With all the new foot gear showing up after Christmas at the gym, let’s take a moment to explore how to choose the right type of minimalist shoe. It’s been within the last year that “barefoot running” has hit mainstream, and while only a small amount of hardy people are true barefoot runners, most are selecting minimalist footwear. The newest shoes on the market simulate the barefoot running style, but protect your feet from the bare ground.
It’s been since the beginning of mankind that running around barefoot has existed. Yet, shoes specific to running did not appear on the U.S. market until the mid-1960’s. At that time, a little known company called Blue Ribbon Sports began importing shoes called Tiger shoes from Japan. In 1978, Blue Ribbon Sports became known as Nike. As shoes have become increasingly high-tech, some runners began to question their purpose and effectiveness.
In January, 2010, Harvard University produced a study that focused on foot-strike patterns and the impact of running barefoot versus running with shoes. The study demonstrated how barefoot running or using minimalist shoes allowed people to land comfortably and safely by landing with a flat foot (midfoot strike) or by landing on the ball of the foot before bringing down the heel (forefoot strike). Following this study, many others followed suit, and the barefoot phenomenon has since exploded.
Selecting a minimalist shoe should be done carefully, and switching to this running method should be done gradually. Practice it in small increments, as the muscles in your feet, calves, and hamstrings, as well as your plantar fascia and Achilles tendons are not used to this method. An injury can quickly happen if you do too much too soon. Also when selecting a model, consider where you run or walk. Some are trail friendly, others are road specific, and a few are designed specifically for both road and trail.
In order to increase your success into the transition of barefoot running, follow these suggestions explained by Linda Ellingsen, outdoor enthusiast and product tester for several outdoor adventure brands:
First, acclimate your feet:
- If you are going barefoot, start by just standing on gravel. You need to build up toughness on the soles of your feet.
- Walk first. Then work into running with the new stride.
- Try running a short distance on a soft surface such as wet sand, grass or rubberized track.
Practice your mechanics:
- Practice landing on your midfoot versus your heel. Don’t be afraid to let the heel contact the ground—but concentrate on striking with the midfoot first.
- Keep your foot parallel to the ground under the center of your body.
- Be careful. Your arch muscles will probably be weak, you’ll be using more strength in the calf muscles and your Achilles tendon may get stiff.
- Don’t overstride. Use short strides and a quick cadence with your midfoot strike.
- When starting a new stride, quickly lift your foot off of the ground rather than pushing off as in traditional running shoes.
- The landing should feel gentle and relaxed.
Gradually increase your distance:
- Start slowly and build up slowly. Make gradual transitions incorporating the new running method into your traditional running methods.
- Don’t do too much too soon. Try using the 10% rule—no more than 10% a week in both distance and foot-strike change.
- Build muscular strength and endurance.