Should You Try Minimalist Running?

Minimalist running, natural running or barefoot running, is a running trend that has become increasingly popular. Barefoot running isn’t just for our ancestors anymore, elite runners are tossing their sneakers or opting for minimalist shoes. Runner’s World describes cushy, controlling athletic shoes as “crutches” that have made runners more prone to injury, altered strides and weakened the feet.

Sports Medicine & Minimalist Running

Nearly two decades ago doctors began analyzing the injuries affecting runners. Their research found that three of the most common running injuries, Achilles tendonitis, metatarsal fractures and tibial stress syndrome, could be prevented by wearing shoes with elevated and cushioned heels to take the pressure off of the Achilles while supporting the toes. The study by D.B. Clement changed how training shoes were made, and most runners have been wearing shoes with heavy padding, protection against pronation and stability ever since.

What Do Minimalist Runners Say?

Many runners agree that shoes dramatically change the way a person runs. With tons of cushion and support a runner cannot feel the ground below and this can lead to heavier strikes. Sean Murphy of New Balance says that 80 percent of people land with a heel strike and 20 percent on the middle or forefoot. But, when runners take their shoes off, their running style changes. Runners without shoes or minimalist footwear tend to land mid-foot and they do not heel strike.

Minimalist Running & Performance

According to the Journal of Strength Conditioning Research, foot motion and performance is linked. Although there’s not a ton of research out there about minimalist running, we have to consider that running shoeless can strengthen the muscles in our feet, making them stronger, and possibly faster. Most minimalist runners suffer from fewer injuries like shin splints and knew problems than their regular training shoe peers.

Is Minimalist Running for You?

First consider where you do most of your running. You’ll need to pick a barefoot or a minimalist shoe suited for your specific terrain. Trail runners and road runners will have different needs. Professionals do not recommend barefoot or minimalist running for people who suffer from plantar fasciitis, flat feet, tendonitis, hammer toes or bunions. As always, consult with your doctor and find out if you’re fit to begin barefoot running. Get started by acclimating your feet, you’ll need to build up the toughness of the soles of your feet. Start slow and walk first. Once you feel comfortable walking try running a short distance on a surface such as grass, wet sand or a rubber track. After that, it takes lots of practice. Work on perfecting your mechanics and try to land on your mid-foot rather than your heel. In 2004, Nike introduced the Nike Free, a style of shoe designed with minimal cushy foam and structured stability. I’ve been running in this style of shoe for more than five years and I love them. But, I don’t see myself adopting the barefoot running trend or trying out the natural running craze; yet. Try the Runner’s World self tests to see if you’re ready to go minimal, here.

Image via Flickr

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