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Minimalist Running Plan: Training Program
Barefoot Running

In this article, I share a brief version of the Natural Runner Running Plan. As with most training plans or treatment protocols, a lot of research and time went into developing it. It was something I myself used when I was tired of dealing with recurrent running injuries and pains.

Now, I don’t know about you, always wanted to be one of those “active” dads. I didn’t want to ever have to say to my kids, “I’m sorry, dad’s knees (or back, or ankle) hurts.” So, when my wife told me we were pregnant with our first child, I made the resolve to regularly exercise.

Since I had played soccer and basketball in high school, running seems like a natural fit. So, since the fall of 2014, with the exception of a few months in 2019 and at the beginning of 2022 (more on that later), I have run at least 8-10 miles per week. My goal has always been to run a 5K every other day.

In that time, since 2014, I have experienced the usual pains, aches, and injuries that many runners experience every year. However, one injury started me down a path of recurrent injuries that almost ended my running altogether. In 2019, when I finished my first half-marathon (with a time of 1:58:22), I suffered a stress fracture in my right foot. That required me to “cross train” on stationary bikes while my foot healed. But even after that injury healed I still experienced regular aches and pains during my runs.

 

Running Injuries & Pain

For the next 2 years or so after that stress fracture, I was plagued by various running injuries. I had knee pain in my right knee, which caused me to cut way back on mileage. The pain grew so uncomfortable that I ended up going to get an MRI and was told that I had chondromalacia patella and would need to take it easy and buy supportive shoes while I strengthened up my quads to prevent surgery.

Shortly after getting over the knee pain, I started to get pain in my foot and heel. It turns out, I also developed plantar fasciitis in my right foot, and soon my left. So, I did what most runners do. I stretched my feet. I rolled them out. I ate a fist-full of ibuprofen before I went out for a run, and usually cut my run short when the pain became unbearable. I tried running plan after running plan aimed at curing this pain or that.

That’s when I decided something had to change. I wanted to find a way to keep running…and to enjoy it! I didn’t want to be one of those people who cried a little inside when my alarm went off for my morning run. So, at the tail end of 2021, I began looking into running technique, footwear, and running plans to prevent running injuries.

Running Shoes & Running Form

About the time I started down the path of fixing my running pain, my mother had actually just purchased a pair of Xero shoes and was talking all about how they helped “cure” her plantar fasciitis. I was skeptical because, being a clinician and former professor, I knew that very rarely is there ever a magic bullet for conditions like plantar fasciitis. ff

So I began looking into minimalist and barefoot shoes. I dove into the clinical research, reading countless articles from peer-reviewed journals covering studies and experiments aimed at understanding how our choice of footwear affects running performance and injury rates.

That search led me to realize that, it’s not so much the barefoot shoes themselves that are the important part of the equation. As I wrote about in this article, the important factor is our running style; how we run. Our legs and feet work best when they’re moved in a certain way. And that way of running is actually not the way most of us run.

So, exploring the research, I developed the Running Plan below. I call it “Natural Running”. It’s an 8-week training plan designed to take any runner from conventional running form and supportive, cushioned shoes to forefoot running in minimalist or barefoot shoes. Below is the 7-day workout plan.

Natural Running Plan: 7-Day Workout Week

Here is the 8-week transition training program that I used to successfully transition from conventional running & supportive, cushioned shoes to more natural, forefoot running form with minimal and barefoot shoes. This plan covers the exercises, stretches, and workout routine to successfully transition to natural running, regardless of the shoes you choose to wear. The running exercises outlined below break down into 4 “phases”, each about 2-3 weeks long. The idea is to progress to greater distance or time as your muscle strength and running form improve.

Monday

  • Cross training (optional)
  • Strengthening Exercises (available in the full plan)
  • Stretches (see handout)
  • 4 Core Foot Exercises
  • 2 hours+ of barefoot weight-bearing

Tuesday

  • Dynamic Stretches/Warm-up
  • Run (between 10-45 minutes)
  • Stretches/Cooldown
  • 4 Core Foot Exercises
  • 2 hours+ of barefoot weight-bearing

Wednesday

Thursday

  • Dynamic Stretches/Warm-up
  • Run (between 10-45 minutes)
  • Stretches/Cooldown
  • 4 Core Foot Exercises
  • 2 hours+ of barefoot weight-bearing

Friday

Saturday

  • Dynamic Stretches/Warm-up
  • Long Run (between 20-60 minutes)
  • Stretches/Cooldown,
  • 4 Core Foot Exercises
  • 2 hours+ of barefoot weight-bearing

Sunday

 

Running Plan: Run Workouts

The running workouts contained in this running plan each have 3 different objectives: 1) Improving Form & Posture 2) Building Aerobic Capacity and 3) Building Endurance. Each running workout has increasing time intervals that align with each week of the running plan. Now, these intervals don’t need to be followed exactly. If you experience some discomfort or soreness, step back to the previous interval. If you find a workout too easy, try stepping up to the next interval. The key is to make sure your running form doesn’t suffer. If it becomes too difficult to maintain proper form, then step back a bit. This helps prevent injuries, which are common in runners who push too hard too fast.

Running Workout 1: Form & Posture

  • 2 minutes warm up at moderate walking cadence or slow run
    2-3 minutes of moderate running cadence followed by 60 seconds of recovery with walking/slow jogging : Repeat 2 times

    • For Weeks 1-3: Repeat 2 times
    • For Weeks 4-6: Repeat 4-6 times
    • For Weeks 6-8: Repeat 8-10 times
    • For Weeks 8+: Repeat 10+ times as tolerated
  • 2 minutes of slow running or moderate walking to cool dow

Focus on upright posture: Connecting that line from your ears to your ankles

Foot Strike: Landing on your forefoot is good for acceleration and landing on your mid-foot is good for longer distance, and for the bulk of your running time.

Alternating arm swings: to drive your running

Increasing cadence: instead of increasing stride length for speed/pace

Running Workout 2: Build Aerobic Capacity

  • 2-minute warm up at slow-moderate running cadence
  • 3-5 minutes of moderate-fast running cadence followed by 1 minutes of slow running cadence
    • For Weeks 1-3: stick with up to 5 minutes of moderate-fast running.
    • For Weeks 4-6: increase to 10-15 minutes of moderate-fast running followed by 2-5 minutes of slow running cadence
    • For Weeks 6-8: increase to 20-30 minutes of moderate-fast running followed by 5-10 minutes of slow running cadence
    • For weeks 8+: run at this pace for 20 minutes ofmoderate-fast running followed by 5-10 minutes of slow running cadence; repeat twice
  • 2-3 minutes of slow running or moderate walking to cool down

Running Workout 3: Build Endurance

  • 3-5-minute warm up at slow running cadence Increase to a moderate running cadence
    • For Weeks 1-3: run at this pace for 5-10 minutes
    • For Weeks 4-6: run at this pace for 15-20 minutes
    • For Weeks 6-8: run at this pace for 25-35 minutes
    • For weeks 8+: run at this pace for 40+ minutes as tolerated
  • 2-3 minutes of slow running or moderate walking to cool down

 

Summary

Hopefully this abbreviated Running Plan helps point you in down the right path for transitioning to forefoot running, or incorporating foot strengthening and minimalist footwear into your regular routine. Now, the full plan contains all of the specific exercises and stretches, information about cross training, and the background research upon which this running plan is based.

You can check out the complete plan here.

Are you dealing with pain?

We understand that struggling with the stress and strain of pain can be tough…Whether it’s waking up feeling stiff or severe tension after walking, running, or playing, no one wants to spend each day dealing with the soreness that pain brings. While many people choose surgery or injections for pain relief, at ProActive Rehabilitation & Wellness, we offer non-surgical therapies which prevents patients from going under the knife.

 

If you’d like to book a pain consultation now, with one of our top clinicians, click the button bellow or have your provider fax over a referral. We only book a limited amount of these consultations each month, so act quickly before they’re gone.

Rafi Salazar OT

Rafael E. Salazar II, MHS, OTR/L (Rafi) is the CEO & President of Proactive Rehabilitation & Wellness, as well as the Principal Owner of Rehab U Practice Solutions and the host of The Better Outcomes Show. He has experience in a variety of rehab settings, working with patients recovering from a variety of injuries and surgeries. He worked as the lead clinician in an outpatient specialty clinic at his local VA Medical center, where he worked on projects to improve patient & employee engagement and experience throughout the organization. He has experience as a faculty member at Augusta University’s Occupational Therapy Program, as a Licensed Board Member on the GA State OT Board, has served on several committees for the national OT Board (NBCOT), and as a consultant working for the State of Georgia’s DBHDD. He is also on the Board of Directors for NBCOT. Rafi also authored the book Better Outcomes: A Guide to Humanizing Healthcare