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Barefoot shoes for running, walking, working and exploring


Mark Cucuzzella MD

A little about the transition and our shoes.

We have run in every shoe we sell, which is unusual for most stores. A more level shoe can take some time to adjust to as you develop a more efficient running form. Be progressive as you make adaptations and changes. Minimal shoes feel different from traditional running shoes. The increased ground feel allows your body to adjust to the forces of running in a more efficient way and is optimal for learning natural running form and technique.

Without a firm message to the nervous system our body does not know which muscles to use, how hard to turn them on, and how long to keep them on for. To get a clear message in thick/soft shoes we are forced to strike the ground harder and drive the foot onto a firm surface to give us the feedback we require. So to overcome our shoes, which we were originally wearing to prevent us from slamming our feet into the ground, we are paradoxically forced to slam our feet into the ground.

Transition comfortably and avoid heel striking. The foot is designed to be an amazing shock absorber that works on a combination of the plantar fascia and the lower leg. The plantar fascia is an enormously strong spring that is capable of assisting in energy return during gait if we allow it to. But landing on the heel prevents this from happening as we are landing with a non-absorbent object (bone) onto the hard ground.

A great question and one we get frequently. Remember transitioning to less shoe is a process, not an event. There is certainly no one answer and there is a big difference between transition shoes and running barefoot. Transition shoes have more protection than your bare feet and can be safely adapted into quicker that a pure minimalist or barefoot style shoe.

The most important question is whether someone is prepared to run minimal rather than the speed of transition.

Begin with an assessment of your Mobility and Stability

In our store we have a protocol to help folks. If a runner is strong in single leg stance and foot control, has anatomically correct feet, nice flexible heel cords and plantar fascia, and a natural style gait already; they are ready to transition quickly and do not need much of process. They feel great immediately. The opposite is true for someone who fails all these parameters. They need lots of supplemental work and to get in a proper shoe ALL DAY. Walking barefoot and in thin and flat street shoes is very helpful for the running transition.

A transition over a few weeks is possible if one is committed to form training and structural issues, and will ease in with slow running and body sensing. The only way to really learn good form is chuck the traditional shoes and do some of your running and drills in your bare feet. Very short distances at first, as little as 50 yards to feel what it is like to land gently.

There are lots of common sense gradual progressions but no clear science. Here are a few principles:

* Gradual transition: Your feet’s muscles need time to adapt to the new pattern of motion that comes with minimalist shoes. They need a gradual transition in order to avoid injury, especially in the tendons and joints. Consider a transition shoe for running and a minimalist or barefoot style shoe for walking and other lower impact activity.

  • Add a mile every day or two in the flatter shoes until you are doing all running in level shoe
  • Add 5 minutes every day or two in the flatter shoe
  • Add 10% a week in flatter shoe

* Day-to-day: When you first get your minimalist shoes, get acclimated to them by wearing them during periods of regular walking.

* Start slow: Run slowly and only increase your speed and distance gradually as your feet acclimate to the more natural range of motion.

* Start doing some of the simple drills on our Fun Drills page.  Especially the Let’s Do Lunge Series

* Listen to your body: Make sure to pay attention to any areas that feel sore or tired after your initial runs. Keep your first run sessions to about 10 or 20 minutes, taking a day off in between as needed, and then gradually increase as your feet get comfortable. If you have a specific pain you need to listen and ask “why” and figure it out.

* Dial in really good form early and in 4 weeks you have a neuromuscular change that is hard wired. Work on getting cadence closer to 180. See out section on Running Form. Similar to fixing a swim stroke or golf swing…fix it immediately. Listen to your body, do the supporting core and mobility work to support barefoot technique, and progress gradually. Remember, you are trying to rewire a mechanical movement to a new “natural”. It takes time and commitment.

* Remember, never push your feet! It takes patience and some time to strengthen all the tendons and muscles on your feet with minimalist shoes. Once you are comfortable, you’ll reap the benefits of a more efficient stride, stronger foot muscles, and more sensory connection to the road and trail.

Many articles on transitioning are The Natural Running Center website

Come to one of our clinics for a hands on assessment to tailor a program that is safe for you. Here’s to healthier running. No pain…..thank you!


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.

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. In our experience 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.

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