How to Transition to Minimalist Running Shoes

When the book, Born to Run came out, many athletes opted to transition to a minimalist shoe.  For a while, minimalist shoes were the trendiest thing a runner could do.  If you haven’t read Born to Run, I highly suggest it (or any of these running books).  While it is compelling to run barefoot, the reality is many athletes will not benefit from using a minimalist shoe. Every person has a different running gait, and that’s why there are so many different running shoes

How to Transition to Minimalist Running Shoes.

Some people (myself included) are injury prone and need a higher cushion shoe. For me, I need a cushion where my foot strikes the ground, or I’m more susceptible to strain my plantar fascia or end up with a stress fracture. Our ancestors ran barefoot, but they did not run barefoot down busy streets and paved roads.  They also never wore shoes, so it wasn’t as if they took them off to go for a run.

While yes, I’ve run in minimalist shoes, I cannot train in minimalist shoes.  Personally, it’s a risk factor that causes bone fractures, which I’ve learned the hard way. For some, they prefer natural feeling and natural running. That is the beauty of running; everyone can run a different way,

I will generally race in flats or a minimal shoe.  Will I train and do distance running in a minimalist shoe?  No.

Always keep in mind, not everything works for everyone. I cannot emphasize that enough! 

What are some Key Things to Keep in Mind When Making the Transition to Minimalist Running Shoes?

You Must Strengthen Your Feet:

Ultimately running shoes are designed to protect your feet.  Running shoes aren’t intended to injure you.  Wearing the wrong type of shoe for your gait will cause injuries, but shoe companies did not design shoes to injure runners.

If you have been running in a traditional style of shoe, then your feet are going to reflect that.  That isn’t a bad thing, but they are used to more cushion.  Before transitioning to a minimalist shoe, strengthen your foot muscles.

How do you do that?

The easiest way to strengthen your foot muscles is to walk around barefoot or with barefoot shoes or sandals.  I’m not saying walk down New York City barefoot but take the time to walk around your house or on grass barefoot (don’t step on a bee like I once did).  Start by walking barefoot an hour a day and gradually increase from there.   With summer coming up, it’s easiest to begin now.  The weather is nicer, and you might want to be outdoors walking barefoot.

Progress Slowly With Your Transition to a Minimalist Running Shoe:

Like with anything, it’s necessary to transition to a minimalist running shoe slowly. You shouldn’t change any shoes quickly, but you should especially take minimalist running shoes slowly.  Doing too much too soon will lead to an injury.  Don’t be surprised if the transition to a minimalist running shoe takes 6+ months, and you find yourself sorer at first.

Instead of going from a 12mm heel to toe drop straight to a 0 mm style shoe, progress transition slowly by shoe model.  If your old shoe is 11-12 mm, find an 8, then 4, and then maybe 0. That way, you don’t stress your calves and Achilles tendon too quickly. (A side note, you can learn all about running shoes and shoe drop in my ebook).

Run through each shoe model and see how you like the change.   If you end up liking the balance of 8 mm or even 4 mm heel to toe drops, there is nothing wrong with that!  Saucony is a great brand because they offer many shoes in 8 mm as well as 4 mm. Slow might be boring, but it keeps you healthy.

Don’t forget, minimalist running shoes can be beneficial. Since they provide less cushion, they can help improve your running form and strengthen your feet. They are an excellent option for many runners, but they are not the best choice for every runner!  There is no perfect shoe for everyone, and barefoot running is not ideal for everyone either.

Conclusion:

Many minimalist shoes still provide the natural running experience but with more cushion. For instance, Altra and Topo both have a wide toe box and lower stack height but still provide cushion. People are often surprised that the Hoka One One has a heel to doe drop of 4-5 mm.

The transition to a minimalist running shoe will be a slow process, but if done correctly, you might find yourself running better than ever. Also, keep in mind, you could transition to a minimalist running shoe and hate it. There is no one size fits all shoe for everyone (or lack of shoe, I guess).

In case you missed any of the previous weeks Running Store and Training:
Thoughts While Working in the Running Store
Should Race in Racing Flats?
Are you Getting Enough Protein for Running?
Why 5ks are the Best
How Alternating Shoes Can Benefit Your Running

Finally, have you subscribed to the LOLZletter? It’s a free newsletter that comes out each Monday. In the newsletter, I share running industry trends and things relevant to the sport. 

Questions for you:
What shoes are you currently running in?
Do you ever run in a minimalist shoe?