Barefoot Running and Minimalist Running Shoes
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Running in minimalist shoes is a growing trend, but clothing is usually not optional
Barefoot running and running in minimalist shoes is a hot topic in fitness these days
Proponents argue that this method of running reduces injuries, while opponents say it's just a fad and there isn't any evidence to back it up.
As with most arguments the truth lies somewhere in between the extremes.
Running Shoes Don't Prevent Injuries
A number of studies have shown that modern-day running shoes do not prevent injuries. And there can be a strong case made that today's high heeled, motion controlled, ultra cushioned running shoes may actually increase your risk of getting an overuse injury.
Barefoot runners argue that it's a "natural" way to run since we weren't born with shoes. While barefoot runners are at the extreme, almost all the major running shoe companies have developed minimalist shoes they say help protect the feet but still allow for a "natural", barefoot-like motion.
I have a bit of experience with minimal shoes as you can see from my collection of shoes in the picture below.
I have so many pairs of minimalist type running shoes my wife makes me keep them out in the garage.
At one end of the spectrum are shoes that resemble regular running shoes with only a few differences. At the other end you have the Vibram Five Finger, shoes that resemble gloves for your feet.
What to Look for in a Minimalist Shoe
1. Fit. The shoe should feel comfortable right away. Running shoes do not need to be "broken in." If you feel a hot spot rubbing after a couple of minutes walking around the store, imagine what it'll feel like after running for 30, 60 or 90 minutes.
2. Small heel drop. This is the difference between the heel height and forefoot height of the shoe. Traditional running shoes generally have 11 - 15 mm or more of a heel drop, while minimalist shoes have less than 10 mm heel drop. Some have even less.
3. Flexibility. Your shoe shouldn't be too rigid, especially lengthwise. It should move with your foot and not force your foot to conform to the shoe's shape.
4. Lightweight. You'll notice these shoes feel a lot lighter on your feet than regular shoes. And they should. After all, these are minimalist shoes.
5. Wide toe box. To really mimic a barefoot style, your toes need room to splay out as you land on your foot. The toe box should have plenty of space to accommodate them.
Tips for Barefoot and Minimalist Running
1. Progress gradually. Don't blast out for a 10 km run on your first try with barefoot running or minimalist shoes, even if you're an experienced runner. You will get sore, especially your calves.
Start by walking around barefoot or in your minimalist shoes for a week or two to get accustomed to the feeling.
When you're ready to begin running, begin by alternating 1 - 3 minutes of jogging with the same amount of time walking. Repeat this sequence 3 - 5 times.
Don't run all your runs like this, start with only one or two minimal runs a week. Use your regular shoes for the other runs.
2. Start on a soft surface. Choose a grassy field or rubberized track.
3. Shorten your stride. You want to make sure you're not landing on your heel when running barefoot or in shoes with little cushioning. Shortening your stride will help you land on your midfoot region, allowing your muscles to act as shock absorbers.
4. Stretch and massage your leg muscles. Especially the calves after your runs. You can also do some contrast hydrotherapy in the shower, alternating running hot and cold water on your muscles.
5. Listen to your body. While this style of running is fun, you do have to be careful to avoid too much, too soon. Don't try to run through pain, stop! Back off the volume if your body is in pain. The point of this is to help you enjoy your running more and pain isn't fun.
Barefoot Running Resources
The Run Inn - You can find a good selection of minimalist shoes including the Vibram Five Fingers at the Run Inn in Kerrisdale. Try on different brands and choose the one that feels best on your feet.
Minimalist Running Clinic - If you want some coaching and professional guidance I've teamed up with my friend Adam Janke from Active Orthopaedic Inc to offer a minimalist running clinic. We'll guide you to transitioning to minimalist running safely.
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Barefoot Running - A good book to help you ditch your shoes.