Running in Minimalist Footwear

Posted by Jason Zagami

Minimalist shoes is one of the fastest growing categories in the footwear world. These shoes have little or no cushioning, 4mm- 0mm heel drop, and are worn without socks.  Mechanically these shoes encourage you to run in a more natural gait. If you took your shoes off and just ran barefoot, you would actually run well without even thinking about it.

Suspension

Running in a minimal shoe requires your calves, feet, and Achilles to activate. Your lower leg and foot work together as a shock absorber during each step, so much so that you can tell by looking at a runner’s calves if they are a traditional runner, or barefoot runner.

Motor Pattern

The over-engineering of past running shoes have caused us to learn to run in an inefficiently and incorrectly. Running shoes traditionally have a high cushioned heel, which makes it feel ok to land heel first. Run that way barefoot and you’ll immediately understand why it’s wrong. Not only does it cause breaking forces that are jarring to the body, but it’s also slowing you down.

Training Tool

When you strip away extra layers of cushioning, you’re left with less material to interfere with the neurological feedback important to proper running. Your feet have a high concentration of nerve endings, but when you wear socks and cushioned shoes you miss out on all that bio-feedback. The first time I ran in a pair of minimalist shoes, I felt everything, when I was inadvertently braking, when I was landing too hard, when my Achilles was tight. This is all incredibly useful information to a runner, and the best thing is, your body naturally recognizes and corrects for it.

Mistakes

I see a lot of runners who are new to barefoot running that read an article or a book on the subject and start running without letting their heels touch the ground. This is the fastest way to an overuse injury. When you run, the ball of your foot should touch down softly, followed by your heel. Don’t run on your toes.

Distance

When switching to minimalist running shoes, the standard is to only run 10% of your normal distance. If you normally run 10 miles, start by running just a mile. That one mile will feel like 10 when you’re done. It can take a few weeks or a few months to build up in the new shoes. It all depends on your running frequency, recovery, and impact force.

Switch between training in your traditional shoes, and minimalist shoes. This will allow for faster recovery and minimize soreness. I recommend using your traditional running shoes for distance runs, and minimalist shoes for tempo or interval runs.

For more information on minimalist running shoes, check out our minimalism page.

Jason Zagami
Founder of Solid Body Fitness
Strength & Conditioning Coach
CrossFit Level 1 Certified Personal Trainer
CrossFit Certified Indoor Rowing Instructor

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