A lot has been written about the minimalist running movement, from famous barefoot runners to the importance of your foot's proximity to the earth. To summarize the benefits of minimalist shoes, their lack of midsole cushioning encourages runners to put less pressure on their heels and strike more with their mid- and forefoot, which may lessen joint pressure and increase running efficiency.
How to Transition to Minimalist Running Shoes
Minimalist shoes are very popular and are here to stay, but if you simply start running with nearly nothing on your feet after years of thick cushioning, you're almost guaranteed an injury. Luckily, you can avoid this fate by transitioning to this style of running shoe properly—and slowly.
Stretch It Out
Years of running and walking with 10 mm of midsole cushioning and a raised heel have shortened your Achilles' tendon and calf muscles. This is because traditional running shoes hold your feet in a plantar-flexed position, or in such a way that your toes are pointed downward. Since minimalist running shoes place your feet in a more natural position, it's important to build back the flexibility in your ankles. Stretch your Achilles by putting your forefoot on a wall with your other foot slightly behind you and leaning into the wall, being careful not to put too much pressure on your ankle.
Walk Before You Run
You are most likely eager to try out your new minimalist shoes to see what all the buzz is about. Before you go for a run, even a short one, wear them around the house or work for an hour and see how your feet react. The next day, if your feet still feel fine, increase the amount of time wearing them. Do this for a few days to give your feet time to adjust to the lack of cushioning and arch support. This will reduce the pressures put on the muscles you're not used to using yet, like the lower leg and core muscles. Specifically, it can help increase the mobility of your Achilles tendon without putting too much initial pressure on it.
Go Slow and Alternate Styles
Your first run in minimalist shoes should be very short. A half a mile or so is fine at first. For the first few months, keep switching back to your traditional shoes for your longer runs.
Listen to Your Body
As you start wearing minimalist shoes, pay extra attention to your feet, legs, and hips. Until you acclimate to the reduced cushioning, your feet may feel extra sore. Also, your knees or hips may be affected by the change in stride. If any of this happens, ease off on your training regimen and switch back to your standard shoes for a while.
Running in minimalist running shoes can put pressure on your lower body and core that running in traditional shoes did not, specifically on your lower legs. Incorporate single-leg calf raises into your routine prior to transitioning to minimalist running shoes. You should also do variations of the plank if you don't already, and make sure to take steps to improve your balance. That can be as simple as standing on one leg with your eyes closed for as long as possible, trying to keep the ball of the foot you're standing on in contact with the ground at all times.
Practice Your Form
Improved form is the most-touted benefit of making the switch to minimalist running shoes, but if you don't know what an improved form looks like then you'll miss out on this advantage. Make sure to do form drills a few times a week, including butt kicks, knee kicks, quick feet, and acceleration strides. Good form must include a slight forward lean, bent knees, midfoot landing, and short strides. You should not be heel striking (or landing on your heel first).
One way to improve your form is to spend a small amount of time each week running barefoot. Find a nice, grassy area nearby, ditch your shoes, and run around. You’ll notice that your stride naturally changes to avoid heel striking. Eventually, landing on your mid- or forefoot will feel natural, even when you put your shoes back on. You can combine your brief barefoot running with your form drills to maximize efficiency.
Where Should I Run?
As you transition to minimalist running shoes, you should consider sticking to level ground, as the new pressures put on your core and, more importantly, your lower legs can be increased pretty dramatically even with a relatively small incline or decline. But once you feel comfortable running in your minimalist running shoes and aren't experiencing any pain or unusual pressure, feel free to take them to the trails, roads, or anywhere else you choose to run.
Get the Right Fit
EMS' Foot Guru program ensures that you'll get a great fit for your first pair of minimalist running shoes. Visit one of our stores to take advantage of this service and guarantee that your minimalist shoes are the perfect pair for you.
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