Tips for bearfoot/minimalist running

I love running and am happy to see that this new/old trend has moved people who previously never liked or wanted to run to go out and move.  Barefoot or minimalist running can be a great tool and a useful way to improve your running form if used properly. As a physical therapist I have also seen that improper use can cause can lead to stress injuries. Here are a few tips to keep you running happy/efficiently and not injure yourself in the process.
Tips for using barefoot (minimalist) running:

  1. Work on your body position! This is in my opinion the most important part of running period. Putting on a new shoe or sandal or taking it off will not automatically improve your stride if your body positioning is poor.
  2. Gradual reduction – If you have ran in a shoe called the Beast for the last ten years then putting on a five finger and hoping that your arch will strengthen may not be the best idea. Like all training, gains are made when the body adapts to stress OVER TIME, too much too soon and you will be in the PT office or worse. Work your way towards a less stabilizing, more neutral shoe first, before taking away cushioning and going to a minimalist or barefoot shoe right away.
  3. Start small – At first use your minimalist shoes for shorter runs or speed work, allow your body to get used to the feel of a new stride and less cushioning during shorter workouts.
  4. Listen to your body – If something is not going well you need to address it. Not everything is for everybody and if you find your self getting stress injuries despite your best efforts back off. You are not a bad person because you run in shoes!
  5. Surface matters – The evolutionary theory of running is fascinating and offers some pretty great insight into what we are designed to do but let’s remember that your ancestors were not running away from sabre tooth tigers on asphalt. Start on softer surfaces grass, dirt etc.

Enjoy the run
– Andrew Eisen DPT