Minimalist running can improve your strength, agility, and balance while creating a greater awareness of and connection to your environment. Whether you ever intend to go truly barefoot or plan to stick with some kind of minimalist shoe, following these basic tips will help you stay safe, have fun, and reap the full benefits of barefoot running.
1. Begin at the Beginning
Just like you wouldn’t dive head first into a brand new workout without easing into it, don’t start running in bare feet or minimalist running shoes expecting to keep up your normal pace and distance. Give your body time to acclimate slowly.
You have probably been wearing standard cushioned shoes with a raised heel all your life. Adjusting to a barefoot running style won’t happen overnight or without some effort.
Start out with terrain and routes that you are familiar with. You’re already making a major change to your running, keep it simple until you’ve built up your strength and endurance.
If you still want to put in longer miles of running, try wearing your regular shoes for the first part of your run, then switch to minimalist shoes for the last mile.
2. Focus on Form
Proper barefoot running form is the key to staying injury free. If you keep moving as if you had normal running shoes on – taking long strides and landing with a hard heel strike – you will most certainly get hurt.
Take shorter, faster strides. Your leading foot should land on the ground roughly below your hip, not extended out in front of you. Your cadence should be around 180 steps per minute – if you’re having a hard time keeping track, try using a cadence meter or metronome.
Foot landings should be as soft as possible and your feet should land almost flat or slightly toward the front half of your foot. This allows the arch of your foot to act like a spring that absorbs shock and helps the impact move through your muscles instead of your bones.
Try to avoid bouncing as much as you can. Bouncing not only wastes energy, it also creates greater impact forces that can lead to injury. You can test yourself by wearing a necklace – if it jumps around on your chest, you need to work on your smoothness.
3. Train Smart
Giving yourself a training plan will help you stay on track and avoid the temptation of doing too much too soon. Soreness might not set in for a day or two, so consider limiting yourself at first, even if you feel like you could keep going.
If you feel pain at any point, take a break. Evaluate your form, footwear, and training regimen to see what might be causing the problem.
Set achievable goals and celebrate every small success. Switching to barefoot running can be overwhelming as you struggle to build up muscles that you may have rarely used before. Acknowledging your progress is important to stay motivated.
4. Get a Good Shoe
It may be called barefoot running, but sometimes you still need some protection for your feet. The soles of your feet may be too tender at first to go truly barefoot, though that is certainly a goal that you could work towards. Other people want to run more naturally, but have no desire to go barefoot. The right minimalist running shoe can give you the benefits of both barefoot running and the best modern shoe technology.