How to Transition to Minimal Shoes (or Barefoot Running)

Posted on September 15, 2016 by Elf Martin There have been 6 comment(s)

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Switching to minimal shoes can be very liberating... if you do it safely.

Although people may still debate over the benefits of minimal shoes and barefoot running, we remain strong advocates for both. So many customers have told us their foot pain disappeared and their cushy orthotics became unnecessary after switching to our barefoot-like shoes, and it's hard to ignore that kind of response.

We constantly hear from curious folks who want to give minimalist footwear a try for a variety of reasons. Some want to treat foot pain naturally, prevent future problems and/or improve their overall health. Others are embracing primal workout techniques like MovNat or Crossfit and find their feet need more freedom of movement. Many people are eager to jump right into it, but there are some precautions that should be understood before ditching your thick shoes.

Take it Slow!

The biggest mistake people make when switching to minimal footwear is transitioning too quickly. If you've spent decades walking in highly cushioned shoes with elevated heels, tapered toe boxes and arch supports, then the muscles, ligaments and tendons in your feet have adapted to work in a specific way. Some of them may have not been working much at all and could be very weak (one of the links between conventional shoes and foot pain). Hastily switching to minimal shoes that engage all of those foot muscles differently can be a shock to your system and may lead to injury. This is true even for experienced runners, who risk stress fractures or other ailments if they skip the process of conditioning their feet before taking on long distances barefoot. Think of it like coming out of a cast after healing from a broken leg and trying to run a marathon the next day—not a good idea!

Getting hurt is exactly the opposite of what you're trying to do with minimal footwear, but taking your time to build up those intricate muscles properly can safely bring you to the benefits of natural foot health. If you're like most of our customers then you may never want to wear conventional shoes again!

Tips for choosing minimal shoes (infographic)

So how do you do it? The process differs depending on whether you want to wear minimal shoes casually or for running... or both. For that, we'll share the advice of some experts in the field. But first, our disclaimer:

Remember that we're shoemakers, not doctors. While we're happy to relay this information, we are not qualified to give medical advice and we make no medical claims or guarantees about results. Consult your doctor for a professional medical opinion.


 

Transitioning to Minimal Shoes for Casual Everyday Use

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If your goal is to wear minimal shoes as part of your daily routine, which consists primarily of walking, standing and sitting, then podiatrist and Correct Toes inventor Dr. Ray McClanahan recommends this two-month plan for a healthy transition:

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Basically, you want to start by spending only one hour each day wearing your new shoes or walking barefoot. Each week you increase this time by one hour until you reach the 8-hour mark at the end of two months. At that point, most people should be able to fully switch to minimal shoes without harm.

Some people may be able to progress faster, especially those who already spend time barefoot, but it is recommended to err on the side of caution. If you feel pain then it may be wise to slow down your transition time. You have a whole life of healthy feet ahead of you, so don't rush it!

Correct-Toes-Spacers

If you're trying to treat foot pain, then incorporating Correct Toes into your transition may help with the process. We're big fans of these silicone foot spacers, which treat a wide range of foot conditions by gradually restoring feet that have been malformed by conventional shoes. We're proud to sell Correct Toes on our website.

For more of Dr. McClanahan's foot health tips, please visit www.correcttoes.com.


 

Transitioning to Minimal Shoes for Running

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Looking for more athletic endeavors? Physical therapist and barefoot running guru Michael Sandler has a bestselling book on the subject, appropriately titled Barefoot Running. It's full of great advice for making the transition, including tips to improve your running form. This is important since you'll be changing not only your shoes, but also your gait as you will likely switch from a heel strike to a forefoot strike.

For your feet, here's what Michael recommends:

  1. On your first day, begin by running only 200 yards barefoot or in minimal shoes. This may not seem like much, but you'll notice the strain on your feet and calves—you're basically doing calf-raises with every forefoot strike. Ice afterwards if you're sore.
  2. Skip a day, then add 100 yards to your barefoot/minimal running distance every other day.
  3. For the first three months only run barefoot/minimal every other day. If you wish to run more then you can spend the rest of your running time in your old shoes/orthotics. As you slowly increase your barefoot/minimal time, you can slowly decrease your time in supportive shoes until you no longer need them.
  4. Stop running if you feel pain. Rest and heal before continuing.

It is worth noting that Michael also recommends starting fully barefoot or in minimal shoes to receive maximum feedback from your feet (as opposed to wearing "transitional" shoes with moderate cushioning) because doing so can help your body respond and achieve the lightest stride. For more tips, visit his website RunBare.

Have you transitioned to minimal shoes? If you have any tips of your own then we'd love to hear them!

Related Posts:


This post was posted in Foot Health, Running and was tagged with barefoot, minimal shoes, minimalist shoes, running, barefoot shoes, Walking, transition, transitioning

6 Responses to How to Transition to Minimal Shoes (or Barefoot Running)

  • Mark
    Mark says:

    I found that transitioning for everyday use was a great first step to transitioning for running. Also, "minimal" can mean a lot of different things, from nearly barefoot to just a particular aspect. For example, I walk in Soft Stars, but I run in other zero-drop shoes that are less minimal.

    I wrote about my transition at https://fromthecrosswalk.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/minimalist-shoes/. I'd suggest reading multiple people's stories since they will be different.

    Posted on September 16, 2016 at 1:18 PM

  • Sanne
    Sanne says:

    What about children who used normal shoes for their first years? How can you help your child transition to minimalistic shoes?

    Posted on October 30, 2016 at 3:07 AM

  • Elf Martin
    Elf Martin says:

    Hi Sanne. From what we've seen, it appears that children adapt much easier, though we're not qualified to prescribe a transition plan for them since we're not medical professionals. You may want to contact the office of Dr. Ray McClanahan, who developed the plan above, for tips regarding chilren. Visit his website www.nwfootankle.com for info.

    Posted on October 31, 2016 at 2:33 AM

  • Teresa
    Teresa says:

    I remember reading advice about transitioning when I got my first pair of barefoot shoes. However, they felt so great that I started using them exclusively right away. No problems for me I guess because I actually did spend most of my day barefoot.

    Posted on December 6, 2016 at 5:06 PM

  • David
    David says:

    The importance of a slow transition cannot be stated enough. As your calf muscles get stronger, you need to stretch them and your Achilles' tendon to compensate. Even six months after I started going barefoot/minimal (after a lifetime of living in FL wearing flip flops 10 months per year) I was putting a kayak on top of my truck, wearing vff's, and partially detached my right Achilles. I was lucky it healed without surgery. My advice to everyone is stretch, stretch, stretch! I also went from having flat feet to having an arch, dropping a full shoe size in the process. The best way I found to deal with soreness is to put on correct toes and massage the soles of the feet with a golf ball.

    Posted on January 1, 2017 at 6:03 AM

  • Elf Martin
    Elf Martin says:

    Great tips. Thanks David!

    Posted on January 3, 2017 at 2:05 AM

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