So you’ve decided you want to transition to running in a minimalist shoe, but are not sure how…. Let’s start by taking a look at what the research says!
There was really one systematic review that looked at studies focused on transitioning from traditional footwear to minimalist style footwear.1 Some things they suggested for an effective transition include:
1. Gait retraining (re-training your running technique)
2. Exercises that focus on injury prevention
3. A slow progression of exposure to minimalist style footwear (including considering factors such as duration of transition period, running volume, etc).1
The process of transitioning to minimalist shoes will vary from person to person since we are all different and unique! This requires consideration of numerous personal factors and/or history, including the following1:
– running experience
– current running volume
– running mechanics (i.e. forefoot/midfoot/heel strike at initial contact)
– body mass
– injury history
– current foot muscle size
– plus other individual factors
The process of transitioning to minimalist shoes is individual and requires consideration of personal factors and/or history.Warne et al 2017
It is important to note if you have any risk factors that may increase the likelihood of injury as this will impact your experience transitioning to minimalist style shoes!
The literature defines a list of risk factors, which include the following:1
- Higher loading rate (faster impact to the ground)
- Running inexperience
- Previous injury
- Competitive runner
- Excessive weekly distance (more than 35km or 21.75mi per week)
- Younger age
- Excessive foot eversion (turning foot out from the ankle)
- Poor core stabilization
- Running on artificial turf
- History of orthotics/insert use
- Female gender
- Males with body mass >85.7kg (188.94 pounds)
Additionally, there are specific factors that can increase your risk for stress fracture including: irregular and/or absent menstruation in females, pes caves (high arches), excess foot inversion (turning foot in from the ankle), and decreased bone mineral density.1
After considering the risk factors above, a slow progression to minimalist footwear can be made. For those who possess one or more risk factors, a slower and more conservative transition program will likely be indicated.1 For the first week, engaging in walking and/or running for less than 10 minutes daily in minimal footwear is suggested.1 It may also be helpful to include some light walking daily in minimal footwear or while barefoot prior to initiating running in minimal footwear.1 However, there is no current evidence on this recommendation, but has been suggested more so based on “common sense.”1
For the first week, engaging in walking and/or running for less than 10 minutes daily in minimal footwear is suggested.Warne et al 2017
The ideal time to transition to minimalist footwear depends on the individual, and therefore has not been definitively determined. But, the current general recommendation is 4-8 weeks to allow for general muscle adaptation to training.1 This 4-8 week recommendation can be used as a starting point, and changed based on individual factors.1 Additionally, a safe increase in running volume may be 5% per week (adjusted based on individual factors and tolerance). However, a safe amount to increase per week has not been determined. Traditionally, there has been a well known rule of not increasing training volume more than 10% per week. However, this has been de-bunked.
The current general recommendation is 4-8 weeks to allow for general muscle adaptation to training.Warne et al 2017
While transitioning, it is important to maintain cardiorespiratory fitness and capacity. Reducing overall training volume by 10-20% in the first two weeks will allow minimal changes in cardiorespiratory fitness while also reducing the risk of bony injury from unfamiliar repetitive loading.1
For further safety, consider splitting your training between minimal and conventional shoes.1 Running in both styles of shoes can be more beneficial than just using one alone.1 It may be best to use minimalist style shoes for 10% of your overall daily running volume (max of 10 min daily) and then increase by 5-10% per week.1 This is compared to just using minimalist shoes for 10 minutes per day (or a certain percent of daily running miles) and increasing from there only using a set time (or percentage).1 However, initial exposure should be no less than 4 minutes during any given run to optimize the interaction between the foot and surface that you’re running on.1
Running in minimal style and conventional style shoes can be more beneficial than just using one style alone.Warne et al 2017
More research is needed on the specifics of a strengthening protocol and its relationship to injury risk, but foot and lower leg specific strengthening and stretching has been suggested. This recommendation was made as increased foot muscle size can reduce injury risk when transitioning and to combat muscle soreness and tightness when transitioning.1 Overall, in runners, it is important to have a strength training program to reduce general injury risk.1 The program suggested by the research article1 included things like:
- Intrinsic foot strengthening such as towel scrunches, single leg stance with eyes closed, toe splaying, foot doming (foot doming can increase foot muscle size).
- Calf mobility/strengthening such as single leg calf raise, soleus stretch, gastroc stretch, single leg calf eccentrics (eccentric heel raise with forefoot elevated).
- Range of motion/tightness management such as plantar rolling (lacrosse or tennis ball), calf rolling (foam roll or lacrosse ball), ankle range of motion, self foot massage.
- Dynamics and neuromuscular conditioning such as vertical single leg hops, single leg lateral hops, single leg forward hops, jump rope.
Gait retraining, or re-training of running technique or pattern, may be beneficial. But, learning a new technique increases your running effort. Therefore, gait retraining may have no change or even worsen your running economy as you learn the new technique. Proper feedback and cuing is important during this process to help improve effectiveness. The following may also be helpful:
- Adopting a non-rear foot strike.
Running with a rear foot strike can lead to higher loading variables and increase the risk of injury. It is important to note that a non-rear foot strike can increase ankle work. A good cue to help adopt a non-rear foot strike is to imagine running on sharp or hot stones.
- Increasing cadence/stride frequency (10%)
Traditionally, the goal is 180 steps per minute. Using a metronome while running can help increase your cadence/stride frequency.
- Land more quietly
A good cue to help with this is to imagine you are running while sneaking up on someone.
- Using “pose” or “chi” running styles
Overall, more research is needed to determine how to best transition to minimalist style shoes and what the true benefits of transitioning are. Personally, I’ve been wearing Vivobarefoot shoes over the past year, and feel I have benefited. I love them for walking, especially hiking, as I feel that I’m able to sense and react to the ground more. Due to my history of foot fractures, I don’t run very far in them, so on longer runs, I typically use Brooks to provide a little more support. But, I do love running in them on softer surfaces like the beach and or trails. Currently, I’m easing into wearing them during my 8-hour shifts at work (concrete floors) and I’ve noticed I’m more active on those days and feel a little springier or energetic!
Let me know if you have any questions about any of the information shared with a comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Citation of Sources:
1. Warne et al. (2017). Transitioning to Minimal Footwear: a Systematic Review of Methods and Future Clinical Recommendations. Sports medicine – open, 3(1), 33. https://doi.org/10.1186/sp40798-017-0096-x.
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Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.