As we enter or transition into the first weeks of the new year, it often means aligning our personal goals with training and racing in the coming months. So now is also a good time to summarize some of the basics about transitioning to minimalism, especially for those new to natural running and who what to find out more about why “less shoe is better.”
Making the transition to minimalist running shoes is different for everyone. There isn’t a set formula that can be applied to all situations. The most important question to ask is whether your body is prepared to set your goal as running in a barefoot-style or minimalist shoe rather than a set amount of mileage per week.
If you as a runner are strong and well-balanced in a single leg stance, have an anatomically correct foot, nice flexible heel cords, and a good gait, then you are ready to roll pretty quick and do not need much transition. The opposite is true for someone who fails all these parameters. You might 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
Now let’s look at what is meant by a transition shoe. In the following FAQ, I have provided a brief guide to help runners.
Which shoe should I start off with?
A Transition Shoe is the ideal shoe for most runners taking their first step towards natural running. It has a lower heel to toe drop and less cushioning than a traditional running shoe.
I’ve started the transition but now my calves and feet ache. What have I done wrong?
This is a symptom of doing too much, too hard, too soon. Like any training effect, the load on the structures cannot exceed our capacity to adapt. In more minimalist shoes your feet, calves and Achilles tendon must work harder to control the landing, which requires stronger muscles and more flexible tendons. Alternate your previous traditional shoes for some of your training and adopt a more cautious approach. (see intro at top).
What can I do to alleviate sore calves and feet?
As with all training, some soreness is normal so allow sufficient recovery. A program of stretching and strengthening for your feet and calves will help also. Foam rolling and Trigger Point Therapy can help align and restructure the fascia collagen of these tissues and it highly effective.
Should I change my running form if I am not hurt?
Well it depends. Have an expert assess your gait. If you are running injury free in a nice forefoot/midfoot landing there is no need to change anything. My opinion is if you are loading heavily into the knee and hip joints in an overstride pattern then you should fix this, even if it does not hurt now. Remember joints do not feel pain until there is significant degeneration, and then it is too late. Muscles and tendons feel discomfort immediately. So trade a little short term discomfort as you transition for a lifetime of pain free running.
Should everyone aim for the most minimal shoe?
No, the goal for all is to run pain free and with enjoyment. Everyone is different and very few runners will be able to make the full transition for all their running and even fewer are strong enough or desire to run barefoot. We suggest a gradual reduction in the cushioning and drop of your shoes until you are at your individual goal; be it more enjoyable running, better performance, or for some experiencing the joy of barefoot running.
Does becoming a natural runner mean relearning how to run?
For some yes and we have assisted countless runners in being “reborn to run”. Your current running style is deeply embedded within your muscle memory. Short barefoot sessions allow you to concentrate on your form and are safe. The trick is maintaining your new running form when in shoes and fatigued. A metronome will cue you. A lengthy transition period seems to be common with many runners. I am still getting stronger and have been in minimal and flat shoes for 10 years now.
I’ve been recommended supportive, motion control shoes. Can I still try minimal?
There is little to no evidence on why over the last 30 years a process for selling supportive, heavily cushioned running shoes has developed. Injury rates amongst runners are unchanged. We believe that the majority of runners can make a gradual transition into more minimal shoes by strengthening the “chasis” and adopting a natural running style and avoiding overstriding. The work of Jay Dicharry, Irene Davis, and Dan Lieberman are giving us the research base to support our way of thinking.
Will arch supports or orthotics work with minimalist footwear?
Yes. A minority of runners have such a serious structural flaws that they require correction by custom rigid orthotics forever. Many gradually wean off the support mechanisms as the feet become healthier and stronger. Seek advice from a trained running specialist for an assessment.
How long will it take to become a natural runner?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that permanently changing your running style takes at least 12 months. In as little as 30 days you begin to rewire the movement patterns by using minimalist shoes and focusing on form. The more focus and effort you put into the transition, the smoother and safer it will be.
Do minimalist shoes help me run more naturally?
Overly cushioned and supportive shoes change the way their feet ‘feel’ the ground and allow you overstride. Minimalist running shoes provide less protection and more feedback, but one can still overstride in a minimal shoe. Some true barefoot running allows your feet to coach you, then put the thinner and firmer shoes back on.
Why can’t I just start running in minimalist shoes all the time?
If you suddenly change from cushioned footwear to minimalist footwear you are likely to get injured due to the new stresses on your body. Developing a more natural running style requires a gradual transition to increasingly minimalist shoes.
Any brands or models that you’d recommend as a Transition Shoe?