Running barefoot or in minimalist shoes is not an all or nothing proposition. Choosing shoes with little support or opting to forgo shoes altogether both serve a specific purpose. Think of going barefoot as a process in which you will transition from the unnaturally elevated heel height of a traditional running shoe to a more anatomically correct ratio of drop from heel to toe. The change should be made with the intent of improving running mechanics, cadence, and stride length; or used to strengthen the foot, ankle, knee, and hips. Unfortunately, some runners see an advertisement for minimalist shoes and think they can go out on a five-miler without shoes. This is a terrible way to begin barefoot running and a surefire way to get injured.
If you're interested in undertaking this type of change, consider using the following points to guide you along the way:
1. Seek Out Advice
Talk with a physician, trainer, running coach, or others who have made the switch to barefoot and minimalist running. Educate yourself on the topic and head into the process with a plan.
2. Take it Slow
Start by walking and cross-training in your minimalist shoes. Next, transition into jogging and running on a soft surface over very short distances. Increase distance, speed, and intensity gradually.
3. Concentrate on Form
Running is not just about racking up mileage. Running form differs from one person to another. Put in the work to create an effective and efficient running motion for yourself. Your landing should be gentle and relaxed. Try to strike on the ball of your foot. Do not over-stride. Work to increase your running cadence or foot speed.
4. Stretching and Strengthening
Pay extra attention to the calves, arch of the foot, and Achilles when transitioning to minimalist running. Flex bands, foam rolling, and ice are all recommended. It's also wise to implement exercises aimed at strengthening the foot, core, and hips to encourage a balanced stride. Single leg squats, lateral step-ups, calf-raises, and heel drops are all great options.
5. Use Your Head
If it hurts, don't do it. Listen to your body. Remain in control by backing off when you choose to, instead of being set back by an overuse injury.
Remember, making the switch to running barefoot or in shoes with little support is not an overnight process. Devise a plan for making a seamless transition to minimalist running and remain patient while your body and stride are undergoing this change.