What Is Minimalist Footwear?
Minimalist footwear is any style of footwear with a minimal midsole that helps deliver a more natural running experience. The benefits of minimalist footwear have gained widespread acceptance in the past year thanks to TWO key factors:
Minimalist footwear encourages you to land on your forefoot and midfoot (as opposed to your heel) when running or walking.
Natural running involves shorter, quicker steps that can provide more effective propulsion and promote better natural shock absorption.
In short, minimalist footwear is designed to get you running, walking, hiking, and climbing the way nature intended.
The concept of returning to a more natural style of running was popularized by Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run. McDougall researched the Tarahumara Indians renowned for their ability to run barefoot for miles. McDougall found that the shorter, more repetitive stride you naturally take when running barefoot eliminated the heel pain he had been experiencing.
How? Running barefoot forces you to land on your forefoot and midfoot instead of your heel, as you do in the longer strides you take in constructed footwear. The result is more efficient transfer of energy; reduced impact on the joints in your feet, ankles, and knees; and strengthening of the muscles in your feet.
Another reason many find they enjoy barefoot running is because taking off your shoes can be a liberating feeling that brings you closer to the earth in every way. You’re more aware of rocks, sticks, and subtle changes in terrain, and you can really feel the difference between running on grass, pavement, or dirt.
Minimalist is still the subject of healthy debate in the running and fitness world. We believe barefoot running or using minimalist footwear is a new tool that some can benefit from; running is about technique.
How to Get Started
The consistent advice from those that have been doing this is....GO SLOW!
If you’re like the rest of us, you’ve spent your entire adult life in highly constructed shoes designed to cushion your impact with the ground and increase the length of your stride. Minimalist is the complete opposite of what you’re used to. When you get right down to it, you’re not breaking in your shoes, you’re breaking in your feet and lower legs, so you need to let your body adjust.
Many people make the mistake of doing too much, too quickly, and that’s a big mistake. It can lead to pain, injury, and discouragement. Remember, your feet, ankles and calves are weak from running or walking with shoes all the time. You will find a lot of soreness if you go too far or too fast. You need to build it up slowly, gently.
Here’s what we recommend:
1.Start wearing walking barefoot or with barefoot shoes for an hour a day for Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s) and increase by an hour each 3-7 days.
2. Try running barefoot or with barefoot shoes on a hard surface, just for a few minutes, slowly. Maybe at the end of a regular run, if you’re running regularly. If you’re not a regular runner, just do a short run for a few minutes, because your body won’t be used to running for any longer amount anyway. Running on a hard surface is good for your first few times, because you will naturally run with better form — with shoes, you’re used to pounding on your heels and overextending your legs, but when you’re barefoot, you have no cushion, and running by extending and pounding your feet on your heels is going to hurt on a hard surface. Run lightly, landing quietly and softly on your forefeet or midfeet. See more about form below.
3. Slowly lengthen the time you run barefoot (or with barefoot shoes). Just a minute or two longer, a few times a week. Go slowly — don’t try to sprint or run hard. Continue to run lightly, working on not pounding. Try different surfaces — asphalt, concrete, grass, dirt. Let your body slowly adapt to this new running style, and your muscles slowly get stronger.
4. Eventually, you can do shorter runs completely with barefoot shoes. Shorter runs might mean 15-30 minutes if you’re an experienced runner, or perhaps 10 minutes for a less experienced runner. For longer or harder runs, you might still wear shoes for now, because you’re not ready for long or hard runs barefoot. Let this phase take several weeks.
Eventually you can stop using your running shoes. Especially if you have barefoot shoes and are used to running in them for longer runs. Your feet and legs should be stronger at this point. It might take a couple months to get to this point.
6. Gradually try running completely barefoot, on softer or smoother surfaces. A park with a smooth concrete surface, or grass or beaches, are good places to start running without the barefoot shoes. Your soles are probably soft and sensitive if you’ve been using shoes most of your life, so it takes some adjustment to all of a sudden feel varied and rough surfaces under your feet. Starting out on rougher asphalt or surfaces with lots of pebbles (or worse, glass or pieces of metal) is a bad idea. Remember, at each stage, go slowly and take your time. There’s no need to rush it, and even if you’re feeling ambitious or you think you’re better than the rest of us, hold back. It’ll make the whole experience much, much more enjoyable.
The Barefoot Running Form
Land on your forefeet or midfeet (balls of your feet) instead of your heels. Too much on your forefeet can make your calves sore. If you feel yourself landing on your heels, shorten your stride.
Strides should be short — don’t extend your legs as far as you do with shoes. It should feel almost like you’re running in place.
Keep upright and balanced. Keep your feet under your hips and shoulders.
Stay light. You should feel like you’re light on your feet, not pounding at all. Barefoot runners tend to be a little more springy in their step.
Run quietly. If you are making a lot of noise with your steps (as shoe-wearing runners do), you’re pounding too hard. Try to run softly, quietly, like an animal.
Different Minimalist Styles to Choose From
There are a variety of options available that are activity specific.
Before Vibram became a pioneering minimalist brand, the company was primarily known as one of the most trusted manufacturers of outsoles for hiking boots and other outdoor shoes. With its patented toe-sleeve design, Vibram FiveFingers is as close to barefoot as you can get.
Merrell’s hiking pedigree comes through in their minimalist styles, which offer the durability and traction you need when you’re hiking or trail running.
New Balance tested all their minimalist styles in the same running lab where they develop their constructed options. Their intensive research led the New Balance engineers to the conclusion that every runner working toward a goal can benefit from incorporating minimalist workouts into their training routine.
Saucony’s minimalist styles bridge the gap between barefoot and constructed footwear. These shoes have the most substantial midsoles of our entire minimalist lineup and are a great choice for runners seeking a gradual transition to minimalist from the constructed footwear they’re accustomed to.
Brooks created its “pure product” to promote a natural ride and unique running experience in a lightweight package.
Q: I’m the kind of runner who runs through pain. Is that OK with barefoot running?
A: It’s not smart. The best way, again, is to do it slowly, and without pain. If you feel pain, stop or slow down. You don’t want to injure yourself — that’s counterproductive.
Q: Are there people who shouldn’t run barefoot?
A: Yes. Diabetics should have their feet checked by their podiatrist before starting barefoot running. Some diabetics can’t feel their feet well and shouldn’t do it — without the feedback of feeling in their feet, the pounding can lead to injury. Others who probably shouldn’t run barefoot include those with bones that didn’t heal properly from a break or fracture and those with abnormal feet. Anyone with ongoing feet or leg injuries should wait until the injuries are completely healed, and those who aren’t likely to take it slow (overly competitive runners) might not be good candidates for barefoot running.
Q: Can you sprint barefoot? Or is that too strenuous for barefoot running?
A: You can, but that’s more of an advanced step — you should not start with them. Give yourself a couple months of regular running first.
Q: What are the most common injuries from barefoot running?
A: Stress fracture/ reaction, laceration or foreign body, sesamoiditis, tendonitis, foot sprain, ankle sprain
Q: Are there any groups in Austin to join for barefoot running?
A: Yes, http://www.meetup.com/Austin-Barefoot-Running/