How Do I Transition My Running to Minimalist Shoes?

Posted on 01 April 2011

by  Mark Cucuzzella, M.D.

This is a great question and one I get asked frequently. There isn’t a set formula that can be applied to all situations. There is a big difference between transitioning to a Newton shoe, a pair of FiveFingers, or completely barefoot. Newton shoes have more protection than your bare feet and therefore will require less time to safely adapt than a pure minimalist shoe. The most important question to ask is whether you are prepared to set your goal as running barefoot/minimalist rather than a set amount of mileage per week.

Paradoxically a young runner would need to transition into traditional running shoes in my opinion. Imagine the kid playing soccer in flat Sambas or the Kenyan runner being given a first pair of elevated heel running shoes. Do we suggest “take it slow in these or you may get hurt”. We should though, and maybe this is part of why so many high school runners get hurt now as we read stories of runners of years gone by and wonder how they ran without injury. So, the first message is DO NOT LET YOUNG RUNNERS TRANSITION INTO TRADITIONAL RUNNING SHOES AND CHANGE THEIR NATURAL RUNNING MECHANICS.

In our Two Rivers Treads store we have a protocol to help folks.If a runner is strong in a single leg stance, has an anatomically correct foot, nice flexible heel cords, and a good gait, they are ready to roll pretty quick and do not need much transition. They feel great immediately.

The opposite is true for someone who fails all these parameters. They need lots of supplemental work and need to get in a flat shoe all day.

Walking barefoot and in thin and flat street shoes is very helpful for the running transition.

A transition over a week or two is possible if one already has strong feet, is committed to form training and understanding structural issues, and is able to ease in with slow running and body awareness. The only way to really learn good form is to chuck the traditional shoes and do some running and drills in bare feet.

There are lots of common sense gradual progressions but no clear science. Here are a few suggestions:
•    Add a mile every day or two until you are doing all running in minimalist shoes
•    Add 5 minutes every day or two in minimalist shoes
•    Add 10% a week in minimalist shoes

Chi Running, Pose Running, or Evolution Running are for good self instruction, especially because you are trying to rewire a biomechanical movement to a new “natural”.

Dial in really good form early on and in 3 weeks you will have neuromuscular changes that are hard wired. Work on getting your cadence closer to 180 steps per minute. As with fixing a swim stroke or golf swing… fix it immediately. Listen to your body, work on strengthening the core and practicing mobility exercises to support barefoot technique. Progress gradually. Pick up materials on Chi Running, Pose Running, or Evolution Running for good self instruction – all of these techniques offer great tips. Remember, you are trying to rewire a mechanical movement to a new “natural”. It takes time and commitment.

If you have a specific pain you need to listen to your body, ask “why?”, and figure it out.

Donate

5 Responses to “How Do I Transition My Running to Minimalist Shoes?”

  1. Jim says:

    Ashish Mukhari (“Run Barefoot Run Healthy”) makes a compelling case for transitioning first to barefoot (absolutely bare skin on pavement) and then to minimalist shoes if you need them. Some people are injuring themselves – even fracturing bones – by continuing to overstride in their new uncushioned “barefoot shoes” (oxymoron). Your sensitive feet won’t let you do this unless you fool them by covering them up. Try it! Even a few steps in your bare feet will have you running with light smooth low-impact steps. Sensitive feet won’t let you overtrain either, saving you the tendinitis in your under-developed feet and ankles. Best of all, you won’t have to buy new shoes to go barefoot! :D

    I do now own a pair of Invisible Shoes and a pair of Trail Gloves. In the Trail Gloves, especially, I find myself slipping into bad form unless I focus (they’re just too burly to keep me honest). The Invisible Shoes are much closer to bare, but mixing in some truly barefoot training is my reality check and my insurance against injury (that, and listen to your body).

  2. John says:

    I started the transition…first by making sure my mechanics were good and looking at the wear on my normal Brooks Ghost shoes. for the last 2 shoes all the wear is in the forefoot. I also wear crocks as much as possible. then I started running in zero drop shoes 1 mile every other day for a week,then slowly increased each week. I hope I’m doing the right stuff, but so far no pain or injuries.

    • MarkC says:

      John,

      no pain….good. make sure you do not run on your toes/forfoot without letting heel settle though. too much calf stress this way.

      thanks for note

      Mark

  3. Peter M. says:

    Mark, first of all thanks for the great site which is one of my favorite and most frequently visited. Among many other articles, it also contains a very interesting material on transition to barefoot running (The 200-yard rule…..). It basically suggests to transition to barefoot NOT by going through a series (lineup) of shoe models with gradually decreased cushioning and support, but rather to take off the shoes right away and transition by starting from very short times/distances of barefoot running.

    Judging from the comments, you seem to be supportive of such an approach. Would you think it would also be feasible for (adaptable by) a person who may not want (be able) to go “full Monty” barefoot but just wants to transition to the minimalist shoe stage?

    Also, what additional precautions would you suggest for a female runner who has regularly and for years worn high heels?

    My personal story of transitioning (disclaimer: I am just a recreational runner with no competitive drive for speed or huge distances/running volume) was a bit different from optimal but still successful. First (it was winter) I purchased a pair of classical (“neutral type”, luckily) trail shoes with Gore-Tex (Asics Gel Trail Lahar GTX). I started running and, at the same time, did some “homework” and read about running style (forefoot, shorter quicker steps, etc.). I started practicing this stride in my “classical” shoes. A good thing was that I had never really developed the overstride-heelstrike pattern which I’d need to painstakingly change. I was aware that I should not attempt to land on the forefoot in the Lahars (since, due to the elevated heel, this would ultimately be like tiptoeing). So at least I attempted to land on flat feet (so with bare feet or zero-drop, this would translate into forefoot landing) and under the body instead of in front of it. The winter turned into spring, my shoes became too hot and I switched to the more natural (they’re not minimalist, IMO), low drop shoes (Brooks Pure Connects). I was happy to see that my technique practiced in the Asics worked quite well and I basically had no problems running in the Connects, even without reducing the intensity (frequency, duration, distance, speed). After another 8 months or so, I got a pair of minimalist shoes (one of the Merrell Barefoot line) and again, the feeling was great right away and no problem to transition. So, in my case having attempted to develop a reasonably proper running technique – even in the shoes that were “not really right” for the purpose – gave reasonably good results. Right now running in the Asics just make my legs tired and I develop blisters and sore spots – but they make really nice all-around and hiking shoes and nicely replaced my stiff and hard-sole hiking boots.

    Cheers from Europe! :)

  4. MICHAEL DEVANEY says:

    I am attempting to transition to minimalist shoes but firstly i need to address the essential prerequisites of single leg standing and ability to isolate the flexor hallucis brevis and i have a long way to go in those areas based on my initial performance. I have been running for a long time and for the last 10 months + i have been dealing with a stubborn case of plantar fasciitis for which i just got custom orthotics but I would prefer a program which addresses to root causes as opposed to treating the symptoms.
    I transitioned to a pair of mizuno wave universe but i am not running in them. I am merely walking in them to get used to them. I was taking naprosyn for about a week after i got the orthotocs (which was recent)without any running. I just used the exercise bike to allow the plantar fascia to get some recovery time with an anti inflammatory. I have since weaned myself off the naprosyn and i am still not running but i transitioned to an elliptical machine to see if that brings on the symptoms. I would like to see a period of several days at least without any symptoms before i even consider running and when i do resume running i was thinking that i should start out on the treadmill as opposed to the street. What do you think? How should i transition to minimalist running once i feel that I am on the road to recovery?


Leave a Reply

*