularity, as is new designs in minimalist footwear. But what are the benefits? And can Pilates help?

Over the years I have been asked many times to devise Pilates programs for different sportsmen and women. I have worked with many runners who have seen big improvements in their performance.

As we all know, running is a great aerobic exercise and an ideal weighty-bearing exercise as it helps to increase bone density in the skeleton, thus helping to avoid osteoporosis. As we also know, Pilates can help to improve overall physical condition and performance by strengthening the core and stabilising the pelvis, giving more range of motion and flexibility. Pilates can also;

  • Stretch hip flexors and strengthen buttocks.
  • Improve posture and alignment. Develop a balanced body which removes dysfunctional movement patterns and helps prevent injury.
  • Good posture means a stable pelvis, with feet and legs in alignment, which is a very important part of the gait cycle.
  • Allow training during injuries, and help rehabilitate after injury.

I am sure we are all familiar with the scientific evidence that supports the fact barefoot running has many benefits, not least the fact that because we land on the middle or front of the foot, barefoot runners remove almost all the impact collision that shod runners suffer from as they are far more inclined to land with an initial heel strike.

If you want to learn more about barefoot running, I recommend Barefoot Running Step by Step as a great place to start.

Whilst barefoot running can reduce the risk of ankle sprains, plantar fascitis, and other running related injuries, Pilates can reduce the risk of injury still further by emphasising balance, posture, focused breathing and attention to the correct form.

By restoring muscle balance, a Pilates program will protect your joints, and reduce strain on joint capsules and ligaments.Studies have shown that barefoot running reduces energy use and oxygen consumption, however poor posture caused by weak abdominal muscles may not allow you to support your spine properly, and can cause back pain and have a negative effect on breathing.

Because Pilates exercises encourage a long spine, the tall upright stance gives your lungs space to function with efficiency. An important factor for runners is the synchronisation of breathing with movement. This is a vital part of Pilates, as when you breathe properly, you gain more stamina. Muscles that stabilise the back are found in the core, and awareness and recruitment of these muscles will allow increased range of motion in extremity joints as well as prevention of trauma around the spine.

Pilates includes stretching exercises for the hips, legs and back, and will increase the range of motion with fluid movement. But most importantly for runners, Pilates will improve your flexibility without compromising your strength.

Good runners are conscious of their body. Instead of seeing a run as an excuse to zone out with their iPod, they see it as a chance to develop their kinesthetic awareness. This is all the more relevant in barefoot running, for example, you can explore the feel of your feet on the ground, how balanced your head is on the neck and spine, whether your ankles and knees are working in sequence, how your breathing pattern changes as the workload becomes more demanding. This approach makes running as much a mental activity as a physical one – very much like Pilates.

One word of warning, Researchers at Brigham Young University in the U.S found that runners who make the switch from normal trainers to barefoot shoes too quickly suffered an increased risk of injury to bones in the foot, including possible stress fractures. This was especially true for women.

I am interested as always to hear you experiences with barefoot running and minimalist shoes. Have you seen a personal change or changes in your clients?

Chris is an international Pilates and functional training presenter and educator based in London and Barcelona, Spain. He is the creator of Pilates EVO©, bodyFUNC©, and CEO of Pilates Rehab Limited and Sport Core Strength.  He also created Pilates Carnival and Fitness Carnival, conventions where all profits go to local children’s charities. He organises fitness holidays and sports holidays in Barcelona, as well as retreats. For more information about training with Chris in Barcelona, please click on Barcelona Bienestar. To learn more about Chris, please read Just who is Chris Hunt anyway? You can also subscribe by completing the form on the this BLOG to receive articles and special offers straight to your inbox.

Chris pays all profits made from this BLOG to his charity partners. More details can be found by clicking on and selecting the “charity partners” tab.


6 thoughts on “Bare Foot Running, minimalist shoes and Pilates”

  1. As a PT/runner I prefer to strength train barefoot – I feel more connected and stability also is better. I enjoy running barefoot, but use minimalist shoes. I’ve been training for 2 years in minimalist shoes now and after the initial process of adapting enjoy running in them. Main issues were the lack of padding under foot and getting use to that (good socks helped). The other part of adapting was the extra work my calves had to do – they would get very stiff and sore. That lasted a couple of weeks and then came good. I’ve run a marathon using them and run x-country with them also. As you tire with long runs you do tend to feel things a bit more as you tend to land flat or slightly heel first and the impact is felt quite significantly. Otherwise minimalist for me has been a good move as my running feels more natural.

    1. Hi Martin, thank you for your very interesting comments. I am sure that everyone who reads my post will thank you for your tips and experience.

  2. Not at all sure about barefoot running.

    Some research shows an increase in ankle joint strain during running. However, I am not a runner, I only run when I am late for something. And when I run I sprint.

    I have been using barefoot training shoes since April 2013. Mainly for everyday use, also to train in the gym. However, in June 2013, I went to my usual futsal session in “normal indoor football trainers” (as barefoot shoes are not indicated for football). I managed to land my left foot on the ball (not knowing it was there) and in the effort not to fall, I sprained (not my ankle as the A&E physio said) but rather the ligament near my lateral metatarsals and also – which she totally missed – my talus got stuck between tibia and fibula. I was unable to walk and both dorsiflex/plantarflex to normal standards for over a week – I had to “walk round” until the osteopath I work with mobilised the joint and immediately I could walk. The swelling was minimal but the pain exceedingly bad. My ankle alignment is still not 100% now, over a year on, but I have stuck to minimalist shoes as I got used to the sensory feedback and hate the constricting feeling in “normal trainers”.

    Barefoot/minimalist shoes have problems:
    – when I wear “normal shoes”, my balance is rubbish and I am at risk of injury. Moreover,
    – my foot has spread/expanded and my previous trainers do not fit anymore!!!
    – for runners: the increased pressure on the ankle joint itself (see Achilles issues), according to some recent research

    1. Hi cis, and thank you for such an interesting response. I agree about the sensory feedback and as a Pilates and functional training presenter I am all for encouraging people to be in touch with their body more. I hope that your ankle continues to improve.

  3. I run with the 5 fingered shoes (vibram) and love them . Been running with them for the past 2 years and i feel a huge difference in my speed… the only drawback is the calves soreness i always encounter when i start running in them after a period of pause. I am suffering right now LOL as i return to running after a 6 mos break … my calves feel like dead weight and they are stopping me from going running again as i am avoiding a possible injury or damage to fibres. Incidentally i have the above book as well as “running with the whole body”, another great one for emphasizing posture and indeed that we run (or shoudl run) with the whole body and not just our legs 🙂
    Enjoyed reading your article , have a nice day 🙂

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