Response to Matthew: Blisters and Toughening Your Feet


Hi! Matthew,

Thanks for the comment on barefoot running. I have found, as you have I am sure, that there are many advantages to the incorporation of barefoot running into my training regimen, including toughening my feet. I was glad to hear that the Australian runners you work with also take it seriously. For me, the main advantage has been strengthening my feet and ankles, especially the musculoskeletal components of my arch. Furthermore, barefoot running has made me more aware of where I am putting my feet, and has reduced my tendency to develop plantar fasciitis in my injured right foot, which has been a problem from time to time.

If you are using barefoot running to toughen the soles of your feet, here are some thoughts and observations I have had on blisters. Like all training issues, for blisters you must first determine the mechanisms responsible, which include sensitive or ‘thin’ skin and excessive load or friction in the sites affected. A combination of these causes is generally involved, I suspect. In your case, friction is probably occurring in sensitive sites whilst you run, so exploring your running style and footware might be worth a visit, but you do have to determine the underlying pathogenesis or you will be working on the wrong problem.

If you want to use barefoot running to toughen the soles of your feet, just make sure that the running you do actually impacts the regions where you get the blisters. Remember, in endurance races the actual loads and frictions may shift location as you tire!! I have had a problem with blisters on certain parts of my arches late into marathons, but they haven’t been an issue since I dumped orthotics. Through barefoot running I managed to engage my arches and toes by taking more of the load on the balls of my feet, instead of mid-foot (anterior arch) which is what tends to occur for me with the Chi Running style.

When it comes to friction, you can determine what is happening on the soles of your feet by running on your barefoot running surface of choice until the soles of your feet feel hot and then just look for the red spots. If the red spots don’t coincide with the location of your blisters you are probably not addressing your problem. Even on very soft sand I find that my feet get red on the tips of my toes and the balls of my feet, and nowhere else; not places that I have ever had blisters in the past.

If your issue is ‘thin skin,’ I recommend that you consider the foot toughening exercises in the recent book by Michael Sandler. They are really thorough, and include lots of ways to get to where your ‘thin skin’ issues lie.

Hope that helps, and please let me know if it does.

Happy travels in the Antipodes!

-k @FitOldDog



  1. Matthew Morgan says

    Thanks Kevin. So far I haven’t really noticed any hot spots when running barefoot…but my big toes have been cutting up pretty easily. I think I’ll check out what that book has to say about thin skin.

    I’m certainly keen to persue barefoot running after picking up a monster blister when racing on the track last week.

    I’m glad to hear barefoot running worked well for you.

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.