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Transitioning to Minimalist Running: How to Safely and Effectively Make the Switch
Running Resources

Note: This is a follow-up on a series of articles that we’ve written about minimalist shoes, transitioning to minimalist running, and a training program for transitioning to minimalist running. 

 

Thinking about transitioning to minimalist running, but not sure where to start? Maybe you read Born to Run and you like the idea, but you’re not so sure about just taking off your shoes and running 10 miles. That’s a good thought. As I mentioned in The Natural Runner Program, transitioning to this type of running does present risk of injury if you don’t go about it correctly.

For example, if you’re used to running in conventional shoes with cushioning and support, transitioning to minimalist shoes involves a big change. But with the right approach, it can be a great way to improve your running efficiency, reduce your risk of injury, and enjoy a more natural running experience.

We’ve already published numerous articles on this topic and created a few videos on it as well. This article provides a few tips and main points to keep in mind when transitioning to minimalist running.

Below, I outline some tips on how to safely and effectively transition to minimalist running.

 

Here’s a brief video covering some of these points:

 

Tip 1: Start Slowly when Transitioning to Minimalist Running

 

One of the most important things to keep in mind when transitioning to minimalist shoes involves starting slowly. The muscles and connective tissues in your feet and lower legs need time to adapt to the new demands of minimalist running. Many of the people who injure themselves running barefoot or in minimalist shoes experience their injuries by pushing too hard too fast.

Start by incorporating short runs in your minimalist shoes as part of your training routine. Gradually increase the distance over several weeks. You can also try walking around in your minimalist shoes to get used to the feel and to strengthen the muscles in your feet and lower legs.

 

Tip 2: Focus on Form when Transitioning

 

Form is key to running efficiently and safely in minimalist shoes. Focus on landing on the midfoot or forefoot rather than the heel, as this can help reduce the impact forces on your joints. Also, pay attention to your posture and make sure you’re keeping your head up and your shoulders relaxed.

To help improve your form, try incorporating drills like skipping, bounding, and hopping into your training routine. These exercises can help strengthen the muscles in your feet and legs and improve your balance and coordination.

 

Tip 3: Strengthen Your Feet

You must strengthen your fee to successfully transition to minimalist running. By strengthening your feet, you reduce the risk of injury and improve your running efficiency.

Exercises like toe spreading, plantar flexion and inversion, seated doming, and standing doming help increase the intrinsic foot strength and can actually improve the arch of your foot. The Natural Runner: 8 Weeks to Pain-free Running plan also includes a series of foot and leg strengthening exercises. The video above shows how to complete what we call the Core 4 Foot Exercises.

 

Tip 4: Choose the Right Minimalist Shoes

 

Not all minimalist shoes are created equal, so it’s important to choose the right pair for you. Look for shoes that provide enough protection for your feet without compromising the natural feel of minimalist running. This part involves a little bit of trial and error. In this article, I share a bit about my own experience trying different types of shoes.

It can be difficult to find the right minimalist shoes for you because different brands size their shoes a bit differently. For example, I found the the Merrell Vapor Glove to run slightly larger than the Xero Oswego shoes. I always tell people to start with a brand of shoe that they already use, if that’s possible. If you wear Merrells regularly, then test their minimalist footwear out. If that’s not an option, you can always try going with a budget shoe like the Whitin shoes by amazon (just remember to remove the inserts that come in those shoes, as they’re not zero drop).

The Natural Runner: 8 Weeks to Pain-free Running plan recommends starting with shoes that have a minimal drop (the difference between the height of the heel and the height of the forefoot) and gradually transitioning to shoes with zero drop.

 

Tip 5: Listen to Your Body

 

Finally, listen to your body and pay attention to any aches or pains that may arise during the transition period. If you experience any discomfort or pain, take a break from running and allow your body to recover or cut back on the distance. You should begin by starting with shorter distances and working your way up. If you plan on continuing with the amount of running you’re currently doing (say 5 mile daily runs); then wear your minimalist shoes for the first short segment and then put your usual shoes on for the rest of the run.

Pain is your body’s alarm signal, kind of like a check engine light. If you experience pain when transitioning to minimalist running, it likely means that there’s something that needs to be addressed. Usually, it involves running form or distance.

 

Summary

 

Making the transition to minimalist running requires some planning and extra work. Strengthening your feet, addressing running form, and starting small all help to decrease your risk of injury while making the transition. Following a good training plan also helps.

And, if you’re in the Augusta area and looking for help dealing with some running injury or pain, book an appointment with us so we can help you become a pain-free runner!

 

References:

[1] The Natural Runner: 8 Weeks to Pain-Free Running. Pro-Active Health. Also available on Kindle and Amazon.

[2] Ridge, S. T., Johnson, A. W., Mitchell, U. H., Hunter, I., & Robinson, E. (2013). Foot bone marrow edema after a 10-wk transition to minimalist running shoes. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 45(7), 1363-1368. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23439417/

[3] Ridge, S. T., Johnson, A. W., Mitchell, U. H., & Robinson, E. (2016). Foot bone marrow edema after a 12-week transition to minimalist running shoes. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 48(5), 842-849.

[4] Fuller, J. T., Thewlis, D., Tsiros, M. D., Brown, N. A., & Buckley, J. D. (2017). Six-week transition to minimalist shoes improves running economy and time-trial performance. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 20(4), 403-408.

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