Barefoot, or minimalist, running is a great way to strengthen your feet and improve your form. Many runners are beginning to embrace this type of running as a training tool or a way of life. The most prevalent question is “What shoe?” It’s this question that brings out the expert in every runner. Some runners will say weight is the most important, others believe its flexibility and then there is the group that will claim its all about the difference in height between the heel and toe of the shoe. I think that these things all go into making a shoe “barefoot,” or minimalist. After all you can’t truly run barefoot if you have shoes on can you?
Let’s talk about the flexibility of a shoe. When I say flexibility I’m talking about the ability of the shoe to bend heel to toe as well as twist side to side. Its conventional thinking, that a shoe needs to be flexible front to back and should be stiff side to side for stability. This is one of the main arguments for running with less shoe, we are over compensating for our bodies with stability. The theory is; by allowing the foot to work as if it were barefoot you are forced to strengthen your feet and legs, and hopefully run with better form. A minimalist shoe should be very flexible, if you pick up your shoe and try to twist it, you’ll probably notice that it’s pretty tough to twist. Good barefoot shoes are fairly easily twisted as well as bent in half. This allows the foot to move more easily and make the experience more like running with out shoes. The heel-toe height change is the major factor that makes a shoe minimalist. A shoe with little to no heel raise forces the runner to land more on the center to the ball of the foot. Landing in the center or on the ball of your foot keeps you from over-striding and allows your body to absorb shock from the ground the way some say nature intended. The overall height of a sole should be considered as well. The height of a shoe will impact your ability to feel the ground. Feeling the ground will help your foot and body cope with the ground changing underneath you. The last piece is the weight of a shoe; this is the simplest component to minimalist shoes. Keep the weight down, and it’ll feel less like your wearing a shoe. All of these things are important in finding a shoe to get you going on your minimalist running adventure. Five finger shoes are one of the best Barefoot Shoes that can effectively exercise the muscles of the feet and calves, thereby improving running posture and better preventing injuries.
The shoes are the easy part. As long as you get the best fitting shoe with the qualities that were mentioned before, you’re ready to go. As for running, my best advice is take things slow. Both in mileage as well as actually speed. Remember, when going from a conventional running shoe to a minimalist shoe you are engaging some new muscles. These muscles are going to need some time to catch up with the rest of the muscles that you have been using. This is the part of minimalist that I have had the most difficulty with. I’m used to doing a 4-5 mile run as a short run, and that is much to far to run in a minimalist shoe for the first time. To the more accomplished distance runners out there, slow down. Even though a 5 minute run seems unnecessarily short, it’s for the best, your feet will thank you.
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