Over the past few years, the number of barefoot and minimalist running enthusiasts has increased dramatically. Books have been written, large clunky shoes have been denounced, and now it is easy to find minimalist shoes that provide protection from the hard streets, but don’t do much else. Due to this growing population, I am often asked what I think about it. I am a barefoot/minimalist runner and I love it, but that doesn’t mean that it is for everyone.
The ins and outs of barefoot and minimalist running
Barefoot and minimalist running is significantly different from traditional running. Barefoot and minimalist running changes the heel strike to a fore foot or mid foot strike. This causes the runner to take shorter strides at a quicker pace. This has been shown to reduce stress on the joints, especially knees and hips, while using the same amount of energy.
However, the minimalist strategy puts a greater stress on the calves. People are often surprised by how sore and how poorly they run when first switching over to a barefoot or minimalist style of running. Even if you are an experienced runner, don’t think that the transition to this type of running will be easy. Remember, the most common way to cause an injury is to try to do too much, too soon, and too fast.
Achieve injury-free barefoot and minimalist running with these steps:
1) Even if you are an experienced runner, it is best to start with some preparatory strengthening and mobility exercises. Try squats, calf raises with slow lowering, and short foot exercises to strengthen the arch of the foot. Focus specifically on single leg standing exercises.
2) Once you feel comfortable with those exercises, start with simple walking around the house or your neighborhood, either barefoot or wearing your minimalist shoes. Work your way up to 30 continuous minutes of barefoot or minimalist walking on a variety of surfaces.
3) Once the strengthening exercises and walking feel good, it is time to work on jumping, which will prepare your body for the repetitive strikes of running. Jumping exercises include squat jumps, split stance jumps, single leg hops, and depth jumps, among others.
4) Forget about how fast or how much you ran while wearing traditional running shoes. One of the easiest ways to injure yourself is to ignore what your body is telling you. Simply put: if you hurt, slow down; if it continues to hurt, stop.
5) If your goal is barefoot running, alternate between running with minimalist shoes and pure barefoot running. It can also help to start by running barefoot on a soft grass surface, progressing to a springy track surface, and eventually running on hard asphalt streets.
6) Gradually increase duration and speed, but not both at the same time. What aspect you choose to focus on depends on your goals. If you’re planning to run a 5k, focus more on speed. If you want to run a half marathon, focus on increasing duration.
7) If you have pain or increased soreness, decrease the duration or speed of your run or decrease the number of days you run per week.
8) Have fun! This should be an enjoyable challenge.
Want to try minimalist training but not sure if it is right for you? Let a PT assess your feet, ankles, hips, and the rest your body to identify strengths and weaknesses. Contact Joint Ventures Physical Therapist, Chris Contois, MPT, CSCS, ART at Chris.Contois@JointVenturesPT.com for more information.
To schedule an evaluation or a free injury screen, call 617-536-1161 and a Joint Ventures receptionist will be happy to assist you.