The trend of running barefoot or in minimalist shoes has been gaining popularity in recent years. There are many benefits to running in barefoot shoes, including improved posture, decreased impact on the joints, and increased sensory feedback.
If you’re thinking about making the switch to barefoot shoes, it’s important to do so gradually to allow your body to adjust. Start by running for short distances on soft surfaces, such as a track or grass. As your muscles and tendons become stronger, you can gradually increase the distance and intensity of your runs.
It's also essential to choose the right type of shoe. There are many different types of barefoot shoes on the market, from minimalist running shoes to more robust options designed for trail running. Be sure to do your research to find a shoe that will fit your needs.
Making the switch to barefoot running can be a challenge, but it’s worth it! With some preparation, you can enjoy all the benefits that this unique type of running has to offer.
The Importance Of A Good Foundation
In order to successfully transition to barefoot shoes, it is essential to build an effective foundation. This includes strengthening the muscles in the feet and ankles as well as increasing balance and proprioception. When following proper progression, you will build your foundation.
Foot exercises such as toe curls, calf raises, and ankle circles can help keep the feet flexible and strengthen the muscles and tendons. Other exercises such as hopping and balance drills can help to increase proprioception.
In addition to exercising, stretching is also important. Stretches such as calf and ankle stretches can help increase flexibility in the feet and keep the muscles from becoming too tight.
We highly recommend the book Born to Run 2 by Christopher McDougall and Eric Orton. It is a guiding book to help readers improve their running form and run more efficiently and naturally for the rest of their lives. Simple to read and understand with many exercises and tips to help build your foundation and improve your form. The authors’ reasoning is that there are skills and techniques to develop in running which are as important as in any other sports.
Regularly engaging in these exercises will help to prepare the body for the transition to barefoot or minimalist shoes. Without this foundation, a person is more likely to experience pain and strain, so taking the time to build up the muscles and improve balance is worth your while.
The Right Way To Start
When you are ready to begin your journey into barefoot or minimalist shoes, there are some key guidelines to keep in mind in order to ensure your transition is successful.
Start slow. The first step should be to walk for 10 to 15 minutes in the shoes. As your body adjusts and grows accustomed to the shoes, gradually increase the amount of time you spend walking in them. It's ok to go a bit faster than our turtle friend below!
From experience, the main point is to know your body and what feels right; to stay connected with the sensations that are developing in your body and taking the time to stretch your muscles. When you first start running in your barefoot shoes, one thing very important, you can’t heel strike. This is where most runners learn about running techniques and proper form. The best technique we learned about was to run with bare feet on a treadmill and then, in a park. Eric Orton in Born to Run 2 suggests doing speed work in bare feet to help your form. There is so much to learn but the journey is worth it.
- Pace yourself. Increase the intensity of your workout slowly. Don’t attempt to do too much too soon or you may experience pain or discomfort.
- Listen to your body. Pay attention to your body and monitor how you feel as you adjust to the new shoes. If something feels uncomfortable or if you feel pain, stop and rest or switch back temporarily to the shoes you were wearing before.
By following these guidelines, you should have a successful transition into barefoot running shoes.
Building Your Mileage
Once you’ve followed the guidelines above and successfully transitioned to barefoot running shoes, the next step is to build your mileage - an important part of any running program. You need to gradually increase the distance you run.
Here are a few tips to help you build your mileage the right way:
Increase your distance gradually. Start with a comfortable distance and increase it a little each week or every other week. Remember that your progression is very personal and your common sense will dictate what to do.
Diversify your running routes. Mix up the terrain of your runs. This will keep your body from adapting in one direction. Different terrains in a barefoot shoe develop your proprioception in general and that is something you are after.
- Take rest days. Planning rest days and/or switching to some cross-training exercises here and there allows your body time to recover and adapt to the new workload. This is something we enjoyed the most: diversification in training.
- Go easy on the hills..or not. When running hills, some would say to keep the incline to a minimum (That is a funny statement! In Colorado you don’t really decide how the incline is!). We would say that running hills are fun because they are demanding and in a short distance you can get your heartbeat up and feel the work quickly. We would also say that form is easier to work on when doing hills but that is so personal. Again, be your own advocate in that sense; get to work and enjoy!
By following these tips, you can gradually build your mileage and ensure a successful transition to barefoot running.
The number 1 Rule
There is one rule you should always obey whether working out, running or playing with your kids: listen to your body. If it starts to hurt, slow down or stop. Take a break if needed. You won't gain anything if you injure yourself by pushing too hard. So again, be patient and transition progressively.
Here’s a little bit more about Cross-Training
Cross-training is an effective way to improve your performance when running in barefoot shoes. Cross-training involves activities that complement running, such as strength training, yoga, or swimming. Different types of cross-training can improve core strength, flexibility, and overall cardiovascular fitness.
Strength training can help you build a strong muscular core, which is important for barefoot running. Running barefoot or in minimalist shoes requires the use of all the muscles in your lower body. A strong core helps you maintain balance and stability throughout your runs. The athlete in you knows how important it is to take care of your entire body for the rest of your life, so let’s get good habits today! ;-)
Among others, yoga helps in improving your flexibility, which has many benefits, one of which is the prevention of injuries. Swimming can help to improve cardiovascular fitness and relax the muscles in a gentle way.
Cross-training is a great way to complement your running in barefoot shoes, so plan to include it in your training routine.
The Limits are Yours
Once you have adjusted to running in barefoot shoes, the only limits are yours. We have heard countless times that once you get used to barefoot running shoes, you can’t go back to what is the general “running” shoe on the market. Your feet just won’t let you!
It may take a while to get used to barefoot shoes and that is the hardest, to take the time to transition. But if you really think about it, and want to avoid all the injuries created by most of the shoes on the market today, really it is worth it to invest the time in your feet and running form. Like Christopher Dougall said in his first book Born To Run; with the high technology behind them today, no one should ever have any injury caused by shoes.
Prioritizing a shoe that offers no interference with your natural posture (zero drop), that allows your feet to move freely (roomy toe-box, flexible thin sole) and that doesn’t feel like a cement block at the end of the day (lightweight), you set yourself for having stronger feet in the long term. Happy feet will take you wherever your heart wants to go.
Making the switch to barefoot running is a process and should not be rushed. It is important for new barefoot runners to start gradually and increase the intensity and duration of the runs slowly.
Barefoot runners should also be aware of the risks associated with this type of running and follow the guidelines outlined above to ensure safety and prevent potential injuries. Your body may have forgotten what it’s like to run without any artificial support from your shoes. There is a need to adjust posture, and rebuild muscles.
Ultimately, what matters most is listening to your body and adjusting your running accordingly. Running in barefoot or minimalist shoes can be a rewarding experience and it is possible to enjoy the benefits of this type of running if it is done responsibly and safely.
Take the time to find the right shoe for you and don’t be afraid to experiment. And always remember that Rome was not built in a day!