Movement Partner Series: Carol Robbins Interview Transcript

We recently spoke with certified Restorative Exercise teacher Carol Robbins about how she found out about minimal shoes, what she gets up to wearing minimal shoes, her favourite brands, and what advice she has for folks who are just starting out!

We learned how she got to where she is today, how she empowered herself to restore foot function and integrity, and what inspired her to start teaching others how to do the same.


CEM: So, what was your introduction to barefoot shoes?


Carol Robbins: In 2012 I was becoming a Nutritious Movement certified Restorative Exercise Specialist. In addition to the main course there, I took a shorter one called Healthy Foot Practitioner, and started working with that material in my teaching right away. The Healthy Foot Practitioner course introduced me to how shoes affect the foot– and that's before you could get minimal shoes in Canada. During training in Los Angeles, I decided to take a trip up to San Francisco and I was meant to fly out to Toronto the next day, but there was a snow storm so the flight was delayed. I decided to use that time to look for minimal shoes and found a running store that sold Altras. They’re a really good transition shoe because they have a wider toe box with zero drop, but they still have a lot of cushioning. So that was my first pair, they only had one in stock in my size and they were hot pink, so I had to buy them! I still have them somewhere in my closet.

CEM: What was your experience like with conventional shoes before you sought out minimal shoes?


CR: I have big feet, I am a big woman and my shoe size is 11. For a lot of my life, there just were no women's shoes past size 10. If you’re lucky you can get a size 11 at Browns or something, but usually size 10 was what I was jamming my feet into and I developed bunions and hammertoes. Minimal shoes are much wider and longer, they also come in bigger sizes so that's been really great.


CEM: You’ve been wearing minimal shoes for years, have they become more accommodating to larger women’s sizes over time?


CR: Yes, and a lot of it is unisex too. Men’s shoes have always had the option to go for a larger size, but I couldn't wear a men's shoe because I still have a feminine narrow foot. When I tried a men's shoe, I'd be swimming in it to get the length. It's great to have that option now: young people like you never need to screw up your feet like I did. It was either going barefoot or jamming your feet into a shoe that was a size too small.


CEM: What are some of your favourite minimal shoes for your long, narrow feet?


CR: I have to say as a brand, Lems is a really good fit for me. Once I found the Lems Primal as a running and regular shoe, I wore that for years. Then I got their Boulder Boots for fall weather, and I have a different pair I use for the winter. Lems brand works really well for me! Lately I’ve also been wearing a pair of Wildlings and they're probably my favourite shoes right now. I’ve worn them non-stop since I got them.


CEM: The Wildlings have a thin sole with lots of groundfeel, what do you wear them for?


CR: I wore them when I went out to BC and hiked mountains, but I’ll wear them walking to the store, too. I wear them all the time.


CEM: Are there any ways you like to customise your minimal shoes?


CR: Yes! I bought the Alpaca Time insoles at your store, and I have the thicker version for winter. I took my old pair and used them to make a metatarsal pad.


CEM: What do you like about Alpaca Time?


CR: I like their Star Trekker socks a lot because they’re not very thick but they're really warm, and they’re just the right size for minimal shoes. This is what I use for hiking because your feet are really cosy in them but they don’t take up all the space– so you still get the toe room you look for in a minimal shoe.


CEM: Based on your knowledge and experience with minimal shoes, what kind of advice would you give to someone starting out?


CR: People think that because their feet don’t hurt currently– that they're not in any discomfort or in pain– that their feet are just fine. What they don't realise is that a lot of the work that their foot should be doing is being done by the shoe that they’re wearing. 


So if you’ve been wearing a conventional shoe with more support, more arch support, but also a stiffer sole and stiffer sides, that kind of shoe prevents a lot of potential ways your feet could be moving. Then when you free your foot from that restriction and get into a minimal shoe, you’ll be like ‘this feels great, I just wanna run and leap, my foot is free finally!’ but your foot is actually very weak still.


You can’t just assume that because your foot isn't feeling discomfort that it's going to be ready to transition to a minimal shoe. A lot of people get an injury that way and they blame the minimal shoe, they think ‘my foot was fine until I tried the shoe, so it's gotta be the shoe.’ 


But in fact your foot wasn’t fine: the state of health of your foot was very low to begin with. You have to do some work. Even if you've been barefoot around the house or barefoot growing up, which a lot of people are, it doesn't mean you’re still ready because the things you do outside of the house are very different than sitting on the couch with your feet up. So any challenge that you're going to do, if you’re going to do that in a minimal shoe you need to prepare for that.


CEM: Does your work help address that weakened state of health people’s feet are in after being locked into stiff and supportive conventional shoes?


CR: Of course! I’ve recently released the Transition to Minimal Shoes course online that you can do on your own time. It is hard to accommodate everyone's feet, so it’s a general course– for anything specific I'm happy to work with people one on one. It's going to give you the tools to assess if you’re ready for minimal shoes, including assessments you can now and after six months of doing the work that you can use to track the state of your foot health.


For example, it’s common when people get into minimal shoes that their feet spread out, and sometimes they can spread a little further than they should. This indicates that you need to do strengthening work for the intrinsic muscles of your feet. I give people a way to measure their feet now and measure after six months to check that integrity.


CEM: It sounds like you’re empowering people with that kind of understanding, not just ‘here’s what to do’ but when and why as well. What led you to wanting to teach others about their foot health and movement?


CR: My interest in feet started because I had “problem feet.” And a lot of people who go through their own problems want to help others, it's an organic way to slide into teaching. I was already a Pilates teacher to begin with, and then I found Nutritious Movement.


I was always interested in feet and how my feet didn't seem to work the same as other people’s did. Once I started finding answers through that new modality, I started being able to do things with my feet that I couldn’t before. Learning how to restore my feet to health was fascinating!



More than ten years after wearing minimal shoes for the first time, Carol continues to deepen her knowledge and skills as a teacher, seeking out education from a variety of perspectives while sharing the fruits of that labour with her clients and community.

You can read about the impact talking with Carol had on our employee Tiffany here!

We found it so inspiring how Carol uses her attention to detail to create resources not just for herself but for her community. Self empowerment is one of the core elements of the minimal shoe community: we’re taking back responsibility for our hardworking feet! 

You can read about our owner Ivan’s thoughts on self empowerment and his approach to healthy happy living here.

If you’re interested in working with Carol, you can find her website here. Her newsletter is a great free resource, as is her Instagram. Her brand new course, Transitioning to Minimal Shoes, is now live on her website, so you can be one of the first to try it! It’s priced to be as accessible as possible at $20 CAD.

Our March 6th, 2024 interview with Carol Robbins has been lightly edited for clarity.