Minimalist running takes time, so don’t expect overnight changes. For me, it took MANY, MANY months before I could run in minimalist footwear pain-free. How come it took me so long? My feet, especially my arches, not to mention my ankles and calves were extremely weak from standard running shoes. Because I was heel striking when I ran as well, I was always injured which interrupted my training, so I wasn’t running as much to keep my body strong. These are things you need to be aware of when transitioning to minimalist running. But I promise you, once your body adjusts to minimalist shoes, you will never go back to standard running shoes.
If you are new to minimalist running, but had some bad luck with injury or performance setbacks, don’t give up just yet. The setbacks you encounter indicates that your feet need a longer familiarization period to the new shoe condition.
Never Give Up On Minimalist Running
It’s not your imagination. You really do get stuck with injury if you heel strike when you run. To fend off troubles, you need to run with a forefoot strike, and minimalist running shoes can really help you with this. In fact, you don’t have to go barefoot to improve forefoot running performance, going minimal may do the trick. Barefoot running shoes (i.e minimalist running shoes) improves your forefoot running skills if sufficient familiarization periods during a new running condition.
The performance enhancing properties of barefoot running shoes are becoming more undeniable with respects to the persuasive evidence in the scientific literature.
A study by Warn and Warrington (2014), examined the effects of barefoot running shoes and neutral running shoes on running economy. All subjects in the study had no experience with barefoot or minimalist running.
Before measuring running economy, the subjects that were assigned the barefoot running shoes, underwent a 4-week familiarization period that consisted of a structured progression period and were also told to run in a way that was comfortable while in the barefoot footwear.
Most habitual barefoot runners, or minimalist runners land on their forefoot, instead of their heels, like many shod (shoe) runners. However, the authors emphasized that the barefoot running shoe subjects were asked to run ‘naturally’, rather than enforcing changes in foot strike based on the understanding that minimalist footwear relates to forefoot striking.
As expected, the researchers found that running economy significantly improved in the barefoot running shoe subjects compared to subjects in a neutral running shoe.
- The familiarization period improved running economy in the barefoot running shoe condition because it appropriated transitioning to a new running condition, according to the researchers.
Moreover, the barefoot running shoe increased proprioceptive feedback from the foot which dictated a more mid to forefoot strike landing in response to ground surface hardness, which may have lowered energy demands.
The researchers suggested that improved running economy of the subjects in the barefoot running shoes was due to a forefoot strike adaptation which optimizes greater energy recovery in the tendons and muscles of the lower leg.
In the barefoot running shoe subjects, the biggest energy savings came from the stance phase of forefoot running. But to setup properly for the stance phase, your forefoot cannot be lifted up upon touchdown, rather point your forefoot down, towards the ground.
- In proper forefoot running biomechanics, the foot is more plantarflexed, which means that the forefoot slightly points down (shown above) upon touchdown, which lessens deceleration between the body and ground, i.e. less braking occurs between your body and the ground.
- After the forefoot makes contact, the heel lowers down to the ground –this is called the eccentric phase.
- The eccentric phase in forefoot running may also reduce energy consumption whereby the lowering of the heel shortly after touchdown of the forefoot, stores greater mechanical energy in the connective tissues.
Not only that, another study found that minimalist running shoes improved running economy by giving you stronger arches, allowing them to store more energy. Perl at el. (2012), noted that because of the lack of arch support, minimalist running shoes allows more elastic energy storage in the arch during the stance phase of running. Even more interesting, other reports found that elastic energy storage is more optimized in minimalist running shoes if you run at faster running speeds (Fuller et al. 2016). So, do not hesitate to run faster because it will actually save you energy.
The Take Home Message
Barefoot running shoes will most likely lead you on the right path to improve endurance, however allowing sufficient adaptation to a new running condition is a very important piece of the puzzle to enhance your training and avoid injury.
More Stuff From Run Forefoot:
- How to Stop Your Knees From Hurting When You Run
- Best-Selling Barefoot Running Books
- How to Maximize Your Arm Swing
- Examples of Forefoot Running Shoes
Run forefoot because you are faster than you think!
Asmussen, E and Petersen, FB. ( 1974). Apparent efficient and storage of elastic energy in human muscles during exercise. Act Physiol Scad, 92(4):537-45.
Kryolainen, H., Belli, A and Komi, PV. (2001). Biomechanical factors affecting running economy. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 33(8):1330-7.
Lieberman et al. (2010). Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature, 28(7280):531-5.
Perl, D. P., Daoud, A. I., & Lieberman, D. E. (2012). Effects of footwear and strike type on running economy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 44, 1335 – 1343.
Sanders et al. (2004). Factors affecting running economy in trained distance runners. Sports Med, 34(7):465-85.
Warn, JP and Warrington, GD. (2014). Four- week habituation to simulated barefoot running improves running economy when compared with shod running. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 24(3):563-8.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.